Dubai’s focus is firmly back on building beautiful new communities, but there is still much to see in Old Dubai: the area between the bottom of Satwa and top of Deira. Though the city has rapidly expanded, its original heart lies here, where the 7,000-year-old trading industry is as vibrant as ever. And there’s more to older parts of the city than the classic haunts we all know, love and frequently recommend (Ravi’s, we still love you). Several new hotels have launched in the area, including the Mövenpick and Pullman in Deira, the Meliá in Bur Dubai and arty Jumeirah Creekside in Garhoud.
Now we bring some fresh secret gems away from the well-trodden path – complete with a free pull-out map at the centre of the magazine. Go, explore and enjoy!
Deira developed rapidly in the ’70s and ’80s, but is still home to the liveliest of Dubai’s souks.
1 Kanz Jewellers
When you’re new to the Gold Souk, it’s hard to know where to start. We’ve visited this shop repeatedly (specifically branch three, as it’s known) and have found it to be very reliable.
Gold Souk, on the right as you enter from the main road (04 226 6660).
2 Giftland Center
From camel ashtrays to salt and pepper sheikh and sheikhas, you’re bound to find something here – and prices start at just Dhs5 (with a free Dhs5 ‘garments voucher’ when you spend Dhs50).
Al Sabkha Road (04 225 3838).
3 Al Khaleej Hotel
A long-standing property in the heart of Deira, this hotel is easy to miss. But wander inside and enjoy good Italian fare at Trattoria Pizzeria, before heading upstairs for a drink at Duke’s pub – and yes, the floor is leaning.
Corner of Al Sabkha Road and 14th Road, towards the souks from Nasser/Baniyas Square (04 221 1144).
4 Baniyas Tower’s juice square
Not so much a square as a T-shape, tables and chairs are set out in every direction from the Tavalino Café, with punters enjoying frothy pineapple drinks and shisha.
Baniyas Tower, Al Maktoum Road (04 222 9921).
5 Day To Day
If you find yourself in a need of a wig (not as strange as it might sound) this is the place to go if you don’t want to spend a fortune. It also sells reasonably-priced shisha pipes.
Al Nasser/Baniyas Square (04 228 4843).
This shop stocks good-quality kitchenware and appliances at wallet-friendly prices.
Al Maktoum Road (04 223 4200).
7 Hilton Dubai Creek pool bar
One of the best spots for taking in the sights from on high.
Baniyas Road (04 227 1111).
8 Galadari Plaza
If you’re tired of traipsing through the usual malls, this strip under the Radisson Blu Deira sells everything from spices to fur. If you get peckish, Japanese restaurant Sumibiya serves a nightly barbecue buffet for Dhs180, including house beverages.
Radisson Blu Deira, Baniyas Road (04 222 7171).
9 Taj Malabar
A packed Pakistani restaurant sitting behind the Union Square ‘garden’: if it weren’t for its classic Dubai signage, it would almost look like an English fish-and-chip shop.
8th Street, near Union metro station (04 221 3433).
10 Little China
Deira is home to a gaggle of Chinese outlets, which combine to form our very own ‘Little China’. The most famous – and best – is China Sea, which is owned, run and patronised by Chinese expats. Others, such as China Star, entice passers-by with deals such as all-you-can-eat buffets for Dhs19.
Between Abu Baker Siddique Road, Maktoum Road, Al Muraqqabat Road and Al Jazira Street (no number).
Literally translated as ‘Mainland Dubai’, this is the historic centre of the city, and still brims with culture, trade and activity.
1 Beach Africana
A lesser-known alternative to its Bank Street neighbour Club Africana, you’ll hear one of the funkiest bands in town at this African club, with funk, pop and Afrobeat on the setlist.
Palm Beach Hotel, Khalid Bin Al Waleed Road (04 393 1999).
2 The Goan Shack
Long-term expats may be mourning the loss of Waxy’s, which had a reputation as one of Bur Dubai’s more rough-and-ready nightlife establishments. But the spot has now been cleaned up and turned into the slightly bizarre Goan Shack, a brave mix of an English pub and a Goan restaurant.
Ascot Hotel, Khalid Bin Al Waleed Road (04 352 0900).
Bargain clothing store Mercado’s claim to fame is being forced to change its name from Primark after it emerged the store had no connection to the budget British chain. Name or no name, it still retains the same cheap prices and bustling, lively atmosphere.
Khalid Bin Al Waleed Road, between Al Fahidi and Khalid Bin Al Waleed metro stations (no number).
It may be named after an Egyptian pharaoh’s wife, but Nefertiti takes its cuisine from two other corners of the world – Russia and Arabia. It’s the former for which it’s best known, and is a favourite among Russian expats.
Khalid Bin Al Waleed Road (04 355 8855).
5 The Bur Dubai picnic spot
At weekends, head to the expanse of grass behind the British embassy, overlooking Dubai Creek, to enjoy a picnic. You’re likely to find yourself in the company of lots of jovial families doing exactly the same.
Behind the British Embassy, near Dubai Creek (no number).
This restaurant defies anyone who thinks vegetarian food is boring to give it a try – and it has certainly won us over on repeated visits. It’s one of the more upmarket Indian choices in the area, so expect traditional decor, an innovative menu and lively clientele.
Opposite BurJuman Mall, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Street (04 396 0088).
7 Little Italy
This welcoming Italian restaurant boasts a huge menu, and is great for a quick takeaway. If you’re not in the mood for Italian, the venue is located in a row of other cheap and cheery eateries.
Opposite BurJuman Mall, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Street (04 385 2445).
8 Kris with a View
We’re amazed that this elegant lounge restaurant and bar is not better known. While its 19th-floor vantage isn’t as tall as many of the skyscrapers in ‘new Dubai’, it still towers over low-rise Bur Dubai, offering fantastic views, especially at night. If you fancy something more upbeat, check out the lively ten-piece Filipino band at Club Se7en down below.
Park Regis Kris Kin Hotel, Opposite Burjman Shopping Centre, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Street (04 377 1111).
One of Bur Dubai’s more desirable Indian restaurants, Kamat serves some of the best-quality vegetarian cuisine in Bur Dubai – the cauliflower manchurian, for example, is delicious. Visit for lunch and it’s particularly affordable: during the earlier lunch opening hours the all-you-can-eat thali costs just Dhs19.
Aghaadir Building, Mankhool Road (04 3598444).
10 Al Mankhool Public Library
Catch up on your reading at this surprisingly well-stocked, homely public library, which offers a decent range of English novels and non-fiction books. In our experience, staff are only too happy to help you find what you’re looking for.
Al Mankhool Road (04 327 7779).
A huge concentration of shops and restaurants populate Satwa’s dense, characterful streets.
1 Used Home Appliance & Furniture
Just as its name suggests, this business makes its cash in used home appliances, such as fridges, washing machines and TVs, with prices starting as low as Dhs200. Bargain.
27b Street, perpendicular to Al Satwa Road, opposite the park (056 139 9312).
2 Desert Frames
Have some art you need framing? Head here for a wide range of frames and mounts, with prices starting at Dhs35 for A4 size. We had frames made here in 2006 and they still take pride of place in our front room.
Al Hudaiba Road (Plant Street), next to Lals supermarket near Satwa bus station (04 349 1181).
3 Birds World
A teeny-weeny pet shop selling all sorts of birds, such as ducklings, quail, budgies, parrots, with prices starting at Dhs10 for a sparrow-type bird). It also sells rabbits for only Dhs50 – enough to break even the stoniest of hearts.
Al Hudaiba Road (Plant Street), next to Lals supermarket (04 349 4415).
4 Super Music
This store sells everything from electronic keyboards and Dhs500 karaoke sets to electric and acoustic guitars, laptop skins and amplifiers.
Al Hudaiba Road (Plant Street), next to Lals supermarket (no number).
A ready-made budget clothing store stocking pretty maxi dresses for Dhs40, as well as other summery tops and dresses.
Al Satwa Road, before Satwa Mosque (04 344 5228).
This store may be small, but it’s jam-packed with dressmaking items not easily found elsewhere, including zips in all colours and sizes, dressmaking scissors, glue guns and knitting needles.
Al Satwa Road, before Satwa Mosque (04 358 8200).
7 Raoof Sweet Restaurant
One of two bakeries on the Satwa strip specialising in Pakistani sweets, you can find halwa, gulab jamun (doughnut balls) and jalebi for Dhs1.50 a piece or Dhs24 per kilo.
Al Satwa Road, across from Cityman store (04 344 3184).
8 Ricky’s Ladies Salon
This cheap salon offers mani/pedis for the bargain price of Dhs80, as well as haircuts with a shampoo and blow-dry for just Dhs65 for long hair. Ideal if you’re having a bad hair day.
Al Mankhool Road, across from Al Hana Centre (04 354 5569).
9 Pan De Manila
This Filipino bakery serves up freshly-baked sweets from the Philippines, such as chocolate crinkles, pandesal, ensaymada, hopia, pineapple pie and rolled cake Brazo de Mercedes.
Al Mankhool Road, across from Al Hana Centre (056 799 5722).
10 Crystal House Dubai
Style-setters should visit this massive accessory-making store, which stocks Swavrovski Elements crystals, sequins, pendants, chunky beads, Dhs10 ready-made turquoise necklaces, and metal chain links.
Al Hana Centre, Al Mankhool Road (04 398 9380).
It’s known for cheap handbags, yet Karama’s cosmopolitan population means there are far more reasons to visit this suburb.
1 Pind da Dhaba
The name of this affordable Indian venue translates as ‘village restaurant’. The diverting decor certainly reflects this, with features you might see in a rural Indian street, such as a hand water pump and a huge cart wheel.
Opposite Zabeel Park, near Jumbo Showroom and Karama Fish Market (04 388 5333).
2 Aladdin’s Cave
Karama shopping centre is the place to head for a multitude of cheap handbags and souvenirs. For a more ambient shopping experience, head to this mosaic-tiled and lantern-lit souvenir shop.
Block R, Karama Shopping Complex (04 336 9477).
This Filipino casual-dining restaurant is conveniently located for a mid shopping refuel. Try the house special of chicken binagoongan – chopped chicken in a soy and vinegar sauce – for a salty, sour and spicy taste.
Block G, Karama Shopping Complex (04 337 4029).
There are several branches of vegetarian restaurant chain Sangeetha across India. The South Indian menu offers breakfast, lunch and dinner including tiffin options, as well as south and north Indian thalis.
Street 29a. Opposite Lulu Hypermarket (04 336 7111).
5 Java Padang Café
This unassuming, minimal eatery specialises in simple Indonesian home cooking. The walls are adorned with photos of guests with broad smiles on their faces, lending this venue a friendly feel.
Karama Centre, behind West Zone Supermarket (050 798 8773).
6 Pugon Bakeshop
This mall-based bakery makes its own Filipino bread rolls and baked goods fresh every day. Try the sweet, fluffy mini bread rolls known as ‘pugeon’ – perfect with a cup of milk tea.
Al Atar Mall (050 685 8669).
7 Bala Bala
The brightly coloured window display ensures this children’s toy store stands out. Head inside the jungle of soft toys for Disney and Hello Kitty treasures.
Iranian School Road, near Aster Medical Union Centre, opposite Thanco (050 638 6371).
This is an ice-cream parlour with a difference, offering 100 percent vegetarian ice creams made with natural ingredients, in rare flavours such as custard apple and jack fruit.
Iranian School Road near Aster Medical Union Centre, opposite Urban Tadka restaurant (04 379 6379).
The Bhatia sisters run this cosy, colourful neighbourhood bakery, which specialises in unusual cupcake creations and also caters for bespoke orders – ideal for an alternative birthday cake.
Rawdat Al Karama Building, shop 14, opposite BurJuman Mall, behind Yoko Sizzlers (04 357 9333).
10 Mumbai Express
This Indian restaurant offers a vegetarian menu, available all day. The setting is more modern than most, combining clean white lines with fun, colourful touches.
Sheikh Hamdan Colony B-10, shop 5 and 6 (04 397 9616).