It’s normally the city’s newer neighbourhoods soaking up the limelight, but recently eyes have returned to Old Dubai. The exciting and ambitious relaunch of Palm Deira as Deira Islands, the arrival of new restaurants and bars at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club and the revival of the Dubai Canal project extending the Creek have all refocused attention on the city’s older communities. But why wait for Old Dubai to become, erm, New Old Dubai before you really get to know them? Discovering hidden gems and seeking out those in-the-know spots isn’t just the preserve of adventurous tourists – having a rich, expert knowledge of your city is as empowering as it is rewarding. To help you get started on your journey of discovery, we’ve rounded up each need-to-know foodie haunt, shop and street in the emirate’s original neighbourhoods. Got some of your own secret hangouts to share? Drop us a line – we’d love to hear from you...
Once the commercial centre of the city, Deira may have lost its status to the likes of DIFC, but the area still plays a major part in Dubai’s trading industry. Along this side of the Dubai Creek, you’ll find dozens upon dozens of dhows loading and unloading goods, bound for Africa and India. The area is also one of the most densely populated in the emirate and everywhere from the souks to the streets is consistently abuzz with activity.
Al Naif Road
Head away from the Creek to the junction of Naif Road and Al Sabkha Road to find yourself in the heart of a lively Old Dubai neighbourhood. It’s best to visit at dusk, or after dark, when the area’s neon signs flash and blink all at once, competing for your attention as you peruse cheap electronics and clothes, take in the scents of bargain Indian and Pakistani cuisine and chickens roasting in large glass-clad ovens on the street.
Naif Road and Al Sabkha Road (no number).
It might seem a strange idea to head here for Chinese cuisine, but this is among the best places to grab an authentic meal in the city at a sliver of the prices in the city’s five-star spots. Run and frequented by Chinese expats, don’t expect to find your favourite takeaway dishes on the menu – this restaurant is the real deal, fried duck bones, marrow and all.
Al Maktoum Road (04 295 9816).
Day to Day
Pick up affordable gifts and essentials, from electronics to toiletries, plus souvenirs, hair accessories and even wigs. Got a kids’ party coming up? This is an ideal spot to pick up favours to fill cute little bags for mini guests to take home with them.
Near Al Nasser Square (04 228 4843).
Take a stroll down the Deira side of the Creek for a peek at the cargo – and don’t expect to find any shipping containers here, everything goes in cardboard boxes, tarpaulin or nothing at all. From crates of fruit juices to bicycles, refrigerators to cars, the array of goods is always surprising. Be sure to stop for a snack at the kiosk near the main RTA abra and water taxi station, where you can grab a samosa or a plate of spicy chickpeas and get change from Dhs5. Remember to take your camera.
Baniyas Road (no number).
Sitting between Shindagha tunnel and the Gold Souk, Dubai’s biggest fish market is as busy today as it ever was. With work underway on a new facility, head down now to explore a major part of Dubai’s recent history before it closes for good. While there buy fresh produce caught that very morning off the UAE’s coast. We recommend visiting first thing in the morning to get the best picks.
Near Gold Souk (no number).
A glittering haven of intricately crafted Indian gold, Dubai’s most famous souk sells everything from bangles to tiaras, elaborate rings to bespoke nameplate necklaces in English or Arabic script. Trading mainly in 24kt, don’t expect to find the cheap stuff here, though do be prepared to haggle – prices are set to gold market levels twice daily, but there is always room to negotiate a discount, particularly if you’re buying several pieces.
Off Al Khor Street (no number).
Follow your nose from the Gold Souk to discover tiny alleyways lined with sacks full of fresh spices from all around the region. Pick up cardamom and star anise, saffron and cinnamon, cumin, coriander and so much more.
Between Baniyas Road and Al Khor Street
• Deira City Centre was the busiest Metro Station in Dubai during the first half of 2014, with 3,261,835 users.
• Deira is home to Dubai’s only Pearl Museum. Located inside the Emirates NBD headquarters, visits are available by appointment only.
• The RTA has revealed that more than 7,500 streets across the city are to be renamed, of which more than 500 have already been changed. In Deira and Bur Dubai, streets will be given historical and heritage names.
This small ’hood sits between Dubai International Airport, Deira and the Creek, and is home to some of the city’s oldest hotels and pubs.
A superbly simple take on an old Irish pub, this Garhoud hangout has been a stronghold of long-time expats for years. With sports screened regularly, hearty grub and an entirely unpretentious setting, Dubliner’s puts punters right at ease.
Le Méridien Village, Le Méridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre, Airport Road (04 217 0000).
The Irish Village
Another street, another take on the Irish pub. A stalwart of old Dubai drinking, The IV – as it is known – is almost as popular with those holidaying in the city as those who live here. From September onwards, this place really comes into its own, particularly in the evenings when the large patio overlooking a pond is thronged with punters enjoying the warm night air with a cold drink.
Next to Dubai Tennis Stadium (04 239 5000).
This old school Thai restaurant may not always be heaving, but the slightly crooked interiors boast bags of character, which make it just a little too charming to resist. Grab a bottle of Asian hops and tuck into a mountain of pad Thai goong sod (just don’t look at the nutritional content, which the menu advertises as almost 1,100 calories a plate – yikes!).
Le Méridien Village, Le Méridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre, Airport Road (04 217 0000).
As synonymous with handbag and watch salesmen as it is excellent budget Indian and Pakistani restaurants, Karama is the ultimate place for shopping and scoffing on a shoestring. But it’s not all about the main Karama Souk area, housing swathes of leather bag shops and dotted with cafeterias well worth visiting – you need to hit Kuwait Road too (between Za’abeel Road and Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Road) for yet more great buys and eats.
Al Attar Centre
This small, shiny shopping mall sits slap-bang in the middle of Kuwait Street, and houses a range of tiny shops and kiosks selling everything from colourful smartphone covers to hair accessories, affordable clothing to tasty Filipino snacks. There are also a couple of casual eateries inside specialising in Asian cuisine.
Kuwait Street (no number).
The largest and smartest of the small chain’s restaurants, this decades-old Indian eatery is as popular as ever, particularly on a Friday lunchtime, when the kitchen’s efforts are tested, firing out rich, fragrant dishes such as dabba gosht and chana masala. Mop it all up with a stretchy, doughy roomali roti for a truly memorable mealtime, all for Dhs50.
Za’abeel Road, opposite Karama Post Office (04 334 7171).
If you came to Dubai for the bargain handbags, this is where you should be heading. Pick up leather goods in a huge range of different colours and styles – but be sure to visit a few shops before parting with your cash, as prices for the same items can vary wildly. Do also keep an eye out for the smaller shops selling pashminas in a variety of qualities (from Dhs10 to Dhs500 apiece) and small souvenirs.
18B Street (no number).
Karama Fish Market
Pick up fresh and affordable produce at this market. Don’t be put off by the sometimes jumbled seafood display – there’s an enormous range of fresh fish, crabs and cephalopods available, and most stallholders will clean your purchases for you.
End of 18B Street, inside Karama Market (no number).
Like many restaurants of its kind, Keerthi’s staff will try and whisk you upstairs if you have women or kids in your company, but sit downstairs to people-watch through the window while you tuck in. While the lunch and dinner options are just as good, it’s hard to beat the short but delicious breakfast menu, which features dosas, appam and omelettes to name but a few, all for less than Dhs10 each.
Kuwait Street (04 335 7171).
You could easily miss this hidden Rajasthani gem in Karama, with its deceptively unspecial exterior. Inside, however, is a delightfully homely, cosy eatery with saffron-coloured walls and handmade Indian murals and lampshades hanging from the walls and ceiling. The focus is on vegetarian cuisine, but there are plenty of non-veg options too, and while it’s by no means the cheapest eatery in the neighbourhood, it’s worth dropping by.
Corner of 47C Street, behind Za’abeel Road (04 336 8332).
Grab a snack from this across-the-road competitor to the famous Al Reef bakery. In addition to huge and variety manakish, the Lebanese restaurant and café also does a mean shawarma, plus mixed grills, mezze and bakery items including sweet milk bread filled with dates.
Near Karama Post Office, Za’abeel Road (04 336 9994).
Home to the majority of the city’s historical sites, including the well-known Dubai Museum, as well as The Ruler’s Court, Bur Dubai sits on the Jumeirah side of the Creek, across the water from Deira. In contrast to the more industrial harbourings in Deira, Bur Dubai’s waterside path features an uninterrupted line-up of dhows offering dinner cruises. Instead of gold and spice shops, the souks focus on textiles, but one thing that remains the same is that the best eateries are still cheap, cheerful and chockablock full of customers.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
Head to this area between the British Embassy and Dubai Museum, which dates back to 1859, to discover a number of art galleries and quaint Arabic eateries. Designed to look like the old village that once stood in its place, the entire sandy-hued complex is open-air, with wind towers dotted around the buildings.
Al Fahidi Street, near Al Seef Road (no number).
Al Shindagha Historical Area
Further along the Creek from Al Fahidi, beyond Bur Dubai’s main souk area, this district houses a collection of museums and complexes devoted to various elements of Dubai’s (and the UAE’s) heritage. Visit Dubai Heritage Village (complete with individual stalls during cooler months), Diving Village (with its displays and artefacts from the city’s pearl diving past), as well as the Camel Museum, Horse Museum and the home of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum – the grandfather of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai – built in 1894 and now a museum.
Al Khaleej Road, www.dubaiculture.ae.
Bayt Al Wakeel
Perched seemingly perilously over the Creek, jutting out on a wooden boardwalk from Bur Dubai’s souks this tourist-friendly Arabic and seafood eatery is still worth a visit for long-time residents. As one of the area’s most distinctive eateries, you’d be right to expect to pay a little more than average for a meal here, but as one of the must-visit places in this neck of the woods (and indeed the city) it’s worth it.
Textile Souk, off Ali Bin Abi Taleb Street behind Dubai Museum (04 353 0530).
Along this tiny alleyway near the Dubai Museum, you’ll find the city’s only Hindu temple, plus dozens of little shops selling offerings and religious paraphernalia, from posters of Hindu deities to small figurines, keyrings to stickers. At the very end, you’ll also find a small stall selling potted plants.
Off Ali Bin Abi Taleb Street, between The Ruler’s Court and Grand Mosque (no number).
Khatmandu Highland Palace
Head to this little-known Nepalese eatery for some of the best momos in town. Opt for chicken and try them steamed or deep-fried for a filling mid-trawl snack.
Near Astoria Hotel (04 353 6308).
Referring to the area between Khalid Bin Waleed Street and Al Fahidi Street rather than a specific destination (though head for 50B Street and you’re on track) Meena Bazaar is best visited at night, when the shops are lit up in twinkling lights and the district is at its busiest. Peruse ream after ream of fabric in one of the hundreds of textile shops, haggle over watches or admire extravagant traditional Indian outfits through the windows.
Between Khalid Bin Waleed Street and Al Fahidi Street (no number).
Head to this enormously popular, no-frills Rajasthani and Gurjarati restaurant on Al Rolla Road and expect to find yourself either queuing with the masses before lunchtime opening or waiting for a table if you arrive any later. There’s a reason it’s always so busy – the thali is among the best the city.
All Rolla Road (04 393 4433).
A quirky Iranian restaurant on Bur Dubai’s jam-packed Al Mussallah Road, Special Ostadi has been standing for more than three decades. Currency from around the world – most of which has been collected from willing customers – decorate tables in the small room, while the walls bear framed photographs of UAE rulers and more unusual imagery of bodybuilding competitions. Family-run, the staff are incredibly welcoming and the traditional Iranian food is both hearty and full of flavour.
Near Musalla Tower, Al Musalla Road (04 397 1469).
• Al Fahidi Fort, which houses the Dubai Museum, was originally built in 1787, and is the oldest building in Dubai.
• Dubai Creek crossing Floating Bridge (open to cars only during the day, raising at night to allow boats to pass) will be officially replaced by the 420-metre-long Al Ittihad Bridge in 2018. It will have a 100-metre-high steel arch, six lanes in each direction and stretch from Al Riyadh Road in Bur Dubai to the Dubai-Sharjah Road on Deira side.
Also known as Al Nasr (which means ‘victory’), this small neighbourhood next to Dubai Healthcare City and the Wafi complex is home to a collection of restaurants and cafés, sports facilities, schools and landmarks including the American Hospital and Mövenpick Hotel Bur Dubai.
Al Nasr Leisureland
Spread over 48 acres, this sports and leisure centre first opened back in 1979 – and surprisingly little has changed since then. Here you can play retro arcade games or tennis, ice skate, go bowling and much more. Just behind the complex, you’ll find old school clubbing destination Chi @ The Lodge.
Behind American Hospital, 12A Street (04 337 1234).
This quirky mall, with its famously creepy robotic climbing clown, houses a range of affordable brands, such as Matalan, Bhs and Red Tag, a cinema, kids’ play area and a ‘7XD’ motion simulator to shake things up with mid-shop.
4th Street (04 335 9999).
A surprisingly attractive dining spot in this older neighbourhood, Indian vegetarian restaurant Sai Dham is a relaxing place to grab a bite to eat and escape the tooting of horns for an hour. The prices aren’t unreasonable either.
Saleh Bin Lahej Building, 4th Street (04 335 8788).
Named after Hong Kong’s famous dining district, this restaurant captures the essence of classic Chinese dining hall. Pull up a perch next to a life-sized Terracotta Warrior and enjoy some authentic, affordable dishes – there’s even a tank with live crab and fish to pick your meal from.
Opposite Mövenpick Hotel Bur Dubai (04 335 3680).
Bordered by Jumeirah and Bur Dubai, this busy neighbourhood is home to one of Dubai’s most important landmarks. Sitting at the end of the main 2nd December Street (formerly Diyafah Street), Union House played an important role in the establishment of the United Arab Emirates. Home to a sizeable population of expats, Satwa is a bustling low-rise neighbourhood with bags of street life, from popular roadside eateries to the groups of fearless street cats who linger underneath tables to catch scraps.
An old stalwart on the bustling 2nd December Street scene, Al Mallah is the place to go for simple Arabic fast food. Skip the mezze, which are much better elsewhere (try Sidra across the road), and munch on their winning shawarmas and falafel sandwiches.
2nd December Street (04 398 4723).
Al Satwa Road
Take a stroll down this noisy, chaotic street and peruse a huge range of fabrics, shop after tiny shop of Indian and Pakistani sweets, bargain homewares and clothes.
Check out Raoof Sweet Restaurant (04 344 3184) for delicious halwa, gulab jamun and jalebi.
Hidden away down a side alley off Al Satwa Road, this tailor has been in business for 30 years and commands a loyal customer base. For best results, bring in the item you want copied, or detailed photographs to discuss with the tailors. You’ll need to bring your own fabric, but there are plenty of shops nearby selling all manner of colours and materials.
Off Al Satwa Road (04 344 7563).
This licensed Italian eatery in the Chelsea (formerly Rydges) Plaza hotel offers a cosy, cottage-like ambience for a relaxed evening meal. On the menu you’ll find all the usual pastas and pizzas, but it’s also unexpectedly great value, and offers bags more character than many of the city’s newer pizzerias.
Chelsea Plaza Hotel, 2nd December Street (04 398 2222).
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).
An essential stop on any visitor or resident’s list of things to do in Satwa (and indeed the whole of Dubai) this long-standing Pakistani restaurant was a local favourite long before legions of celebrity chefs dropped by to spout about the authentic, off-the-beaten-path cuisine. The path to Ravi’s is in fact very well beaten, and for good reason. Chow down on dal packed with ginger, no-fuss tandoori chicken on the bone and piles of fresh crisp-edged breads.
Opposite Co-operative Society, near Satwa roundabout (04 331 5353).
• Up until December 2011, 2nd December Street – Satwa’s arterial main road – was called Al Diyafah Street. The name was changed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktourm, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, to mark UAE National Day, which falls on December 2.
• Satwa is home to Union House, the site of the UAE’s (and one of the world’s) largest flags, which is raised on a 120-metre flag pole and visible from several kilometres. Union House is a place of historical significance in Dubai, where on December 2 1971, the treaty to create the United Arab Emirates was signed.
• Satwa is the subject of Dubai-based filmmaker Mahmoud Kaabour’s critically acclaimed Satwa Stories, a spoken photo-novella made in 2008. It highlighted the area’s characters and best secrets ahead of what was – at that time – an impending demolition of the neighbourhood to make way for a new development called Jumeirah Garden City.