Things to do in Old Dubai

Go and explore the city’s historical district with these old, and new, attractions

Things to do in Old Dubai

Dubai is a city steeped in heritage and history, and as well as the skyscrapers, five-star hotels and beach resorts, the emirate is home to a rich culture dating back hundreds of years, with tonnes of things to do and see.

So if you’re looking to explore Old Dubai, and we strongly recommend doing so, here’s what you need to be getting up to.

Abra ride
When perusing the rest of the things to do in Dubai in this list bear in mind that the ideal way of exploring Old Dubai is to get lost wandering the streets and traversing the Dubai Creek. A ride across said creek is available from multiple points and multiple times per hour. Hope on an abra, pay your one dirham fee (yes, just Dhs1), and take in a unique perspective of Dubai’s most historic quarter.

Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
Al Fahidi, formerly known as Bastikiya, is one of the city’s oldest heritage sites. In the 1800s, it was a trading hub for textile and pearl merchants, in the shadow of Al Fahidi Fort, now home to the Dubai Museum (more on that later). There are art galleries and exhibitions – check out XVA and Majlis Gallery – and institutes such as the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (also more on that later, too), which holds regular talks on UAE traditions and heritage. There are tonnes of things to do museums and merchant stores lining the neighbourhood’s narrow streets, so go and get lost for a few hours, you won’t regret it.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Deira (no number).

Al Mallah
Shawarmas are a dime a dozen across the city, but this old streetside Satwa haunt serves some of the juiciest, and for less than Dhs10. The mixed grills are just as impressive, too. Combine with fattoush, hummus and a fresh juice, and you’ve got yourself a winning meal.
Open daily 6am-2.30am. 2nd December Street, Satwa (04 398 4723).

Al Seef
One of the “newer” entries on this list is the heritage neighbourhood-meets-creekside destination by master developer Meraas. Here you’ll find two distinct districts along a near-2km boardwalk alongside the banks of the Dubai Creek, full of restaurants and shops. One side represents New Dubai, with stylish, slick modern exteriors, while the other represents historical, traditional Dubai, with classic architecture and a deliberate, rustic look throughout. Head along for some great bars, restaurants, cafés, shops and more.
Al Seef, Deira (800 637227)

Calicut Paragon
This South Indian restaurant in Karama is one of Time Out Dubai’s Best Budget Restaurants of 2019, and with good reason. Dishes here are wildly affordable, but also offer tremendous quality, to boot. There are plenty of meat and vegetarian dishes but seafood reigns supreme thanks to dishes such as the crab tushar.
Open daily 7am-12.30am. Karama, www.paragonrestaurant.net (04 335 8700).

Dubai Frame
Dubai’s picturesque (get it?) landmark allows visitors to see the city’s past, present and future in a one-hour tour with absolutely incredible views of ‘old’ and ‘new’ Dubai from a 150-metre-high sky glass bridge. The frame is open daily from 10am until 7pm and is priced at just Dhs50 for adults and Dhs20 for children, while adults over 60 and people of determination can visit for free.
From Dhs20 (kids), Dhs50 (adults) free (kids under three, adults over 60 and people of determination). Open daily 10am-7pm. Zabeel Park, www.thedubaiframe.com.

Elia
Still one of few restaurants in the city offering Greek cuisine, Elia serves up peaceful respite from the city, and fantastic-quality Greek classics – cheese saganaki, tyrokafteri, tomato kofta and an innovative moussaka – all of which are made very well. Perfect for long, lazy afternoons.
Open daily 7pm-11.30pm. Majestic Tower Retreat, Bur Dubai (04 359 8888).

Hindi Lane
Sitting snugly between Meena Bazaar and the Creek, Hindi Lane is a vibrant maze of shops hung with beautiful wreaths of fresh flowers, posters, knick-knacks and tiny hole-in-the-wall cafés serving Indian snacks. Visit around Diwali when the store fronts are strewn with all manner of flashing, multicoloured fairy lights and are lit with candles. It’s a photographer’s dream.
Behind Dubai Grand Mosque, opposite Du bai Museum, Bur Dubai (no number).

Mawaheb From Beautiful People
This art studio is entirely unique, since it uses combined artistic skills to create stunning pieces from people of determination. It’s an educational, artistic facility that is designed to do good for the Dubai community, and has been producing gorgeous artwork that’s even visible in some of DXB Airport’s largest concourses. Head along to see how the magic happens, and pick up some art for yourself, the proceeds of which go back into making the studio more.
Open Sun-Thu 8.30am-2.30pm. Villa 11, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (04 352 8328).

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Known for its breakfast and lunch Q&A sessions with its Emirati hosts, the centre has recently expanded its programmes to include dinners, too, as well as Fuala – the Emirati custom of welcoming guests with tea and pastries. Try traditional Emirati cuisine, coffee and snacks and ask your hosts anything and everything you ever wanted to know about the UAE and its culture. Combine lunch with a heritage tour around the area to learn about Dubai’s history from someone whose family lived through it.
Open Sun-Thu 8am-4pm, Sat 9am-1pm, closed Fri. House 26, Al Mussallah Road, Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Bur Dubai (04 353 6666).

The Dubai Museum
If you feel your time in Dubai is lacking a little in history, then plan a day trip to the Old Town, especially the Al Fahidi District. A vivid picture of the past is formed during a visit to Dubai Museum. The historic building is home to a wide variety of life-size dioramas that depict Emirati life from a bygone era. Soak in the heritage as you take a tour through traditional scenes of Arab households, souks and mosques, with more thjngs to do offering unique insights into life in the desert by the sea.
Dhs3 (adults), Dhs1 (kids under six). Open Sat-Wed 8.30am-8.30pm, Thu 2.30pm-8.30pm, closed Fri. Bur Dubai (04 353 1862).

The Old Souks
Gold, spice or textiles – take your pick. On either side of Dubai Creek (an aforementioned abra ride inbetwixt), you’ll be able to explore some of Dubai’s classic markets, which in their day proved to be some of the city’s most important economic hubs. It is estimated that the Gold Souk is home to as much as ten tonnes of gold at any given moment, and there are dozens of jewellery shops offering some incredible items, plus other things to do. Meanwhile, you can buy tonnes of fresh herbs, spices, ingredients, remedies and more in the Spice Souk, and fabrics, garments and more in the Textiles Souk. For more things to do in Dubai, click here.
Open daily, timings vary. Deira (no number).

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