Dubai is the quintessential home of sand, sun and shopping. A century ago, it was a tranquil town whose coral-and-gypsum huts housed Bedouin traders and pearl divers. Today the merchants have gone international and science-fiction skyscrapers stand alongside the mosques and wind towers of Old Dubai.
There are two sides of Dubai to explore - the sleek, futuristic world of mirrored skylines, chilled-air malls and James Bond-style artificial islands; and old Dubai, perhaps most clearly represented by its ancient mosques and countless souks, all of which sell a different specialty.
This lovely, lush waterfront park is one of the city’s largest – running from Al-Garhoud Bridge to Al-Maktoum Bridge – and is one of the favourites. It’s very peaceful and has gorgeous views across the Creek. It also offers children’s play areas, abra rides and dhow cruises, kiosks, restaurants, an amphitheatre and beaches (though it’s not advisable to swim). On weekends it’s like a huge sheesha café, with families spread out on blankets, puffing away. There’s also a 2.5km cable-car ride (tickets adult/child Dh25/15) 30m above the shore of the Creek, with fabulous vistas.
Some tourists mock the very notion of Dubai having a museum: ‘Historical Dubai? What, they have exhibits about the year 1995?’ But Dubai does have an interesting history, and this is a surprisingly nifty little museum. Rather than bewilder guests with unnecessary detail, this is an accessible and entertaining introduction to Dubai and its history, culture and traditions. The museum occupies the early-19th-century Al-Fahidi Fort, possibly the oldest building in Dubai, and once the seat of government and the residence of Dubai’s rulers. Apart from a small fishing boat, a traditional weapons display and a barasti house with wind-tower (step under it and feel the differ
The Madinat is a hotel, shopping and entertainment complex that delights and frustrates in equal measures. For starters, it is quite a sight – its exteriors are inspired by the ancient skyscrapers found in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and the interiors are influenced by old Arabian merchant houses. There are some exquisite details here, so if you see some stairs, take them – they might lead you to a secreted terrace and wind-tower, with a mesmerising vista of the sprawling complex. If you’re a hotel guest, or have a restaurant reservation, you can catch the silent abras cruising along the Venetian-style canals from one location to the next. If you’re a day tripper and no
A passionate love of Arabian thoroughbreds courses through the blood of Emiratis, and the Dubai-based Godolphin stables are well known to horse-racing enthusiasts worldwide. Though racing season officially starts in November, the Dubai International Racing Carnival (late January through March) is when things really heat up. But it’s not the white-linen set that packs these weekly races. It’s the not-so-civilised drunk expats in shorts and T-shirts – at least in the public areas. For access to the stands, you must wear a ‘lounge suit’, basically a jacket and trousers. The season culminates in the Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race, with prize money o…
The number of expats living and working in Dubai who have never had a single conversation with a UAE national is a cause for concern. Too many expatriates know very little about the culture of their hosts, and Emiratis aren’t making enough of an effort to enlighten their guests. To help counter the stereotypes and misunderstandings that pervade Dubai society, Sahary Gate offers a range of workshops and tours that help educate foreigners about the local culture. Arabic calligraphy, cooking, language and jewellery-making are taught in workshops typically lasting between two and four hours, while some of the tours are refreshingly unique. You can visit the palace of a genero
In its first decade since opening, the Burj Al Arab has been more than just the iconic symbol of a booming city in the sand; it has challenged preconceived ideas of what an Arab country in the Middle East can achieve. The Burj’s statistics are certainly impressive. It is built on an artificial island 280m offshore from the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the sail-shaped building tops out at 321m. These numbers, of course, have been dwarfed by the newer Burj in town, but this five-star hotel (it’s best to ignore the nonsense about seven stars) is still worth visiting, if only to gawk at an interior that’s every bit as gaudy as the exterior is gorgeous. If you’re not staying at th
Even to people not interested in buying gold or jewellery, the Gold Souq is impressive for both its size – there are hundreds of shops here – and variety. Every kind of jewellery imaginable is available, from gold, diamonds and pearls to elaborate Arabian and Indian wedding necklaces, bangles and headdresses, to more contemporary styles. Some of it is beautiful, lots of it is incredibly tacky. It’s the largest gold market in the region, and one of the largest in the world (with ambitions to rival Antwerp in diamonds). The passing people parade is almost as fascinating as the sheer amount of jewellery. Once you’re done with gawking at the blingtastic jewellery displays, ta
Dhows are long, flat, wooden sailing vessels used in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, and they’ve docked at the Creek since the 1830s when the Maktoums established a free-trade port, luring merchants away from Persia. The dhows here now trade with Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Oman, India, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan, and you’ll see all kinds of crazy cargo – air-conditioners, flat-screen TVs, mattresses, kitchen sinks, clothes, canned food, chewing gum, car tyres, cars, even trucks – almost all of it re-exported after arriving by air from countries like China, South Korea and Singapore. Try to chat to the sailors if you can – if you find one who speaks English, you’ll learn that i
If you venture behind the Grand Mosque in Bur Dubai, you'll find evidence of two places of worship behind very modest exteriors - rows of shoes in shelves at the bottom of a couple of sets of stairs. One staircase leads to the Shri Nathje Jayate Temple, also known as the Krishna Mandir (mandir is Hindi for temple). Shri Nathji is the main deity of Pushtimarg, a Hindu devotional sect, with its main temple near Udaipur in Rajasthan, India.
The other house of worship is identified by a discreet sign, Sikh Gurudaba, which is interesting, because a Sikh place of worship is called a gurdwara. A guru is a teacher-guide, and a dabar is a cheap lunch stop, but we're not sure if the
The traditional sport of the UAE, camel-racing was originally practised only at weddings and special events. These days it’s big business, with races held every Thursday, Friday, Sunday and sometimes Monday mornings, October to April. Races usually start around 7am and continue until about 9am. But in classic Emirati style, no schedule is set in stone. Other races are held exclusively for Emiratis. Call ahead before you drive an hour out of town. The use of child jockeys at races has been a contentious issue in the past. International human-rights groups decried the practice, and the Emiratis acquiesced in July 2005; public races no longer exploit children. Watching these
Dubai, United Arab Emirates Sights › Architecture
The splendid, intricately detailed architecture (stunningly lit at night) and the opportunity to have a look inside (normally non-Muslims are not able to enter mosques here) makes Jumeirah Mosque well worth visiting. It is aimed at promoting greater understanding between Muslims and other religions and cultures; the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding’s ‘Open Doors, Open Minds’ tour takes visitors through the building describing the architecture of the mosque and introducing them to Islam plus the Emirati culture and traditions. The Q&A session is viewed as a vital part of the visit, so read up a little first. It’s best to prebook, as it’s becoming increasin
The small but atmospheric covered Spice Souq, once known as the Old Souq, was the largest in the region at the beginning of the 20th century, with over 300 little shops trading their wares. Travellers shouldn’t expect to see an Istanbul-like bazaar – they’ll be disappointed – but this tiny aromatic market is still worth a half-hour of your time to take in the wonderfully restored wind-towers and the pungent aromas from the jute sacks. The place is brimming with frankincense and oud, herbs and spices, dried lemons and chillies, nuts, pulses and more. This is a working souq, not just a tourist attraction, so the tiny shops also sell groceries, plastics and other household stuff
This mosque, with the tallest minaret in town, might appear to be as old as the Dubai Museum, but it was actually built in the 1990s. The multi-domed mosque maintains the style of the original Grand Mosque, which dated from 1900 and was knocked down to make way for another mosque in 1960. Its sand-coloured walls and wooden shutters blend in perfectly with the surrounding old quarter of Bur Dubai. As well as being the centre of Dubai’s religious and cultural life, the original Grand Mosque was also home to the town’s kuttab school where children learnt to recite the Quran from memory. Note that it’s only possible to admire the mosque from outside – interiors of mosques
Now a wonderful museum of pre-oil times, the grand courtyard house of Sheikh Saeed, the grandfather of Sheikh Mohammed, sits splendidly on the Shindagha area waterfront, near the Heritage and Diving Villages. Built in 1896, during the reign of Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher al-Maktoum, it served for many years as the residence for the Al-Maktoum family, and Sheikh Saeed lived here from 1888 until his death in 1958. It houses an engaging exhibition of photographs, primarily from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, taken on the Creek, in the souqs and at traditional celebrations. There are also displays of postage stamps and coins (one featuring Edward VII was known as umm salaah, meaning mother od Salah
It is unusual to find a traditional building still standing so far from the Creek, but this one, south of Jumeirah Beach Park, has been well restored and is worth a visit. The two-storey structure was built in 1955 and was attended in the evenings by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum. Here he would listen to his people’s complaints, grievances and ideas. The majlis also provided a cool retreat from the heat of the day because it is made of gypsum and coral rock, traditional building materials of the Gulf, and the roof is made of palm fronds (areesh). The majlis is decorated with cushions, rugs, a coffeepot, pottery and food platters, and is pretty close to the way it w
The best place to catch live motor sport is at the Dubai Autodrome. This 5.39km circuit and complex is host to a round of the burgeoning A1 Grand Prix circuit (www.a1gp.com), where drivers compete as representatives of their country. Oddly, despite it being a Dubai initiative, there’s no UAE team on the circuit – the nearest local team is Team Lebanon, which only occasionally scores well. Things may soon change: a new Formula One track is under construction in Abu Dhabi, due for completion at the end of 2009. The Dubai Autodrome has an adequate track, but the facilities aren’t up to snuff for the calibre of events the UAE wants to attract. Keep an eye out
Address Al-Ahmadiya St Phone 04 226 0286
Opening Hours 8am-7.30pm Sat-Thu, 2.30-7.30pm Fri
During the Dubai Shopping Festival, the Heritage and Diving Villages bloom with burqa-clad Emirati women making hot dosa (flat, grilled bread made of flour and water), Bedu men offering short-haul camel rides to children, and unusual traditional activities such as rifle-throwing competitions. Unfortunately, for the rest of the year the villages are lifeless, devoid of both tourists and staff, with empty souqs and only a few dreary displays to keep visitors interested. The occasional performance of traditional music or dance takes place outside the shopping festival – it’s worth calling in advance and making sure your visit coincides with an event.
Also known as Open Beach, this is one of Dubai's few truly public spaces. As such, it reflects the multicultural nature of Dubai society and is a great place for a walk, especially on a Friday when most guest workers have the day off and take to picnicking, playing volleyball and splashing around in the ocean.
We have reservations about recommending it as a destination for sunbathing. The city still struggles to deal with beach pests, packs of men who head to the beaches at the weekends to stare at and photograph women. Physical harassment is extremely rare, but it's probably worth spending a little extra money or waiting for a women-only day. Showers and kiosk are available.
Only really of interest to archaeology buffs, this is one of the most significant and largest archaeological sites in the UAE, where items dating from the 6th century AD were found and can be seen at Dubai Museum and the Heritage Village. Surrounded by atmosphere-inhibiting modern villas, the settlement is interesting in that it spans the pre-Islamic and Islamic eras and was once a caravan stop on a route linking Ctesiphon (now Iraq) to northern Oman. Remains from here link it with the Persian Sassanid Empire, dominant in the region from the 3rd to 6th centuries AD, and the Umayyad dynasty in the 7th century, when Islam arrived in the Gulf.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Ahmed bin Dalmouk established Al-Ahmadiya, Dubai’s first school, in 1912, and his father Sheikh Ahmed owned the traditional house adjoining it. Semiformal schools such as these were set up by sheikhs and wealthy merchants to teach the Holy Quran, grammar, Arabic calligraphy, mathematics, literature and astronomy, and while most students paid a couple of rupees to attend, the sheikhs paid for the poor students. Very special is the simplicity of the architecture and the exquisite detail – check out the intricate carving within the arches of the courtyard inside and the decorative gypsum panels near the entrance outside.
Unfortunately not much of the old covered souqs that existed around 30 years ago remain now – the Deira Spice Souq is all that’s left of the Old Souq, once the largest in the Gulf. Naif Souq is covered, like traditional bazaars, while nearby Deira Covered Souq is covered only in parts and is more a warren of small shops on narrow lanes spreading across a number of old Deira blocks. You’ll find everything from tacky textiles and plastic kitchenware to Iranian saffron and henna, but even if you’re not keen on shopping, the souqs provide an insight into the lives of Emiratis and expat workers in Dubai.
While not as old as the Deira souqs – in the old days Bur Dubai and Bastakia residents had to take a boat across to Deira to go shopping – this breezy renovated souq can be just as atmospheric and lively a place to visit. On a summer’s evening it can also be cooler, as the breeze blows through the wooden-latticed arcades. The buzziest time to visit is a Friday evening when it’s crowded with expat workers shopping on their day off. While you’ll find some great take-home items, what’s primarily on offer are cheap clothes, shoes and textiles, mainly purchased by Emirati and Indian women.
Feeling peckish? At this renovated 1890 courtyard house, visitors are treated to cups of tea and little bowls of chick peas, a traditional Emirati snack. Don’t race off the moment you’ve finished your free food, because this is a rare opportunity to see inside a wealthy pearl merchant’s residence. Like the old Bastakia buildings, the house is built from coral and gypsum, and has a central courtyard onto which all rooms look, plus verandas to prevent sunlight from heating the rooms. The charming staff are more than happy to show you around and refill your bowl of chick peas, should you still be hungry.
The Dubai Desert Classic (www.dubaidesertclassic.com) attracts some of the world’s best golfers. So popular is the event that some expat aficionados take the entire week off work to view international players tackling the local course. The event, which is held in late February or early March at Emirates Golf Club, has seen some thrilling finishes over the past couple of years – the 18th hole has become legendary on the PGA circuit. Tickets run at Dh175 per day for adults; you can purchase them online until the event draws near, but then you can only buy them at outlets in Dubai.
The gorgeous, traditional old dhows you see on Dubai Creek are still built by hand in the traditional style on the Creek waterfront, in Jaddaf, about 1km south of Al-Garhoud Bridge. Here, craftsmen use basic tools (a hammer, saw, chisel, drill and plane) to curve and fit sturdy teak planks, one on top of the other, before fitting the frame on the inside of the boat. Be impressed: this is in contrast to Western boat-building techniques where the frame is generally built first, and the planks fitted to it. These days, of course, the blokes pop an engine on the back before sliding it into the Creek.
Tours from dubai.
Experience a drive in the sand dunes. Take a thrilling drive across the majestic dunes your experienced Safari driver cum Guide will ensure you enjoy the trip across the undulating sand dunes, We stop for Sunset and take photographs and enjoy the some rough but careful tactic of driving in fine sand. Upon arrival at the camp you will have the opportunity to ride a camel . Once in the camp you will be served a delicious B.B.Q. dinner beside a blazing bonfire and entertained by a traditional Belly dancer. You arrive back at your hotel around 2230 HRS.
The tour commences when you are picked up from your hotel by our luxury 4X4 Wheel drive vehicle at around 1700 HRS. Your experienced Safari driver will take you for a thrilling ride over the magnificent sand dues, reaching the camp before sunset. Upon arrival at the camp you will have the oppurtunity to ride on our camels, the fable ships of the desert. As the sun sink onto the sand we provide a blazing bonfire to drive back the desert night. You will be served a delicious B.B.Q. dinner and entertained by a traditional belly dancer. As the entertained winds down, you can sit back and marvel at the millions of stars in the clear desert sky. The day after, breakfast will be served at sunrise and you depart back for you hotel around 1000 HRS.
Cost: US$92.00 Per Person Inclusive of dinner with dance & soft drinks.
Hatta Safari (Wadi Bashing)
Start your day with a ride through the desert, to the mountainous region of Dubai known as Hatta. There, we drive through deep trenches, where we see million year-old mountains of different arrays of colors. We splash through the flowing waters of the wadis (natural pools) during the drive, and visit a 16th century fort and some agricultural farms. This is followed by a visit to the Hatta Fort Hotel, where we can take a swim and enjoy lunch before we head back to Dubai. The 8-hour safari normally costs around $91 (Dhs. 330) for adults and and $ 63 (Dhs. 230) children.
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