As the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. However, for many of us when we travel, so much of what we experience in a new location occurs in a relatively short amount of time. We’ll make a judgement of a location without fully knowing the people, the sites or the experiences.
A few weeks ago I read a review of Dubai in the New Yorker. You can read the article for yourself here. In it, the author writes about his experience of Dubai following a stopover during his honeymoon. In a 12-hour period he had come to the swift conclusion, Dubai, with its new buildings, numerous shopping centres and vast tourist friendly stops, had become the world’s Las Vegas.
This got me thinking. There are plenty of places in Dubai for tourists which offer a taste of the Dubai of old. Better still, many of the places on the below list can be visited during a stop-over.
So, here are my top five things to do in Dubai during a stop-over (and they don’t even require stepping foot in a shopping centre!)
1. Visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Located in the Al-Fahidi Historic Neighbourhood, the Centre offers a number of different tours and events which aim to educate visitors about the region’s traditions and customs. Lasing 90 minutes, the Centre’s popular Heritage and Creek Tours take visitors through the Al-Fhahidi Historic Neighbourhood and include a visit to the Diwan Mosque. All the time, visitors are encouraged to ask the Emirati guide any questions they may have on the region and its customs.
Having visited the Center for a Heritage Tour earlier in the year, I can say this is a great way to learn more about the region, its customs and its culture. Just make sure you bring an open mind and lots of questions – because if you don’t ask, you won’t know.
Do keep in mind, some of the tours do not operate in the warmer months, so book before visiting. You can find out more about the Centre and book a tour at cultures.ae
2. Walk around the Al-Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
Established to preserve the lifestyle prevalent in Dubai from the mid 19th century to the 1970s, the Al-Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood gives you an insight into the Dubai of old, while adding just a touch of something new. Easy to walk around and home to galleries, museums, art societies, cultural centres, restaurants and even a hotel, the Neighbourhood is an example of how much the Emirate has changed in a short period of time.
Take the time to venture into some of the open galleries and cafes as they have some quirky spaces where you can sit and relax.
One more tip – keep an eye out for some small, unique pieces of street art dotted around the neighbourhood.
3. Take an abra across Dubai Creek
One of the best ways to cross Dubai Creek, and see Old Dubai from a different perspective, is on an abra. For one dirham, it is the cheapest way to travel between Deira and Bur Dubai. During the quick journey be treated to some great sights of one of the oldest areas in the city. A must if you are planning to see the creek during your visit.
4. Walk around the gold and spice souks
Located in Deira, these neighbouring souks are a great way to start your Dubai experience. Even if you are not interested in shopping, take your time to look around the area to appreciate the architecture and take in the activity around you.
The Spice Souk in particular is a great way to see the City’s history. A traditional market, dating back more than 50 years, this covered souk has been designed in the traditional-tower style, similar to those found in the Al-Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood.
5. Take in some street art around Dubai
You wouldn’t think it, but Dubai is home to some fantastic street art. Take a trip to Al Satwa and walk down 2nd December Street and take a look at a range of murals which pay homage to Emirati heritage and history. An urban art initiative known as Dubai Street Museum, these 16 beautiful murals are worth the detour.
Can’t make it to Al Satwa? Head out to City Walk in Jumeirah. Part of the Dubai Walls project, 15 names from the street art world, including Magda Sayeg and Nick Walker have left their mark in what has become a popular, permanent open air exhibition. Vibrant and quirky, these pieces are a popular addition to the fun destination.
As you can see, there is much more to Dubai than shopping centres, so do a bit of research and have fun exploring everything this remarkable city has to offer.