Stretching along 60km of the Arabian Gulf coastline, Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates, beckons travellers with awe-inspiring architecture, desert romance and an intriguing culture.
Spread wide with designated community locations, when planning your trip to Dubai, where do you begin?
Whether in Dubai for a layover or planning a longer stay, this Dubai Guide will help you prepare.
Intended for first-timers you’ll explore #mydubai in 4 parts so you have a foundation to build your own adventure from.
With a brief introduction, each guide will cover the things we love; where to #eat #drink #explore #shop & #stay.
Welcome to Dubai!
In the Beginning…
Dubai is first referenced in The Book of Geography by the Andalusian-Arab geographer Abu Abdullah al-Bakri in 1095. In 1580 Gasparo Balbi, a Venetian pearl merchant espouses Dubai for its pearling industry.
It’s not until the early 1800s however, when Dubai has a population of between 7 and 8 hundred Bani Yas Tribes people that Dubai comes into its own.
At this stage, Sheikh Tahnoon of Abu Dhabi is the ruler but after tribal feuding in Abu Dhabi, Ubaid bin Saeed and Maktoum bin Butti led an exodus to Dubai and became joint leaders. The Maktoum lineage continues to rule Dubai today.
Old Town – Bur Dubai, Deira & The Creek.
The gateway to Dubai is through its trading port at the mouth of the Creek. In the 1800s, merchants settled on the shores taking advantage of generous tax concessions offered by the Emir (ruler) of Dubai.
Bur Dubai, Deira and the Creek trading port make up the old town where history is preserved, architecture is traditional and souqs trade in textiles, spice and gold.
Reasonably priced accommodation can be found scattered between glitzy 5-star chains. The metro is accessed easily from both sides of the Creek and this historical area is one of the stops on Dubai’s hop-on-hop-off red bus route.
Allow a day minimum to explore Bur Dubai, Deira and the Creek.
Arabain Tea House (Al Fahidi Street Bur Dubai. Ph: +971 4 353 5071)
While observing the traditions of Old Dubai you’re in the perfect location for traditional Emirati cuisine. In Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (formerly Bastakiya), Arabian Tea House opens for breakfast at 07:30 am and closes after dinner at 10:00 pm.
Here you’ll find Machboos – a one-pot rice and meat or fish dish with the appearance of Indian Biryani. Turmeric, cardamom, cumin, saffron and coriander powder give its distinct fragrance while loomy (dried lemon) provides fresh zest to the palate.
Once a simple dish of meat and rice easily transported to suit a Bedouin lifestyle, early trade with India saw the spices added to make it the fragrant dish it is today.
Begin your meal with dates and tea. Order starters of Hummus, Moutabal (smoky eggplant dip), olives, stuffed vine leaves and pickled vegetables. Follow by sharing Machboos but be sure to leave room for dessert.
Luqaimat, small deep-fried dumplings soaked in dibbs (date syrup), arrive sticky and shiny. There’s no way you can stop at one.
Bateaux Dubai (Moored on Bur Dubai creekside at Al Seef Street, opposite the Consulate of Kuwait. Ph: +971 4 814 5553 or +971 4 336 6768)
For a unique Dubai dining experience board Bateaux Dubai on the Bur Dubai side of the Creek for a dinner cruise.
The only vessel on the Creek with kitchen facilities onboard, the cuisine is world class. Enjoy a couple of hours wining and dining with the contrasting illuminated creekside architecture.
Currently offering a 30% early bird saving on bookings 30 days in advance, Bateaux Dubai is a wining, dining tourist experience worth adding to your itinerary.
Bateaux Dubai is located just behind the Bateaux Dubai retail shop. Call them anytime between 09:00 and 20:00 for directions or queries.
Being a Muslim country, alcohol licensing laws are stringent. Alcohol licenses are restricted to restaurants and bars connected to hotels ensuring expat residents and international guests have access to a sundowner or 3.
At Bur Dubai, Deira and the Creek, Hilton, Sheraton and Hyatt hotels all offer their standard of multiple bars.
Sherlock Holmes Pub (Mezzanine Level @ Arabian Courtyard Hotel, Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai. Ph:+971 4 3519111)
While exploring the museums and souqs of Bur Dubai you may need to wet your whistle at a hidden gem.
The Sherlock Holmes Pub is a direct contrast from the surroundings outside. This themed pub is a great spot to take a breather after a visit to Al Fahidi Fort and the Bastakiya area.
Cold beers on tap, wine by the glass and a good pub menu will give you the energy you need to continue your adventure.
Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club (DCGYC) (Enter from E11 onto Dubai Golf & Yacht Club Road. +971 4 2956000)
With its list of venues, DCGYC is a wonderful spot for sundowners. The Boardwalk on the deck is a casual alfresco option overlooking the marina.
Casa de Tapas on level 1 provides an alternate vantage point for the view and on the top floor, Celio has an excellent evening vista taking in the bright lights of Downtown Dubai.
All are licensed with menus ranging from quick bites to main meals.
Al Fahidi Fort (Enter from Ali Bin Abi Taleb Street, Al Fahidi)
Begin your Old Dubai adventure in Bur Dubai at Al Fahidi Fort. Recognised as the oldest building in Dubai, Al Fahidi Fort houses the Dubai Museum.
3 dirhams gains access to what was once home to Dubai’s rulers.
A traditional dwelling, dhows, and a wooden water storage tank exhibit the craftsmanship of the time. Bedouin weapons, pottery and musical instruments are on display with a backdrop of traditional fireside dancing.
Take the spiral walkway underground for dioramas of jewellers, blacksmiths, weavers, tailors and farmers. Pearl diving and fishing presentations explain Dubai’s early reliance on both. A 10-minute video using archival footage shares progress by decade from 1960.
An archaeology exhibition displays artefacts unearthed from tombs in the area, some dating back more than 2000 years.
Arrive early to beat the heat and the tour buses. The museum is an attraction worth visiting but is not much fun with crowds.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. (Enter at the roundabout at Al Fahidi, 3rd & Al Satwa Streets)
Wander through Bastakiya now referred to as Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. The Bastaki people of Iran settled here in the late 1800s for a combination of commercial, political and religious reasons.
They brought with them a wind tower design (Bajeel in Arabic) seen high above the mud-walled buildings. The towers replicate air conditioners extracting warm air and funnelling sea breezes, naturally cooling the rooms beneath. A necessity in summer where temperatures reach 50ºC.
This completely restored neighbourhood includes boutique hotels (unlicensed), art galleries promoting local artists, coffee stores with museums exploring early trade and tea houses providing refreshments.
Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) (Al Musalla Road, Al Fahidi. +971 4 353 6666)
SMCCU has a number of tours introducing traditions, religion and the UAE way of life to visitors. “Open Doors: Open Minds” is the centre’s message to share their culture to create understanding.
National dress is discussed including the controversial face-covering niqab, misrepresented around the world as a burqa/ burka.
The call to prayer, heard throughout the country 5 times a day/ 7 days a week, and the religious holiday of Ramadan are both explained. Join historical Creek tours or simply share a typical Emirati meal.
Sheikh Saeed al-Maktoum House (Shindaga District, the Creek, Bur Dubai. Ph: +971 4 393 7139 & +971 4 515 5000 )
Nearby is Sheikh Saeed al-Maktoum House, a 30 room courtyard home open to the public. Photos of the Creek, souqs and celebrations from the 1940’s and 50’s are on display. To learn more about the history and construction of Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum House take a look at this video.
To cross the Creek from Bur Dubai to Deira take a traditional abra. Still used today to navigate the Creek, only 1 dirham will get you to the other side. A longer tour can be arranged with the ticket office for a ride upstream to view the contrasting traditional and contemporary architecture.
Textile Souq. (Ali Bin Abi Talib Street, Bur Dubai.)
Before crossing to Deira, a natural path from Al Fahidi Fort takes you through the lattice covered arcades of the Textile Souq. Many of the stores are selling souvenirs you will find all over Dubai, but the embellished textiles are the prize.
Enjoy the atmosphere. You’ll be invited (hassled) into stores constantly, simply be polite and hold your ground.
If you’re serious about textiles, a more affordable way to purchase is from the stores at the back of the Souq who also specialise in garment construction. Less haggling is required and the surroundings are calmer for you to make your decisions.
Be clear explaining your requirements and ask to examine samples of their work. Don’t be shy; negotiate. Expect to return for first and final fittings and for garments to be completed in 2-3 days.
Deira Spice Souq. (34th Street, Deira.)
Once on the Deira side of the Creek your first stop is the Spice Souq. Full to bursting with exotic spices, remedies and dried goods, here you’ll find Iranian saffron at excellent prices.
The sacks of black balls are loomy, the dried lemons mentioned earlier used for their zesty flavour in Machboos. Dried roses, cinnamon quills, sacks of cardamom and some less familiar spices fill stores and line alleys.
Take advantage of the vendor’s knowledge and advice on their uses. Vendors are also well informed on packaging and shipping specific to individual countries.
Meander through the alleyways to find kitchenware stores. Many are purely wholesale, but some are happy to negotiate on single items. The earthy scents through this souq are intoxicating.
Deira Gold Souq. (Al Ras Road, Deira)
You’ll need your wits about you if you intend to purchase at the Gold Souq but helpful gold trading screens update with current gold prices by weight. There’s very little negotiating room on the gold price but savings can be made on workmanship.
Black and purple gold are available along with a wealth of precious metals and stones.
The narrow, bustling streets surrounding the Gold Souq are teaming with commerce and cart wielding men on a mission. Take some time to wander this vibrant area for clothing, footwear, accessories, handbags, textiles, homewares, and the list goes on.
Please note: There are 2 entrances to Deira Gold Souq. If using google maps it will direct you to the main entrance, about 850M from the Spice Souq. Expand your map and you can see the length of the Gold Souq and the opposite end to the map’s destination pin is the entrance you want. It’s a mere 100M from the Spice Souq.
Perfume Souq. (Sikkat al-Khail Street, Deira.)
South of the Gold Souq on Sikkat al-Khail Street is Deira’s Perfume Souq. A meandering street lined by perfume stores selling essence, oil, incense and fragrant wood.
Have the perfumier prepare your bespoke scent, a common practice for many in the Middle East.
As mentioned, there are numerous hotels in this traditional part of Dubai so finding accommodation here is simple. To continue reliving the establishment of Dubai, why not stay in a heritage guest house?
Barjeel Heritage Guest House (Shindaga Historical District. Bur Dubai at the Creek Ph: +971 4 351 9111)
Adjacent to Al Ghubaiba Metro Station, Barjeel Heritage Guest House sits creekside. Wake with the call to prayer from nearby mosques, watch the sunrise with a glass of sweet mint tea and observe the trading port come alive as you enjoy a traditional Arabic breakfast on the terrace.
Park Hyatt Hotel (Enter from E11 onto Dubai Golf & Yacht Club Road. +971 4 602 1234)
Within the grounds of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Park Hyatt Hotel has views of the Creek and beyond to Downtown. An extravagance, perhaps, but a unique location to rest your head in Dubai.
By now everyone has the Über app and it works without a hitch, however, if supporting local is important to you, download the Careem app. Careem allows booking in advance, on the spot and fixed priced fares to neighbouring emirates. Join through this link and we’ll both save a few dirhams on our next ride.
Taxis are inexpensive and plentiful in Dubai. The different roof colours indicate specific taxi companies and a pink roof will have a female driver.
Using the metro is economical too, with the red line beginning at Dubai International Airport and following Sheikh Zayed Road all the way to Jebel Ali in the south.
An interchange at both Union and Burjuman allows access to Deira and Bur Dubai respectively. Al Ghubaiba Station takes you closest to the mouth of the Creek, Al Fahidi Station closest to the fort and Al Ras closest to the Souqs in Deira.
Rental cars are reasonably priced in the UAE. Insurance covers all Emirates but if your plan is to cross the border into Oman special insurance is required. Ask about this before booking your car to avoid any misunderstandings.
The UAE is a Muslim country so a few sensibilities (and laws) need to be respected.
When visiting markets (souqs), shopping malls, in fact, public spaces in general, dress respectfully. Simply cover your shoulders and knees, national dress is not a requirement.
In mosques, women must also cover their heads. Abayas with hoods are generally provided but take a shawl just in case.
In nightclubs, bars and on beaches wear what you normally would. Dubai is known to be the most relaxed emirate but respecting the local customs anywhere is good practice.
Public Displays of Affection should be discreet.
Some restrictions on the consumption of alcohol do apply, but booze can be purchased through Duty-Free stores at the airport and the 4-litre limit per person is generous.
To purchase from a stand-alone Liquor outlet, a UAE alcohol license must be provided and these are not available for tourists. Try not to be concerned, if you like a sundowner or 3, it will become evident in this series that you won’t be short of licensed venues.
Check for religious holiday dates especially Ramadan. These are dry periods where many venues close. Ramadan lasts for a month and public eating and drinking during daylight hours is not acceptable.
Also, consider the climate. This is a factor with all travel destinations, however, in Dubai’s summers (June to August) the heat can be punishing, many venues are closed but the upside is prices are lower. If you can stand the heat your wallet will thank you.
Emirates Airline, Dubai’s national carrier, operates 3,600 flights per week through Dubai International Airport connecting over 150 destinations.
Add another 110 or so with Fly Dubai (Emirates’ low-cost arm) and then many more with other airlines and getting to Dubai via air is as easy as booking online.
Next up in #mydubai Guide I’ll introduce you to the delights of Dubai’s pumping heart, the CBD, Business Bay and the newly developed Dubai Canal. Until then, paraphernalians, do the things you love….
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