Tuesday, 10 March 2020 | Dubai, UAE
Andy is one of the Co-Founders of The Travel Hub. Living in Dubai not only provides a great base for travel, but also the opportunity to experience an incredible city at home.
If you don't think Dubai has a rich history and culture, you definitely need to go and visit Old Town on the banks of Dubai Creek.
Skyscrapers and shiny sports cars dominate the Dubai we know today, often overshadowing the history and culture of the Emirate. But only a short distance from the luxury malls and opulent hotels, is Old Dubai, where the city’s past has been preserved.
Long before the high-rises dominated the skyline, the city of Dubai was a fishing village focused around Dubai Creek - a port for fishing, trading and a large pearl industry. The wharf, located on the North bank, is still a hub for trade boats carrying a vast array of products and supplies from many African and Asian regions. A small walk along this trader’s marina leaves you marveling at the load and stability of these vessels, carrying from food to SUV’s.
Adjacent to the cargo vessels and dhows lies a bustling Abra station, taking commuters to various stops across the creek. For just 1 dirham (USD 0.30), passengers can hop on, and enjoy the breezy 5-10min journey across this busy channel. Abra’s run every few minutes throughout the day and are an easy and authentic way of getting around.
Across the waters from the original commercial centre of the city are unique eateries and stops that will take you through the birth of the Emirates, while offering you a cultural dip into what many incorrectly perceive to be a city without soul. It is here you will find the true beating heart of this desert metropolis, complete with old city haggling and endless daily bartering.
It’s a good idea to spend the better part of a day in Old Dubai. When you arrive across the creek from your Abra ride, you will find The Creekside Restaurant & Café – a traditional style eatery with local dishes and twists on continental favourites. The breakfast menu is impressive, and the French toast is served with flavors of date and pomegranate – a must try! The cafe is a true hidden gem in the ‘old ‘city, and well worth the stop and the calories.
The laneways along the creek house trinkets and treasures from across the region. Don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by over enthusiastic store-keepers speaking a variety of languages as they lobby for you to spend time at their store purchasing from anything traditional local garb, colourful fabrics, souvenirs and Indian leathers.
Following the shopping passage will lead you up to the bustling area of Bur Dubai. Between culture, commerce, and many consulates this area offers a diverse range of activities for visitors to enjoy. A short walk from the textile souk and creek area lies Al Fahidi Fort - a museum with images and antiques, the fort is a remarkably preserved piece of traditional Gulf architecture. This is the original fort for the city of Dubai, and was for some time the residence of the Ruling Family. The museum can be visited every day except Friday, and admission is a mere 3 dirhams for adults and 1 dirham for children.
Nearby is the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which has a wonderful display of local Arabic artwork. So much of the history and culture of the UAE is depicted in the collections of both old and modern art. Climbing the narrow staircases and wondering through the wind towers that house the collections offer a glimpse into how buildings looked before the highrises took over.
A short hop up from the Fort is the picturesque Arabian Teahouse Café. A perfect stop for lunch on a walking tour of the area, the cafe serves Middle Eastern specialties along with over 100 different varieties of tea to sample. Guests can sit among the famous blue benches and enjoy the traditional past-time of smoking the shisha pipe with one of many fruity flavors.
As the sun starts to dip, and the Souks light up, head back across the creek and start your evening adventures through the Spice and Gold Souks. The aromas of the Spice Souk are enchanting and stalls house an array of treasured spices and incense from all over the world. My personal favourite is the Frankincense from Oman – when put over a small coal in a burner it creates an incredible perfume that fills a room. The Gold Souk is a great place to fine tune your haggling skills and if your are looking to buy jewelry or a gift, the prices are extremely competitive. The Government regulates the souk very closely, so you can be sure that the jewelry sold is the real deal!
To bring your day of exploring in Old Dubai to a close, sail the evening away on one of the dinner dhow cruises. The brightly lit vessels serve a traditional Middle Eastern buffet and slowly pass along through the areas you have explored. From here you will see the lights of the tall buildings now surrounding the former hub of the city.
Whilst Dubai has expanded outwards and upwards around it, the creek area remains a wonderful glimpse into what life was like decades earlier. Whether you are a resident or a visitor to the city, you will appreciate taking the time to explore Old Town Dubai and immerse yourself in this city’s beautiful culture.
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