Dubai is one of those places where its reputation can easily sway your opinion on whether you might consider a visit. Perhaps it’s a stopover point on your way to Australia, and you’re debating whether to spend a few days there or not. The emphasis on vast shopping malls and top-end hotels and restaurants could well have made you decide that this is not a destination not for you.
But we suggest taking another look at this exciting venue. That’s because if you dig a little deeper, then you’ll find art, culture, and the opportunity to learn more about the real Dubai and the people that live there. Here are our top suggestions for an alternative Dubai stopover.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
If you want to discover how life was in Old Dubai, then the Al Fahadi Historical Neighborhood needs to be the first stop on your visit. Located by Dubai Creek, this is a heritage site where many of the original buildings have been preserved. Within the areas winding streets, you’ll find over 50 different houses to explore. From the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding to the Coins museum, you’ll gain an insight into the 19th-century emirate.
The Calligraphy House (Dar Al Khatt) is one of our favorite stopping points. Here you can watch the artists at work and see outstanding examples of the intricate script being produced.
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Dubai is a real melting pot of nationalities, with families from across the world making it their home. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre aims to provide a cultural bridge, welcoming all visitors to learn more about the UAE culture and history.
Located within a beautiful wind tower house, the center offers a full range of activities from traditional Emirati meals to guided walking tours. The center’s motto is ‘Open Doors, Open Minds,’ and through this, they encourage their visitors to ask questions no matter how sensitive they may seem.
Curious about the role of the camel? Well, the center even has this covered with their ‘Desert Friends’ program in which you can listen to a short live talk in the heart of Al Fahidi Historic District where you’ll discover the history and importance of these amazing animals.
Large enough to hold 1,200 worshippers, the Jumeirah Mosque welcomes visitors of all faiths. This is an excellent opportunity to admire the stunning white stone structure while also learning about Islam and the local culture.
Plan your visit first thing in the morning, and you’ll be able to join the free 75-minute guided tour that starts at 10 am and is conducted by local representatives of the mosque. Registration opens at 9.30 am, and this friendly and welcoming experience also provides special age-appropriate programs for children.
We loved the opportunity to understand more about the Islamic holidays and traditions, as well as the chance to try some traditional Arabic snacks and coffee!
All visitors are asked to be respectful of their surroundings and dress modestly, so take this into account if you’re planning a visit. Women are required to wear a scarf over their heads while in the mosque and to make sure that their shoulders are covered.
Abra Creek Crossing
There aren’t many adventures priced at just AED1, but that’s all it costs to take a traditional abra water taxi across Dubai Creek. Running every few minutes throughout the day, there are two routes across the water:
- Deira Old Souk Abra Station to Bur Dubai Abra Station
- Al Sabkha Abra Station to Dubai Old Souk Abra Station.
There are over 150 abras who operate on the two routes, so you’re never waiting for long to take the five-minute journey. We have to admit to finding these the perfect people-watching opportunity as the local Emiratis use the abras to go about their day-to-day lives. However, with the fantastic views of both old and new Dubai, you might just be tempted to go back and forth more than a few times to take everything in!
If modern culture is your passion, then you need to head to Alserkal Avenue. Now well known as being one of the most influential and creative areas of Dubai, it covers an area of over 500,000sqft. You’ll find public art by local street artists, post-minimal works at the Ayyam Gallery, and contemporary Middle Eastern Art at the Salsali Private Museum.
Alserkal Avenue is also the home of several unique eateries, from artisanal chocolate at Mirzam Chocolate Factory, all things tea at Project Chaiwalla, and super grain salads at Nightjar.