Every world-class city has a clear juxtaposition between the old and the new: a heritage area here, some heritage architecture there. For Dubai, however, this is not necessarily the case. The United Arab Emirates’ financial and expatriate hub has been on an adapt-or-perish mission for the last decade, made most visible by the arrival of construction cranes, sky-high skyscrapers and massive infrastructure developments. The result is, to some degree, more mature enclaves of the city lost in the randomness of the expansion.
But while the search for that sparkling and new life and the shadows cast by the Burj Khalifa is old, Old Dubai has been making a bit of a comeback lately and, yes, even becoming fashionable in some circles.
With that said, here are some great points of interest to consider:
A superlative piece of Old Dubai, blended with traditional architecture, Bastakiya is well worth a visit. This district is a bona fide entrant on the arts scene; many galleries have set up shops and, with them, baristas and chefs too. As a result, the district has, in no time, become a hub for artists and creative types. Be sure to write in time for the Majlis Gallery and Sikka Art Fair, which are held every July.
Jalan Al bin Abi Talib
Al Fahidi Fort is generally the starting point of the Dubai Museum tour. This fort is a stark contrast to rising stars like the islands of the World and the Dubai Mall – that’s the point. The interior showcases aspects of the city’s pre-oil development history in impressive detail, from the souk to the pearling industry.
Jumeirah Road, Jumeirah 1 (opposite Palm Strip Mall)
Dubai’s flagship mosque is one of the few open to non-Muslims. The photogenic temple architecture pays homage to the Fatimid Caliphate of the Early Middle Ages.
This neighborhood is in the traditional heart of Old Dubai. Attractions of note include the open-air museum at Heritage Village.
For authentic charm, Old Deira is the place to be after dusk. Pretty close to most decent business hotel in Dubaithe area is the nerve center of the city’s merchants and is full of activity after 5pm. The atmosphere is incomparable.
Stop by the spice market, fragrant with cinnamon, clove, frankincense and sumac. Nearby, Jalan Al Ahmadiya serves the Heritage House. Built in 1890 for a wealthy pearl dealer, the house now serves as a museum of sorts. Next door is the emirate’s first school, circa 1912, with several exhibits of old class knick-knacks on display.
On Old Baladiya Street, men trade sandals and traditional Emirati textiles. A little further on, the gold market spans more than 300 jewelery shops (remarkably, nationals from India make up a quarter of the business district).
Sikkat al Khail road is home to the perfume market. Some of the items are standard duty-free airport goods but dig a little and you’ll find some rarer and more exotic luxury goods.
The side streets of Old Deira are a sight in itself. Small tailor shops, barbershops, hole-in-the-wall lunch counters, cafes and kitsch gift shops proliferate and, Totooffers a completely different side of Dubai to experience.