The biggest, the tallest and the richest- Dubai’s never-ending tryst with superlatives makes it a sought after destination. More than one million people visit the Burj Khalifa every year. With its mammoth malls and shopping centres, Dubai has emerged as one of the world’s top shopping destinations. But is there more to this city than just shopping and wealth?
Dubai’s glamorous outward façade often overshadows the bubbling soul of the city. You might be able to afford those expensive Chanels and Diors but you certainly can’t afford to miss these unconventional street experiences in Dubai:
1. Al Bastakiya, Old Dubai: A time machine
Ditch those air conditioned skyscrapers for a day and set out on foot to explore the oldest residential district in Dubai. Al Bastakiya gives you a glimpse of a Dubai that had not yet discovered oil. The wooden lattices, traditional wind towers and narrow alleyways are so typical that you can almost hear middle-eastern music in your head.
These ancient structures are now home to some of the most talented Emirati artists so don’t be surprised if you suddenly come across canvases or sculptures! Al Bastakiya is also a haven for history buffs, thanks to the various museums that it now houses.
What not to miss: The hidden art studios such as the Majlis Gallery and Mawaheb.
Things to do: Get your name written in beautiful Arabic calligraphy as a souvenir. If you’re an artist yourself, you might be interested in the workshops conducted by these art galleries.
For the foodie: Treat yourself to a steaming cuppa at the XVA café or the Basta Art Café nearby. If you don’t mind spending some extra time, visit the Filli café in the Mankhool area nearby, a ten minute drive from the Bastakiya quarter. Their famous Zafran tea(under dhs 10) is worth your time!
2. Sheikh Zayed Road: Dubai’s lifeline
Do the conventional in an unconventional way. They say if you want to know a city, you have to walk through it. That might be a bit harsh given the scorching sun in Dubai but thanks to the innumerable skyscrapers along the SZ road, this might just be achievable. If walking is not your cup of tea then board the metro going towards Jebel Ali on the red line at any station before Burjuman. The metro runs side by side along the SZ road in the city’s most happening locality.
Things to do: If you walk along the Trade Centre side of Sheikh Zayed, you’ll catch glimpses of an incomparable view of the Dubai skyline. Pick up some milkshakes from Johnny Rockets on your way and you’re all set! The neck breaking skyscrapers that look intimidating during the day look dazzling at night. Level 43, Four points by Sheraton, a rooftop Lounge and Bar gives you one of the finest views of Dubai by night. So if you’re feeling slightly indulgent, go ahead and book an evening with friends.
Insider’s tip: If you’re taking the metro make sure to get into the last coach and stand by the very end of the train; that way you get the best view.
3. Meena Bazaar-Shopping, the quirky way
Shopping in Dubai isn’t confined to air-conditioned shopping malls. The riotous and colourful Meena Bazaar comes as a refreshing change from the shiny, sophisticated interiors of malls. From multi-coloured scarves to multi-coloured shishas, Meena bazaar is an open street market with beautiful wooden architecture and twisted alleys unlike any other place in Dubai. At the end of these lanes is the beautiful dubai creek, a natural harbour full of seagulls and traditional boats
Things to do: Hop on board an ‘abra’ (Arabian water taxi) and cross the creek. The ride costs just AED 1 per person. On the Deira side, don’t miss the spice souk, a traditional Arabian-style market that sells a variety of spices and herbs. Beware, the intoxicating aroma can go to your head.
Insider’s tip: Don’t hesitate to haggle with the vendors in Meena bazaar; you might save more than you’d imagine.
4. Enchanting Jumeirah
In addition to its modern buildings and multicultural community, the deep rooted Islamic culture is an integral part of the spirit of Dubai. The grandest mosque in Dubai, the Jumeirah mosque is one of the few mosques in the UAE that is open to the public.
Things to do: Get an insight into Islam and its culture with one of SMCCU’s regular tours of the mosque. Jumeirah mosque is quite photogenic so make sure you take your camera along!
What not to miss: Sip a ‘camelccino’ or ‘camelatte’ at The Majlis, a unique camel milk café that is located within the mosque premises.
For the Foodie: Sample some of the best seafood in Dubai at Bu qtair, a simple seafood joint with a small menu and huge customer base. It operates only in the evenings and is usually quite crowded with queues that can last up to an hour so plan in advance.
5. The Walk at JBR-a walk to remember
Chic cafes, funky street art and a charged atmosphere-the Walk at JBR is 1.7 km of pure zest! Set in one of the most high-end localities of the city, the promenade is also close to the JBR open beach. Don’t be awed if you spot a Lambo or Ferrari passing by; that’s quite common here. With the limitless ocean on one side and towering skyscrapers on the other, the JBR beach is one of the most interesting places to contemplate life.
Things to do: Grab a cappuccino, sit back and indulge in the sport of people-watching. Pursue knick-knacks and crafts at the covent garden market, Dubai’s version of a flea market. The Walk comes alive at night with street artists, pop-up food joints and all kinds of entertainers in tow! The best part?- Entry to this carnival-like place is absolutely free.
Insider’s tip: Parking is a pain, thanks to the crowd. The nicer alternative is to take the Dubai tram from JLT or Dubai Marina and get down at JBR 1 or 2.
Disclaimer: This list is in no way exhaustive. In fact, if exploring Dubai was an iceberg, this would just be the tip! Have you been to any such off-beat, must-see places in Dubai? How many Dubai-defining experiences have you had? Tell us about them!