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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Smulders

The Other Dubai experiences

Local guide on what to do when visiting the Emirate

Many come to Dubai attracted by a luxury holiday, the all year-round sunshine and to experience the Superlatives. The tallest building in the world, the most luxurious hotels, the most expensive police cars on the roads, etc. If you come for those reasons, you won’t be disappointed, but beneath all the glitz of the city there is a rich heritage little known to many outside the country.

If you want to know more about the Bedouin tribes that came together to form a nation, their traditions and believes, their vision and how day to day life takes place for local residents and expats, I got some tips on how to discover the other side of Dubai.

Old town

Spend at least a couple of days exploring the oldest area of the city. Take a deep glimpse of the life at the trading centre staying in the Al Seef heritage hotel or the Bastakiya. Both hotels comprise of rooms spread across the area giving you the feeling of staying at a rented local home with all the comfort of a hotel. You can sleep hearing the water resting by the creek.

Al Seef hertiage hotel

Early in the morning have a local Emirati breakfast at your hotel or surroundings and take a walk by the shopping streets, also known as “Souks” selling souvenirs, local clothing and much more. Take a local abra to the other side of the creek to visit the spice souk to flavour local taste while visit the Gold souk to marvel at the pieces and good prices.

In the afternoon, book a traditional lunch with the Sheikh Mohammed centre for cultural understanding. Hosted by a Emirati in one of the authentic courtyards of the Al Fahidi neighbourhood, you will have a taste of what Emiratis eat on daily basis, learn about their habits at home and ask any question you may have about the culture and traditions in a comfortable and open setting. A true eye opening to break stereotypes and have questions answered firsthand.

Don’t miss the national museum located at the opposite side of the Bastakiya and end the day with a trip in time. Enjoy tea at the Arabian tea house while enjoying the breeze of the creek and the sound of the city.

If you spend one more day at the old town, don’t miss the heritage village and tasting a camel burger at the local house restaurant (right next to the Arabian tea house).

La Mer

One of the big benefits of coming to Dubai is the great weather (particularly October to May), so head to the beach. La Mer located in the first neighbourhood of Dubai, Jumeirah, is a place where you can enjoy the beach and also grab a bite in the many restaurants and cafes located in the surroundings. If you stay until the evening, you will enjoy the social gathering of local families and friends.

From Jumeirah (Water canal station) you can take an RTA ferry to the Marina of Dubai. The route takes you to the most important landmarks of the city by sea such as The Burj Al Arab, the Atlantis hotel and finally the Marina area passing by the new Bluewater island.

Marina is one of the few areas planned for walking in the city. Once in Marina, take a stroll across the Jumeirah beach residences and Marina walk and have a feel of where many expat people live in Dubai. Find the Beach mall if you feel like grabbing a bite or enjoying an ice-cream.

The desert experiences

You can’t leave Dubai without having experienced the desert. Depending on what you like, you can enjoy “Glamping” or the famous “Desert safari” experiences which include dune bashing in a 4x4, Arabic grill (Local BBQ) and show.

Riding a camel is possible at Bab Al Shams desert resort
Falcon experience in the desert

Our favourite place to enjoy the desert is Bab Al Shams. Standing for “Door to the sun” it is the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon of Arabic grill and shisha while watching the sun set by the sand dunes. While eating there, you can also take a complimentary short ride in camels and interact with falcons. There are plenty desert opportunities you can book at different rates too.

If you are looking for a show, then stay until the night for Al Hadeera. In a set up that resembles an old Arab market, you will enjoy a buffet with special dishes such as underground cooked lamb, Arabic pizza, local stews and sea food. There are options for every appetite and eating preference. While the dinner takes place there is a show of regional dances and a heritage village where you can learn of the Bedouin lifestyle and also take a short ride in the camel.

Madinat Jumeirah

One of the most iconic places of the city is Madinat Jumeirah, this city-like establishment is

located right next to the Burj Al Arab and surrounded by canals in the most beautiful Arabic architecture, you can enjoy a meal, a coffee or a ride in the Abras around the large premises. Our recommendation is to book lunch or dinner in one of the restaurants in the hotels located in the Madinat area (JAl Qsar, Mina Al Salaam or Al Naseem) and arrive early enough to arrive to the restaurant of choice by water boat to appreciate the stunning area (plus you can take a picture with the Burj Al Arab in the background which is never a bad idea!)

You can’t leave Dubai without visiting the biggest mall in the world. When you do that, arrive to the Souk Al Bahar located right next to the mall to explore the beautiful area and see the Dubai fountains show. At the mall, you cannot only shop, but you can also find the fossils of one of the largest dinosaurs adorning the golden souk part of the mall and admire the largest single glass covering the Dubai Aquarium. There is plenty of entertainment for the whole family.

The Dubai fountains view from the Souk Al Bahar


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