Guest Post by Priya Gathol
Are you a culture vulture? If so, you will not be disappointed in Dubai – not at all. This city is as rich in culture as it is in bespoke luxury experiences. You might wonder at that, and it’s totally understandable if you do. After all, this is a city where the population is overwhelmingly foreign. How can it retain any aspect of Dubai traditions? That’s where you’d be wrong.
You see, Dubai has great claim to its own culture, despite the megamalls, the star-studded nightlife and the incredible attractions. It’s a city with a soul, as the beautiful mosques, souqs, old neighborhoods and museum artefacts demonstrate ably. Find out more about how you can immerse in Dubai culture and take your pick in these Top 7 Dubai Cultural Attractions.
1. Enjoy Getting to Know Old Dubai
- Old Dubai: The Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood is Dubai’s oldest region. It was established by Iranian pearl traders long ago. This is the one part of Dubai where houses made of old black coral still exist. Look out for the ancient wind-tower technology, an early form of air-conditioning. Explore the narrow alleyways of Al Fahidi that open up into delightful little squares filled with art galleries and cafes. Check out how you can experience the traditional side of Dubai through an old Dubai city tour here.
- Creek Crossing: For just 1 AED, one of the coolest things to do in Dubai is to cross the ancient waterway, Dubai Creek, on a traditional wooden vessel called the abra. Cross over from the Deira to the Bur Dubai side, enjoying the spread of Dubai’s finest architecture laid out like a feast. Do it at night and you get to enjoy the city’s myriad colored lights reflected on the water. Check out dhow dinner cruise here.
- Explore the Old Souqs: Even before you get there, the heady scents of spices in Bur Dubai’s spice souq will hit you. Everywhere you look are baskets overflowing with cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, white pepper, nutmeg, mace, turmeric, saffron and more. Be sure to pick up a few bags of fragrant spices, and don’t forget to barter!
2. Visit Cultural Centers, Mosques and Museums
- Jumeirah Mosque: This is one of the two mosques in Dubai that allows non-Muslims to visit six days a week. It’s a beautiful mosque with a great dome in between 4 lofty minarets. The Jumeirah Mosque offers a light breakfast with Arabic coffee and tea along with a cultural overview of Islam. You will learn how to cleanse before prayers, and all your questions about Islam will be answered.
- Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding: If you want to understand Emirati culture, you must visit this center. The center offers Cultural Meals where visitors can sit around and partake of a full Emirati meal. You can chat with the guides about UAE customs, culture and religion. The Center also organizes heritage tours of Old Dubai, and the Al Farooq Mosque and the Jumeirah Mosque.
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3. Eat Local
The funny thing about Dubai is that 80% of its population is comprised of foreigners. So this city has turned into a foodie paradise of sorts, with restaurants offering every major cuisine in the world. Stroll the streets and lanes of Deira, one of Dubai’s oldest parts, and enjoy Shawarma rolls and other Emirati foods at street eateries. Experience Dubai traditions by smoking a shisha pipe at a roadside eatery and relishing a cup of strong, sweet and dark coffee.
4. Enjoy Heritage Experiences
- Hatta Heritage Village: The Hatta Heritage Village is located in the Hatta Mountains. The village is a collection of 30 or so buildings. The village itself has been in existence since as far back as 3,000 years. That, when you look at the fact that the UAE itself was established in 1971, is truly ancient! If you ever wanted to see what an Emirati village looked like millennia ago, the Hatta Heritage Village is sure to satisfy your curiosity. Restored in 2001, this is one of the oldest villages in the Emirate. The two watchtowers, the fort and mosque plus the houses are all made from the same materials as the original structures. Take a look into the local chief’s house, known as ‘Bait Al Wali’. Examine period artefacts and instruments that speak to the Dubai traditional life and culture then. You’ll find weapons, furnishings, old crockery, bits of jewelry and similar items. Explore the close-by Al Sharia Site, a palm tree farm which has one of the oldest underground irrigation systems called the Falaj.
- Karama Market: Karama Market has over 300 shops, spread across many buildings. This Dubai market is located in an old residential area. It’s a vibrant, colorful bazaar where you can bargain and enjoy great deals. If you are looking for fashion clothing and especially fake designer handbags, head to Karama Market. You also get a huge range of fashion accessories plus souvenirs and sportswear here. It’s a traditional market where haggling is not just acceptable but expected. There’s no point wondering what to do in Dubai, especially when there are so many markets to explore.
- Qasr Al Watan: The Qasr al Watan palace offers a fabulous insight into Arab heritage. Head to this palace to learn about the governing principles that shaped the UAE’s history, and its future vision. The majestic hallways of the palace are magnificent testaments to the beauty of Arabian craftsmanship. Explore the many stalls and galleries of the UAE’s artistic contributions. One of the interesting things to do in Dubai is to learn how to create traditional calligraphy using the interactive screens at the Qasr Al Watan Library. Get ready to browse a huge collection spanning centuries of human knowledge. There are books on the UAE’s customs, religion, culture, development and achievements as well. At night, the palace puts on a superb light and sound show, which tells the story of the UAE’s past, present, and vision for the future. However, this show will not be available during Ramadan.
5. Watch a Camel Race
What to see in Dubai that you’ll not find anywhere in the west is a camel race. Nothing takes you back in time as a camel race in Dubai. Camel racing is a beloved sport in the UAE. Head to the Al Marmoon Racetrack and cheer your pet camel on. Watch the cantankerous creatures heaving as they race with all their might, jockeyed by AI-powered next-gen robots. A camel race in Dubai is a great way to observe this ancient custom and to watch the locals as well.
6. Get an Eyeful of Art
Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue is another one of Dubai cultural attractions. It is the city’s center for contemporary international art and culture. Hipster chic architect-designed warehouses dot the avenue, housed with plenty of artist studios, galleries, independent cinema theaters, project spaces, cultural programs and outdoor events. You can enjoy some cool drinks and great eats here while enjoying a range of not-for-profit artwork by the UAE’s artists.
7. Enjoy A Desert Safari
Dubai’s desert safari is the quintessential cultural experience to enjoy in Dubai, one of the top Dubai tourist attractions. Whether you opt for a morning, evening or overnight desert safari, you’ll get to enjoy some great desert sports. Have your fill of dune bashing, which is roller-coastering over the dunes. You can enjoy riding a quad bike over the wadis and the dunes, which is nothing short of a balancing act. You can sand board on the dunes, a favorite with the kids. You can check out and book your thrilling Dubai desert safari here.
You can also enjoy riding beautifully-decorated camels while dressed in Bedouin robes. Just make sure you are supporting an ethical camel safari tour operator. Lounge back on silk cushions in the Welcome Bedouin tent during the evening, relishing exotic belly dancing and tanura dancing. Pull on a traditional shisha pipe as a henna tattoo artist decorates your hands and feet. Watch a falconry show, an Arab tradition that goes back many centuries. The desert safari alone is reason enough to learn how to apply for Dubai visa!
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Conclusion: Dubai Cultural Attractions
As you can see, when you look away from Dubai’s glitz and glamor, there’s a lot of Dubai culture to be enjoyed. Apart from the listed activities, if you have the time, we strongly recommend a trip to the dhow yard in Old Dubai. Here you can get a cool glimpse into how these old trading vessels are made. Dubai’s culture is just underneath its glamor. Just peel the glitter off and there you will see it.