Historically, boom towns have always attracted flocks of people looking to make their fortune. Dubai has been no different. While calling Dubai a boom town is over simplifying it, no other analogy explains it better. Dubai blinds with its glitz and glamour and is therefore dismissed as beautiful but shallow. For those not willing to make the effort, that’s all they’ll ever see and experience of this beautiful emirate. Having lived in UAE for more than a year, it’s always struck me as incredulous that barely anyone has bothered to look beneath the surface, considering how many journalists and tourists come here.
While the grandiose is as much a part of Dubai as its centuries old port, to experience Dubai, you’ll have to forget about malls, world’s tallest buildings and what nots. Seriously, get past the grandiose already. Get out, walk on foot, cross the creek on a non air-conditioned Abra (small wooden boat) and explore the streets of Deira and Bastakiya. Just don’t forget a hat, sunglasses and water.
Before there was air conditioning in Dubai, there were wind towers. Explore the old Bastakiya district known for preserving the wind tower houses which were used to keep the houses cool. These wind tower houses have now been turned into museums, hotels and art galleries.
Opt to stay in Bastakiya Hotel which has a unique blend of modern and traditional facilities. Living in the area will also keep you closer to all the places needed to be explored for an authentic Dubai experience.
While Dubai has come a long way from its fishing village days, it hasn’t forgotten its roots. A trip to Dubai Creek will show that fishing and trading is still very much a part of Dubai. The Dubai Creek is a maze of Dhows (wooden ships) bustling with activity as ships come and go with their cargo.
Art & Entertainment
If you’re interested in art – especially the local art of Dubai, visit Tashkeel. Situated in the Bastakiya district, it is home to some extremely talented emirati art. Check out their current exhibition.
If you’re planning on stepping out of Bastakiya in hunt of art, instead of heading to Madinat Jumeirah (which has the grandiose factor that we’re avoiding for the purpose of this post) go to the Al Qouz industrial area. In the midst of warehouses, factories and show rooms are art galleries such as The Jam Jar, The Third Line and Art Sawa to name just a few.
For those interested in a little music and cinema, Al Qouz offers The Shelter. It has a business centre as well and regularly hosts events and workshops on all forms of art. For live music, head over to Festival City where live performances are organized for Dubai residents every Wednesday.
Food in UAE is a delight. Not only do you get to taste authetic Arabic food, but because of it huge expat population, you can find all kinds of cuisines, be it Sub-continental, Caribbean and even Russian to name just a few. Vegetarians will find themselves in food heaven as there are tons of Indian restaurants serving the yummiest vegetarian food.
You cannot visit Dubai and not try Arabic food. The best food you’ll ever put in your belly! A personal favorite of mine is Aroos Damascus in Deira.
Karama is a haven for food lovers. You’ll find most of the cuisines in this area at very reasonable prices. To find out more about the food culture in UAE, check out The Cooks Tour of Dubai group on Facebook. Find out which restaurants are worth going to, which cuisines you’ll find in Dubai and where. Because they outline food tours, you’ll learn about different areas of Dubai along the way too.
Sports are big in Dubai – both water and adventure sports. Fancy a day out on the sea? Go Jet skiing, fishing, diving or Kayaking to name just a few. If you’d like to experience sports in the desert, try Off-Roading or Dune Bashing.
Dubai is also known for camel racing, horse racing and falconry. If it’s a unique experience you’re after – it doesn’t get more unique than a camel race.
Arab cities are known for their souks (open air markets). Explore the souks of Dubai – both the gold and the spice souk. The gold souk is the perfect place to go to if you’re curious about the traditional jewellery of UAE.
The spice souk is adjacent to the gold souk and all kinds spices can be found here. Depending on the sensibilities of your nose, the aroma of the spices is a treat in itself. There’s a treat for every nose in the spice souk though! Apart from jewellery and spices, fragrances and traditional rugs etc can also be found in these souks. If you do decide to shop from here, don’t forget to bargain!
Other things to do in Dubai
With the exception of live music at Festival City, none of the above activities require a person to enter a mall or a high rise building. And yet, I’ve only just scratched the surface of things you can do in Dubai. Here are a few more things for you to do (in no particular order):
- Attend a tweet up – We have them fairly regularly. Meet Dubai loving residents (expats & locals) who’ll happily fill out your entire diary for things you can do in Dubai.
- Visit farms in Dubai – Yes we have them. Surprised?
- Check out the camel market – you’d be shocked at how cute baby camels are!
- Go date tasting at Bateel – Take it from a date lover, even if you’ve never tasted a date in your life, try them. You won’t be disappointed!
- Get words of your choice caligraphed in the Bastakiya district – hang them on your walls. Calligraphy is a beautiful art that screams Middle East.
- Visit Wild Peeta and eat Shawarmas with a wild side. The brother duo who own Wild Peeta pride themselves in using locally produced goods. They also have a wealth of information on all things Dubai.
- Hit the beach – it’s there. You might as well.
- Take a tour of the Jumeirah Mosque – You cannot come to Dubai and not see a mosque.
- Visit the Al Fahidi Fort – built in 1799, it is now home to Dubai Museum.
- Go out in the desert, light up a bon fire and cook your own food – If the company is right, it will be one of the best evenings of your trip.
- Visit Hatta to see the wadis and the springs – Spend a night in mountainous retreat.
If I write about all of the above in detail, I could probably fill pages. And I haven’t even touched the countless things the bling side of Dubai offers! Needless to say, Dubai is rich in culture, traditions and history. As my adopted home, it has given me the most unique blend of security and adventure. This paradox of an emirate has something to offer to everyone. All that it asks of you in return is that you come here with an open mind and have the heart of an explorer.
Readers, what is your view on the real Dubai?