Discover the ancient city of Dubai

Dubai is about more than luxury and skyscrapers. With its rich cultural heritage, the city of the United Arab Emirates stands out for the oriental charm of its historic districts: Deira to the north of Dubai Creek and Bastakiya to the south. Here you can discover the vestiges of a past so close to home, with the ramparts of the old fishing town, as well as the historic spice and textile souks and the gold market. While waiting for the skyscrapers, the extraordinary shows and the dizzying activities, tourists can stroll through the narrow streets of the historic quarter, bargain with the merchants, smell the sweet smells of the spice market, visit the Dubai Museum and sail the Dubai Creek on typical boats. From the souks to the typical architecture of its monuments, immerse yourself in an authentic Dubai.

Traditional boats in front of the historic quarter Sergii Figurnyi / shutterstock

Sergii Figurnyi / shutterstock

- Copyright © 2022 Sergii Figurnyi/Shutterstock. No use without permission.

The history of the Deira district in the old city

To the west of Dubai Creek, the inlet that divides the old city in two, you'll find the Deira district. This is an old district renowned for its commercial activity before the modernisation of the city as we know it today. Nevertheless, Deira has lost none of its charm. Some of the city's working-class population still live there today. This lively district is full of beautiful things to see, experience and even smell. We'll tell you all about it!

Why go there?

Discover the souks

A stroll through the Bur Dubai district is like stepping back in time. Located in the north-east of the city, it is famous for its textile souk, which in the past was mainly devoted to fabrics. Today, it is more diversified. You'll find clothes, decorative items and other souvenirs, all in a colourful decor and lively atmosphere. On the other side of the river, in Deira, you'll find several markets, including the spice market and the city's famous gold market. To discover Dubai in all its authenticity, head to the historic centre of Bur Dubai. This is opposite the Deira district.

Oriental products store in the souks of the old town | © Sudarsan Thobias / Shutterstock
Copyright © 2021 Sudarsan Thobias/Shutterstock. No use without permission.

Sailing on a typical boat

To reach the historic districts separated by Dubai Creek, traditional boats called "abras" transport locals and tourists from one bank to the other. These wooden boats, now fitted with a motor, were used to transport goods some fifty years ago when Dubai was still just a small fishing port. The journey from Bur Dubai station to the souks of Deira takes around 5 minutes.

Abras, boats moored in Dubai's cove - Zhukov Oleg / Shutterstock

Abras, boats moored in Dubai's cove - Zhukov Oleg / Shutterstock

- Copyright © 2013 Zhukov Oleg/Shutterstock. No use without permission.

Al Fahidi Fort, a traditional museum not to be missed

The oldest building in the city, the Al Fahidi Fort, built in 1787, has been the city's **main museum *since1971. As*soon as you enter, you'll see the cannons that were used to protect the town in the event of an invasion, as well as the wind towers that were used to ventilate the interiors.

A typical boat has been placed in front of the fort. This museum bears witness to the traditions, customs and history of the town, which was founded in 1883. From a simple fishing port renowned for its pearl oysters to the lush, futuristic city of today, several exhibitions and reconstructions illustrate the transformation of Dubai since the discovery of oil.

Al Fahidi Fort at night | Laborant / Shutterstock

Al Fahidi Fort at night | Laborant / Shutterstock

- Copyright © 2014 Laborant/Shutterstock. No use without permission.

The typical architecture of the old city

The historic centres of Dubai have nothing in common with the modernity of other districts such as the Marina and its many skyscrapers. To see this, you need to get lost in the typical narrow streets of Bur Dubai and Deira.

There are buildings, museums and traditional houses with oriental architecture consisting of wind towers (the forerunner of air conditioning), mosaics and beams. The houses with shaded courtyards inAl Bastakiya, the city's oldest district, bear witness to this heritage.

How do I get there?

The Deira district is served by the metro. Take the green line and stop at Unions, Baniays Square or Al Ras stations. To pay, you need a transport card, the NOL Card. It is valid on all public transport in Dubai.

To visit the different districts of the old city, you have to cross Dubai Creek, an inlet on which visitors can travel by 'abra', the traditional boat. The journey takes around 5 minutes and costs around 25 cents.

Where to stay nearby?

⭐DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai M Square Hotel & Residences 5*

DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai M Square Hotel & Residences offers spacious rooms with king-size beds and balconies. Quietly located, it is just a short walk from the Deira district. The restaurant, swimming pool and gym are popular with travellers.

DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai M Square Hotel & Residences Dubai

DoubleTree by Hilton Dubai M Square Hotel & Residences

A hotel with an incredible view of the skyline in the Bur Dubai district
8.5 Very good
£100 / night
See prices

Practical information

👉 Visits: guided tours lasting around 3 hours allow you to discover the old town and visit its districts.

👛 Fare for an abra crossing: very economical, an abra crossing costs 1 dirham, or a few euro cents. To extend the experience, it is possible to privatise an abra for a night crossing in an illuminated Dubai and enjoy a traditional oriental meal.

🕑 Time on site: allow at least half a day, and a little more to be able to take the time to wander around the souks, visit museums or enjoy typical restaurants.

by Jude JONES
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