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Dubai is a city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates known for luxury shopping, ultramodern architecture and a lively nightlife scene. But whether you choose Dubai for a layover or stop for a couple of days, there is plenty to see and do. My favourite place outside the Glitz & Glamour of Downtown Dubai is Dubai’s old town along the creek. A bustling gateway that served as a fishing area, pearling site and a gateway for traders before oil was discovered is now full of traditional markets (souks), traditional meals and cultural experiences just waiting to be explored.
Things to know before you go
Weekends in Dubai fall on Fridays and Saturdays. Shopping Malls from 10 am to 10 pm. But check the times on a Friday as times may change.
Sunny all year round is Dubai’s catch cry. However, the best time to visit is between October and March when the sun is shining, but the temperature is perfect –every Day. If you visit outside of these months, it’s hot and humid, but even though a walking tour might be out of the questions, there is air-conditioning everywhere to keep you nice and comfortable.
All attires and cultural preferences are generally acceptable. Swimwear is permissible on beaches, pool and spa areas and for water-based entertainment but is not considered appropriate in areas such as business districts and shopping malls.
In the more historical quarters of the city and places of religious worship, dressing conservatively is appreciated. In mosques, clothing that covers shoulders, arms and legs and headscarves for women, is required.
It’s handy to keep a scarf in your handbag to cover the shoulders and rescue you from the air-conditioning.
Check ivisa regarding visa requirements. Ivisa’s quick and easy system is an efficient way to organise your required visa’s online. It is the best way to ensure you aren’t caught looking silly when you arrive at immigration.
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Start the Day with a visit to the Dubai Frame.
The Frame is known as “the biggest picture frame on the planet.” From the viewing platform, 150 metres high, you can enjoy stunning views of the city – new Dubai to the South and old Dubai to the North.
The Frame also has two gallery areas depicting the evolution of old Dubai then taking visitors into a journey 50 years ahead with a unique audio and visual effects presentation. The Frame opens weekdays from 9 am and is located in Zabeel Park.
Next Stop –Textiles, Spices and Gold Souks
Head to where history started in the old neighbourhood of Al Fahidi down by the Creek – Bur Dubai. This place is my favourite spot to explore, and in good weather, you could spend all afternoon here.
Start at the Al Fahidi Fort, which is now a museum and either join a tour or wander through the Textile souk yourself. Haggle for pashminas, cushions and beaded fabric and visit my favourite homewares shop – Chuk Palu for traditional handmade Afghan cushions, rugs and scarves.
Tucked behind the Grand Mosque is a small Hindu temple. Dedicated to Hindu’s, it is entered via a narrow and colourful alleyway locally known as Hindi Lane and lined with vendors selling religious paraphernalia and offerings, including baskets of fruit, flower garlands and gold-embossed holy figurines.
Although busy on weekends don’t be afraid to squeeze past the Indian expats to experience the hustle and bustle of the area then head into the Textile souk to practice your haggling skills. Grab a bag full of freshly cooked pakoras, samosas and deep-fried chilis for a couple of dirhams and then take a short walk back along creek to weave your way back to the Al Bastakiya area.
The Bastakiya Quarter is the oldest standing residential area of Dubai. First established at the end of the 19th century by rich textile and pearl merchants from Bastak, Iran, today the Bastik Quarter or Fahidi neighbourhood is alleyways of old-world houses that have been converted into restaurants, art galleries and cafes.
Walking distance from Al Fahidi Fort there are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Al Bastakiya or further along in Al Seef.
Set on the edge of the creek –a little Venice– where you can watch the boats go while you enjoy a coffee, breakfast or choose from one of their delicious salads.
Serving Camel burgers for the adventurous
A delightful courtyard setting offering some great salads & an art gallery
But one of my absolute favourites is The Arabian Teahouse. Don’t be surprised in the winter months if there is a line up to get into this little gem of a restaurant. Set in a charming outdoor courtyard, you can enjoy a traditional Emirati meal, freshly cooked bread, hummus and their signature Line & Mint drink. Yum!!
Over the Creek
During the winter months grab an abra (water taxi) over to Deira. It must be one of the cheapest things to do in Dubai, at only one dirham, and certainly a lovely way to get on the water and see the hustle and bustle of trading boats, fishing boats and abras.
In Deira, on this side of the creek wander through the Spice and Gold souk soaking up the scents, sights and sound.
Spices, like a trip to the souk, will teach you, can be burnt like incense in religious ceremonies, added to coffee to lend an Arabic taste, chewed as a breath freshener or treasured for their medicinal qualities. And of course, there is no end to the uses to which they can be put in the cooking pot. But before you go don’t miss trying a delicious chocolate-covered date!
A trip to Dubai isn’t complete without a trip to the famous Gold Souk, one of the oldest and most fascinating traditional markets in the emirate.
Whether you’re just browsing or genuinely on the hunt for even the slightest amount of precious gold, walk through the glittering Gold Souk where you can haggle for the biggest selection of gold jewellery and gemstones.
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