For me discovering the best things to do in Old Dubai was a priority on our 2 day visit. I love feeling immersed in other cultures and areas of Bur Dubai offered this in spades. When sightseeing historic Dubai the ancient way of life comes to life. Visiting the souks selling spices, fabrics and gold where haggling is considered a sport. Crossing the salt water Creek in a traditional wooden boat. Gazing at the ancient and crumbling fort and drinking iced tea in a traditional Arabian Tea House. These things and more are more exciting to me than New Dubai’s resorts and beaches.
So, if, like me, you want to discover the best things to do in Old Dubai read on…
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Boat rides on Dubai Creek
Dubai Creek is a saltwater Creek. As so it was a majorly important area in history. Fishing took place, it was a pearling site and also it was the gateway for traders before oil was discovered. As so, old markets are strewn along this area.
It’s a lively area still today with traditional wooden abra ferrying locals across the busy water way.
The area and these boats rides are now a tourist attraction but you can still expect to sit among locals, who take it in their stride as other boats collide like bumper cars!
Pick the boat up at the Deira Old Souk Station. It only takes a few minutes a cross but it is a unique experience and the best way to cross to the other side. You’ll need cash and you pay on the boat. It doesn’t go directly across so you get to see a little more.
If you want a longer experience, you can book a traditional Dhow tourist boat. It lasts a couple of hours or so and includes a buffet dinner.
Personally we wanted to hop across to explore more Souks, the fort, the Arabian Tea Room and more.
Note the two storey traditional commercial buildings. They were built in 1934 and are really pretty.
Souks are fun, exciting market places where you can take part in haggling (they expect it). It’s a must-do when you visit Old Dubai.
Deira Old Souk
When we turned up there was the haunting call to prayer along with the aroma of spices and the bustle of robed men carting their produce. It was a pretty heady experience.
The narrow lanes are crammed with herbs and spices of all colours, shapes and sizes. It’s irresistible for any real foodie or culture lover.
It can feel a little intimidating, especially as a Western woman. However, I was dressed appropriately and I was with my husband, so I put my best foot forward and dove in.
It can feel a bit of a challenge getting through from one end to the other, with traders seemingly desperate to sell you their goods. My advice is to understand it as normal here and enjoy it. Keep smiling, be firm but polite and haggle – they seem to enjoy it!
There are an incredible amount of herbs and spices to discover…
I was most excited about finding Frankincense and Myrrh (I’m not sure the trader understood my excitement).
The Frankincense smelt gorgeous – the myrrh not so much!
Take cash with you, it’s the normal way to pay.
Look out for cinnamon the size of bambo! Some stalls have UK sized pieces but others sell cinnamon like bundles of sticks.
In other lanes, there are rows of large wooden shutters with uninspiring fabric shops within.
However, around every corner there is a sight to inspire.
We have visited at the very beginning of their busy tourist season. So, the temperatures were only just starting to drop. Therefore, finding a peaceful spot and not being approached gave me a wonderful moment just to breath it in.
Bur Dubai Souk
This Souk is a little neater and wider, but no less challenging as a browser.
The colours are wonderful and the quality of many items was good. The problem I had was having sellers placing items on my shoulders and walking away so I had to follow them back to their stalls.
Fun at first, but in the end it was a little frazzling. I obviously look too interested in everything and need to learn to avoid eye contact.
Despite that, it was an unforgettable experience and one I really enjoyed.
You’ll not find lots of cafés here, but drinks are available from fresh fruit neatly stacked up.
We run out of time and regretfully missed the gold souks. Something to come back for.
Al Fahidi Fort – museum
The Al Fahidi Fort was originally built (about 200 years ago) as a fort and residence for the Monarch. Later it was turned into an arsenal for artillery and weapons. It was also a prison for outlaws.
It is the oldest building in Dubai and has been transformed into a museum. If you want to visit here make sure you are dressed appropriately as it is a cultural space. It displays the history of Dubai and its original heritage.
However, if you don’t want to enter inside you can still wander round the fort and the Dhow boat.
Canons still poke out the tiny windows of the crumbling tower. It’s really exotic and something I’ve only imagined from novels before.
The Heritage Village
Sadly for us the Heritage village was being refurbished. It is where you can experience different styles of the traditional local life ranging from coastal, desert to country and mountain life.
It really would be one of the main things to do in Old Dubai but currently is closed until further notice.
Somewhere historic to eat
Luckily for us it was time for lunch anyway and nearby was a traditional Arabian Tea House.
If you struggle to find it, head to the Court House (not exactly a thing to do in Old Dubai – but interesting to see) – it’s next door!
Arabian Tea House
You enter the Tea House past an old and deep well filled with coins thrown in by tourists.
The restaurant is extremely welcoming and filled up with other tourists wanting an authentic experience while in the Bastakiya area.
It may be a touch touristy, but the hummus was the best we have ever eaten anywhere. It was served with hot giant flat bread.
They also have an incredible amount of refreshing tea and cold drinks available.
We would recommend these crunchy little samosas, stuffed full of juicy meat.
The biryani was good not great, but it came with a refreshing salsa and yogurt. It was mildly spiced and fairly sweet.
My husbands curry was delicious, however. Full of juicy chunks of meat and chickpeas.
Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai
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So, what would be on your list of things to do in Old Dubai ? I would love to know!
Let’s stay connected!
For advice, tips and recommendations on how to dress in Old Dubai as a Western women (a bit of a minefield!) check this post out: A Suitable Dress For Old Dubai
Find out what else there is to discover in New Dubai: Things to do in New Dubai outside your hotel