Dubai is a true melting pot of nationalities forming a vibrant city fusing culture with the cosmopolitan. Expats and tourists are drawn to the high-life of glitzy hotels, huge malls, lavish restaurants with no mention of the richness of history and culture in Dubai. Does it exist you may ask?
Emiratis make up less than 20% of the UAE population but that is not to say the Islamic and Arab culture has been lost, far from it! They are extremely proud of their traditional Bedouin roots and how far they come with their vision of the future.
BEST PLACES TO FIND CULTURE IN DUBAI
My lure to move to Dubai was the location to travel more easily to other countries. As ex-art student and traveller, exploring local cultures serve more appeal in my eyes so let’s check out some of the places to immerse yourself in culture in Dubai.
Be stimulated at the Perfume Museum
Scents and oils are a big part of Emirati heritage dating back centuries. The craft of creating perfumes is passed down in generations and used in religious ceremonies and in everyday life.
The late Shaikha Shaikha Bint Saeed Al Maktoum (1918-2017) was an expert in perfumery which makes it most special that the House of Perfume is converted from her home. I was surprised at the intricate nature of the time-consuming craft as the traditional techniques for making scented oils and perfumes are showcased.
Discover the Birth of Dubai Creek
Growing a business by the creek was no easy task especially as Emiratis had to overcome the demise of the pearl trade, they had to innovate and think outside the box.
This museum celebrates the story of Dubai Creek with a state-of-the-art multimedia experience and gives you a true insight into the life of the Emiratis living by the creek with their families. Their resilience and finding the path to success has made Dubai into the city it is today.
> Dubai Creek: Birth of a City is located at Al Shindagha Museum | Open daily 10am-5pm
Smell the scents in the Spice Souq
As you weave through the narrow lanes of the open bazaar, the aromatic aroma will hit you! You can buy Arabian and Asian spices, herbs, dried fruits, and fragrant teas.
Visiting Dubai’s Spice Souq is a must-do for foodies and culture-lovers. Be prepared to haggle with the vendors, just as they would have in the days of the merchants. You will be approached as you walk past, it’s worth stopping to get some culinary inspiration on how to use the spices.
> Spice Souq Dubai is located at Al Ras, Deira | Open daily
See the world’s biggest ring in the Gold Souk
In Islam, gold as embellishment wasn’t allowed for men, only women had the right to wear it. However, gold was one of the most precious and valued accessories for women of this region for years, and still, it is a symbol of wealth.
The opulence of the Gold Souq is incredible. Windows full of shimmering gold with heavy pieces of armour that I was scared to try on. However, it is another level of bling when you stumble on the world’s largest ring in the window of Kanz Jewels – the certificate from the Guinness Book Of Records is on display to prove it.
The Najmat Taiba or Star of Taiba is a 21-carat ring weighing almost 64kg, it is studded with 5.1kg of precious stones, and is reported to cost $3 million. If this is out of your price range, there are more understated pieces and the silver shops tend to be back off the main strip. Never fear though, the vendors will be out to encourage you into their store to get ahead of their competition.
Gold Souq Dubai is located at Al Ras, Deira | Open daily
Visit the Women’s Museum – Bait Al Banat
Bait Al Banat (translated from Arabic as The Girls House) was established by an Emirati woman, Professor Rafia Ghubash, in order to preserve the history of women in the UAE.
This national archive delves into all aspects of the roles that UAE women have played in defining their culture, philosophy, and status in their society. The curious displays are pretty eye-opening as they break down stereotypes showing poems, artwork, photographs of travels, and daily lives. Well worth a visit!
Ride an Abra for 1 Dirham
Who says everything in Dubai will break the bank? The Abra ride will cost you a mere 1 Dirham. Yes, you heard me right! An Abra is a traditional wooden boat with room for 20 passengers and ferries residents and tourists across Dubai Creek.
Uncover UAE traditions at Al Fahidi Fort
Al Fahidi Fort was built in 1787 and acted as a defence fort being located next to the Ruler’s Court. It was later turned into an arsenal for artillery and weapons and also used as a prison for the outlaws.
The fort was renovated as an official museum which opened in 1971. You will find intriguing displays from Dubai’s original heritage including the merchants in the souqs, pearl fishers, and maps and timelines to show the development of the region.
> Dubai Museum is located in Al Fahidi Fort, Bur Dubai | Entrance fee 3 AED | Open Sat-Thu 8.30am-8.30pm; Fri 2pm-8.30pm
Step back in time at Al Fahidi Historical District
Al Fahidi Neighborhood, formerly named Bastakiya, is Dubai’s oldest area and a former prominent trader’s settlement, near Al Fahidi Fort. Now it encompasses both art and culture in Dubai with modern murals juxtaposing against the historic backdrop.
Why not join a walking tour taking in all the hotspots of Old Dubai such as Al Fahidi, Dubai Musem, Souks with an Abra ride?
Explore qahwa culture at the Coffee Museum
Qahwa is a traditional Arabic coffee recipe made from green coffee beans and cardamom and holds great importance in Arabic culture and hospitality.
The Coffee Museum takes you through the history of the coffee bean and its discovery in the Ethiopian Highlands by a goat herder. View the coffee grinders and other antique equipment used in days gone by and learn about roasting and brewing styles from around the world. Before you head out into the narrow lanes of Al Fahidi, take time to relax in the cosy, majlis-style room with a cup of the finest brew.
Enjoy an Emirati meal at Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Learn about Arabic culture, greetings, expressions, and anecdotes, as well as Islam and its impact on local culture, cultural values, and sensitivities during an Emirati breakfast or lunch at The Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding.
Indulge at Arabian Tea House
The Arabian Tea House is another one of my favourite eateries in Old Dubai. It has been serving authentic flavoursome Emiratic cuisine since 1997 and their warm local hospitality is a testament as to why it is still in business today. Start your explorations of Old Dubai with an Emirati Breakfast or take a break from the heat with the Kebab Leham and Fattoush accompanied by their signature Lime and Mint Mocktail. Either way, you will not be disaapointed!
Take a tour of the Jumeirah Mosque
Jumeirah Mosque is built in a traditional Fatimid-style which originated from Syria and Egypt. The mosque began construction in 1976 and opened its doors in 1979.
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) runs a project called ‘Open Doors. Open Minds’ inviting visitors to learn more about the religious and cultural traditions of the region.
See the city views from the Dubai Frame
Dubai likes to do everything BIG so why not build the biggest frame in the world? Now one of Dubai’s iconic landmarks, the Dubai Frame stands tall at 152 meters and is 93 meters wide. With an exterior design inspired by the logo of Expo 2020. Set in the gardens of Zabeel Park, this award-winning tourist attraction is pretty impressive.
You are taken on a journey from Old Dubai Gallery depicting Emirati heritage through to the Present Dubai on the skydeck where you get a 360 view of the city from Old Dubai to the shiny new side! As you walk across the connecting bridge the glass becomes clear giving you a weird perspective from above. Zoom down in the lift on the other side to be treated to an inspirational video of Future Dubai with mind-boggling special effects.
Watch a show at the Dubai Opera
The Dubai Opera is a beautiful cultural hub in the Downtown area that can be transformed to be used as a traditional theatre, concert hall, banquet hall, or exhibition space. They have a fabulous line-up of musicals, comedy, ballets, and theatre – well-worth dressing up for a night at the opera!
This addition to Dubai’s iconic architectural scene is a blend of modern design that references the history and heritage of the Emirati people. Linking to the maritime roots of the city, the building looks like a large glass outer-hulled Arabian dhow sitting on the edge of the man-made lake housing the Dubai fountains.
Be amazed at the Dubai Fountains
You may not think the world’s largest choreographed fountain system that shoots as high as 500m has any culture attached to it, think again! Dubai Fountains dance to a variety of contemporary, classical and Arabic music including Emirati song, Inshed An Aldar (Ask about home) to reflect the UAE’s proud musical traditions.
If you want to get the best seat in the house, take a tour on an Abra Boat on the Burj Lake and watch the magic of the Dubai Fountains unfold.
> Dubai Fountains are located on Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Blvd / Free performances occur daily, every 30 minutes from 6pm-11pm.
Hatta Heritage Village
Whilst Hatta is 1.5 hours drive away from the city, it is part of the emirate of Dubai. Nestled into the Hajer mountains is the Hatta Heritage Village which has been reconstructed houses as they may have appeared before the wealth of oil in the UAE. The heritage village of 30 buildings is an ancient site, with crafts, weaponry, sculptures & customs. Discover artifacts from a traditional and agricultural way of life.
> Hatta Heritage Village is located at Hatta Wadi Hub | Free to enter| Open Sat-Thu 7.30am-8.30pm; Fri 2.30om-8.30pm
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