For most of us, when we first hear the word ‘DUBAI’, we end up imagining a lavish urban getaway with awe-inspiring megastructures. Isn’t it? Well, Dubai is not just that! If you want to savor the ‘other side’ of this bustling city, take a walking tour of Old Dubai.
Today, the way Dubai has grown, it’s actually tough to imagine that a few decades back, Dubai was a small village of fishermen living around the creek. There is so much to see and do in Dubai today, that we tend to forget the humble beginnings of this megacity. Dubai houses the tallest building, indoor skiing, a gigantic aquarium and a plethora of amazing things. But the city has also preserved its culture and history, in a beautiful way. And, in this article, we will take you around Dubai’s birthplace – the creek!
Historic Significance of the Old Dubai area
Many years before Dubai transformed into a city of megastructures, the area which today is known as Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood was the epicenter of life. This district, owing to its strategic location at Dubai Creek (Khor Dubai), played an essential role in managing Dubai and organizing its commercial relations overseas.
A tour of Dubai’s old quarter will introduce you to its cultural face. Dubai has well preserved her historical sites, the city’s culture and traditions in its HEART; right in the bank of the creek where all the success stories started.
Old Markets in Dubai
Today, most of us know Dubai as a shopper’s paradise. And I believe the credit goes to the epic Dubai Shopping Festival. But that’s just modern Dubai. Even in the olden days, the markets of Dubai – souqs – were equally famous globally. More than a century back, Dubai’s reputation as a commercial center was well established and souqs attracted traders from all over the world.
Although most of today’s retail activity takes place in Dubai’s modern shopping malls, the city souqs are still vibrant marketplaces and are an essential part of the Dubai experience. And, there are quite a few souqs in the city.
Some of the old souqs:
- Gold Souq – Deira
- Spice (and herbs) Souq – Deira
- Perfume Souq – Deira
- Textile Souq – Bur Dubai
A couple of modern-day souqs
- Madinat Jumeirah Souq – Madinat Jumeirah complex
- Souq Al Bahar – Downtown Dubai
Old Dubai Tour Itinerary
Well, there are multiple ways in which you can explore Old Dubai. You can choose to start on the Deira side of the creek. Or maybe even on the Bur Dubai side. You can do it on foot (just as we did) or you may even take a taxi. Whichever way you choose, try not to miss out on the following places and experiences:
- Explore the Spice & Herbs Souq and the Gold Souq
- Take an abra-ride across the creek
- Dubai Museum
- Al Bastakiya
- Coffee museum and Coin Museum
Old Dubai Do-It-Yourself Walking Tour
↳ how we explored Old Dubai under $5, including lunch!
THE PLAN – Wander through the winding alleyways of Dubai’s old town district and along the Dubai Creek to follow in the footsteps of the city’s early settlers.
Walking-Tour Map of Old Dubai
Our Old Dubai Walking Tour – a travelogue
Our plan was to start with the Gold Souq in Deira and end at Bastakiya in Bur Dubai. But neither of us were big fans of gold jewelry, so we decided to drop the Gold Souq and started with the Deira Old Souq.
Note: just wanted to let you know that this cultural walking tour of old Dubai can also be done the other way round – start at Bastakiya and end at Deira. The choice is up to you!
Walking tour starts
We (Dona – our friend who was then deputed at Dubai, Sonakshi and me) started our old Dubai walking tour from the Al-Ras metro station. We came out of exit #2 of the metro station and landed in a neighborhood that looked completely deserted..! I mean we couldn’t even see a single soul on the roads. All of a sudden, from the crowded streets of Dubai we found ourselves in a somewhat deserted locality.
After wandering here-and-there for a few mins, we found someone on the streets to ask the direction to the Deira souq. He told us to walk along the creek and showed us the way. Although it was hot and humid, but walking along the creek felt surprisingly pleasant.
We walked around 10-12 mins and reached the Deira old souq abra station. On the opposite side of the road was the entrance to the Deira old souq.
You can even do the Gold souq before the Deira old souq. Simply come out of exit #2 of the metro station, walk 8-10mins and you will reach the Gold souq. Once you are done with all the glitters, the Deira old souq is just 4-5 mins walk from there.
Deira Old Souq – heaven for herbs & spice lovers
The Deira Old Souq, a.k.a the spice souq, is a real treat for your olfactory lobes. Although we were a bit lost in the beginning while trying to locate the souq, but we knew we were in the right way when we started getting a distinct Arabian aroma.
We did spend quite some time there – chatting with the locals, clicking photos, making videos and window shopping. One of the most interesting things we noticed there was the language proficiency of the shopkeepers. They could speak any language. Absolutely any language! Maybe only a few words and sentences, but in a lot of languages. They use this skill to lure customers.
The Spice Souq is one of the most unique and beautiful experiences we had during the entire day. It is bound to bring out the photography enthusiast inside you, especially the vivid colors of the different spices brought to Dubai from neighboring countries through the creek. Added to that, was the beautiful feeling of smelling a mixture of herbs, spices, and perfumes, perfectly accentuating the flavors of the region.
Dubai Creek – birthplace of Dubai’s success
Since “a picture speaks 1000 words”, I will let this 👇 photo (taken in the Museum) do the talking!
One dhiram Abra ride
Abra is an Arabian traditional wooden boat. Apparently it was used prolifically as a mode of commuting, especially by traders. Today, its mostly used as a water-taxi for ferrying people from one side of the creek to the other.
If you take a public abra-ride, it is only one dhiram per person. Or you may even choose to do a private abra-tour of the creek. The cost of this will be slightly more and depends on the duration of the ride and type of abra.
The abra-ride was the only non-walking-element in our old Dubai walking tour! 😉
Dubai Heritage village
After you enjoy the lovely abra ride and come to the Bur Dubai side of the creek, you have 2 choices – enter another Arabian marketplace right opposite to the Bur Dubai abra station or walk a few minutes and head towards the Dubai Heritage Village.
The heritage village is a nicely preserved neighborhood from Dubai’s past. Here you will be able to witness glimpses of humble beginnings of Dubai as a village of fishermen and pearl-divers.
We, actually, went to the heritage village after the Dubai museum, And hence we were able to relate to the history of Dubai that we saw at the museum.
Dubai Old Souq
From one charming souq to another – welcome to the Old Dubai souq. Its also sometimes called the Bur Dubai souq. Unlike the Deira souq (which was majorly spice and herbs), the Bur Dubai souq has a mixture of items. From traditional clothing to footwear, from Arabian decorative items to food. You will get everything here. An important thing to keep in mind here (in all the souqs) – haggle and bargain with confidence!
Yummy Arabian Lunch
Bur Dubai souq area is surrounded by many old-and-new marketplaces like Meena bazaar and the old textile souq. Meena bazaar is more like a modern-day shopping locality but doesn’t have shopping malls. Instead, there are individual shops, big-and-small. At Meena bazaar, you will also see the Indian community’s influence on Dubai – you will find huge retail showrooms of many Indian jewelry and clothing brands!
By then, we had been walking for over 4 hours and understandably tired and hungry. Thus we decided to take a break for lunch. There are plenty of nice Arabian restaurants in-and-around Meena bazaar and all of them serve delicious local delicacies.
Our tiredness and exhaustion was majorly due to the humid climate of Dubai. Hence, we would recommend you to carry water bottles. (more tips are given below)
After we were considerably energized from the lunch, it was time to head to the Dubai museum. Just a few mins walk on Meena Street and we reached the museum. From the outside itself, you will realize that the museum is built inside a fort – Al Fahidi Fort.
Built in 1787, Al Fahidi fort was once a monarch base, a force of defense, a weapons arsenal and prison. In 1971 – the same year the United Arab Emirates was formed, the fort reopened as Dubai Museum. (source: wiki)
The museum consists of several wings, displaying antiques, pottery, weapons, tombs, and urban communities. The best thing that I loved about the Dubai museum was the way it showcases the birth, rise, development and modernization of Dubai. The museum offers a rare opportunity to get acquainted with the history of Dubai, which gives the impression that Dubai’s current development, modernism, and distinction are only a continuation of a journey of a unique and distinguished civilization.
Next on our list was the Bastakiya quarter (Al Bastakiya) – the city’s most picturesque heritage site. Narrow alleyways and buildings with high air towers (Barajeel) are a sign that you are now in Al Bastakiya.
Al Fahidi Historical District, commonly referred to as Al Bastakiya, holds the memories of an era that pre-dates the federation of the Emirates. Here you will find old houses made with traditional building materials such as stone, gypsum, teak, sandalwood, fronds, and palm wood. The houses are aligned side by side, separated by alleys, pathways and public squares, which give the district a natural and beautiful diversity.
There are two other museums in the Al Bastakiya area – coin museum and coffee museum. Unfortunately, they got closed by the time we reached there 🙁
All these under $5 ??
Yes! Most of the above places don’t need an entry ticket. The only 2 places that we had to pay were – Dubai museum (3 Dh) and Abra ride (1 Dh). Also, even the lunch was super cheap – it came out to be only 13 Dh per person! So, a total of 17 Dh ~ $4.7 !!! 🤩 🤩 🤩
(1 USD = 3.67 Dhiram)
Tips for exploring Old Dubai on foot
In the end…
Exploring the historical and cultural side of Dubai was one of the best things that we did in the city of megastructures. A do-it-yourself walking tour of old Dubai is something we will definitely recommend to anyone who wants to explore REAL DUBAI!