Travelling back in time…

To the place where it all began. It’s been more than a few decades, but Dubai’s old town stands firm and proud to this day, as a symbol for the humble beginnings of this city. Before all the cloud-skimming towers, eight-lane highways and glamorous haunts, Dubai had small in-lanes, heritage architecture and quaint spots.

The city got the fairy godmother makeover, but the charm of the old quarters is well-preserved and still out there for all of us to explore. Here, there is not a dull moment, and you’ll find yourself appreciating the visual break from the glittering skyline. Of course, both are beautiful, just in different ways.

If you’re heading out to explore the old town, here’s a guide to how you can spend the perfect day.

Dine at…

Arabian Tea House

 This beautiful cafe and restaurant has about 25 years of history behind it and continues to serve authentic Emirati delicacies even now. Although the Arabian Tea House has expanded with branches in other areas, like Jumeirah, the one in Old Dubai is the very first one, and has kept the original building and everything. It’s all very cool, the fare is delicious and if you’re looking for a spot to socialise the way socialising should be done, this is it.

Arabian Tea House, Al Fahidi, Dubai, daily, 7am to 11pm, Tel: (0)4 353 5071,

XVA Café

XVA Gallery

This cafe serves up exquisite vegetarian and vegan food, featuring a full menu of plant-based main courses, salads, soups and desserts. The interiors of XVA Café reflect the place it’s housed in – the XVA Art Hotel. Spread across three shaded courtyards, it speaks to the café romantic’s heart, and what’s not to like about Middle Eastern-inspired grub.

XVA Café, XVA Art Hotel, Al Fahidi, daily 7am to 10pm, Tel: (0)4 353 5383,

Doors Freestyle Grill

Brought to you by acclaimed Chef Kemal Çeylan, Doors Freestyle Grill is located in the heart of the Al Seef district. It features a freestyle grill concept, which is sure to be fun with a big crowd and, serves premium cuts of meat and seafood grilled to perfection. Salads, sides and desserts complete the menu. Doors is a waterfront destination, and spanning 12,000 square feet of space, it’s quite the spectacle. Outdoor terrace seating, a mixology lab, a sheesha lounge and a VVIP private majlis – she’s fancy.

Doors Freestyle Grill, Al Seef, daily, 3pm to 12am, Tel: (0)4 204 9299,

Shawarma and karak at…

Shawarma man

Any roadside shawarma shop or cafeteria. There’s plenty in the neighbourhood and while it’s not exactly a gourmet dining experience, the rudimentary nature of it all is quite charming. Shawarma is a rite of passage in the UAE, as most residents will agree, and keeping up with the theme, sampling a local delight is a vital part of the Old Dubai experience. Karak is also something of a social culture here, and the combination of the two is as Dubai as it gets.

Shop at…

Dubai Gold Souk


The Souk is a landmark of great importance in the city and remains traditional, complete with haggling and eager vendors who butter you up for a sale. There’s a gold market and a spice market to explore, and also some shops with trinkets and souvenirs. The tiny lanes are all open air and some of them have rustic wooden archways. It’s a wonderful glimpse into a different face of the city, away from all the glitz and glamour.

Dubai Gold Souk, Deira, Al Ras

Al Seef

al seef

The Al Seef district is the heritage neighbourhood in Dubai that sits on the edge of Dubai Creek. Although it popped up relatively recently, the construction of the open-air destination resembles that of the older, more traditional times, with fort-like buildings, watch towers and sandy stone facades. Wooden fences and stone-cobbled walkways complete the rustic look. If you’re looking for trinkets, souvenirs, traditional local fashion like jalabiyas and abayas, and thrifty fashion finds, there are plenty of shops to choose from here.

Al Seef, Bur Dubai 

Naif Souq


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One of the oldest and most traditional souqs of Old Dubai, the Naif Souq started out as an open-air market with thatched roof stalls and bare ground walkways. Now, it’s been constructed into a fully air-conditioned building, but you can still find all the local fashion, vendors that call out to you and little bits and bobs they stocked before. It’s mostly known for having a wide variety of abayas at super affordable prices.

Naif Souq, Deira


Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood

dubai coffee museum

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There are museums galore in the Al Fahidi Neighbourhood. Housed in Al Fahidi Fort, the Dubai Museum is the oldest existing building in Dubai. The fort was built in 1787 and has now been converted into a museum displaying all the history and heritage of the city, from the way the people lived to the way they fought wars and did trade. Witness antiquities and artefacts from before the oil boom. At the moment, it is undergoing renovation and we are eagerly awaiting its return. In the meantime, there’s the Dubai Coffee Museum, for all things local sources of caffeine, the Coin Museum in Bur Dubai and the house of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum.

XVA Gallery


The XVA Gallery is located inside the XVA Art Hotel. The refined art gallery stocks contemporary pieces that are up for sale, perfect to add to or start a fine art collection. They even offer art consultancy services, if you’re looking for that sort of thing, and host exhibitions on the regular. It’s a great space to soak up some culture while absorbing the charm of the old city.

XVA Gallery, XVA Art Hotel, Al Fahidi, daily 7am to 10pm, Tel: (0)4 353 5383,

Dubai Abra

The Dubai Abra is one of the oldest modes of public transportation in the city. It takes passengers across the Dubai Creek from Deira on one side to Bur Dubai on the other, for as little as Dhs1. An array of 150 traditional ferry boats will be waiting at the dock to take you across. The boats run every few minutes throughout the day between four stations along Dubai Creek. The boats are now motorised but still offer as authentic an experience as any. The rides start at 6am and each water taxi holds about 20 passengers. The crossing will take you not more than five minutes but if you want to explore the waters a bit more, you can hire your own boat for an hour.

Images: Supplied/Social