Sheikh Mohammed at the launch of Art Dubai in March 2019. Image Credit: WAM

Dubai: His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai on Tuesday announced the launch of a new vision that will expand on the strong, existing cultural foundations that currently thrive in the emirate.

The UAE has a rich culture and heritage that reflects traditional Arab and Islamic values, if you are a resident or a tourist here are some of the places that you can visit.

There are several museums and heritage houses in Dubai that the government have restored and made accessible to the public so they would enjoy getting acquainted with the heritage of this country.

Visitors can see artwork, rare pictures, utensils, armory, maritime equipment, currencies and other items from the old times, displayed in old forts or palaces.

So if you're free on a weekend or you have visitors, here is a list of places you can visit.

Dubai's heritage sites

If the weather is good and you would like to spend a whole day discovering then what’s better than Al Fahidi historical neighborhood where you can walk down a journey of the past.

As a visitor you will be introduced to the traditional lifestyle of Emiratis in the mid 19th century.

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Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood in Bur Dubai. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Buildings with high air towers (Barajeel), built with traditional building materials such as stone, gypsum, teak, sandal wood, fronds and palm wood are aligned side by side, separated by alleys, pathways and public squares, which give the district a natural and beautiful diversity.

The buildings are used these days to host a number of varied cultural and artistic activities ranging from art exhibits, museums, and ateliers to cultural centers like Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding.

The district also hosts a number of seasonal cultural and artistic events such as Sikka Art Fair, Artists-in-Residence Programme, Heritage Week, National Day Events and religious celebrations. Beautiful and cosy cafés, restaurants and motels overflowing with heritage are scattered all over the district.

In 2018, Dubai Art Season and Al Seef partnered with the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) to host The Tale of Zayed through Art, an exclusive Year of Zayed event, as an extension of the annual Sikka Art Fair season. Image Credit: GN Archives

According to Dubai Media office, the city also hosts more than 2,300 licensed cultural events annually, while the volume of art trade is estimated at Dh121 million during Art Dubai.

Al Fahidi neighbourhood used to have a strategic location at Dubai Creek, and that’s why it played an important role in the commercial life of Dubai, and you will find some old souqs nearby selling gold, spices and textiles.

As you are there, then step into the Historical Souk Al Kabeer market or what is known for expats as Meena Bazaar and encompasses the historic Al Bastakiya district of Dubai.

Meena Bazaar shoppers
Meena Bazaar is one of Dubai's original retail hubs. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ GN Archives
An aerial view of Dubai’s old quarters in Al Bastakiya. The area has been included among other Dubai locations in a preliminary list that includes historic zones in Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah. Image Credit: Prasad Nair/Gulf News Archive

At the Spice Souk, you can find more than 150 stalls line the narrow laneways, selling fragrances, herbs and spices from throughout the region.

Among standard cooking ingredients are exotic items like frankincense, amber and saffron.

Tourists at the Spice Market in Dubai. The slightly smoky and spicy aroma that hangs about this place entices food lovers and tourists to the Dubai spice souk from all around the world. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Once done with the souqs and feeling hungry, you can head to Bayt Al Wakeel. Where you can dine on a deck that used to be a boat landing. Or set inside this old building, which was built in 1935 on the sides of the creek.

Heritage House

If you want to know how old houses were built, and how the old Emaratis used to live and what they used day to day then this is a place to start from.

Heritage House is historical built in 1890 by Matar Saeed Bin Mazina, consists of two floors, with rooms and divans (grand halls) and air towers (Barajeel), surrounding an inner courtyard.

Heritage House
The Heritage House was established by Matar Saeed Bin Mazina in 1890. Image Credit: Dubai Culture

On display at the Heritage House are old household tools and utensils, such as pottery, copper, wood and glass items, furniture, clothes, jewellery, cosmetics and old toys.

When you finish from the Heritage House, take a leisurely stroll to Al Ahmadiya School, Dubai oldest school, which is located adjacent to the building.

Al Ahmadiya School

Al Ahmadiya School in Deira. Image Credit: GN Archives

Al Ahmadiya School takes you back to the historical ambience of education in the early 20th century of Dubai's history. It is the first national semi-regular school in the Emirate of Dubai. It was founded and established by the late Sheikh Ahmed bin Dalmouk in 1912.

Education went on at the school ever since its establishment until 1958. In 1994, the Government of Dubai restored Al Ahmadiya School and transformed it into a historical museum.

As a visitor you will be able to experience the atmosphere of education in the school back then. You will walk through classes, get introduced to the educational system in those times and preview a sample of the furnishing of the school's classrooms, curricula, learning tools, writing materials and the subjects taught to the students, the certificates that were awarded by the school at the time, and many historical government documents and correspondence related to the educational system in the emirate.

If you want to sneak a peak on ruling family style of living back in the day then head to Majlis Ghorfat Umm Al Sheif.

Majlis Ghorfat Umm Al Sheif
Majlis Ghorfat Umm Al Sheif was established in 1955 as the summer resort of the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum in the Jumeirah area. Image Credit: Dubai Culture

Majlis Ghorfat Umm Al Sheif is a small house that was built in 1955 as a summer house for late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum in the Jumeirah area, which was traditionally famous for its calmness and tranquillity along with its distance from the noise of crowdedness back then.

As a visitor you will be able to see where Sheikh Rashid used to spend his evenings in the Majlis with his advisers to make decisions. The Majlis has been named "Umm Al Sheif" in honour of one of the famous Pearl Fisheries.

Majlis Ghorfat Umm Al Sheif will also give you a unique opportunity to see old house hold instruments from copper buckets, coffee stoves, jars, earthenware, brassware, rugs and carpets, in addition to the relatively modern appliances of those times such as clocks and radios, along with defence tools like rifles and daggers which were carried by men in their belts.


Heading to a museum is a must on any visitor’s to-do list as it is one of the best ways to learn and understand the history of any city. In Dubai, check out these unique museums that tell the story of the UAE from its humble origins to its race into the future.

There are over 20 museums across Dubai that attract more than 1.6 million visitors annually. Here are some of the most noteworthy places that you cannot miss: 

Al Etihad Museum

The Etihad Museum’s new pavilion is inspired by the shape of a manuscript, with seven columns which emulate the pens used to sign the 1971 Union agreement. Image Credit: Supplied

Al Etihad museum, spread over 26,000 square metres, is located adjacent to the Union House where the declaration to establish the independent state of the United Arab Emirates and bring into effect a temporary constitution was signed in 1971.

Al Shindagha Museum

View of the Shindagha Museum during the Media Tour on 6 MARCH 2019 photo; Atiq Ur Rehman /Gulf News

The museum provides visitors with a state-of-the-art multimedia experience, which guides you through the area’s development over centuries. The tour features interactive videos, touch displays and historic photographs, and also explains how maritime trade affected the livelihood of families.

Naif Museum

Naif Museum
In the early 1990s, the Fort was renovated while preserving its archaeological features and in 1997, Sheikh Mohammed ordered to convert one of the wings of the fort into an official museum. Image Credit: Dubai Culture

Founded at the old Dubai Police headquarters and prison in Deira, this fort gives an insight into the history and development of Dubai's police force, as well as the city's justice system. Built in 1939 and made almost entirely of clay, the museum is home to life-size models, interactive exhibits, and fascinating displays.

Museum of the Poet Al Oqaili

Museum of the Poet Al Oqaili
This house belonged to Mubarak Al Oqaili, one of the famous poets in Dubai. Image Credit: Dubai Culture

The house was built in 1923 and owned by the poet Mubarak Bin Hamad Bin Mubarak Al Manea Al Oqaili, who moved from Saudi Arabia and lived between 1875 to 1954. Al Oqaili is considered to be one of the famous poets and prominent luminaries of Dubai, in writing Eloquent and Nabataean poetry.

Dubai Museum

Dubai Museum is located at Al Fahidi Fort, at the south of Dubai Creek, and was built back in 1787. Later on, this fort turned into an arsenal for artillery and weapons. It was also used as a prison. Image Credit: Dubai Culture

Al Fahidi Fort was built in 1799 and major expansion work was carried out on it from the 1830s to 1850s under the rule of the late Sheikh Maktoum Bin Butti. In 1971, Dubai Municipality renovated the fort and turned it into a home for Dubai Museum that offered several dioramas of the region's culture before the discovery of oil, as well as artefacts that date back to 3000 BC.

Museum of the Future

The Museum of the Future, near Emirates Towers, has begun to take shape. The oval-shaped home of futuristic technology is expected soon.

Currently under construction, the Museum of the Future will display how technology can evolve in the next 20

years. Founded by the Dubai Future Foundation, the museum will demonstrate how technology can enhance our bodies and minds, as well as manage social and economic solutions.

Most of all, it will help us re-imagine climate change for 2050.

Archaeological Sites

Dubai is home to six archaeological sites, which also consists of the Saruq Al Hadid site and the Jumeirah Archeological site.

The Jumeirah Archeological Site

The Jumeirah Archaeological Site in Dubai is a place that dates back to the 6th century AD. Image Credit: Supplied picture

Situated between Jumeirah and Al-Wasl Road, the Jumeirah Archeological Site is one of the most historical archeological sites in the entire UAE. And while little of it still stands, what remains is sure to capture your attention — a visit here will transport you back to the Abbasid era, between the 9th and 11th centuries, when the settlement served as a caravan stop along a trading route connecting Iraq and Oman. In 1969, archaeologists excavated the site.

Saruq Al Hadid Archeology Museum

The Sarouq Al Hadid Archaeology Museum in Al Shindagha, Dubai. Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/Gulf News

The Saruq Al Hadid Archeology Museum was built in 1928 and is one of the UAE’s most accurate examples of local architecture. The house consists of two floors, with 10 rooms surrounding a courtyard in the centre of the house. The building materials are made up of coral, stone and trunks of palm trees.

The future of Dubai's cultural vision

In a meeting held last Tuesday, Sheikh Mohammed approved a new cultural vision for Dubai and turn it into a global hub for culture. Part of the new cultural vision includes the launch of the world’s first cultural visas.

The cultural vision also includes more than 15 diverse initiatives that cover various cultural and artistic sectors, which include the introduction of a cultural visa, the Dubai International Literature Season and the launch of a free zone dedicated to nurture talent, in addition to many other drives.

Cultural visas

The new system will offer the first long-term cultural visa in the world, positioning the UAE at the forefront of the global cultural scene aimed to attract writers, artists and creators. The goal is to establish Dubai as an incubator for talented people from the Arab world and around the globe.

Creative Free Zone in Al Quoz

The new vision includes the launch of a creative free zone in Al Quoz area for those in the cultural sector, ranging from writers and artists, giving its members an array of services from the initial conceptualisation of their project to the design and production stage.

Al Quoz will ultimately be the creative centre where creators can produce, showcase and promote their work.

Dubai International Literature Season

All literary events will happen during this allotted season, and will be the largest reading season in the region.

Visitors can expect to see the Knowledge Summit, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Award, the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and the Arab Reading Challenge, among others, all to take place during the season.

In the new few years, the UAE will progress to be a regional cultural hub and one of the top global destination for culture thanks to the country’s unique cultural projects.

- Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid

The Literature Season aims to establish Dubai as the capital of culture and knowledge, which will including 1,000 artistic, literary and cultural events. More than 100 writers and 100 publishing houses will also participate.

On her Instagram post, Sheikha Latifa Bint Mohammad, Chairperson of Dubai Culture, said: “Sheikh Mohammed’s approval today of Dubai’s new cultural vision marks the beginning of the comprehensive advancement of the emirate’s creative scene, while also being a strong stimulus to establish Dubai as a global centre for culture and a forum for creative talent.‬ A long-term visa for creatives, a free zone for creativity in Al Quoz, a festival to celebrate various cultures and a season dedicated to global literature are among 17 initiatives aimed highlighting Dubai and the UAE’s leading positions in Arab and international cultural circles.‬”

“We will work within the framework of this new vision and join efforts with those who have the proficiency to support its objectives. The desired strategic goal is to create a broad cultural movement from Dubai that leaves a positive imprint on the world,” said Sheikha Latifa.

School of Life

Public libraries in Dubai will be transformed into integrated cultural centers that will be known as the School of Life. The School of Life aims to build cultural, artistic, creative and life skills for young people and residents of Dubai from all walks of life.

Life skills include reading clubs and etiquette education programs, as well as providing creative spaces for digital learning.

Art of the Earth

This will be a landmark that will coincide with the celebration of the UAE’s Golden Jubilee, and will be completed by 2021. The colours will reflect the colours of the earth, like browns and green.

This initiative will also document the success story of Expo 2020 Dubai and aims to be a tourist destination.

Dubai International Alumni Exhibition

The goal is to encourage university graduates to find solutions for pressing problems.

A major prize for the 2020 season will be organised during the Government Summit, with government and private institutions hosting the first five winning projects. The Dubai International Alumni Exhibition will attract more than 1,000 participants and 150 projects from 208 prestigious Arab and foreign universities from around the world.

Cultural projects and initiatives should be comprehensive and directly deal with all segments of the society.

- Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid

Al Marmoom Film Festival

An open-air film festival will be held at the Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve in collaboration with various cinemas. The aim of the festival is to promote Dubai in parallel with traditional and dedicated attractions where people can watch a movie and enjoy nature simultaneously.

Dubai Buildings

Real estate developers who want to construct buildings will have to make it in a manner that is artistic in nature and adds to the beautification of the city.

Future buildings will be distinctive in its architectural designs, and a specialised committee will be formed to supervise the submitted designs. This initiative will facilitate the work with renowned international architects.

Hatta Cultural Carnival

The annual event will be organised to preserve the UAE's cultural heritage and encourage tourism. Located 115 km from the heart of Dubai, Hatta is one of the most important tourist areas of the emirate and is an attractive destination for visitors from all over the world. This area is characterized by abundant scenery and terrain of mountains and rugged hills, a lake with captivating views, and a calm atmosphere.

Art for Good

Auctions will be carried out and all proceeds will go to charity organisations to provide aid for the Arab world.

Community-based art events will be held throughout the year aimed at engaging the public and using art as a means of creating a cultural dialogue among community members. Every year, an international art week will also be held to support philanthropy and humanitarian goals.

Our civilizational development can be measured by our cultural growth. We must project an intellectual, cultural and knowledge heritage befitting us as the Arab nation and enhancing Dubai’s status as a beacon of culture.

- Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid

Dubai Gold Group

A company will be established with the sole purpose to produce gold for Dubai. A competition will be launched so that artists can create the logo of the Dubai Gold Group.

The project will link the Gold Group with Dubai's distinctive identity and heritage, as well as strengthening its position as a global gold hub.

Explore Dubai's cultural treasures with Uber

The initiative partners with Uber to facilitate the movement of tourists to cultural tourism treasures in Dubai, in addition to providing an interactive culture experience. Uber will take people around Dubai’s cultural landmarks, such as the Al Fahidi District, Al Serkal Avenue, Al Bastakiya and the Sheikh Saeed House.