The historical areas around Dubai Creek are where many of the city’s unique stories started.
The waterway bifurcates the city into old Deira, and Bur Dubai. It was on the banks of creek that the first souks sprung up, trading spice, scent, and fabric. Today, a walk down the sides of the creek still shows evidence of this heritage.
Surrounded by the traditional souks, your Dubai adventure can start from Hyatt Place Dubai – Wasl District, the city’s newest hotel in the heart of Deira:
The Al Wasl District is a new development on the site of Dubai’s first hospital and built as a tribute to Arabic architecture and traditional life. Here you can find the Al Maktoum Hospital Museum, opened in December 2018 to preserve the city’s medical history. Dubai Culture is curating a unique crowdsourced programme at the museum based on oral histories of the hospital’s doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Dubai residents are also being invited to share their experiences, memories and anecdotes of Al Maktoum Hospital.
A few hundred metres away, just a five minute walk, is the Al Ghurair Centre which offers the city’s most authentic retail experience. Dubai’s first mall was also the Middle East’s first modern shopping mall project and was opened in 1981. It was redeveloped in 2013, when another 130 stores were added, bringing its total to 350 retail, entertainment and food outlets.
A ten-minute ride in a taxi will bring you creekside for an explosion of the senses at the Spice Souk. 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. Wander among many different stalls and chat to the vendors who are more than happy to chat with you and explain the origin of their products or the best dishes to prepare with them. Items are available pre-packaged or in bulk, and haggling is expected.
From the souk, step outside, cross the road and walk down to the Deira Old Souk Abra Station to take a traditional abra ride across Dubai Creek to Bur Dubai. The local water taxi will cost you only AED1 each way. Each abra holds 20 passengers and there are 150 boats making their way back and forth across the creek every day. Abras are also available to hire privately by the hour for extended tours. While you’re on the creek you will see wooden dhows and cargo boats and can imagine what life must have been like when trade centred on this waterway with life unfolding at a slower pace.
Once you reach the other side, the best way to discover the sights and sounds of the pedestrian-friendly Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood is on foot to get a feel for the way of living in the 19th century. See the way homes were built with traditional engineering features like wind-towers that made use of evaporative cooling in the days before reverse-cycle air-conditioning units.
Get lost wandering through small alleyways and paths that open out onto public squares. Admire the craftsmanship of the old buildings made from traditional materials like stone, teak, gypsum and sandalwood.
While you’re in the area, why not visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. If you pre-book you can partake in a cultural breakfast, lunch or dinner including a Q&A session and Emirati refreshments or join a heritage walking tour while learning about the history and culture of Dubai and the UAE from their knowledgeable guides.
From there, it’s only a five minute walk to the Dubai Museum where you can see the oldest building in Dubai, called Al Fahidi Fort. Built in 1787, the fort was used both as the ruler’s residence and for defence. Later, it was used as a military prison and arsenal, to keep weapons and artillery. The museum itself was opened in 1971 and its displays cover the breadth of local history, spanning the years to give the most complete account of the nation’s heritage you could find in a single venue. Traditional mosques, souks and farms are highlighted, as well as cultural and scientific displays on bedouin life, astronomy and shipbuilding.
Another five minutes south, on foot, and you will be at Al Fahidi Souk to experience the true hustle and bustle of a Middle Eastern marketplace. It sells all kinds of items, unlike many of Old Dubai’s specialty souks, and is the place to go when you want to let your eyes and ears guide you on what to buy. Some of the souvenirs you might be able to find here include textiles, jewellery and artefacts. Purchase embroidered fabrics by the metre; uncut precious or semi-precious stones; pottery items and incense.
Five minutes in a taxi and you could be in Al Seef, a shopping, dining and entertainment precinct on the southern bank of Dubai Creek. The creekside mix of outlets, art installations and family-friendly attractions makes it the perfect place to soak up some of Dubai’s cultural heritage in a more relaxed fashion. As you wander through recreations of the old streets, or sikkas, retrace the steps of fishermen, pearl-drivers, weavers and tradesmen that once populated the shores of Dubai Creek.
If you’d like to see the birthplace of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, then you’ll want to visit the nearby Al Shindagha area. The easiest way is to get there is to head to Burjuman and take the Metro Green line to Al Ghubaiba station. Born on the 15th of July, 1949, His Highness spent much of his childhood at the Al Maktoum Family Home. He learnt much about governing from his grandfather, the late Sheikh Saeed, who was Ruler of Dubai at the time. Sheikh Saeed would hold the daily majlis, or meeting of the people, on wooden benches near the entrance to their Shindagha home. Sheikh Mohammed would often sit with his grandfather as he listened to the ideas and suggestions of his subjects.
To book a room in Hyatt Place to begin your Dubai adventure, click here