Anyone visiting Dubai should spend a day in the city’s old quarter. Walking through the old streets that so greatly contrast the modern skyscrapers and record-breaking wonders, it’s possible to see simplicity and history come to life. It’s vital for those who want to better understand the growth of Dubai to have a look at its starting point, where the city began to thrive and surprisingly stayed practically the same, regardless of the development all around.
The Bastakiya quarter truly exudes tradition and history. One of the oldest neighborhoods still standing in Dubai, the area was built in the 19th century by the Iranian community who arrived in the Emirate due to trade via the Dubai Creek. The buildings in Bastakiya tell their own story, they were built using coral and shells and still remain the same since to this day. The community has now become a cultural hub for both Dubai residents and visitors.
For those visiting Bastakiya, there’s no shortage of things to see and do. People can indulge in different activities, from checking out the Coffee Museum and trying traditional Arabic coffee, to appreciating art at XVA Gallery. All of this while observing the original architecture, including wind towers called barjeel, illustrating a time before air-conditioning. The structure of the quarter is all designed to minimize the heat, a problem in the region, so buildings are very close together in order to provide maximum shade.
One of the main attractions in Bastakiya is the Basta Art Cafe, also known as Arabian Tea House. This is the ideal place to grab lunch or an afternoon tea and enjoy traditional Arabic food. The spot has a unique decor, bringing out an artsy atmosphere with accents of Arabic culture. It also provides diners with outdoors seating surrounded by greenery, a rare sight in Dubai.
The dhow port gives a true insight into the past of Dubai. The city’s trade with other countries in the region all took place through the Dubai Creek back in the day. This trade is still very much alive today and visitors can see massive dhows packaged with goods arriving and leaving the city. The merchants work all year round, and visitors can see first-hand the simplicity and humble nature of this form of trade.
The Dubai Creek gave life to the city decades ago, with pearl fisherman and traders making their living from it. The Creek, which splits the city into two different sides, is today one of the main touristic attractions in Dubai. Visitors can cross the Creek for only 1AED in traditional abras, which are like wooden water taxis in order to get from Bastakiya to the souqs.
The Gold Souq is a must-see spot for all of those visiting Dubai. Housing the world’s largest gold ring as per the Guinness World Records, the area is all about gold and precious stones. The souq is home to over 300 jewelry stores, catering to every taste. This is a great place to find the best deals and to haggle, as prices can drop drastically once negotiated. For those who don’t wish to shop, it’s still an amazing place to admire the massive gold pieces.
For all culinary enthusiasts, the spice souk is a dream come true. The area combines dozens of small retailers selling the best spices in the region. Visitors can walk through small allies where they can enjoy the mixture of scents and colors, as well as purchase spices at fantastic prices. This is also a good place to buy souvenirs and take home a little piece of old Dubai.