The Best Things To See and Do in Dubai's Old Quarter

Visit Dubai's old quarter to see how life was here 100 years ago | Lykos Terzis / © Culture Trip
Visit Dubai's old quarter to see how life was here 100 years ago | Lykos Terzis / © Culture Trip
There’s so much to see and do in Dubai – from going up the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, to skiing indoors at Ski Dubai. Yet Dubai used to be a village of fishermen who lived around a creek. For those who wish to see what life was like before the city began its rapid growth, Dubai’s Old Quarter is the ideal place to visit and learn more about the history and tradition of this Emirate.

Visit the gold souk

For those who are looking to purchase gold for great prices or to simply better understand the jewellery market in Dubai, the gold souk is where visitors can see the largest gold chain in the world as per the Guinness World Records and shop for well-priced pieces, all the while getting a glimpse of a traditional Arabic market. The Dubai government assures the quality of all pieces, so visitors can feel reassured as they shop in hundreds of retail stores at the souk – haggling is encouraged to get the best prices!

It’s all about haggling at Dubai’s gold souk Lykos Terzis / © Culture Trip

Walk around Al Bastakiya Quarter

The historic quarter of Al Bastakiya dates back to the 19th century and is the oldest residential quarter in Dubai. Visitors can walk around the maze-like streets and admire the original architecture of this neighbourhood established by merchants. The buildings were completed with wind towers, evidence of a time before air conditioning. These days, the quarter is no longer the residence of merchants using the Dubai Creek for trade. However, it is populated with several attractions for visitors, like art galleries and traditional retailers.

The Al Bastakiya quarter dates back to the 19th century Lykos Terzis / © Culture Trip

Admire local art at the XVA Gallery

Perhaps one of the most unique and interesting attractions in Al Bastakiya is the XVA Gallery. Here you can check out the local art scene and learn more about international artists. The gallery brings exhibitions from important artists of the region and a touch of art to the traditional and historical neighbourhood. The contrast of the colourful and eye-catching pieces on the old construction, originally built with materials such as coral, is an interesting blend between art and history.

XVA Gallery in Al Bastakiya Lykos Terzis / © Culture Trip

Visit the Coffee Museum

For coffee lovers from all over the world, the Coffee Museum in Al Bastakiya is a dream destination. This museum brings together regional and international flavours to offer visitors a cosy and elegant coffee-drinking experience amid traditional architecture. Some of the more popular styles offered by the Coffee Museum are local Arabic coffee, Ethiopian coffee and Japanese coffee. In addition to the coffee to be tasted, visitors can admire antique artefacts and learn more about coffee roasting and brewing.

The traditional Arabic setting of the Coffee Museum

Have a traditional lunch in an Arabic tea house

The Basta Art Café is a charming café in the heart of the Old Quarter – offering a comfortable and chic atmosphere in the traditional buildings of Al Bastakiya. This is a perfect spot to try typical Arabic food and further indulge in the region’s culture. Also known as the Arabian Tea House, it has an outdoor terrace where you can enjoy regional dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner – giving visitors the opportunity to get a taste of Dubai in one of its most historic sights.

Enjoy typical Arabic food in a traditional setting Lykos Terzis / © Culture Trip

Visit the Dubai Museum

Perhaps Dubai’s most popular museum, the Dubai Museum was built inside the historic Al Fahidi Fort, which dates back to 1787. The fort played a massive part in Dubai’s history, having originally been the residence of a monarch, as well as holding the role of an arsenal and a prison. Today, the museum invites visitors to walk through several models of what Dubai was like in the past – providing an immersive experience for tourists to see how the city has become what it is today.

The Dubai Museum, set inside the 18th-century Al Fahidi Fort Lykos Terzis / © Culture Trip

Souvenir shop at the souk

There’s plenty of choice in Dubai when it comes to buying souvenirs for those back home. The city offers a variety of traditional items – anything from the typical gifts such as magnets and mugs to more unique items such as camel-milk soap and Emirati clothing. The souk is a fantastic place to shop for all kinds of souvenirs for the whole family. Unlike stores in malls, shopping at this traditional market gives tourists the opportunity to haggle and get the best possible price.

There’s plenty of shopping opps at the souk Lykos Terzis / © Culture Trip

Shop at the spice souk

The spice souk is a unique experience. From the mixture of scents accentuating the flavours of the region, to the vivid colours of the different spices brought to Dubai from neighbouring countries through the creek, the spice souk gives visitors the chance to shop for traditional and rare spices in a classic setting and acquire some of the highest quality spices in the region.

The sights and smells of the spice souk are unique Lykos Terzis / © Culture Trip

Take a one-dirham boat ride across the Dubai Creek

The Dubai Creek was where life in the city started – from the fishermen to the merchants, this saltwater canal is a vital piece of Dubai’s history. The creek expands into the Persian Gulf and was one of the main channels for trade for the small city that has now grown into a major metropolis. Visitors and residents can cross the Dubai Creek for a mere one dirham (£0.22) in a shared abra, a traditional boat that operates as a water taxi. This allows people to go from Al Bastakiya to the souks.

Take a boat ride across the creek Lykos Terzis / © Culture Trip

Watch local workers pack the ships with imports and exports

There are few scenes visitors can witness nowadays in Dubai that will better depict the city’s past than watching the local workers pack the trade ships. The packages are stocked in old-style dhows – these wooden boats were used to trade in the past and still do to this day. There’s nothing modern or sophisticated about the boats, or the packing procedure, providing a clear contrast to life elsewhere in this shining modern Emirate.

Traditional dhows are still used for trade Lykos Terzis / © Culture Trip