The Best Things to do in Bur Dubai

Hop on a traditional abra (water taxi) on Dubai Creek for a sightseeing tour of Bur Dubai's busy waterway
Hop on a traditional abra (water taxi) on Dubai Creek for a sightseeing tour of Bur Dubai's busy waterway | © eFesenko / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Lavanya Nair
7 April 2021

West of the bustling Creek, Bur Dubai is where it all began centuries ago; when architecture meant mud and palm thatch rather than concrete and steel and when getting around was by abra (boat) rather than Uber. The historical remnants of Dubai are under ever-increasing threat from encroaching modernity in this glinting Emirate but it is still possible to delve into its past. From cultural breakfasts with locals to markets selling traditional fabrics and food, here’s our list of the top things to do in the bustling area of Bur Dubai.

Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood

Architectural Landmark
Map View

This peaceful neighbourhood, formerly known as the Bastakiya Quarter, is where you head for a tranquil escape from the thrum of the more overdeveloped parts of Dubai. What was once a run-down merchants’ quarter is now a restored heritage area, laced with slender lanes of sand-coloured buildings. Think of it as your one-stop Dubai cultural zone. As you wander, you’ll happen upon museums, craft shops and appealing courtyard cafes. Look upwards to see the area’s signature wind-towers (barajeel) – 19th-century equivalent of air-conditioning.

Dubai Museum

Map View
Dubai Museum, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
© Simon Dannhauer / Alamy Stock Photo
Al Fahidi Fort, built in 1799 and recently restored, is home to the Dubai Museu. Here you will gain a fascinating insight into the city’s culture and heritage and its transformation from desert expanse to a world-beating metropolis. Down on the lower levels, you can escape the city’s heat while admiring intricate dioramas of events in history; key among them is the pearl trade. Entertaining as well as educational, this is a great way to keep kids occupied for a morning.

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

Art Gallery, Building
Map View
This institution offers all kinds of lectures and exhibits on Islam and the United Arab Emirates. Listen to local residents shedding light on the traditions of life here – under the motto open doors, open minds – and join in a question and answer session afterwards. This is an opportunity to get under the skin of a fascinating – and very different – culture in an innovative way. They serve a traditional Arabic breakfast on Mondays and Wednesdays at 10am.

Majlis Gallery

Architectural Landmark, Art Gallery
Map View
For artists and art lovers, this little gallery in the Al Fahadi area is a slice of paradise. Inaugurated in 1989, it derives its name from the Arabic word meaning a common meeting place. Over the years it has showcased the work of artists internationally, evolving into a first-rate establishment uniting creative minds. Celebrated photographer Uudayabhanu is among the names to have featured here. A self-proclaimed environmental activist, he uses nature as his muse to project interpretations of his surroundings. He’s just one of the many talents represented here.

Old Souk

Map View
Colorful pashminas at an Indian shop in Dubai's old town
Colourful pashminas at an Indian shop in Dubai's old town | © Alexey Stiop / Alamy Stock Photo
Explore this traditional Bur Dubai market which features stores selling fabrics, footwear and souvenirs. The Textile Souk is an Instagrammable riot of exuberantly-coloured reams. As you dig deeper, you’ll find elaborate ornaments to give to delighted friends back home, along with fascinating items of haberdashery including shimmering threads and velvety materials. The options are limitless, so dust off your haggling skills and wade in – you’re not in John Lewis any more.

The Dubai Heritage Village

Architectural Landmark
Map View

This place in the Al Shindagha historic neighbourhood was conceived in 1997 to showcase local customs, traditions, professions and craftsmanship. Among the highlights are a traditional homeopathic clinic which operates between October and March. While you’re here, snap up a handmade souvenir or two – gifted artisans work in areas as diverse as whistle-making, jewellery and cotton trading. Try and squeeze in an Arabian folkloric performance – suggested titles include Razfa, Ayyala, Harbeya and El-Dan – and watch dances that have deep roots in Africa.

Dhow Cruise Dinner

Restaurant, Middle Eastern
Map View
Beautifully illuminated Dhow cruise dinner ship showing reflections on water captured at the Al seef village , Dubai, UAE.
A beautifully illuminated Dhow cruise dinner ship showing reflections on water captured at the Al Seef village, Dubai, UAE. | © SriyaPixels / Alamy Stock Photo

Gliding on the waters of Dubai aboard a traditional dhow never loses its lustre. It’s a city tour that is as feel-good as it is photogenic. If you can, book a cruise departing after dark so and enjoy the romance of moonlight dancing on the ripples. It’s great fun for all the family, too. The ticket price includes a buffet dinner which features traditional as well as international dishes.

Meena Bazaar

Bazaar, Market, Shop
Map View
Shopaholics looking for unique pieces of jewellery and accessories should devote a morning to Meena Bazaar. It’s got the lot, from diverse gold items (necklaces, earrings) to intricately-designed bags. Everything from clothing to electronic items can be haggled over if you’ve got the patience. If you need a break, there’s scrumptious street food on sale – tasty veggie rotis and parathas are our choice. Getting here is a doddle – just hop on the metro.

Dolphin Bay

Natural Feature
Map View

Dolphin Bay is the world’s largest, contemporary habitat for man’s best (finned) friend. There are all kinds of encounters suitable for all ages. You can stand in shallow water, scuba dive alongside dolphins or sign up for a royal swim package and be gracefully towed along by the beasts themselves. If that sounds too close for comfort, buy an observer’s pass. A great option for young ones are classes about dolphins’ anatomy. They’ll come away knowledgeable as well as protective of these magical creatures.

Global Village

Market, Shop
Map View
International pavilions at Global Village in Dubai
© Iain Masterton / Alamy Stock Photo
You’ll find a multitude of stores and stalls selling delicious food from dozens of countries and cultures here. Scour the stores with their vivid displays of fresh produce and covetable tinned goods – they make remarkable memories on camera. As well as theme-park rides, there’s a fountain which synchronises with pop hits. Newcomers Russia, Cambodia and Vietnam are among perennial favourites India, Iran, Palestine and South Korea.

Dubai Frame

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Dubai frame building at sunrise
Katiekk2 / Getty Images

An Instagrammer’s dream, this oversized linear structure spectacularly frames views of both old and new Dubai. Inside there’s a multi-media gallery with exhibits on the past, present and future of the Emirate. In keeping with Dubai’s love of superlative buildings, the 150m- (492ft) high glass, steel and concrete spectacle is trumpeted as the largest frame in the world and also serves as an observation tower.

Dubai Creek

Natural Feature
Map View

Dubai Creek is something of a working attraction. This saltwater artery, which connects Deira to the north and Bur Dubai to the south, is eternally busy with traditional wooden dhows crisscrossing the water. The commercial lifeblood of the city, it’s also a super-relaxing way to sightsee. Hop aboard one of the abras (water taxis), which run every few minutes between the souks of Deira on the northeastern bank and the historic district of Bur Dubai on the southwestern bank.

Dubai Garden Glow

Amusement Park
Map View
The Dubai Garden Glow theme park
© philipus / Alamy Stock Photo
Shiny and colourful doesn’t always equal environmentally friendly, but the material used at this illuminated theme park cum garden in Zabeel Park is largely recycled. It was devised to promulgate the twin issues of global warming and carbon footprints. A million energy-saving bulbs and recycled luminous fabrics keep the attraction eco-friendly. Street food is sold from vans and stalls parked throughout.

Jo Fernandez-Corugedo contributed additional reporting.

These recommendations were updated on April 7, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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