When you think of Dubai, most people think of the modern high-rise buildings, and the place where ‘impossible’ doesn’t exist. To be honest, so do I! But obviously it wasn’t always like this. There are a few districts in Dubai, like Bur Dubai and Deira Dubai, that are still quite authentic with souks, abras and Arabian Tea Houses. And we think these spots should be on your itinerary when visiting Dubai.
Scrolling through this Dubai blog I am sure you can't believe this is also Dubai. Therefore, according to Traveltomtom, doing a walking tour of Old Dubai should be listed as one of the best things to do in Dubai. You can feel the vibe in the photos below.
One of these historic districts is called Bur Dubai, located on the western side of the Dubai Creek. It literally means Mainland Dubai, which refers to the separation of Bur Dubai and Deira by the Dubai Creek.
Al Fahidi Fort is one of the best places to visit in Bur Dubai and now home to Dubai Museum. Unfortunately the Dubai Museum was closed when we visited, due to Covid. Bur Dubai is easily accessible with the Dubai Metro Green Line.
The district has many shopping streets and some souks too, including the textile souk, which is located near the abra boat station.
Most of the souks Dubai is famous for are located in Deira. A very popular places to visit in Dubai, a famous souk and arguably the best place to purchase gold is Dubai’s Gold Souk. Walking through it, everything you see glittering is actually gold.
Other souks you can find in Deira are, perfume souk, spice souk and the grand souk.
Historically Deira was the commercial center of Dubai, but obviously lost that importance over the past few years due to the incredible and rapid economic developments in Dubai. Deira is located on the other side of the Dubai Creek from Bur Dubai. The Dubai International Airport is actually located in this area as well.
The Dubai Creek is a natural saltwater creek, which extends for about 14km inland. It forms a natural port that has traditionally been used for trade and transport. The creek divides the city of Dubai into two main sections, Deira and Bur Dubai.
Dubai Creek was a minor port for traditional dhow boats arriving from places such as India and Africa. The Dubai Creek area is a great place to take a lovely stroll and soak up the history of Dubai.
On Traveltomtom you can find a wide array of Dubai blog posts with cool things to do: Platinum Heritage Dubai Desert Safari, Dinner in the Sky, Yellow Boats Tour from Dubai Marina, etc. Also make sure to buy a prepaid sim card for Dubai on arrival, the cheapest way to stay connected.
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An absolute must do when visiting historic Dubai is taking a ride with an Abra. Abra traditionally comes from the Arabic verb ‘abara’, which means ‘to cross’. It’s the city’s most traditional mode of transport. A true symbol of the city’s history and heritage, as for centuries it has remained one of Dubai’s most frequented modes of transport.
The abra’s run every few minutes throughout the day, between four stations alongside the Dubai Creek. Start exploring on one side then take an abra to cross the Dubai Creek with a one way ticket, and continue exploring the other side of historic Dubai. You can even hire your own abra for an hour or so if you want to explore the Dubai Creek area even more.
Souks are Arab markets or marketplaces, a bazaar to be more specific. Most of the souks can be found in Deira Dubai, a few also in Bur Dubai.
Visiting a souk is a great experience, and absolutely recommended when visiting Dubai. You can also find Souk Madinat Jumeirah, it’s the touristy modern version of the Souk, located next to Burj al Arab.
But if you want to experience a different side of Dubai then visit the souks in Deira Dubai. Yes, you are constantly approached by hawkers, because every seller wants to sell you something, but the experience is just great!
Historic Dubai Guided Walking Tour
Of course you can make your way to the old districts of Dubai by metro of taxi, and walk around on your own. But why would you do that, when you can also do a guided tour in which you are overloaded with information and visit the best places.
For over three hours we walked through the old Dubai with our (private) guide, an absolute legend of a guide, who knew all about the history of Dubai. Your guide will escort you through the characteristic, narrow alleys and stunning wind towers.
It’s completely up to you, if you want you can visit various museums as well, such as Dubai Museum and Coffee Museum.
After walking through the area for a little while, completely impressed by the stories and the environment, it was time for our first stop.
Our first stop was the Arabian Tea House where we had a reservation for lunch. This might just be the best place to have lunch, and bonus, it has some real Instagramable photo spots.
After a delicious Arabic lunch, it was time to move on. We continued walking through this part of Dubai, and to be honest, there are so many alleys and streets, I would have been lost without a guide by my side.
Then we walked to a building that traditionally is an area where people gather, drink coffee and eat dates. Nowadays it’s an information center where you are still offered coffee and dates.
Our last stop in Bur Dubai was a replica Bedouin camp, including some camels. You get to see what life was like back in those days, and always pretty cool to see camels of course.
Time now to take the oldest mode of transportation there is in Dubai, time to make your way across the Dubai Creek to Deira Dubai in a small wooden boat, the Abra. You get some time to explore the several souks on this side of the Creek, before the tour ends.
One of the best places to have lunch is the Arabian Tea House. You might want to consider making a reservation here, because it gets extremely busy, but it’s worth the visit! You get to experience the finest Emirati hospitality, in the most amazing setting.
We highly recommend spending half a day at least visiting the older parts of Dubai. You get to experience what life used to be like here. And to be honest, you will not find a greater contrast between old and new anywhere else in the world. Visiting the old town, exploring souks, while seeing Burj Khalifa in the far distance, only in Dubai!
This blog was written by travel writer and Traveltomtom team member Ashley. She explored the historic parts of Dubai on behalf of Traveltomtom and wrote this blog about her experiences.
May you have any more questions about visiting old Dubai, a walking tour or traveling to (old) Dubai in general, then please leave us a comment and we will try to help you out.
Enjoy your trip to Dubai!