Serving as the perfect introduction to Dubai's history and culture, this walking tour covers the emirate's heritage quarters – a complete contrast to the city's glitzier neighbourhoods
While Dubai is known for its futuristic skyline, the older side of the city boasts undeniable charm. One of the best ways to discover the hidden gems and cultural attractions scattered in the emirate's heritage district is by embarking on a walking tour. With this self-guided excursion outlined below, you can explore Old Dubai at your own pace.
Starts at: Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood Ends at: Gold Souk Estimated duration: Three to four hours Best time to walk: Morning to early afternoon Directions to starting point: Take a taxi, metro or bus to get to Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood Points of interest*: Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, The Coffee House, XVA Gallery, Bur Dubai Grand Mosque, Textile Souk, Al Shindagha Museum, Perfume House, Spice Souk, Gold Souk
*For ease, the Google Maps pins have been provided for all locations in the tour description
Bring a water bottle
Wear a hat for extra sun protection
Carry cash if you plan to shop at the souks
1: Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
When you arrive at Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, a short walk (over a minute) through the narrow lanes of the district will bring you to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). This cultural hub aims to offer visitors a greater understanding of the local culture with a packed programme of activities, which allows you to interact with the centre's Emirati hosts and learn about their way of life, past and present. You can also choose to simply wander around the site and admire its carefully restored wind tower structure.
2: The Coffee Museum
A minute away from the SMCCU, at the Coffee Museum, you will be able to trace the origins of the drink all the way back to the legend of the goat herder who discovered the humble coffee bean and its energising effect on his flock.
Scattered across the halls of this traditional home, visitors will find displays of brewing pots, grinders and other machinery that demonstrate how coffee was processed before modern factory methods took over the industry. The exhibits also highlight the different traditions associated with the culture of coffee around the globe, with a special focus on Arabic practices.
3: XVA Gallery
Venture deeper into the maze of alleys and you will come across XVA Gallery, the internationally acclaimed art gallery which has championed contemporary Middle Eastern art on a global scale since 2003. Established and emerging artists from the Arab world regularly host exhibitions at the inspiring space, making it a must-visit for art lovers.
4: Bur Dubai Grand Mosque
As you walk further north from the art gallery, at around the seven-minute mark, you will come across the Bur Dubai Grand Mosque. One of the most iconic places of worship in the emirate, it boasts Dubai's tallest minaret which lords over the city at 70 metres high. While non-Muslims are not permitted inside, its architecture is admirable, with its distinctive structure featuring a series of small and large domes, making for a spectacular shot.
5: Textile Souk
Follow the winding road deeper into Bur Dubai for a spot of shopping before you can explore further. At the Textile Souk, you can browse through an extensive selection of fabrics ranging from cotton and silk to embroidered materials and accessories, such as buttons and sequins. The colourful bazaar is also packed with stalls selling all manner of trinkets and souvenirs.
6: Al Shindagha Museum
Walk further north along the waters of Dubai Creek and you will soon find yourself at the Al Shindagha Museum. Through a range of well-curated exhibits, including photographs, artefacts and interactive videos, it tells the story of the nation's past and Dubai's dramatic transformation over the decades.
7: Perfume House
A few steps behind the museum lies the Perfume House, where you can learn how the development of Emirati fragrances influenced trade in the region and how scents play an integral role in the nation's heritage.
From 8 to 9: Take an abra ride across the Dubai Creek
After you've had your fill of the woody scents at the Perfume House, trace your steps back along the creek to get to Dubai Old Souk Marine Transport Station (8). Here, you can hop on board a traditional abra for a ride across Dubai Creek for only a dirham. You will disembark at the Deira Old Souk Marine Transport Station (9), from where the district fans out in different directions, leading to the city's local bazaars dedicated to everything from utensils and spices to gold.
10: Spice Souk
As soon as you arrive at Deira Old Souk, follow the heady aromas of cardamom, cloves, turmeric, dried lemons and rose petals all the way to the Spice Souk. The market's bustling alleyways are lined with local vendors enthusiastically welcoming customers into their stores which are usually overflowing with sacks of spices. Interacting with these friendly vendors is part of the fun, with many also willing to share recipes that make the most of their wares.
10: Gold Souk
A hive of activity even during the peak of the summer, no trip to Dubai is complete without a visit to the Gold Souk. Here, everything that glitters is gold! The shops are run by goldsmiths from all around the world who have been in the trade for generations. If you're in the market for something new, you can find everything from delicate pieces to more elaborate creations. You also have the option to commission a piece, with many stores offering a 24-hour turnaround time.
From this point, you can either choose to take the abra back to Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood or hop into a cab hailed at the souk, while there's even the option to board the metro from the nearby Gold Souk station to make your way back.