Dubai is widely considered as little more than a fabricated oasis and the Middle Eastern capital of hedonism and excess. While most tourism to this garish, futuristic metropolis is driven by the consumerism, prestige and luxury, there remains a small section of the city offering an insight into a more peaceful era in the history of The Emirates prior to the discovery of oil in the 20th century – its history as a key destination within the trading routes. Furthermore, along with the steep development of modern civilisation, an emerging offering of contemporary culture is also present, joining the unparalleled gastronomical, architectural and leisure offering this man-made destination has to offer.
Al Fahidi District
East of the ultramodern Financial District, set on the Dubai creek, lies the historic Al Fahidi district. Among old buildings and streets is a chance to disconnect from the bustling centre of wealth, and witness the sole memory of Dubai as a key stop within the ancient trade routes. On the bank of the creek in Bur Dubai is the oldest standing residential quarter of the city – Al Bastakiya, dating back to the 19th century. A narrow pedestrianised labyrinth of heritage reflects a very different time for the city and houses a collection of galleries featuring work by local and international artists, as well as the Dubai Museum, providing more detail on the years leading up to the emergence of opulence. The Arabian Tea House, located in the quarter, is one of the few authentically serene places in the city. A rich selection of Arabic and Western breakfasts and light meals, as well as an extensive tea menu provides a refreshing break from the scalding sun.
An Abra (motorised wooden boat), steered with the foot of the operator, will take you across the creek to the Deira Old Souk for 1 AED. Trading being a key element to the economy of the pre-oil Emirates, the markets are an essential part of the history of the country. The biggest and most popular are the gold and spice souks – a vibrant selection of traders selling precious and semi-precious jewellery, and a vast array of spices, all competing for the attention of the visiting shoppers.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Established in November 2017, this is a brand new and exhilarating addition to the Emirati cultural offering, worth an hours’ drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. Designed by the award winning architect Jean Nouvel, with the Arab World Institute and Fondation Cartier in Paris among his work, the roof of the gallery is a webbed metal dome, creating a naturally sunlit contemporary haven of art and design. The museum boasts a monumental collection of work from the key French museums, including pieces by da Vinci, Monet, and Matisse, as well as an exhibition of pieces from both Western and Eastern history of art, fostering a connection between the two worlds.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Sheikh Zayed Mosque is a majestically beautiful must-see in Abu Dhabi. One of the few mosques open to non-Muslim visitors, it is a thrilling opportunity to witness an element of the local faith and see a breathtaking piece of architectural art – an opulent construction of white marble, gold, and semi-precious stones. With lavish Swarovski crystal chandeliers from Germany and the world’s largest loomed carpet from Iran, it is a unique display of the finest international craftsmanship and grandeur, which is what The Emirates are all about after all.