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Exploring Dubai Old Town: Best Things To Do And See

Old Town Dubai, or the Al Fahidi neighborhood, is a great place to begin your exploration of Dubai.

Wait! What!!! Dubai has an old town? Yes, you heard me right.

Sure, Dubai is all glitz and glam—tall skyscrapers and futuristic buildings. But long before that, Dubai was a small fishing village and trading hub—traces of which can still be found in the Old City.

Whether you’re a history buff or looking for a thorough immersion into how Dubai evolved, a tour of the Old Town in Dubai is the best way to start your journey.

There’s lots to do in Dubai’s old town, including visiting interesting museums, shopping at lively local souqs (Gold Souq and Spice Souq are here), taking a traditional Abra boat ride through the Dubai Creek, tasting local delicacies, and learning about the region’s ingenious architecture.


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Visiting Dubai Old Town and looking for the best things to do in the Dubai historic district? Here's an epic Dubai travel guide with the best Dubai attractions in the heritage district. Check out the best things to do in Al Fahidi neighborhood, Al Shindagha neighborhood, and Deira.

What is Old Town Dubai?

Before you get started, here’s a small tip: Old Town Dubai is broadly divided into three parts.

  • Al Fahidi Historic Neighborhood, also known as Bur Dubai, has old coral stone housing units complete with wind towers. The Coffee and Coin museums are also here. Most walking tours of Old Dubai start in the Al Fahidi District. Here’s my favorite walking tour of the area.

  • Al Shindagha Neighborhood which has all the new museums and the residence of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum – one of the erstwhile rulers of Dubai. This area is undergoing a revival and aims to tell the story of Dubai.

  • Deira is on the other side of Dubai Creek. To get there, you need to take an abra boat ride from Al Fahidi (Bur Dubai). This is where you will find all the Dubai souks, including the gold and spice markets.
Soumya walking through the streets of Old Dubai Town
Roaming the narrow streets of Dubai’s Old City was my favorite thing to do.

Best way to explore Old Town Dubai

The best way to explore the Old Town of Dubai is on foot. Feel free to roam around the historic district and stop and pause at the best attractions.

I highly recommend doing this via a guided walking tour of the historic district, where a knowledgeable local will give you rich insights into the place’s history and architecture.

There are many amazing tours of Dubai Old Town, but this one is my favorite. It begins at the Al Khayma Heritage Restaurant and takes you through the old town lanes, on an abra ride, to the coffee museum, and to the dynamic souks of Dubai.

Old Town Dubai walking tour with a local tour guide
Our tour guide, Noor Ahmed explaining the essence of incense in Emirati culture.

Best things to do in Dubai Old Town

Top things to do in Al Fahidi Historic Neighborhood

Marvel at the architecture of the Al Fahidi Historic District

Begin your tour of Dubai’s Old Town with a walk through the Al Fahidi Neighborhood and marvel at the architecture that surrounds you. 

The architecture of the Al Fahidi Historic Neighborhood is unique because it represents a perfect desert city.  

The traditional Arabic architecture of Al Fahidi features limestone buildings, high-air towers (Barjeels), and maze-like alleyways. 

Wind towers dominate the architecture of the Dubai heritage district.
Barjeels or wind towers like these dominate the architecture of the Dubai heritage district.

Barjeels are unique because the people of the desert ingeniously designed these air towers to provide natural air conditioning, drawing cool air into the buildings. This keeps the desert houses cool. 

The narrow lanes are another interesting way to keep the sun out, and so is the lattice work on windows, which helps in ventilation.

The architecture of the Al Fahidi neighborhood is a stark contrast to the city’s modern skyscrapers. Therefore, it’s a must-see if you’re interested in the history and architectural evolution of Dubai.

See the remains of the Old Dubai wall

Remains of Old Wall of Dubai
Remains of the Old Dubai Wall are hidden in plainsight.

As you walk through old Dubai city, be sure to see the ruins of the Wall of Old Dubai. 

This historic wall dates to the 19th century and marked the boundary of Dubai’s original settlement.

Be sure to notice the corals and palm leaves used in its construction. This shows that much of the raw material came from what was available locally.

Visit the Dubai Coffee Museum

Coffee making equipment at the Coffee Museum in Dubai
Traditional Emirati coffee equipment at the Coffee Museum in Dubai.

Located in the heart of the Al Fahidi Historic Neighborhood, the Coffee Museum of Dubai dives deep into the world of coffee, showcasing its global journey and the significant role it plays in Middle Eastern culture. 

Inside, you’ll find a fascinating collection that includes antique coffee pots and cups, as well as traditional roasting and brewing equipment. 

The museum not only educates visitors about the history of coffee but also provides an immersive experience through coffee tastings.

It’s a delightful way to immerse yourself in the region’s rich coffee heritage and understand why coffee continues to be a pivotal element of social hospitality in Arab cultures.

Join an immersive cultural tour at the SMCCU

Sheikh Mohammed Center of Cultural Understanding Dubai

Any culture vultures out there? If you’re looking for an in-depth immersion into Dubai’s culture and traditions, join a cultural tour at the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU).

An initiative of the government, the SMCCU offers guests a unique platform to engage directly with locals and their culture through interactive tours, local meals, and candid conversations. Trust me, this is as authentic as it gets.

SMCCU experiences are designed to increase expats’ understanding and appreciation of Emirati customs, religious practices, and social norms. 

Whether you love a traditional Emirati meal, want to dabble in calligraphy, do heritage tours of the old town in Dubai, or ask candid questions during a coffee session, SMCCU has a tour for you to join.

Explore Al Fahidi’s open-air museum

Al Fahidi neighborhood rowing boat on display
This massive rowing boat is on display at the Al Fahidi open-air museum.

Al Fahidi historic district has a small open-air museum that displays all kinds of Arabic necessities. These exhibits give rich insights into how the people of the region lived and thrived before modernization.

For example, there are tents with decorated living areas or majlis. You can also see a House of Hair, traditionally made by bedouins who built their tents using goat hair.

Don’t miss the Al Fahidi Rowing Boat, which won first place in the 1972 Boat Race.

Check out some cool street art

Street art in Al Fahidi

The walls of Old Town Dubai are dotted with eclectic street art. Some are abstract pieces, whereas others depict local culture and traditions. 

Dubai’s street murals not only provide great photo opportunities but also tell us a lot about life in the region.

Visit the Dubai Coin Museum

Housed within the historical Al Fahidi neighborhood, the Coin Museum of Dubai displays a rare collection of coins from various eras in Middle Eastern history. Some coins date back hundreds of years. 

Interactive displays allow you to see the details on each coin through magnifying screens and learn more about them. 

The best part about the Coin Museum is that it is housed in a traditional Arabic mansion made of coral, stone, and plaster. 

By examining these coins, visitors can trace the trade routes that connected Dubai with the rest of the world and understand the city’s evolution from a small trading port to a global metropolis. 

Have delicious local food

Luqaimat sweet in Old Dubai
Traditional Middle Eastern dessert Lokma at Al Khayma Restaurant in Old Dubai.

Food in Dubai and any Middle Eastern country is unmissable. 

Old Dubai City is a hub of excellent restaurants that serve some of the most delectable local dishes alongside a generous dose of history. 

Some restaurants that you should try are Al Khayma, Arabian Tea House, and Local House. Most serve camel meat if you’re keen to try something new on your travels to the Middle East. 

Top things to do in the Al Shindagha Neighborhood

Visit Al-Shindagha Perfume House

Boy smelling perfume at the Perfume Museum in Dubai

I loved visiting the Al Shindagha Perfume House for its uniquely interactive experience. 

For the first time, I was able to smell the fragrances in the room apart from just seeing and reading about them. Isn’t that amazing?

The Perfume House of Dubai has nozzles that you can turn on to smell each fragrant ingredient on display, including rare ones like oud, musk, and rose. 

The museum is housed in a historic mansion once lived in by the late Sheikha Sheikha bint Saeed Al-Maktoum. You’ll find several perfumes from her personal collection and a massive piece of oud she owned on display. 

Visit the Saeed Al Maktoum House

Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House in Old Dubai City

This historic building was once the residence of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler, from 1912 to 1958. 

Today, it is a museum that offers a glimpse into the life, culture, and customs of Dubai. 

Rare photographs, documents, and personal artifacts belonging to the Al Maktoum family are displayed. Several artifacts and movies shed light on Dubai’s transformation from a pearl-diving village to a global metropolis. 

If you’re looking for the history of Dubai in a nutshell, be sure to visit the House of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum in Dubai’s Al Shindagha district.

Explore other Dubai museums

Al Shindagha neighborhood in Dubai
Al Shindagha neighborhood in Old Dubai is home to several museums.

Al Shindagha area is home to several other museums that tell you the story of Dubai’s past, present, and future. In fact, the entire Al Shindagha neighborhood is undergoing a revival aimed at telling the story of Dubai. 

Here are some of the other unmissable Dubai museums in the Al Shindagha district.

  • Al Shindagha Museum – Dubai Creek: Birth of a City
  • Crossroad of Civilizations Museum
  • House of Poetry
  • Saruq Al Hadid Archeological Museum
  • Culture of the Sea Museum
  • Children’s House

Here’s a list and map of the Al Shindagha museums that you can download for your trip.

More museums are coming up. So, if you have visited something that’s not on this list, do let me know in the comments below. 

Top things to do in Deira

Enjoy an abra ride

An abra boat in Dubai Creek

You cannot miss an abra ride in Dubai. Abras are traditional ferry boats that locals have used for centuries to cross the Dubai Creek. 

Therefore, taking an abra ride from Bur Dubai/Al Fahidi to Deira is not a means to get from one place to another; it’s an experience that immerses you in Emirati life and culture. 

While crossing the creek, click pictures of the Dubai skyline, a beautiful mix of heritage and modern architecture.

The ride is highly affordable, priced at just AED 1 ($0.27) per ride.

Visit the souks of Dubai

Dubai Gold Souk
Dubai Gold Souk is the most visited marketplace in Dubai.

The souks of Dubai are a feast for the senses and an unmissable Old Dubai attraction.

Imagine wandering through aisles packed with shops selling fragrant spices, textiles, perfumes, souvenirs, and gold! Shopkeepers call out to you and are always ready to chat. I feel that the souks are the real heart of Dubai.

You don’t want to miss the Gold Souk, which is always the talk of the town. It is known for its extensive collection of jewelry, mostly gold, but also diamonds and precious stones. 

The Spice Souk is another amazing one. You’ll find all kinds of spices, including cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, fragrant teas, nutmeg, and saffron. These shops also stock incense and menthol crystals (I bought a packet of this for my neverending sinusitis, and it has been super helpful).

The Perfume Souk offers various fragrances ranging from traditional Arabic oud to contemporary perfumes. 

Don’t miss the Textile Souk in Al Fahidi for a wide choice of fabrics, clothing, and souvenirs.

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Visiting Dubai Old Town and looking for the best things to do in the Dubai historic district? Here's an epic Dubai travel guide with the best Dubai attractions in the heritage district. Check out the best things to do in Al Fahidi neighborhood, Al Shindagha neighborhood, and Deira.

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