Dubai is mostly known for its innovative architecture, luxury shopping and happening nightlife. But there is more to Dubai than that. Here are some hidden gems recommended by locals living in United Arab Emirates’ largest and most populous city.
Vibrant beach culture
Yes, there are actually beaches in the city. For a serene, secluded seaside experience, head to the Black Palace Beach, which is located in a prime area. At this beach, you will find clear aquamarine waters and a great atmosphere for a splashing good time with family and friends.
A piece of history
Explore Old Dubai and uncover a piece of local history. Visit the traditional Arabian souks or markets. Wander through these ancient souks which are still a part of daily life and commerce for the locals.
The Gold Souk comprises over 300 retailers, mostly jewellers. It is said that approximately 10 tons of gold is present at this souk at any one time.
The Textile Souk, located in the city’s historic Bur Dubai neighbourhood, is a colourful, vibrant place that offers fine silk, airy cotton, and embellished fabrics.
There is also the Spice Souk, with its narrow lanes lined with open and closed-roof stores. Here, a wide variety of fragrances, herbs and spices, are offered.
Weekend brunches have taken up a special place in the hearts of locals and expats alike in the city. With work weeks running from Sunday to Thursday, these Friday all-you-can-eat-and-drink feasts are a time for all to gather and celebrate the start of the weekend.
The brunches come in all shapes and sizes, from party-style feasts, to relaxed and intimate dining experiences. Some are even accompanied by family-oriented activities to keep the young kids entertained. For traditional treats, head to Al Reef Bakery, an unassuming Lebanese bakery with freshly made food including baklava, knafe, maamoul and kaak.
Coffee and tea culture
Although Arabic coffee (gahwa) has always been an important part in Emirati hospitality, Indian masala tea (karak chai), has also become an important part of Dubai culture.
It is traditionally boiled on a low flame and made with a combination of black tea, milk, sugar and spices. Karak is always there at gatherings of family and friends, during breakfast or afternoon tea time.
Old World charm
Dubai Creek is where you can discover the city’s roots. Explore the wind towers and coral buildings of Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, which have been painstakingly restored to their original glory.
For some art appreciation, visit XVA, a unique art gallery that is also a boutique hotel and cafe, in an area that breathes life into a number of art galleries, displaying everything from calligraphy to modern art.
No cultural experience is complete without a trip to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding where guests are encouraged to ask questions about Arabic, Emirati and Islamic culture.
You can get across the Creek by abra, a traditional boat that costs AED1 (RM1.10) a ticket.
To get an insight into the local culture, check out one of the many camel races that take place throughout the cooler months of the year. You’ll see these beloved beasts thunder along sandy tracks in a sport that originated in the Middle East and still has an avid following among the locals.
Racing season runs between October and April, with races usually taking place early on a Friday or Saturday morning. There are several tracks in the emirate, but Dubai’s biggest is Al Marmoum Camel Racetrack, the home of the Dubai Camel Racing Club.
Traditional rural life
Discover local traditions at Hatta Heritage Village, which takes you back in time for a glimpse of what original villages in Dubai looked like.
The place provides an insight into traditional rural life in the surrounding mountains, with authentic models, documents, sculptures, illustrations and graphic/audio content throughout 17 houses, two castles and a fortress.
Oasis in the desert
Explore Dubai’s sprawling desert oasis by checking out Al Qudra Lakes. Spend a quiet moment immersed in nature here as you explore a series of lakes sprawled across the Saih Al Salam desert. Enjoy a refreshing picnic after a leisurely ride around the Cycling Track which offers the chance to see local wildlife, from desert foxes and oryx, to 170 species of birds.