Authentic Dubai

Authentic Dubai

While planning our trip to the UAE last fall, like most visitors, I prioritized a visit to Dubai attractions like the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Marina, and other spots around the city where we could fully appreciate the emirate’s glitz and glam. But I also knew that I wanted to dig deeper beneath Dubai’s surface. My hope was to learn about Dubai’s history, immerse ourselves in the local culture, and to see the city undisguised. As always, we were crunched for time with only four short days to try to take it all in.

dubai-attractionsIf, like me, you’re headed to Dubai and want to get a glimpse of its authentic side but don’t have much time to spare, apart from the usual tourist attractions, here are my recommendations for where you should focus your itinerary…

Al Fahidi Historic District

Walking through the Al Fahidi Historic District, aka Al Bastakiya, is like taking a walk back in time. The district’s architecture dates back to the mid-19th century when buildings made of materials like stone, gypsum, teak, sandalwood, and palms with high air towers known as barajeel dominated the skyline.

dubai-attractions-al-fahidi-historic-districtThe district’s narrow alleyways open to quiet and clean squares, making it an ideal place to linger while watching random passersby and imagining what life in Dubai must’ve been like way back when.

dubai-attractions-al-fahidi-historic-district

dubai-attractions-al-fahidi-historic-district

dubai-attractions-al-fahidi-historic-district

dubai-attractions-al-fahidi-historic-districtThe Al Fahidi Historic District is also home to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. We were scheduled to have a cultural lunch at the center, but it was cancelled at the last minute due to the extended holiday weekend in celebration of National Day. The center offers all sorts of cultural tours, meals, classes and events to help educate expats and tourists about the UAE’s customs and traditions. Whenever we return to Dubai, we hope to take part in one of the center’s many activities.

dubai-attractions-al-fahidi-historic-district

Dubai Museum

A few blocks away from the heart of the Al Fahidi Historic District, you’ll find the Dubai Museum located along the Dubai Creek in the Al Fahidi Fort which dates back to the late 1700s. Throughout the years, the fort was used as a weapons arsenal and as a prison before being converted into a museum in the early 1970s.

Al Fahidi Fort - home of the Dubai Museum
Al Fahidi Fort – home of the Dubai Museum
Inside the walls of the fort - the open air part of the Dubai Museum
Inside the walls of the fort – the open air part of the Dubai Museum

dubai-attractions-dubai-museumAlthough entry to the museum is super cheap (3 AED/less than $1 USD), I’d gladly pay more to visit. The museum is part open air and part underground, with exhibits and displays that chronicle the evolution of Dubai’s heritage and history from its barren desert roots, to its pearl diving days, and on to the thriving metropolis that it is today.

Dubai Creek

A dhow ride along the Dubai Creek is a quintessential Dubai experience that’ll help you better understand the city’s layout as well as Dubai’s pearling and fishing commercial history. This saltwater creek once divided the city into two main sections – Deira and Bur Dubai. In the early 20th century, Indians and East Africans arrived to the creek in dhows, and today, dhows continue to be the main means of transporting locals and visitors alike across the waters.

dubai-attractions-dubai-creek

dubai-attractions-dubai-creek

dubai-attractions-dubai-creekWe took the short ride across the creek from Deira to Bur Dubai to do a little shopping at a textile souk near the docking station. The ride across the creek is a quick and very affordable way to get a sense of Dubai’s authentic side.

Dubai Deira Fish Souk

I’ll admit – it felt a bit awkward walking into the Dubai Deira Fish Souk since I was one of only a few women there. On one side of the market you’ll find vendors selling meat and produce, but your nose will eventually lead you to the other side of the market where you’ll find an impressive amount of all sorts of fish.

The produce/meat side of the market
The produce/meat side of the market

At the fish market, you’ll find everything from fresh crabs, lobsters, the hugest shrimp you’ve ever seen, and all sorts of unfamiliar fish. When you walk in, chances are that a man with a wheelbarrow will start following you around to carry your fish selections. Although we tried to explain that we were just looking and not buying, our wheelbarrow guy kept right on following us until we left.

The fish side of the market
The fish side of the market

dubai-attractions-dubai-deira-fish-soukAll of the selections at the fish market look and smell very fresh, and overall, a quick visit to this market will show you a side of Dubai that you’d never otherwise associate with the city.

Discover the authentic side of #Dubai, undisguised. Click To Tweet
Supermarkets

One of my favorite things to do in foreign countries is to check out local supermarkets to get an idea of how locals shop and the kinds of products they buy. As we wandered through the aisles of Carrefour, a global grocery brand located in the Mall of the Emirates, we came across all sorts of unique products like tandoori spice mixes, exotic fruit juices, labaneh, sheep’s cheese, and even shisha for hookah smokers.

dubai-attractions-carrefour-mall-of-the-emirates

Camel milk :-/
Camel milk  :-/

In addition to some spices and juices, we bought some fresh baklava and a bottle of camel’s milk to enjoy back at our hotel room. While I loved the fresh baklava, the camel’s milk left a lot to be desired (let’s just say that it tastes the same way a camel smells). Still, the experience of wandering through the grocery store and buying new products to try is memorable because it gave us great insight into Dubai’s culture and a glimpse into daily local life.

Ravi

I first learned about Ravi watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and I just knew that we’d have to eat there to see if the food was as good as Bourdain made it look while chowing down on his show.

dubai-attractions-ravi-restaurantLocated in Dubai’s largely South Asian neighborhood of Al Satwa, Ravi is a Pakistani restaurant that serves ridiculously good and ridiculously cheap food.

ravi-dubai

Yessss!!!
Yessss!!!

dubai-attractions-ravi-restaurantAlthough Ravi is known for its mutton dishes, Jave and I stuck with our comfort zone and ordered chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, saag, rice, and lots of naan. Including two sodas, I think our total bill totaled $20 USD. I absolutely hated not being able to finish everything on our plates, but we were just too full to eat on. If I lived in Dubai, I’m sure that I’d be one of Ravi’s best customers.

PINNABLE

dubai-attractions

Have you been to any of these Dubai attractions? Do you have recommendations for other points of interest for travelers hoping to get a sense of Dubai’s authentic side?

  • Aditi Singh

    Great pictures and captions. It makes me want to visit Dubai soon.
    – CityCard Dubai

  • This is such a wonderful place. Lovely pictures!!

  • Antoinette Cain

    This is a wonderful guide for someone considering a trip to Dubai. Looks like a wonderful time.

  • I too was on the look-out for authentic Dubai when I visited. I thought I wasn’t going to find anything, that it would all be glitter and kitsch but like you’ve beautifully demonstrated here, there are authentic spots! *Visiting foreign supermarkets is the best! ;D

    • Thanks, Sarah! You’re the master of finding offbeat places to visit. And I totally agree about visiting foreign markets. 🙂

  • Kasi Perkins

    Dubai is definitely on my list to visit! Thanks for showing us a glimpse inside of the authentic parts, because we mainly see the glitzy touristy parts! I’ll definitely have to check some of these places out when I make it out there. Nice pictures as well!

  • FashionPlateKC

    The market photos were amazing! I’d love to visit but I am scared.

    • Why are you scared? Don’t be scared. 🙂

    • Maria Kanuk

      There is nothing to be scared of! I found it the most peaceful place..

  • Valerie Robinson

    Beautiful photos! Dubai is number one in my list of places to visit and this made me want to go even more. Thanks for sharing your adventures with is!

  • Eva

    I loved the market photos! I was not ready for “Camelicious.” I don’t think I could do it!

    • Thanks, Eva! And I’m sure you could handle just a sip – no? 🙂

  • Love your write up. We visited Old Dubai for the Souks. We saw some great sights, too. The dhows and the creek at night are nice.

    • Thanks, Kim! Totally agree – I loved riding the dhow through the creek.

  • foodfashionandflow

    I have been intrigued with Dubai and have it on my list of places to go. You showed a different side of Dubai beyond the glitz and glam. Camels milk? I would have never tried that, LOL

  • I LOVED Dubai, but I think I say more of the touristy parts, so it was really nice to see a glimpse of the more authentic side through your post.

    LiveLifeWell,
    Allison

    • Glad to be able to show you another side of Dubai, Allison! 🙂

  • Camel milk? Wow, you’re brave! Dubai looks like it’s very historic looking and bustling with people.

    • Thanks, Stacie – lol. Yes, Dubai is definitely as you imagine it to be.

  • OMG I would have never tried it for this exact reason. I imagine Dubai to be really fancy and rich. Kind of like Sex in the City II.

    • I knew there had to be more to Dubai than the glitz, so I’m really glad we got to see another side of Dubai that you don’t really see in marketing materials.

  • Kirstin

    You are indeed adventurous, I would not have tried camel’s milk…No sir…No ma’am! lol Dubai is on my bucket list of places to visit. It looks like a beautiful place with beautiful people and rich culture and history! #Gottavisit

    • Lol – just a sip of camel milk wouldn’t hurt! 🙂 I hope you make it to Dubai soon!

  • Kemkem

    Haha!!! Tastes the same way a camel does!!! I was in tears reading this, as l can picture your face when you tried it. I wouldn’t have thought it tasted good, so no way would l have tried it first..haha! The fish market is quite impressive looking, l could spend some time there and the market. It reminds me of a mix of Morocco and Istanbul, so l am sure l would like it a lot.

    • Lol – yes, I swear! We went on the desert safari a few nights before and I remembered the unmistakable stench of the camel. So when I tried the milk, the smell came back to mind and it made for a really unenjoyable dessert. :-/ When you go to Dubai, definitely check out the fish market. I wish we’d spent a bit more time poking around there, but I kinda felt bad not buying anything since the guy with the wheelbarrow kept following us around.

    • Maria Kanuk

      Actually the milk is very healthy and doesnt taste much different than the cow’s milk/

thatgirlcarmel

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