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Four reasons to visit Old Dubai

Old Dubai. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Wrong.

More and more Aussies are heading to Dubai, and despite the wonder the emirate’s newest and shiniest sites invoke, the oldest attractions in the city are probably the most alluring. Here are just four reasons to head to Dubai’s old heart:


Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood


1- Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood Also known as Bastakiya, Dubai’s oldest community is deserted as we wander through its maze-like laneways; this is where travellers come to experience old Arabia, where traditional wind towers (think natural air-con) and other restored Persian architecture reside on cleaned, cobbled streets.


Drop into the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where you can learn about Emiratis and Islam while enjoying breakfast or lunch in a traditional setting (read: on rugs on the floor), before really diving into the neighbourhood.


Whether it’s a museum or gallery, craft shop or café, our local guide Oana says, if the door’s open, you can enter (if it’s closed, move on). Afterwards, head to nearby Dubai Museum, which is located in the emirate’s oldest building, Al Fahidi Fort Museum.


Dubai Creek


2 - Dubai Creek If you don’t have the time to enjoy a cruise on a dhow, a ride on an abra (a small commuter boat) from the adjancent Bar Dubai will give you nice views of both sides of the river in around ten minutes, so have your camera ready. At just 1 dirham (around 30 cents), it’s a real steal too.


3 - Spice Market After the abra ride, past the camel milk and saffron gelato stands, the scents of spices are unmistakable. Saffron rules here, but cinnamon, turmeric and many other herbs and spices adorn the front of shops. And if you’re after something sweet, there are dates of all kinds to sample and buy (and you’ll get better prices here than in your hotel, or yikes … at the airport). Oana describes them as sugar wrapped in candy, but the chocolate dates are a taste to behold.


Spice market


4 - Gold Souk The Dubai City of Gold runs mostly along Sikkat Al Khail Rd, a busy, undercover pedestrian thoroughfare framed by jewellery stores and other businesses.


The world’s biggest gold ring is displayed in a window at the top of the street (certified by the Guinness Book of Records), while live prices of gold are displayed on a digital screen outside for those willing to purchase some gold, which is cheaper here than almost anywhere else in the world.


Visitors who venture down side paths will be rewarded with vendors selling perfumes or affordable silk and pashmina.


Gold souk



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Where to stay? The Arabian Courtyard is a popular choice for those looking for accommodation in Old Dubai. But a far more intimate and rewarding experience is the XVA Art Hotel, which as the name suggests comprises unique accommodation, a charming art gallery and vegetarian restaurant within the heart of Al Fahidi. Particularly cool are the hotel’s shady, leafy courtyards, which are bordered by a maze of rooms. This is Oana’s favourite hotel, and like much of Old Dubai, is easy to fall for.


XVA Art Hotel


The writer was in Dubai as a guest of Dubai Tourism and Emirates, and stayed at the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai. Read a review of the hotel.


Written by: Mark Harada
Published: 7 May 2016

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