Between deserts and skyscrapers, Dubai has a rich seam of culture. From delving into museums and souks to sampling the city’s multicultural cuisine, here are some ways to discover Dubai’s way of life, art, architecture, food, and history.
Roam Old Dubai.
There’s no better way to get a feel for the city’s culture than wandering around Old Dubai. Book a walking tour that goes through Deira (one of Dubai’s oldest quarters), and explore the gold and spice souks. Going with a guide will help you navigate the neighborhood and hone your haggling skills, and most tours include a traditional abra boat ride across Dubai Creek, the city’s lifeblood since its pearl trading days.
Walk around Al Fahidi.
To see Dubai’s oldest architecture, head south of Dubai Creek to the Al Fahidi neighborhood (aka Al Bastakiya), whose alleyways and wind tower houses were trading hubs for 19th-century Persian merchants. Join a tour of the quarter to learn about its history and buildings. Al Fahidi also boasts numerous art galleries.
Explore Dubai’s museums.
Learn about the emirate’s pre-oil past at the Dubai Museum, and two facets of Middle Eastern culture and history at Al Fahidi’s coin and coffee museums. Other must-visits include the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which hosts activities and Q and A sessions spotlighting Emirati customs, and the Women’s Museum, which traces the achievements of Emirati women. Most Old Dubai tours stop by some or all of these museums.
Take a food tour.
A cuisine that shakes up Indian and Middle Eastern influences, Dubai’s food is a window into the city’s past and multicultural fabric. Choose a street food tour to sample Dubai’s Asian-inspired eats, or an Emirati-slanted trip that focuses on local classics such as camel burgers and mezze (appetizers).
See Abu Dhabi’s masterpieces.
As the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi offers several cultural big hitters, including the modern Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque—a vision of marble domes and courtyards—and the Louvre Abu Dhabi contemporary art museum. Both are best explored on a tour, so you can avoid the hassle of driving or public transit.