The in­sider’s GUIDE to Dubai

This city of su­perla­tives may be famed for its spec­tac­u­lar sky­scrapers, mam­moth malls and lux­u­ri­ous life­styles, but what to do when you’ve ‘done Dubai’? Kate Birch ex­plores some of the city’s less cel­e­brated at­trac­tions

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Ifirst came to Dubai in 1993 and am as guilty as any­one of be­moan­ing the city’s lack of va­ri­ety in things to do, while at the same time be­ing too stuck in my ways to ac­tively search out some­thing new. I mean, once you’ve gazed in won­der at The Dubai Mall’s in­cred­i­ble aquar­ium, swayed along to the mu­sic at the Dubai Foun­tain, craned your neck ad­mir­ing the awe­some Burj Khal­ifa and gone ski­ing when it’s 45 de­grees out­side, what do you do next?

This is no doubt a dilemma fac­ing stay­ca­tion­ers and re­cent ar­rivals in the sul­try sum­mer, as well as longterm ex­pats guilty of stick­ing to the same old places. Dig a lit­tle deeper and you could find some hid­den gems. Yes, some of th­ese tucked-away trea­sures may take a lit­tle ef­fort, and some may not have the same 24-carat ca­chet of their more or­na­men­tal

al­ter­na­tives, but they are also rich in cul­ture and char­ac­ter.


Hands up if you have never been to Dubai Mu­seum? This is the ar­che­typal ex­am­ple of a great Dubai at­trac­tion over­looked by res­i­dents. A gen­uine slice of his­tory, Fahidi Fort, built in 1787, is the old­est struc­ture in Dubai. From the sim­ple court­yard, one door leads into an un­der­ground world where a video brings to life the city’s de­vel­op­ment be­fore you are led through recre­ations of an old souq, desert camps, and even a pearl-div­ing ex­hibit. At just Dh3 for adults, this is one of the city’s best bar­gains.

Weather per­mit­ting, and just a short walk away, an abra trip across the Creek and a stroll around the souqs is not just nour­ish­ment for the soul, but for the wallet too – just Dh1 for a ride. Splash out on a pri­vate abra (from Dh60 for an hour if you hag­gle) or go over­board (not lit­er­ally) by hop­ping on a dhow with A/C and ed­i­bles. The supremely kitsch Cleopa­tra Dhow Cruise is an ab­so­lute scream, de­liv­er­ing not just a buffet din­ner brim­ming with Ara­bic del­i­ca­cies, but a rather sur­real show with magic tricks and a dressed-up danc­ing horse.

For a more cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence, lunch in­stead at nearby beauty spot Bas­takiya. The only Dubai neigh­bour­hood that’s more than 100 years old, it boasts a mul­ti­tude of art cafés. Al­though Lo­cal House Cof­fee Shop is famed for its camel burg­ers and XVA Ho­tel & Café lauded for its tasty crêpes and orig­i­nal art, my favourite is Ara­bian Tea House (un­til re­cently called Basta Art Café), which is housed in the gar­den of the for­mer res­i­dence of a pearl mer­chant. Sit in its leafy court­yard shaded by the branches of an enor­mous Narra tree, dig into its over­sized sal­ads (the as­para­gus and hal­loumi combo is yummy), sip on one of its 150 types of tea and make a mock­ery of Dubai’s hec­tic pace. If you’re there early, or­der the Emi­rati break­fast of car­damom-sea­soned sweet ver­mi­celli with egg.

You can also get a tra­di­tional Ara­bic break­fast, but with cool ex­tras, at the nearby Shaikh Mo­hammed Cen­tre for Cul­tural Un­der­stand­ing (www.cul­ Many ex­pats avoid at­trac­tions like this, believ­ing they’re al­ready au fait with the lo­cal cul­ture. But the break­fast – a Dh60 spread of spiced scram­bled eggs with ver­mi­celli noo­dles and dough­nuts drenched in date syrup – amid a no-holds­barred dis­cus­sion on UAE cul­ture and re­li­gion of­fers great in­sight, no mat­ter your res­i­dency life­span.


There are tons of charis­matic din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences – none of them any­where near a mar­ble lobby – that are well worth sniff­ing out. Dubai in­sti­tu­tions – Ravi in Satwa for street­wise spice (it dishes up the best but­ter chicken), The Chalet on Beach Road for post-beach bask­ing (it does the tasti­est ro­tis­serie chick­ens) and Bu Qtair on Beach Road for its straight-from-the-shore seafood – are plen­ti­ful, but they also be­come vic­tims of their own suc­cess – des­ti­na­tions well-trod­den on the search for some­thing fresh.

So, in­stead, put your hunger in the hands of a true Dubai foodie, old­timer Arva Ah­mad, who can take you on one of her back­street food strolls of Old Dubai (take an evening tour dur­ing Ra­madan) to sam­ple its best eth­nic eats. Try Ye­meni meats on the Ara­bic tour, green chilli drinks on the In­dian tour and spicy Ethiopian cur­ries on the North African tour, all Dh350 for four hours (www. fry­ing­panad­ven­

Of course it’s not just about cheap eater­ies. But with hun­dreds of ho­tel restau­rants on the culi­nary cir­cuit, how do you choose? Word of mouth is king here and I heartily rec­om­mend Teatro in Tow­ers Rotana for its amaz­ing early-bird deals, Pier­chic’s ter­race for its stun­ning set­ting and suc­cu­lent seafood (catch an abra from Mad­i­nat Jumeirah), Moroc­can restau­rant Tagine at The One & Only Royal Mi­rage for its mag­i­cal at­mos­phere, and Leg­ends on the Creek for still hav­ing one of the best views in town. Hire Leg­ends’ float­ing ta­ble – a pri­vate din­ing ta­ble for eight set in a pool – and dig into fab­u­lous fu­sion food like lob­ster kibbeh and

Take time out from the pace of mod­ern life by try­ing the finest sal­ads at Bas­takiya’s Ara­bian Tea House (be­low left) or fresh seafood at BuQ­tair (be­low right). But it’s not only the food that makes din­ing out in Dubai so spe­cial – take in spec­tac­u­lar views at Pier­chic (this photo) and Leg­ends (right), which over­looks the Creek

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