Bastakiya – Things to Do in Dubai
Bastakiya represents the heart of historic Dubai – and is the only real Dubai that equates to the kind of exploratory tourism that you might expect from places in the Middle East. It’s a small area, but it really does have a calming feel amidst the wind towers that exist at every villa. Bastakiya is a must do for Dubai, even for half a day
You can spend as long as a full day in this small area just walking through the quaint little lanes and admiring the beautifully restored architecture that was once Dubai’s first commercial district dating back to the 1900s inhabited mainly by rich merchants. Many of the traditional buildings which were mainly residences have now been carefully restored and converted to cafes, museums, art galleries and shops. We don’t usually recommend walking distances in Dubai, but this is one those places where it’s worth breaking with the norm even though it can feel a little busy. There are great photo opportunities of Arabic architecture and lovely kept courtyards.
In a city where modern, high rise buildings dominate, traditional old architecture sticks out beautifully and really complements the story of what Dubai used to be and what it has grown to today. The locals Emiratis are so proud of their rich cultural heritage that even though a small part of it remains today, they are keen to develop new properties in line with keeping to traditional facade themes such as the Madinat Jumeirah resort. Bastakiya or Old Dubai as it is sometimes known consisted of a series of wind towers, known as barjeels, which lined the creek on both sides and apart from lending grace to the area, they served the practical purpose of cooling the houses due to lack of any other means. These tall towers are parts of traditional courtyard houses which line the narrow streets on both sides and are amongst the few surviving symbols of distinct and unique Arabic architecture. Apart from ornate buildings there are a number of forts reflecting the defensive architecture of that generation, the most noteworthy and oldest being the Al Fahidi Fort which dates back to 1799. In a bid to maintain this ancient monument, it has now been converted into Dubai Museum while other forts like Nahar Tower which had been built in 1876, Naïf Fort and Um Royool Tower have been undergoing restoration.
To get a detailed idea as to the development of Dubai, take some time out to visit Dubai Museum It will take roughly an hour to tour around and only a short walk away you’ll find the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House. This building dates back to the late 1800s and now houses a unique collection of historical photos, artefacts, coins etc – great for all you historians! After this, make your way to the Heritage and Diving Village, only a couple of minutes walk more. This great re-creation of an old time village shows how settlers used to once live and make their livelihood through simple handicrafts. The late night cafeterias make it a perfect place to while away time and relax.
Points of Note –
Visit Bastakiya as part of our walking tours of Old Dubai
Legend goes that in the era gone by the wind tower or the barjeel as it is locally known was indicative of the wealth of the family, meaning the more number of barjeels projecting towards the sky the wealthier the family residing in Bastikiya would be.
Likewise, the size of the door in a traditional house is linked to cultural behaviour in the sense that the main door permitting the men would be large so as to permit entry without having to bend while the inner doors would be smaller in size.
One of the best ways to visit Bastakiya would be to simply walk around and explore the area after an Emirati breakfast in the morning served at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.
Bastakiya Nights is a traditional courtyard house which has been converted into a restaurant. This is the perfect area to have a meal, particularly at dusk.
Another must-see in Bastakiya is the remnants of the Old City Wall, a gypsum-and-coral structure constructed in 1800 A.D. for the purpose of defence.
Further exploring would reveal a number of different art galleries like XVA, a contemporary art gallery which features film screenings as well, Ave Gallery and Majlis gallery which has been in operation since 1970s’.
The Basta Art Café, nestled amongst natural surroundings of trees and potted plants, is a God-send with its comprehensive menu of refreshments, sandwiches and salads. The juices here are pretty amazing.
When – Bastakiya can be visited at any time and after 10 in the morning should be ideal as most of the art galleries, museums and shops open by then.
How Long – It is possible to whizz through the entire area in an hour although art and architecture lovers can linger around for much longer.
Location – This historic district of Dubai is located along the Dubai Creek and is characterized by narrow and winding lanes and recounting the names of any of the popular landmarks like XVA Gallery or SMCCU to your taxi driver would suffice.
Cost – Obviously you are not charged for walking around Bastakiya but entry to SMCCU will cost depending on the programme you have been booked for and gaining access to the art gallery will vary from one gallery to another.
Booking – Booking may be required for the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding depending on what you want to do but otherwise most of the other venues are open to travellers and tourists without any preplanning.
More Info: See dubaiculture.ae