We have three pieces of advice with regard to walking in Dubai. Firstly, make sure you don’t spend the whole time in the sun. You can very quickly get heatstroke if you are not used to this type of heat. Our second piece of advice is to make sure you have water with you always to cool you down. Finally, don’t even think about walking for long periods during the summer months – it’s close to suicidal.
However, some areas of Dubai are perfect for walking around in the winter months and to peel back the golden façade to see what came before buildings and glamour. There are three such areas: Bastakiya, Shindhaga and Deira. These areas represent the best of Old Dubai on both sides around the creek and are the areas that you should make a point of at least visiting, even if you don’t want to nosey too much around the heritage.
Walking tour Points of Interest in Old Dubai, Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, CC BY-SA, Grapeshisha
Bastakiya is the perfect bite sized chunk of rambling. For those of you who prefer to be guided, the Sheikh Mohamed Centre for Cultural Understanding offer walking tours through the area. If solo is your thing you’ll probably have to get a taxi to Al Fahidi roundabout and start at Al Fahidi street. You can walk from Khalid bin al Waleed Station (Burjuman Metro Station) within the Burjuman Shopping Centre, (or the Al Fahidi Metro Station) but it will take roughly ten minutes. Even if you are not doing the tour with SMCCU, it’s worth checking out their building that you will see from the roundabout.
Bastakiya Walking Tour, Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, CC BY-SA, Grapeshisha
On your right you will see Basta Art café which is a restored house where you can treat yourself to a juice or have lunch. If you angle to your left you will see the wind towers, where you can enter Bastakiya proper. On your left you will see the Majlis Gallery which is worth having at a gander at for the various exhibitions that run. There are a few more galleries and if you continue through to the right you will see the museum called Dar Ibn Al Haytham for visual arts which has some historical artefacts and also houses some Emirati art. Going further you will see the lovely flowery carving above the door of the Architectural Heritage Society which has all sorts of stuff to do with archaeology if that’s your thing. The coin house is worth popping into as is Dar Al Nadwa, which is a beautifully restored structure. Use this spot as an opportunity to go upstairs and view Bastakiya from above. Further on you’ll also see the eye gallery and the home of Eastern Art gallery as well.
Your next point of reference is the XVA gallery. If you veer towards you will see the XVA which is a both a hotel and a café. You’ll notice it by the courtyard café. XVA is also famous for its gallery which is top class. Continue to wander around for an hour or so and check out the traditional Bedouin tent. If you move further towards the creek you will see the old city wall, dating back to the 1800s.
Continue past the doors, and sometimes you will have stalls selling arts and crafts, but you will eventually get to Bastakiya Nights, which is a great place for dinner if you are there at the right time. Double back on yourself and walk back towards the wall. Going past the Mosque on your left with the creek on your right, you will see signs for the Diwan which is the Ruler’s office. Once you have passed this and made it onto the main road, you will see signs to Dubai Museum about 5 minutes walk away.
Dubai Museum is worth spending an hour to download on the history of Dubai. You’ll see the large traditional dhow on exit, but once you have finished double back down the main road you originally walked down to the white domed mosque which is the Grand Mosque of Dubai. There is a very small alley next to the mosque where you will find Hindu and other objects on sale that you could take to the temple. You will very quickly come to the textile souk which is also known as the old souk. Here, under the wooden beamed coverings, it is highly likely you will get jumped on by tradesman trying to sell you pashminas, saris, Panjabi dresses and the like. At the end of the souk you will see the Iranian Mosque in the distance to your left, but go right towards the creek where you can get an Abra to the Deira. You’ll also see the International Aladdin Shoes stall, where you’ll be tempted to buy slippers that you will never wear.
Shindhaga is a bolt on walk to Bastakiya. You could take on Shindhaga if you woke early and then visited Bastakiya, but if you want to cover two areas properly in one day, then plump for Bastakiya followed by Deira. Or you could cover Bastakiya and Shindhaga in one day leaving a whole day to go for the Deira souks. That’s not to say that Shindhaga is not interesting – it’s just more of the same flavour as Bastakiya’s history.
Shindhaga Walking Tour, Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, CC BY-SA, Grapeshisha
We’d recommend starting walking from the diving village on Al Khaleej Road. You’d do well to spend some time at the Heritage Village – and then if you are that way inclined, you could visit the camel and horse museums. Let’s face it – you won’t do that ever again, so you might as well give it a few minutes.
Nearby, Sheikh Saeed al Makhtoum’s house is where the current ruler spent his first days. It’s well kept and worth visiting Shindhaga just for this as it will put the whole of Dubai into perspective. In less than one generation, the Dubai rulers have moved from relatively simple dwellings to the grandiose. Seeing this house will put things in context and give a view of what life used to be up until a few years ago.
Don’t miss the traditional architecture museum next door, housed in the most traditional of renovated buildings. Continuing around the creek you will arrive at the textile souk and then the Iranian Mosques.
Deira’s lure is the Gold Souk and will be the highlight of this walk. Once you get off the abra, you’ll feel the vibe of the hawkers nearby. Follow the signs for the Old souk which is on Old Baniyas Road. Feel free to wander into the many souvenir shops – and even be tempted by some ‘copy original’ merchandise.
Double back on yourself and you will see the Spice souk (Sikkat Al Khalil Road). You’ll actually smell it first! Don’t touch the spices unless invited to, but everything is fairly priced here – which is why we like to stock up on our bits and pieces. At the end of the street, go right and then immediately left and follow the signs for the Al Ahmadiya School. Spend some time there and next door at the Heritage House.
Deira Walking Tour, Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, CC BY-SA, Grapeshisha
Walk back past the School and you will see the signs for the Gold Souk. Take a right on Old Baladiya Street which is home to local tailors and some bric a brac stores. You’ll actually feel the bargaining in the air as you walk up to the souk where you’ll be hit upon by the brightness of the yellow gold gleaming in the window – and the sign stating that this is “Dubai, City of Gold” – as if it wasn’t. If you are there to buy, you could be there for a few hours. If not, get lost for an hour, take a perch on the bench, out of the sun and watch the flow of money and gold happen.
Come out of the exit at the other end of the Gold Souk, and you will get to the Perfume souk, where you can buy oud burners and learn the art of scent. A little further down you will arrive at the Deira Covered Souq. It’s not our favourite souq, but you can finish up your souvenir shopping here if you need to. If you don’t wear them, you may want to indulge in a cheap Kandura or Abaya, for your next fancy dress party back home.