At first glance, Dubai is a city of skyscrapers. I remember my first visit. After a day of wandering through malls and gawking at the tall buildings from the metro, all I wanted to do was get away. On the second day, we visited Al Bastakiya, which I loved.
It isn’t a big area, but it’s still great to visit. Some areas of the district date back to the 1890s – it was originally home to a number of Emirati families. However, part of it was demolished in the 1980s to make way for office buildings, and the rest was planned to be flattened too. After Prince Charles visited in the early 1980s at the invite of Rayner Otter – a British architect that wished to preserve the area – it was decided that the demolition should stop. What remains is a few houses hosting art galleries, museums and cafes, most of which can be visited.
The area isn’t the best to visit in the summer. It is HOT! There isn’t an awful lot of air-conditioning, although some of the buildings do have fans. But in the winter it is well worth a visit. The art galleries have all sorts of different styles of art, and you can take your time viewing them. My favorites are XVA Gallery – which also has a fabulously rated hotel and café attached – and MAKE Cafe and Gallery. I’ve not eaten at MAKE (although I understand they sell camel milk ice cream!), but the food at XVA is delicious. You can sit in their courtyard and watch the world go by. They offer Arabic calligraphy classes, which looked pretty cool.
The historic district also hosts the Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding. Opened in 1998, the centre offers a range of tours and events to help aid understanding of the local culture. They are the same organisation the runs the tours of Jumeirah Mosque. During the summer, some tours do not run, but during the winter they do offer an impressive range – creekside tours, historical walks, lecture tours, Arabic classes and cultural meals. If you are interested in getting to know the ‘real’ Dubai, it is a great place to start. Tours start at around 100AED.
Finally, the Arabian Tea House comes highly recommended as a place to enjoy a traditional Arabic meal. They have huge food platters available, plus my favorite treat – lemon and mint drink. The food is plentiful and carefully prepared, and its a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Instead of trying to squeeze in for dinner – which is often busy – opt for an early morning breakfast for a different experience.
Al Batiskaya Historical District
How to get there: Catch the metro (green line) to Al Fahidi Street, and walk down Al Mussalah Street towards Dubai Creek.