I am a HUGE history buff – I do feel like you enjoy your travel experience so much more when you fully appreciate the struggles, failures, and successes that made the city/country what it is today. Dubai was no different. My initial impression (even before I landed) was rather unfavorable – I had always thought of Dubai as the land of excesses, where buildings were built to be bigger, grander, better than everything else, just because they had the money and they wanted the world to hear them roar. However, I must admit, after I learned more about this tiny city’s humble beginnings, I feel impressed. Not to say I approve of all the excesses that seem to characterize the city (and the seedy underbelly the glittery exterior hides) – but I can respect the fact that the crazy infrastructure construction is the country’s way of ensuring it remains relevant as a tourist extravaganza for the world, in preparation for the day their oil runs out
So for everyone who’s headed to Dubai, I highly encourage you to check out the Old Town as well – it’ll help you appreciate the country better – I guarantee it! Note that I only checked out the Dubai Museum, Gold Souk, and Spice Souk due to a lack of time – but there are loads of other places to check out in this area if you’ve got the inclination, including: Dubai Heritage Village, Dubai Old Souk and the Bastakiah Quarter (don’t worry, I’ll include them on my tour list below!)
Without further ado, shall we begin?
To get to Deira, you can either grab a cab/Uber/Careem, or take the metro!
In my case, I took the metro to the Al Ghubalba station. It was a bit of a struggle buying tickets at first – I advise you just buy from the ticket counter, as opposed to the ticket machines. Note that if you buy round-trip tickets, it becomes slightly cheaper
Check out the Dubai Museum first
Once you arrive at the Al Ghubalba station, just ask the guard to point you to the Dubai Museum direction. From there, walk for ~15 minutes, and you’ll see a huge sailboat and mini-fort structure. That’s your cue – you have now arrived at the Dubai Museum
Best to come here as early as possible – aka as soon as the door opens! This museum is usually part of EVERY SINGLE tour itinerary, so if you don’t want to struggle through the Chinese hordes, wake up early and come here asap!
All in all, the Dubai Museum isn’t perfect – far from it! While the exhibits are interesting and informative, the lighting needs work and the exhibits are quite dusty. BUT it’s still a good experience, and it’s quite cheap – so I’d still highly recommend you do this bit
Chill at the Bastikiah Quarter for lunch OR ride an Abra (wooden boat) to get to the other side of the creeak
Depending on how much time you’ve got, you can either grab lunch at the Bastakiah Quarter – I heard they serve camel burger here!! OR…
For only a dirham (so cheap), get the chance to ride an abra to the other side – where the Gold Souk and Spice Souk are located. Note that you should take into account their operating time, which can vary throughout the year. No point in you going there, only to find out it’s closed!
Inhale the fragrant (and rather overwhelming) smell of the spices!
The Spice Souk is really organized, which was a welcome surprise! It’s not air-conditioned though, which made me a bit sad – I ended up grabbing a meal in one of the restaurants I passed by so I could enjoy the airconditioning first! Anyway, back to the Spice Souk – they sell a huge variety of things here, not just spices, including magnets, pretty lamps, traditional dainty shoes, and so on! But obviously, the main attraction here would be the insane variety of spices, dried flowers, dried fruits, teas, and nuts. I don’t really cook, therefore I didn’t really appreciate the market much – but if you use spices such as these on a regular basis, I wholeheartedly recommend you check out the Spice Souk (and haggle hard to get the best deals!)
Feel overwhelmed by ALL THE GOLD
Ever heard the saying “All that glitters is not gold”? Well here at the Gold Souk, it probably is… From the Spice Souk, just ask the vendors which way to go to get to the Gold Souk and they’ll happily point it out for you. It’s no more than a 5 minute walk, don’t work! Once you arrive at the Gold Souk, the first thing you’ll see to your right is a HUGE gold ring (?) FYI, that ring cost a whopping $3 million, but it’s not for sale (although really, why would anyone want to buy that?!?!) #lifeoftherich
In case you’re interested, some facts about the ring:
- This 21 carat ring is called Najmat Taiba (it even has its own name…)
- It is the HEAVIEST gold ring in the world, weighing in at 64 kg – the gold ring itself weighs in at 58.7 kg, but let’s not forget the 5.2 kg worth of previous stones as well (which includes 615 Swarovski crystals)
- The ring is ridiculously expensive – it’ll cost you a whopping USD 3mn if you want it (but it’s not for sale…)
- In total, it took 55 workers and 45 days to finish the ring (labor alone must’ve been killer!)
It truly is faintly ridiculous – and it’s not even up for sale! Oh well, who are we to question the whims of the rich? The amazing thing for me was how all of these gold rings, bangles, necklaces, earrings were all just casually displayed – with simply a flimsy glass window in the way of me and all that gold. Crime rate must be really really low in this country – imagine if this were the Philippines… everyone would be robbed dry by now (half kidding only) Anyway, stroll around, enter the stores if you see anything of interest, and if you plan to buy something – HAGGLE LIKE CRAZY. Know how much you want (then drop that by ~30%), and tell the store owner that’s how much you’re willing to pay. He’ll bargain hard, but you should bargain harder – if you do, you will walk away very satisfied!
And that’s it! That concludes the Old Town tour – depending on your pace (+ whether you plan to shop and eat while in the area), this whole tour can last for ~3 to 5 hours
For other Dubai-related posts (including day trips)
The other highlights of my Dubai trip were as follows:
- Abu Dhabi side trip: Sheikh Zayed Mosque was just AMAZING
- Dubai Desert Safari: Definitely an adventure to remember
- Yellow Boat tour: A chance to see Dubai from another perspective
For first time travelers to Dubai, you may have questions regarding visas, how to get around the country, where to stay, and so on. If so, you might be interested in reading my logistics and travel guide to Dubai blog