Dubai has a reputation for being an intensely modern city - a place that's sprung up seemingly out of nowhere in the past few decades to offer an abundance of luxury hotels, fine restaurants and tourist attractions. But nestled within this modern metropolis is Old Dubai - the area that spawned the contemporary urban landscape that most people associate with the emirate.
Taking a stroll through Old Dubai, with its winding streets, bustling souks and fascinating museums, is a way to travel back through the emirate's history and discover its roots. In fact, for all its reputation of being so modern, Dubai has plenty of history, and much of it is still evident in the culture of the contemporary city.
Here's what not to miss in Old Dubai
Dubai Creek and its history
Dubai Creek, the historical heart of Dubai, is as important today as it ever was, forging a living link with the past. For centuries, the creek has been used as a hub for industry - merchants using the waterway to import and export all kinds of goods, just like today. This early industry spawned lively souks in Old Dubai and, eventually, the modern city grew from there.
Of course, the creek is used for more than trading; it also provides a popular mode of transport. In fact, taking an abra (a traditional boat) across the creek between Deira and Bur Dubai is a must-do in itself - a way for holidaymakers to cross the creek just like locals have been doing for hundreds of years.
Crossing the creek in this way is the ideal way to get between Old Dubai's colourful souks, which are another essential stop-off. After all, like the creek, they're not only a wonderful example of Dubai's past, but also its present - they are another piece of the emirate's living history.
Indeed, these souks sprung up around the creek as a place where merchants from surrounding countries could come and sell their goods. Head to Deira to explore the oldest and most atmospheric souks, including the dazzling Gold Souk and the wonderfully atmospheric Spice Souk. Home to hundreds of stores with glittering displays, the Gold Souk is awash with beautiful jewellery. You don't need to buy anything to enjoy a visit here (though you may well want to!) - simply gazing at the displays and watching interactions between buyers and sellers is enough.
Perhaps more enjoyable still is the Spice Souk, where your senses will be treated to a riot of colour, sound and, of course, smells. Alongside all kinds of bright spices, you'll find herbs, nuts, dried fruits and more.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
From living history to preserved past, the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood provides a different way to get a taste of old Arabia in Dubai. In the 1980s, this fascinating area was rescued from destruction and has since been restored, using authentic materials, to its former glory, allowing you to take a walk through the past.
As you meander through the gypsum and coral buildings, you'll stumble across all kinds of treasures - restaurants selling delicious local cuisine, art galleries, craft shops, and the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where you can learn more about the region's people and beliefs.
It's also where you'll find Al Fahidi Fort, which is believed to be Dubai's oldest building. In it is the fantastic Dubai Museum, which brings us to Old Dubai's excellent selection of museums.
The best thing about visiting Old Dubai is that virtually the entire district gives you the opportunity to soak up the emirate's past. But another great thing is that it's home to some of the best museums, the most unmissable of which is Dubai Museum. Arguably, there is nowhere better to learn about local history.
It takes you through its origins as a fishing village to a trade centre all the way to its status today as a luxurious tourism and commerce hub. The lively displays are perfect for getting a sense of the past - there is a even a walk-through mock souk, complete with light and sound effects, as well as desert exhibits on Bedouin life, and video to help tell the story of Dubai, during on a number of aspects of local life, including home and school, and different professions, including pearl diving, shopkeeping and craft.
Of course, being the oldest building in Dubai, the fort is impressive in itself and well worth a good look. Home to three towers and a central courtyard dotted with cannons, it is a dramatic structure which was once the residence of local rulers. It's worth remembering that there are many other museums worth visiting too, including the Women's Museum, Crossroads of Civilizations Museum and the Naif Museum.
The architecture of Old Dubai plays a major role in whisking you back to the emirate's past - it's here that you'll find some of the oldest buildings in the city. But that doesn't mean it's skyscraper-free - in fact, you'll find one of Dubai's first-ever iconic towers here: the Dubai World Trade Centre.
Built in 1979, it was the first building of its kind on Sheikh Zayed Road - a part of the city now laden with skyscrapers. When it was built, it was the metropolis's tallest building and, while it's dwarfed by giants like the Burj Khalifa now, it's still very much an important business hub, acting as a global centre for commerce. In a way, this building represents Dubai's first steps in becoming the global destination it is today.
A very different, but similarly important, building is Sheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum's House, which is located near the end of Dubai Creek. One of Dubai's oldest buildings, it used to be the official residence of ruler Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum. Now, this 19th-century house is a museum where you can peruse everything from old coins and stamps to historic photographs and documents.
A taste of the past in Old Dubai
Taking a stroll through the past in Old Dubai is a must on any trip to the emirate. Given how modern the destination is, it's great to get a peek at how things used to be - and to see how this exciting place has evolved over the years.