Culture and Heritage Lies at the Heart of It All in Dubai

Blurb

A glistening city in the middle of the desert, defined by some of the world's most modern and opulent buildings, contemporary shopping and high-tech entertainment, the Emirates' most famous destination is also a hotbed of culture; from art galleries and museums to the indigenous Arabian history.

From £1489 per person

If the world has become a far smaller place in the last century, nowhere makes this more abundantly clear than Dubai. Home to more than 200 nationalities, and visited by millions each year, whether you’re British or Chinese it’s difficult to feel out of place in such a cosmopolitan melting pot. Meanwhile, culture vultures will find ample opportunity to engage with priceless relics and art works, making this a place that lives and breathes sophistication.

Take the Dubai Museum, for example. First opened in 1971 with the intention of presenting the traditional Emirati way of life, and located in the Al Fahidi Fort – the city’s oldest building dating back to the late 18th Century (a sight in itself) – by 2013 this attraction was welcoming more than 1 million people per year. Aside from the structure and architecture, here you’ll find numerous exhibitions and recreations of traditional ancient villages depicting the nomad Bedouin lifestyle with life-sized wax figures and settings that range from souk marketplaces to mosques, tombs to archeological finds that give an insight into the desert population’s past and present.

One of the main draws, though, is the Dhow ship which is dry-docked outside the museum, and is indicative of the important role Dubai played in the ancient silk trade. The Dubai Heritage Village is also well worth a look in. Inaugurated in 1997, again the idea here is to portray the traditional way of life of the people of the Emirates, and this is done through heritage events along with a live image showcasing how people lived in the area a long time ago. You can wander from marine to mountain settings as you make your way through old houses, handicraft stalls, and more.

Those looking for something less staged might want to head for Bastakiya, a restored historic quarter that lies next to the ancient Dubai Creek (expanded for larger transportation now, but still an old port of entry for dhows for millennia). This charming area of the city is a stark contrast to the gleaming high-rise towers that provide an archetypal image of the modern metropolis. Steeped in atmosphere, labyrinthine lanes snake around century-old addresses. This is also where XVA, one of the leading contemporary galleries in the area, can be found, along with Majlis Gallery, the oldest commercial art space in town.

Of course religion plays a huge part in both the past the present of Dubai, and top of the visitor pile must be the Jumeirah Mosque for the simple reason that this is the only mosque in the city that is open to the public. Tours of the grandiose structure can be arranged through the Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding, and thanks to its incredibly ornate interiors shouldn’t be missed.

Far more than shopping and indulgence then, we’re yet to even mention the famous city souks, where traders barter with locals, expats and tourists over everything from spices to trinkets. March’s new status as the month of the arts in Dubai (with both The Arts: Dubai and Sikka Art fairs taking place within the 31 days) sees events like the Dubai International Film Festival, or the Al Quoz Art District coming to life. All of which is indicative of how you need to hit the streets and explore beyond the glitzy malls and skyscraping wonders to get the most out of this incredible destination.


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