Things To Do In Dubai | Like A Tourist In My Own City

Posted on July 2, 2012

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Like A Tourist In My Own City (Once again!)

Dubai, my home for almost the last decade, is a quintessential tourist’s haven. It’s a shame that the only thing that comes to mind when one hears Dubai is Shopping. But, walking through the art alleys of Bastakia and the old quarters along the Dubai Creek, watching the sun go down the beautiful and never ending beaches of Jumeirah, catching the stars in a moonlit night over the desert sky… there’s so much more to Dubai. Dubai is a juxtaposition of extremes – the world’s tallest tower to the old Creek where still the Iranian vessels anchor their moors and trade goes on as it did at the beginning of the history of the city. It’s a vibrant and growing city where expatriates from all over the world are striving to make it a true international city. Modern technology is pitted here against absolute consumerism. Zero carbon footprint is a concept that Dubai-ites are trying to learn after emitting gallons of carbon in the air!

That was a bit from my earlier version of The Diary Of A Dubai Resident… As Home Turns Into An Inn! This is a subject which will probably come back all the time as I’m always wandering with my guests like a tourist in my own city!

While in Dubai you could have the world’s most expensive cocktail priced at US$7,438.13 or AED 27,321/drink) or dine in the highest restaurants in the world, swim with the dolphins or watch the sun go down sipping your drink from a terrace lounge in an expensive hotel, the following are the things that I do with my guests – experiencing the city in its different shades and textures. A run down of it in brief – the write ups for each place is pretty brief, the list isn’t it. I have also chalked out the different routes in different colours in Google Map along with my preferred parking spaces – so that you can see Dubai unhurriedly, without the stress of where to park and ultimately see Dubai as I see it and alleviate it from the tag of a ‘city with only shopping malls’!

The Old Dubai

1) The Art Alleys of Dubai Bastakiya

The old quarters of Bastakiya on the Bur Dubai side of the Dubai Creek dates back to the 1890s. Bastakiya is named after the Iranian town of Bastak – many of the original traders here, mainly pearl traders were from Iran. The quarter is filled with traditional courtyard houses with wind-towers. These towers acted as cooling mechanisms for the houses in the sweltering UAE summers.

Today, these historic buildings houses MUSEUMS – the Coin MuseumBait Al Wakeel which is the first office building in Dubai built in 1934 by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCU); GALLERIES – Majlis Gallery, Mawaheb from Beautiful People etc; RESTAURANT & CAFÉs – Basta Art Café, Orient Guest House, Local House Restaurant who very famously serve the Camel Meat Burger etc; SPICE & SOUVENIR SHOPS.

What you must do -
– Walk and explore the art alleys – maybe an outdoor exhibit of canvases await you in the corner
– Stun yourself as you enter the art exhibitions in one of the galleries
– Walk into the quaint museums and wonder at the architecture of the wind-towers or the courtyards
– Get your names calligraphed by local artists in the art studios hidden in some alley
– Enjoy sniffing into traditional spice & perfumes in spice shops (ex- Royal Saffron Spices Shop) and end up buying them
– Unwind as you grab a little munch or a refreshing tea or beverage in one of the cafés

Cost: Free if you do it on your own. Feel free to just hang around – this is one place which is unlike the rest of Dubai. [SMCU also organises traditional UAE breakfast, lunch and Walking tours of Bastakiya on specific dates at a cost. You'll get more information on the SMCU website]

Opening Hours: While you can enjoy walking through the old wind-towered houses or cool down in the cafés and restaurants housed in these restored quarters on all days till late at night when the entire Bastakiya is lit up in subdued up-lifters, the museums and galleries are closed on Fridays.

Majlis Gallery – Villa 19, Bastakiya

An expat by the name of Alison Collins came to Dubai in 1976 to work as an interior designer. She fell in love with the architecture of the old wind-tower houses in Bastakia and ended up securing the lease on villa number 19. Over the next ten years, she raised her family here and built herself a home and hosted many informal soirees in their Majlis. Majlis is an Arabic term meaning a place of sitting and describes various types of special gatherings – and this Arabic word eventually lent its name to the gallery. Today Majlis is a haven for creative minds – both professionals and amateurs and holds art exhibitions, workshops and much more.

Opening Hours : 10am  – 6pm, Saturdays – Thursdays; Closed on Fridays.
Website: The Majlis Gallery; Tel: +9714 3536233 Fax: +9714 3535550

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Mawaheb from Beautiful People – Villa 28, Bastakiya

This is one very special place – a must visit for everyone. Mawaheb from Beautiful People is an exclusive art studio for young adults with special needs with the objective of making them independent and confident members of the community. They also sell products like Coffee Crockery, Corporate Gifts, Christmas Cards/Festive Cards, Gift Bags, Shopping/Pool Bags and more. Check out the lovely shopping bag that Big Z bought for herself!

The Gulf New’s Friday magazine has featured the art studio in a beautiful article Enriching the lives of those with special needs.

Opening Hours : 8:30am  – 3pm, Sundays – Thursdays, September – June; Closed on Fridays.
Website: Mawaheb from Beautiful People; Tel: +971-4-3532100 Mobile: +971-50-4213070
Location: Directly behind the SMCU and close to Dubai Culture and Arts Authority

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Basta Art Café, recently renamed into, into… well, my memory fails – it will always remain Basta in my mind!

This is my favourite joint to cool down. When you enter the courtyard surrounded by potted plants and white canopy shaded sitting arrangements or perch yourself down on the white wickers – please carry all the time in the world! You’ll get sandwiches, pastas or an occasional lunch grab and an extensive assortment of fresh juices, teas and beautifully served Arabic coffee.

TimeOut Dubai’s Restaurant Awards 2012 confers Basta Café as a ‘Highly Recommended Best Café‘ that every Dubai-ite should try out at least once!

Opening Hours : Open daily from 8am – 10pm
Tel: +971-4-3535071
Location: Just beside the Majlis Gallery on Al Fahidi Street

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Parking in this Old Bastakiya area could be quite a challenge. If you get paid public parking available along the crowded roads – you are lucky, otherwise there are a few paid private parking spaces available around this region. I prefer to park in the following parking slots.

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2) Dubai Museum & walking through the Dubai Old Souq

Dubai Museum

Al Fahidi Fort now houses the Dubai Museum. This the oldest building in Dubai, dating back to 1799 and reflects the archaeology and history of Dubai. This was home to Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher al Maktoum in the late 19th century and was restored only in 1993. The Museum visit is cute, short and full of little surprises and traces the little history of Dubai as a small trading town occupied by pearl merchants, pearl divers and fishermen in the 1960s to the modern cosmopolitan city that it is today.

Opening Hours : 8:30am – 7:30pm from Saturdays – Thursdays; 1:30pm – 7:30pm on Fridays;
During Ramadan timings differ. Tel: +971-4-3937151/3531862

Dubai Old Souq

Walk along the parking lot beside the Dubai Museum, cross the Ali Bin Abi Talib Road and you will enter the traditional Textile Souq/Market through the side alley of the Grand Mosque. Dubai has been a trading hub since the 19th century and the textile merchants from far and wide had set up their first shops here. As you rumble through the beautiful laces, silks and pashminas or the animal Afro prints on the standing long rolls containing yards of fabric, don’t FORGET TO BARGAIN!

This is an open Souq, bereft of air-conditioning though individual shops are air-conditioned. The Hindu temple is located along one of the alleys and don’t forget to follow the direction through which a cool breeze enters – you’ll end up by the beautiful creek side with seagulls and traditional wooden Dhows (wooden boats) jostling for attention. If you are a female, please be prepared to be stared at!

Opening Hours: 9:30am – 1:00pm & 4:30pm – 10:00pm on Saturdays – Thursdays; 5:00pm – 10:00pm on Fridays

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3) Bur-Dubai Creek Side

As I have written in my earlier article before, the Dubai Creek has a lot of historical importance. Whereas most places in Dubai has a history running to as little as 2 to 5 years or a maximum 10 years, Dubai Creek is really the focal point in Dubai’s history. It is a natural sea-water inlet which cuts Dubai into two parts – the old part of the city known as Deira and the relatively modern part – the Bur Dubai. These two parts have their own uniqueness and identities, not to mention their own idiosyncrasies. The residents living in Deira are skeptical of the residents living in Bur Dubai and vice versa. If you ask me the reason I won’t be able to tell you why. Being a resident of Bur Dubai in our early days in Dubai I also belong to this typical Bur Dubai camp. Now, we have moved into a even more new part of Dubai – the Dubai Marina Area and I am realising that another camp is gradually forming, comprising of residents of Dubai’s newer developments.

The Dubai Creek is definitely one of the most amazing features of Dubai. It obviously doesn’t have the promenades, the upper-lipped gourmet restaurants and the exclusive lifestyle that the artificially built Dubai Marina boasts of. The Dubai Creek is real. It mirrors centuries of old trading traditions. Throughout the creek, starting from its initial inlet into the mainland Dubai one can still see the loading and unloading of trading goods from the traditional Dhows. The smells from the the various ports of origin for these Dhows, situated in distant countries like the South-East Asian countries, India, countries from Africa etc seem to pervade the air. Whereas, the trading boats are visible on the Deira side of the Creek, one can only find beautiful luxury private yachts, traditional wooden Dhows promising sunset and dinner cruises, on the Bur Dubai side of the Creek.

The Dubai Creek has been very important in Dubai’s development as well, as Dubai started off as a small trading city, occupying a small dot on ancient trading routes connecting Asia-Europe-Africa. It still does.

I have always wondered whether we could actually sail along the Creek as it pierces into Dubai for 15kms after which it finally gets absorbed like a sponge at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. Well, I guess I must find that out.

What you must do -
– An Abra/local Ferry ride is absolutely essential to experience the creek. So many times we have taken a small water bus for a private sail along the Dubai Creek till the Makhtoum Bridge which still splits open at night to let the ships pass! This should cost you Dhs 25- Dhs 50 if you don’t fancy something extra-ordinary like sailing on a yacht
– Feed the seagulls – The seagulls engulfing the anchored Dhows, flying at a jet’s speed and trying to snatch away the breadcrumbs from your hands… walk along the creek, feed the seagulls and the fish and feel the fast-paced Dubai slow down a bit

What we have done in the past -
– Smoking Sheesha (Hubble-Bubble) at the Creek Restaurant (which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore), taking all our guests for a Creek-side drive and a long walk past the anchored yachts, luxury boats, traditional Dhows – we have done it all. We have actually over-done the Creek a bit!
– Being in the crowd – We have also stood for hours amongst thousands of people thronging the Creek side to watch the dazzling firework displays during the inauguration of the DSFs (Dubai Shopping Festivals) year after year. We have also spent many a dirham buying mostly unnecessary stuff in the Night Souq that used to come up along the Creek when we had just come to Dubai. We have also sat on the super giant Ferris Wheel (oh the mushy-mushy days of romance when we were the just the two of us) and held hands as we went up and down and promised sweet nothings to each other with the Creek waters flowing by as a witness!

Where will you park your car? Follow the signs directing you to the Ruler’s Court just as you come down from Makhtoum Bridge on the Bur Dubai side or if you are driving into Bur Dubai along Oudh Mehta Road. Take the first exit which takes you to Al Seef RTA Water Station. Park here along the edge of the water, watch the traditional Dhows and the modern yachts jostle for anchoring space. Watch the Iranian Dhows lining the Deira side of Dubai Creek. Watch the evening walkers walking pass you by – while you watch adults and children play basket ball in the make-shift net hanging from a port-a-cabin.

You may also reach the Creek Side by heading along the Trade Centre Road from Burjuman (Burjuman will towards your left)

Take a juice and and tender coconut water break at Chik Chik Caféteria!

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3) Taking a small boat ride along the creek, along the Heritage village and onto the Sea

What you could do -

The Dhow Cruise:

Sailing into the sunset with the two shores gradually fading by as you sail on a traditional dhow into the sea. The traditional wind towers of the old quarters of Bastakiya and the Heritage area of Al Shindagha on one side and the old souqs on the other side look absolutely breathtaking – a page out of some traditional Arabic folklore. These heritage buildings are historic monuments and have stood the test of time. The call for the evening prayer, Adhan by the Muezzins from the innumerable mosques scattered around the area, the setting sun – everything makes this Dubai landscape so ethereal. Sailing back from the sea into the Dubai Creek on your journey back will definitely make you feel like the triumphant fisherman or the successful pearl diver coming back home after toiling the whole day in the sea with the priciest catch! You’ll find many type of Dhow cruises – the Sunset cruises with or without dinners. Expect to pay around Dhs 145 – Dhs 250/person

or

Catamaran Ride from Al Ghubaib water transport station:

Dubai RTA conducts 4 daily rides in their stylish Catamarans rides from here almost up to the famous Burj-Al- Arab hotel. You’ll get more information here. This one hour ride costs around Dhs 50- Dhs 75/person. If you don’t want to miss the sunset, take the 5pm ride during the winters and 7pm ride during the summers.

Don’t forget that you’ll be sailing over the Shindagha Tunnel. The Shindagha Tunnel is a tunnel in Dubai which goes under the Dubai Creek. Constructed in 1975, it is the only underwater crossing in Dubai Creek. I always put the music on full blast and drive through the tunnel. At the point where the tunnel is deepest under the creek, the transmissions stop. ‘Oh no, we are under the water’, I shout! If you happen to be in the Revolving Restaurant in Hyatt Regency, Deira (once upon a time the only high-rise hotel) it indeed is a scary feeling when you see a queue of cars coming in and going under water (as they go into the tunnel) and gradually come out of the other side, almost like some magic!

or

WonderBus Tour:

Wonderbus is an amazing amphibious bus which starts from Burjuman, drives along the Mankhool area, slides into the Dubai Creek near the Heritage Village. Apart from it’s uniqueness, the route gives a brilliant tour of the Dubai Creek upto the Makhtoum Bridge. The entire journey lasts 1hr 30minutes and it’s very enjoyable.

Cost: Dhs 145/person; Dhs 95/child (Online booking promises to give a Dhs 10 discount!)
Website: Wonderbus Tours; Tel: +971 -4-359 5656

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4) Ride an Abra to cross the creek while going to Spice Souk and Gold Souk in Deira

Taking the Abra/Water-taxi across the Dubai Creek to go to the Deira Gold Souq – this is one of my all-time favourite touristic deeds in Dubai. An Abra costs only Dhs1 for a one-way commute – the cheapest thing that you can get in Dubai probably, since a can of coke too costs more than that!

Deira Gold Souq:

You must visit the Deira Gold Souq, even if you are not fond of jewellery or do not plan to buy one. The sheer magnitude of gold hanging inside the shop windows for a stretch of almost a kilometre is something to be seen to be believed. It is like the Textile Souq, but imagine the textiles to have been converted to Gold! The souk consists of over 300 retailers that trade almost exclusively in jewellery. Retailers include both well established stores like Damas, ARY Jewellery, Joy Alukkas as well as smaller stores that operate mainly in the gold souk. By some estimates, approximately 10 tons of gold is present at any given time in the souk! (According to Wikipedia)

The Spice Souq:

The Spice Souk is located just adjacent to the Dubai Gold Souk. Stores in the Spice Souk sell a variety of fragrances and spices from frankincense (an aromatic resin used in incense and perfumes and Sheesha/Hubble-Bubble to herbs used in Arabic and South Asian food. You’ll also find incense, rugs and artifacts and also strangers appearing from the dark as they ask you to follow them if you are interested in ‘good copy branded bags’. And if you get lured you’ll find yourself sitting in a dingy room scouring for a Louis Vuitton bag from a heap of fake branded bags which should cost you Dhs 400 – expensive, yes! But not Dhs 40,000 that you might have to pay for the original LV bag.

Ironically, these traditional stores trading spices in the Spice Souk are being hit by the growth of modern supermarkets and shopping malls. But cling on to history - before the subject itself gets buried into an archive!

If you prefer to drive, then try to park in a Building allotted to parking on Baniyas Street. You can see the entrance to the Spice Souq from here while walk along the Sikkat al-Khali Street to come to the Gold Souq. It is a 10 minute walk from the parking lot or the Abra station.

Opening hours: 9:30am-10:00am and shops shut by 1:00pm; Re-opens at 5:00pm and continue till about 9:30pm-10:00pm; 2:00pm till midnight on Fridays

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5) Meena Bazaar at night

Traditionally, Meena Bazaars were special Bazaars/markets organised to sell items to raise money for non-profit organizations. During the Mughal era Meena Bazaars were exclusively held inside the palace courtyards resembling a Bazaar for the women of the Royal courts who were not allowed to go out to shop.

Contrary to the glitzy shopping malls, Meena Bazaar has a different charm altogether. From glaring lightnings to the blaring horns from cars struck in perennial traffic, from the snaky lanes and by-lanes to the crowded main-road, from Indian and Pakistani stores selling traditional clothings to Iranian spice shops, from haute-couture fashion Boutiques (selling mainly traditional Indian and Pakistani ethnic attire) to stores selling high-street fashion, branded watch-houses to shops – the ’10 Dirhams shops’ selling inexpensive models, from electronics to home products, from computers to spare-parts, from quick-fixers like cobblers and menders to expensive tailoring shops – you’ll find Meena Bazaar a kaleidoscope of opportunities.

Originally known as Cosmos lane, it is interesting to note how this area acquired the name Meena Bazaar. According to an article in the Gulf News – the residents and the taxi drivers started calling the area Meena Bazaar because of the decorated mannequins lining the shops just like in India and Pakistan.

You have to visit Meena bazaar at night, only to be blinded by it’s glitter. Please plan to walk. Driving into a crowded Meena Bazaar can be worse than a nightmare. You may check my Google Map for the most convenient private parking spaces. This is just adjacent to the Dubai Museum and the Bastakiya quarters and you may walk along 50B Street near Dubai Museum or approach the area from Khalid Bin Walid Street/Bank Street in Bur Dubai.

Opening hours: 9:30am – 10:00am and shops shut by 1:00pm; Re-opens at 5:00pm and continue till about 9:30pm – 10:00pm; 2:00pm till midnight on Fridays

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The Karama Chapter

Satellite dishes with wires trailing into their respective dish owners, window air-conditioners hanging from the balconies and windows in colony type of residential blocks – Karama is a different chapter in Dubai. Shops and stores occupy the shaded corridors of the interconnected ground floors of residential blocks selling almost everything.

What will you find here?
– Cheap or second-hand furniture, counterfeit branded goods such as handbags, watches, sunglasses and perfumes (yes, yet again you can be lured by these ‘branded’ accessories just like Gold Souq and Meena Bazaar), cycle shops, souvenir shops, toy shops, cheap and blingy Fashion stores, art framing shops, ethnic grocery shops, fresh fruits and vegetables also fish (Karama Fruit & Vegetable market), second-hand book stores and magazine vendors and many more
– A huge variety of good and affordable restaurants offering authentic cuisines from India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, China, Thailand, Singapore in addition to Arabic food and fast food outlets. Also, bustling coffee shops, Shisha cafes, confectioneries, bakeries and popular tea stalls in almost every nook and corner of Karama

The area, which was planned on a tight grid system, is home to thousands of people even though it is only two square kilometers in size. Karama is the most populous residential area in Dubai and according to Wikipedia it even has its own magazine – ‘The Karama Buzz’!

Again, don’t forget to bargain here!

Opening hours: 9:30am – 10:00am and shops shut by 1:00pm; Re-opens at 5:00pm and continue till about 9:30pm – 10:00pm; 2:00pm till midnight on Fridays

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The Jumeirah Journey

1) Jumeirah Mosque and driving along the Jumeirah Road/Beach Road starting from the Union Flag Post

Jumeirah Mosque:

This is the only mosque in Dubai which is open to the public and non-Muslim guests. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (details on SMCU already given in the Bastakiya tour) hosts visits of the Grand Jumeirah Mosque every Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 10.00am. No reservations are required for this 75-minutes tour but you have to be there by 9:45am.

Cost: Dhs 10/person
Location: Intersection of Jumeirah Road (D94) and 17B Street in Jumeirah 1
Where will you park? There is a public parking (paid parking) lot directly across the street from Jumeirah Mosque on 17B Street

Majilis Al Ittihad/Union Flag House:

The gigantic UAE flag (40 by 20 metres) was hoisted to mark the 30th anniversary of the UAE on 2nd December 2001. In 1971 all the It’s quite a beautiful sight to see the huge UAE flag fluttering in the wind against the backdrop of the blue sea. This was the biggest flagpole in the world until 2003. Do read this fascinating article in The National ‘The day of union’a recount of the day of the formation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971!

Rumour has it and many tour guides proclaim that the outside of the flag pole is made up of gold and costs approximately US $ 1.1 million!

Location: Intersection of Al Diyafah Street and Jumeirah Road

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2) Driving along the Open Beach/Russian Beach

Take the immediate right after the Palm Strip Mall on Jumeirah Road and you come to the best public beaches in Dubai – the Open Beach. The Open Beach is also lovingly called the Russian Beach because of the number of sun-bathers belonging to the East European and Russian contingent (according to TimeOut Dubai magazine)! Just enjoy sun, sea and the sands, feed the sea-gulls (yes, here too!), cycle or skate along the beautiful cycle tracks that have been made on the sand which stretches for for more than 4 kms or simply swing in the play area. No barbeque-ing allowed.

Jumeirah Road has it’s share of surprises when you see a small sailing boat being driven past you as you drive your car. Some people just prefer to sail!

Opening Hours: 24 hours
Cost: Free

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3) Barbecue in the Jumeirah Beach Park, visit Majlis Ghorfat Um-Al-Sheef and watch some Para-sailing

Jumeirah Beach Park:

This is a beautifully landscaped verdant green park with a beach front occupying almost 12 hectares of land. An ideal place if you plan to spend the day on the beach or for family picnics. There are rescue boats, a helicopter pad in case of emergency, lifeguards on duty, constructed children’s play areas, organised barbecue sites with grills, picnic tables, food kiosks, volleyball areas and most importantly restaurants and cafeterias serving up snacks and cold drinks in-case your icebox becomes empty!

Opening Hours: 8am – 10:30pm daily. Open till 11pm on Thurdays & Fridays; Mondays are exclusively for Ladies and children (Please don’t forget otherwise Daddies and Hubbies will wait outside while Mummies and Kiddies can have some fun!)
Cost: Dhs 20/Car and Dhs 5/person
Location: Just before the intersection of Al Athar Road and Jumeirah Road (if you are coming from Union Flag House) and next to Jumeirah Beach Club; Tel: +971-4-3492555

Majlis Ghorfat Um-Al-Sheef:

This was the summer house of the late founder of modern Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Traditionally built in 1955 from coral and stone, the two-storey Majlis has an open veranda on the ground floor while the upstairs is furnished with cushions and Arabic antiques. In the it’s gardens, Arabic irrigation system is reproduced for the visitors.

The Majlis suddenly stand out as a traditional Islamic architecture in the midst of modern villas donning the Jumeirah landscape! You can drive on to the sand, park your car and watch the jet-skiing or para-sailing against the sunset and the warm blue waters of the Persian Gulf. You may of-course join in, but I was talking from the perspective of Couch Campers like us!

Opening Hours: 8.30am – 1.30pm and from from 3.30pm – 8.30pm on Saturdays – Thursdays, ; Fri 3.30 – 8.30pm
Cost: Dhs 1/person
Location: Take the right at 3A Street after the intersection of Al Athar Street and Jumeirah Road (this is just after the empty sand plot that you’ll find after Jumeirah Beach Park); Tel: +971-4-3946343

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4) Juices & Falafels in the Jumeirah Beach Road cafeterias

Roadside Cafeterias:

Small cafeterias and food joints don the Jumeirah Beach Road. Stopping and tasting sandwiches and a fresh juice is an absolute must not for the ‘food’ factor but for the novelty of introducing a concept to Dubai – you can park your car till wee hours of the morning and all you have to do is give out a minor honk. Your food and your juice will come out packed if it’s a take-away or served in a tray and you can eat in the comfort of your car without having to come out. This saves their seating space – which they lack anyway. All you need is occupy a small chunk of the road and put on your ‘hazards’ or ‘blinkers’.

If the names of the cafeterias are varied – Sea Shell, Al Izaja, Barakat (Barakat has already earned it’s reputation of selling fresh bottled juices in most of the Dubai supermarkets) so are the juices served here – Apple, Mango, Orange, Lemon, Lemon Mint and Cocktails. Mind you these Cocktails are actually Mocktails with no alcohol in them. And yet they are called as Cocktails and remember, each cafeteria has its’ signature Cocktails.

A humorous account of these cafeterias has been written in Gulf News by Mishaal Al Gergawi, an Emirati commentator on socio-economic and cultural affairs in the UAE. He writes about some more cocktails – Aboud cocktail, Burj Al Arab cocktail, Dubai cocktail, Emirati cocktail, Al Nasr cocktail, Al Ahli cocktail, Jumeirah cocktail, Talyani cocktail, Computer cocktail, Blackberry cocktail, Mercedes cocktail, Ferrari cocktail!

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5) Burj-Al-Arab and photo-shoot in-front of the Um Sequim Park

Burj-Al-Arab photo-shoot:

This is perhaps the most sought-after touristic deeds – photo-shoot in front of Burj-Al-Arab. The closest view of the famous hotel is from the beach in front of the Um Sequim Park (until and unless you stand in-front of the hotel gates near Wild Wadi Water Park – but I’m sure your camera cannot capture you and the entire hotel in one frame). I’ve overdone this bit – having driven my guests at various hours of the day – in the morning, in the afternoon, during sunset and at night. This photo will surely make it to the Facebook Status Update – hence has to be deleted and clicked till it is perfect.

Notice how my guest is checking her photo just before uploading it on her status message on Facebook. Her Facebook Status Update? ‘In-front of Burj-Al-Arab! I love my life!’

Dubai Photo-shoot in-front of Burj-Al-ArabNo Dubai Photo-shoot is incomplete without one shot in-front of Burj-Al-Arab. Mind you, we'll be coming back again to the same spot for a night shot!

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6) Souq Madinat Jumeirah & the Abra Tour in Madinat Jumeirah

Souq Madinat:

Styled after an Arabian Souq with wind towers, lantern lit hallways and narrow waterways Souk Madinat Jumeirah in the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel is bound to surprise your guests. And if you have been to the real Souqs in Dubai you’ll realise how authentic the architectural design is. Unlike the other real Souqs however, this is not a place for bargaining. The Souq houses 95 specially selected boutiques and shops, restaurants and bars. This shouldn’t scare you – you’ll also find Costa or a few other popular food chains here. Watching the Sand Artist creating sand art inside the bottle or ink your name in these bottles should convince you to visit Souq Madinat once!

Opening Hours: 10:30am – 8:30pm for the shops while the restaurants and bars are open till late
Website: Souq Madinat Jumeirah; Tel: +971-4-366 8888

Abra Tour in Madinat Jumeirah:

Take an Abra ride through the meandering waterways of the hotel. As you sail under arched bridges and along the beautiful architecture of the luxurious Malakiya Villas - this is really magical. If Venice ever turns into Dubai, it will probably choose to look like this – houses styled in Arabic architecture with wind-towers, date palm trees dotting the banks of the canals. Let your Captain (or should I say Abra-driver) tell you stories of where Goerge Cloony has stayed or Sharon Stone. Or if Bollywood beckons you more then hear about the 7-roomed villa that Indian superstar Shahrukh Khan hires when he visits Dubai. On second thought – I thought he always stayed in the ‘Bridge of Sigh’ Chambers in the Atlantis Hotel. Or wait, didn’t he own a villa on the Palm Jumeirah. Never mind, take your guests for an Abra ride for sure if you cannot house them in one of the Malakiya Villas.

I don’t work for this hotel. I am not being paid to write all this. But if you want to enthrall your guests with Arabian luxury and magic within tight budget – this is it.

Timings: daily from 4:00pm – 11:00pm; The Abra tours depart every 20 minutes
Cost: Dhs 70/adult and Dhs 40/child
You can access the Abra stations near Toscana and Barzar at Souk Madinat Jumeirah

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New Dubai & Dubai Marina

1) Burj Khalifa and ‘At The Top’ experience, Dubai Mall & the Dancing Fountain

Burj Khalifa:

‘At The Top‘ experience or scaling the world’s tallest building (well, standing at 828m it is till now) is a must if not for the fact that you will be standing on the world’s highest outdoor Observatory Deck at 124th floor but also for the fact that the journey will reveal the beauty of the architecture of the building. And the design is as complex as you perceive it to be or as simple as one petal of Hymenocallis – a regional desert flower whose harmonious structure is one of the organizing principles of the tower’s design.

By the way, Tom Cruise is supposed to have scaled the Burj Khalifa building on his own for his movie Mission Impossible – The Ghost Protocol. Phew! Watch the making of Tom Cruise’s scaling here.

Timing: 10:00am – 10:00pm on Sundays – Wednesdays ; 10:00am till midnight on Thursdays – Saturdays (Last entry 45 minutes prior to close)
Website: Burj Khalifa; Tel: +971-4-8888124 (At The Top); Location: 1  Emaar Boulevard, Downtown Dubai
Cost: Dhs 400/person for immediate entry; With online reservations – Dhs 100/adult and Dhs 75/child (Please note that the tickets are dated and timed. And the evening slots like 5:30pm – 7:30pm are sold out months in advance. So please plan if you wish to be ‘At The Top’ during sunset!

Where will you park? Getting a parking space in Dubai Mall can be like searching for Dynosaurs. As you take Burj Khalifa exit from Sheikh Zayed Road, enter the Emaar Boulevard, take a U-turn at the first signal and enter the Fashion Boulevard Parking lot and drive upto the 5th floor. You’ll be close to the ‘At The Top’ front-desk.

Dubai Mall:

I like to take all my guests to Dubai Mall once just to let them know that they are in one of the world’s largest shopping malls. If you happen to be a shopaholic – good for you. But if you aren’t then who has stopped you from stimulating your senses or be inspired by the world’s leading designers – all under one roof? Consider the window display of these brands as a canvas by itself. For example – Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Christian Louboutin, Ellie Saab, Herve Leger, Donna Karan, Sonia Rykiel, Stella McCartney… the list is endless!

Do you fancy Chocolates instead? Visit Hershey’s Chocolate World – the store offers more than 300 Hershey’s products including giant chocolate bars, Hershey memorabilia, and even customized products! Or say Candylicious – a 10,000 square feet store offering millions of candies! Or say, you are interested in cars. Then Exoto Tifosi is for you where you can purchase collectible model cars and varied products – all themed around motor cars and racing.

Again, it’s not about shopping. Choose a concept and let your guest explore that.

Timing: 10:00am till midnight daily though the Reel Cinemas or Sega Republic, Kidzania etc may have different timings
Website: Dubai Mall; Tel: +971-4-362 7500

Dancing Fountain:

Set in Burj Khalifa Lake, right outside The Dubai Mall on Lower Ground Waterfront Promenade is the world’s largest dancing fountain (the water spray shoots upto 50 stories). The fountain dances to the music of Sama Dubai; Baba Yetu, an award-winning song in Swahili; Shik Shak Shok – a peppy Arabic dance number and the signature piece of Andrea Bocelli’s Con te partiro/Time to Say Goodbye.

At this moment the first show in the evening is dedicated to Whiteny Houston’s iconic ‘I will always love you’. At the end as the her voice soars to the words ‘…and I will always love you…’ the water jets up high into the sky as a moving and an emotional tribute to a great singer. A YouTube peep here if you need to be convinced.

Timings: 1.00pm and 01.30pm, 6:00pm – 11:00pm every 30 minutes on Saturdays – Thursdays; 1.30pm and 2.00pm, 6:00pm – 11:00pm every 30 minutes on Fridays
Cost: Free

Where will you stand to get the best view? The moment you come outside the Dubai Mall onto the promenade, start walking right till you climb up an incline. Place yourself somewhere here so that you can view the entire width of the Fountain against the backdrop of the Old Palace Hotel. Why not walk to the Old Palace Hotel side and view the next show against the backdrop of Burj Khalifa?

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2) Take the Palm Mono-rail, visit Atlantis Lost Chambers Aquarium

The Palm Mono-rail ride:

The Palm Mono-rail ride to the Atlantis Hotel gliding above the Palm Islands is a brilliant introduction of Palm Islands itself. The Palm Mono-rail runs along the trunk of the Palm Jumeirah connecting the Gateway station situated just at the entry to the Palm Islands to the Atlantis hotel at the far end. You can see the entire Palm from the top – how the fronds come out from the trunk and how each villa on the Palm Island claims to have its private beach!

Where will you park? There’s a huge parking building at the Gateway Station itself. If you are coming from Jumeirah towards Dubai Marina, the Jumeirah Road becomes Al Sufouh Road after the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel. Just 100m after the exit towards Palm Islands from Al Sufouh Road is this Gateway Station.

Timing: 10:00am – 10:00pm Daily at fixed intervals
Cost: Dhs 15/person for single trip; Dhs 25/person for return trip

Atlantis Lost Chambers Aquarium:

If I have to choose between the Aquarium in The Dubai Mall and the Atlantis Lost Chambers, I will choose the latter. Simply because the Lost Chambers is aesthetically more beautiful. Their website has also come out with a story – ‘During the construction of the resort, a complex series of passages was uncovered, thought to have been buried thousands of years ago by the waters of the Arabian Gulf. Upon further investigation, an ancient street system was discovered and the theory came into being that these were in fact remains from the Lost City of Atlantis.’ Really? Never mind – story or no story I am sold!

Timings: Daily 10:00am – 10:00pm; For more information on guided tours, fish feeding etc here.
Cost: Dhs 100/adult and Dhs 75/child [Dhs 75/adult and Dhs 50/child if you are an UAE resident. So please carry your UAE ID Cards or UAE Dirvers' License so that your guests can also avail this]

Do we go in everytime whenever we accompany our guests? No we don’t. We all go for the Mono-rail ride and thanks to the Starbucks there we hand around eating muffins and Cappuccinos while our guests are enthralled in the Lost Chambers. In-case you are hungry and want to munch on some burgers – you have The Burger Joint where the fillers of the burgers come from the famous steakhouse – The OutBack. But then priced at Dhs 45 -Dhs 65/burger, how much are you saving by not going into the Lost Chambers with your guests?

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2) Drive along the Palm Jumeira and watch the sunset over the Persian Gulf

Palm Jumeirah Drive:

Apart from the Palm Mono-rail, I also like to drive my guests along the Palm Islands. Once reaching the tip I like to drive to the end of the West crescent from where the skyscrapers of Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) seems to float on water. Time for a photo-shoot and a sandwich break. Then drive to the tip of the East crescent and show them the Burj-Al-Arab from the Palm Islands. On our way back take a pause in front of the Atlantis to get the perfect photo.

Time for some story-telling – The Palm Jumeirah is an artificial archipelago created using land reclamation… it is in the shape of a palm tree. It consists of a trunk, a crown with 16 fronds, and a surrounding crescent island that forms an 11 kilometres long breakwater… and more from Wiki.

Along with the Great Wall of China, Palm Islands too can be seen with the naked eye from the Moon! Do I support the environmental hazards or the marine life that must have been destroyed while creating the Palms, I’ll never discuss these in my blog. But am I mesmerized with the concept of creating the Palms? Yes, I am. And this is the reason that makes me take my guest for a Palm drive.

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3) Breakfast in The Walk at JBR, also visit The Walk at night and visit The Covent Garden

The Walk at JBR:

The Walk at JBR is a 1.7 kms stretch of beach promenade or a boulevard dedicated to open air dining – Al Fresco dining with reputed restaurants and shopping strip. This is located at the ground and the plaza level of JBR or Jumeirah Beach Residence. JBR is the largest single phase residential development in the world!

You’ll find a variety of restaurants offering a variety of cuisines – ranging from fine-dining to casual dining. You’ll find the staggering list of restaurants here. If California decides to convert itself to Dubai, this would be it!

The opportunity to have breakfast served by the beach in this city full of bling and brick structures, The Walk is a welcome break, though it is adjacent to JBR which has 40 towers, each towering higher than 40 floors! My favourite breakfast haunts here are Kösebasi, a Turkish restaurant. Try their Turkish breakfast spread – Menemen (scrambled eggs with tomato and bell peppers) or the Sucuklu Yumurta (fried eggs and sliced Turkish sausage). Other favourites are Breakfast at Paul’s or the Buffet Breakfast at Il Café de Romo. While Paul’s is expensive but worth the last fil that you spend, the Buffet Breakfast at Il Café de Romo is priced at Dhs 49/person and satisfies the mind as well as your hunger!

Only tormenting factor could be the serious morning walkers jogging by as you munch on shamelessly on your Sucuklu Yumurta – I am used to feeling guilty like this. You choose your feelings.

Covent Garden Market

Lonely Planet lists this to be a ‘Must See’ when in Dubai. And rightly so. Borrowed on the concept of open air European flea markets (unfortunately the prices of the products sold haven’t borrowed the same concept!) the Covent Garden Market has small kiosks selling unusual and unique knick-knacks like imitation and junk jewellery, silk kaftans, paintings on canvases and much more. The Covent Garden Market takes place from October until the end of May. So if you are visiting Dubai in Summers this is something that you’ll miss out on.

Writing about Parking in The Walk can be a full essay. If you are coming for Breakfast you’ll get convenient parking opposite Rimal. However, if you are coming during the weekends or in the evenings and night, then please carry your house in your car. You’ll need much more than just relax. The access to JBR is jam-packed all the time and once you enter the roads leading to The Walk – there’s no point of return. It’s a one-way route all the way along The Walk. All said and done to enjoy The Walk after sundown is a thrill. Amazingly dressed people and equally amazing cars – all out on a fashion parade. And if you are lucky to visit The Walk during DIFF (Dubai International Film Festival) or say, the Dubai International Jazz Festival – sitting on bean bags by the beach and watching a movie with thousand other film enthusiasts on a open-air screen or listening to a Jazz group performing live while you juggle yourself into an empty spot found after many searches can be – well, a step closer to the attainment of Nirvana!

It’s okay to get stuck in the traffic for such a pleasurable cause. To ease frustration, sing Hotel California in your heads – ‘You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave!’

Timings: 5:00pm till midnight on Wednesdays and Thursdays; 10:am – 10:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Website: Covent Garden Market; Tel: +971-50-4250543
Location: The Walk at JBR by Rimal Sector (between Hilton Hotel and Sheraton Hotel)

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4) Catamaran ride from Dubai Marina, preferably during the sunset

Catamaran ride from Dubai Marina:

It was only in 2004 that I used to drive my guests all the way from Bur Dubai to this place which seemed like beyond all frontiers – to show them how the Marina is being cut from the sea and how Dubai would soon have it’s Riviera. Since 2010 I’ve been taking my guests for a sail in the so called Dubai’s Riviera. If it surprises your guests when they see sailing boats occupying garage space along with sedan cars and 4 WD in Jumeirah, Dubai Marina will probably shock them – there are rows and rows of private yachts and quays for anchoring these.

Sailing on a private yacht into the sunset sounds heavenly, but you could have the same experience for much cheap – take the Catamaran ride from Dubai RTA for a round trip from Marina Mall water transport station up to the Atlantis on Palm Jumeirah. You’ll get more information here. This one hour ride costs around Dhs 50- Dhs 75/person. If you don’t want to miss the sunset, take the 5pm ride during the winters and 7pm ride during the summers.

Where will you park your car? Park in the Dubai Marina Mall and walk into the ground floor of the Mall, walk into the Marina waterfront from Yo Sushi and you’ll find directions to the Marina Mall water transport station.

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5) Visit Ibn-Batuta Shopping Mall and ride the Buggy

Ibn Batuta Shopping Mall:

Another shopping mall? Oh, not again! No, please take your guests, I insist.  The Mall has been designed in honour of the Moroccon explorer, Ibn Batuta who over a period of thirty years visited most of the known Islamic world as well as many non-Muslim lands and his journeys included trips to many parts of Africa, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China in the East. Ibn Battuta is considered one of the greatest travellers of all time and has journeyed more than 75,000 miles (121,000 km) in his lifetime!

This is the world’s largest themed shopping mall. Each region that Ibn Battuta had explored – Andalusia, Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India and China – is reflected in the architecture and theme of the mall’s six courts. Take a buggy Ride (Dhs 5/person) if you are too lazy to walk!

Timings: 10:00am – 10:00 pm on Sundays – Wednesdays, 10:00am till midnight on Thursdays – Saturdays
Location: Ibn Battuta is located adjacent to Sheikh Zayed Road between interchanges 5 and 6; Tel: +971-4-362 1900

6) Visit Ski Dubai at MOE

Ski Dubai

Well, a visit to Dubai will remain incomplete if you haven’t seen the indoor ski resort in a Shopping Mall (Yup, the protagonist of the story of Dubai is Shopping Mall for sure!) If Swiss ski-slopes ever wanted to be trapped indoors – this would be it. You could be skiing, snowboarding or just fool around. I know the skeptics will thrash this concept of indoor ski resort but tell me where else would you be finding something so spectacular?

My German friends who are hard-core ski-lovers vouch for Ski Dubai. The reaon? Well, you don’t have to climb up all the way to the mountain top and be disappointed with the weather condition and poor visibility. Or say, hear that the slopes have been been blocked by avalanches. Here, you have perfect weather, perfect slopes, perfect snow all the year around. You don’t have to trudge your own ski-equipments even – everything comes with the price you pay for the tickets.

And if you don’t know how to ski? You can still go into the Snow Park and play with the new residents of Ski Dubai – the penguins. Or, better still, you could do what I do – sit at St. Moritz Café by the electric fire place sipping some hot coffee.

New Facebook Status Update? ‘At St. Moritz!’

Website: Ski Dubai gives you all information about the timings for various programmes that you may opt for – Snow Park, Ski-slope etc as well as the different prices. There are too many options for you to choose from, hence not segregating them out.

Some Random Surprises

The following are some random surprises that you might enthrall your guests with, even if you haven’t managed to do anything of the above.

Show them the Gold ATM – At Galeries Lafayette in The Dubai Mall, At The Top in Burj Khalifa or the Atlantis Lost Chambers etc there are Gold ATMs – where shoppers can chip in the corresponding amount of money to receive nuggets of fine gold! To be honest I am yet to see the nuggets come out – neither my guests nor me have chipped in any money. Sigh!

Show them some Twisted Buildings – some modern buildings have mind-boggling designs requiring the best in mathematical precision!

Show them some Rains - Yes, if you are lucky Dubai does witness some rains – when, where, how – I do not know much!

Show them some greenery & blooms – Yes, Dubai may be a desert but it always gives me a lot of pride when I show my guest how much effort is being made to turn the city green!

Show them real dates - Fresh dates that can be plucked from the roadside – yes, the urbane city still hasn’t forgotten it’s roots! But don’t pluck them when the dates have been netted – you might end up paying huge fines.

Show them Air-Conditioned Bus-Stops – If the entire city could have been air-conditioned, probably it would have been done or may be plans are there. But so far having air-conditioned Bus-Stops are good enough!

Show them the sea of sand - A 5-minutes drive out of the city and you reach the sand. Bring them back to the fact that Dubai actually grown on this sand. Everything – the electricity that switches on our Air-Conditioners to the water that we drink – almost everything is meticulously planned and brought into the city!

Finally, show them the city being built – I always tell the Z-SISTERS that they will never see this anywhere in the world – a city being built – brick by brick, just like Lego!

What do you do when you cannot keep your guests in the Atlantis Hotel or the Burj-Al-Arab? The maximum you can do is to find the perfect parking spaces and drive them to each place at various hours of the day to give your guests the perfect photo-ops and lots of opportunity for Facebook status updates!

And never mind the fact that Li’l Z tires herself out in the car or Big Z has to do her homeworks sitting by the Creek – our home is still welcome to our guests. And I still drag myself to show them Dubai in my way and tag along with them – Like a tourist in my own city!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

Disclaimer: I’ve used photographs from my photo-gallery IshitaPhotoIdeas, my guests (Pankaj for the pictorial Abra rides and Sanjay for the Burj-Al-Arab with sunset in the backdrop) and my personal albums just to give YOU a pictorial insight. I am sure you’ll respect their privacy and mine by not using them.

References:

Posted in: Dubai / UAE, Travel