We left our car behind just next to the Dubai Museum at Al Fahidi Fort and got lost in the tangle of narrow lanes and heritage coral-hewn buildings of the Al Fahidi Historic District, some of the last in Dubai. Across the creek from the bustling Spice Souq and a quick walk from the Textile Souq, this area is surprisingly quiet and is incredibly atmospheric after dark. We took a traditional wooden boat, “abra,” kitted out with a motor and a single bench seat in the middle to cross Dubai Creek in less than five minutes. From the water, surveying the city’s eye-catching architecture, from modern glass constructions to older structures made of coral and stone topped with barjeel, was easy. These wind towers provide a natural form of air conditioning.
We walked through Spice Souq with mounds of aromatic cardamom, Iranian saffron, and solid menthol strips. Then, we went back to Al Fahidi to explore the quarter built in the early 1900s by merchants from the Persian town of Bastak, who settled in Dubai to take advantage of tax breaks granted by the sheik.
Next to the district is Al Seef, a lovely place to wander with the bustling waterfront tourist development. Life in this part of the Arabian Peninsula was nomadic for centuries, yo-yo-ing back and forth between the coast and the desert in time with the seasons, leaving nothing behind except indentations in the sand from goat-hair tents. The oldest building in Dubai was constructed in 1787, and most structures in the city’s historic districts are from the 20th century.
In the early 1900s, the Al Seef historical area was Dubai’s trading hub when the pearl diving industry was being developed. Stretching some 1.8km along Dubai Creek, the developers have divided the area into two distinct areas: one sharply contemporary, with buildings that resemble piled-up shipping containers, and the other with an Old Dubai neighborhood feel thanks to the rough-hewn facades, narrow alleyways, and faux wind towers.
Parking location – Dubai: 25.263897N 55.297169E