Al Fahidi Historical District (once known as Al Bastakiya) located in Bur Dubai, is an oft-missed gem in a city of gleaming towers and wall-to-ceiling windows.
With traditional houses and winding streets, it is like stepping back in time to life at a slower pace. Part of Bur Dubai, this district is the oldest part of Dubai, and the area pays homage to the rich heritage of this modern metropolis.
Brief Historical Background of Dubai
Dubai was established in the 18th century on the banks of the Creek and quickly grew from a sleepy fishing village to a port town of prominence, largely due to its proximity to Iran. As the trade and pearling industry flourished, so did Dubai.
Despite a period of depression in the early 20th Century, the city continued to grow as Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum established the foundations of the city.
When oil was discovered in the mid-60s, Sheikh Rashid’s plans were given a significant boost, and the city as we know it grew at an unprecedented speed.
Bur Dubai is home to the oldest part of the city, and the Al Fahidi neighbourhood was saved from demolition in the 1980s and restored to protect the heritage and history of the area.
Exploring Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
Through narrow alleys and winding lanes, you can explore a forgotten Arabia. The buildings are made with traditional materials such as coral, stone, mud and wood, and the iconic wind towers crown the structures in testimony to local engineering expertise.
The area is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of Emirati history and culture. With several cultural centres and small museums dotted around, there are ample opportunities to get an insight into Dubai and the wider region.
Al Fahidi Fort & Dubai Museum
The oldest building in Dubai, the Al Fahidi Fort, is located in this area and dates back to 1787. It opened as Dubai Museum in 1971. The museum is well worth a visit; however, it is currently closed due to much-needed renovation.
We do not have a reopening date as yet.
There’s plenty more still to be explored though in this historic area of the city. Among the many other places to explore in the Al Fahidi District, do seek out the following highlights:
Dedicated to all things coffee, this museum is well worth a visit. Coffee plays a big part in Emirati culture along with the wider Middle East, and here you can learn all about the cultural significance of this drink.
You can discover the history of coffee, and get an insight into production processes and the many varieties of beans, along with different coffee cultures throughout the world. Of course, don’t forget to sample some coffee in the café and stock up on coffee brewing accessories at the museum shop.
Opening hours: Saturday to Thursday 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Fridays closed
While the Coin Museum is a definite must-visit for any coin enthusiast, it will also appeal to someone with a historical interest in the region.
The compact museum showcases nearly 500 coins mainly from the Arab world from different time periods and geographical locations. The display allows you to inspect each coin closely and gives you details of the minting date, shape and material.
Housed in a traditional coral, stone, and sandalwood building, the collections are displayed in eight rooms.
Opening hours: Monday to Thursday 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM, Friday 8:00 AM – 11.30 AM, Saturday & Sunday Closed
Arabian Tea House
This gem of a café opened in 1997 as Basta Arts Café, when Al Fahidi was still called Bastakia. It has since become somewhat of a cultural institution with numerous branches in the UAE and abroad.
This, the original branch, is located inside a peaceful courtyard. Escape the heat as you relax in the shade with a cold drink or a traditional coffee. You can also enjoy a wide selection of traditional Middle Eastern and Emirati cuisine.
Do be aware that it can get busy, and the café doesn’t accept reservations from Friday to Sunday.
Opening hours: Daily 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM
XVA Art Hotel and Cafe
Gallery, café, hotel; XVA is a unique offering where art and heritage meet. The venue oozes calm with plenty of tranquil spots and corners to enjoy the vegetarian selection from the café.
The gallery is dedicated to modern art with a strong emphasis on featuring and nurturing Middle Eastern artists. There are 15 beautiful guest rooms dotted around the courtyards, as well as a small boutique selling a range of products.
Opening hours: Café is open daily 7am-10pm
This is one of the most popular souks in Dubai. Wander through the busy lanes as you shop for colourful fabrics and garments. Come prepared to practice your bartering skills, and do note that many shops still prefer cash over credit card.
Opening hours: The souk is generally open between 10:00 AM and 10:00 PM Saturday to Thursday, though many shopkeepers will take a siesta during the middle of the day. Friday is normally only open after 4:00 PM.
Recognising that Dubai is a true melting pot of people from all over the globe, The Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) was opened in 1998 in an effort to promote understanding of Emirati culture. Here, local volunteers introduce expat and visitors to Emirati history and culture.
There is a wide range of activities on offer, such as the heritage tours, where you are taken on a guided walking tour of the narrow lanes of Al Fahidi. You can also visit the centre for a local meal and the guides will tell you about Emirati culture and traditions.
Opening hours: Monday to Thursday 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM, Friday to Sunday 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM.
Due to tour popularity and limited availability, prior booking is essential. Valet parking is available for visitors to the centre.
Why not pre-plan for your visit:
- Al Fahidi Historic Walking Tour (1.5 hours 10:30 AM Tuesday & Thursday)
- Cultural Lunch at SMCCU (1.5 hours, 1:00 PM Monday to Thursday)
Where to next? Continue exploring along the Dubai Creek
Looking beyond Al Fahidi district, there are many areas worth exploring.
Follow the Creek inland and you will reach Al Seef, a waterfront promenade that marries old historical architecture with modern designs. There is a great selection of shops and eateries on offer, and the Museum of Illusions is located here.
You can also opt to take in the views from the water and jump on an abra cruise from one of the water stations, or pop into one of the dozen or so restaurants here, including Al Fanar for Emirati cuisine.
Head in the opposite direction, along the Creek through the Textile Souk, and you reach the Bur Dubai Abra Station.
Pay 1 dirham to cross the Creek the traditional way. From here you can explore the old Spice Souk and a little further along you will reach the busy streets of the Gold Souk.
Transport to Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
The neighbourhood is easily reached on public transport.
Al Fahidi is the closest Metro station, or nearby you’ll find Al Ghubaiba bus stop. There is RTA parking in close proximity for those preferring to drive.
Whilst in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood you may well spot the “Heritage Express” red trolleys.
Privately run tours with SMCCU, there are several different daily programs running that commence from Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood including:
- The Emirati Hospitality Experience (from 230 AED pp, 4 hours)
- Culture on Wheels (from 150 AED pp, 2.5 hours)
- VIP tour (from 500 AED pp, 4 hours)
NB Children 6 to 12 are half price, 5’s and under are free.
These trolley tours can be a great way to get between the city’s key historic sites with a personal tour guide. Stops include Jumeirah Mosque, Al Shindagha and Etihad Museum (Union House), plus a visit to a desert bedouin visit.
Opening Hours for Al Fahidi
While the district is open, please be mindful of the individual opening hours for each venue within the neighbourhood.
Places to Stay in and near Al Fahidi
Staying inside al Fahidi itself, XVA Art Hotel offers an excellent boutique hotel option.
A little further along, there is the Al Seef Heritage Hotel Dubai, Curio Collection by Hilton, or across the Creek you find a Radisson Blu offering stunning views of the heritage area.
More FAQ for Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
Yes, there’s no charge to enter this area of the city. Some attractions are paid.
As it is free to enter, there’s no need to book. However, if you’re seeking to enhance your experience with a guided tour, it’s strongly recommended you book this in advance.
Yes, the restoration works to the area mean you should have no problem getting through most areas with a stroller. You may need to leave them outside certain museums, shops and galleries.
Al Fahidi Fort is the oldest structure in the city still standing today, originally constructed in 1787 to protect the city’s pearl fishers and trades from neighbouring tribes. You can learn more about the historical buildings of Dubai here.
The original residential area of Bastakiya can be dated back to the 1890s.
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