Dubai doesn’t need to be explored just by road and along sandy dunes. The canals, both natural and man-made, make an interesting route for cruising on the waterways of the city.
What is a ‘Dhow’?
A ‘Dhow’ is an integral part of Arab culture, dating back to a time before the city was an economical and a tourist hub. A ‘Dhow’ is a traditional Arabic sailing vessel made with wooden planks, used for trading, fishing and pearl diving.
With trading and other marine activities now taking place on larger boats and ships, these Dhows no longer serve their original purpose and have since been renovated into floating restaurants.
Restaurants that display the hospitality of the city, with breath-taking views of the skyline, international buffet dinners and enchanting local entertainment.
Choosing a Dhow Cruise in Dubai
Until a few years ago, Dubai Creek was the only location in Dubai to catch a Dhow cruise, giving views of ‘Old Dubai’, the smaller abra boats, and local souqs. Bordering Bur Dubai and Deira, it is here, along this natural harbour where Dubai’s history began with trading routes developing before the discovery of oil.
A Dhow cruise at Dubai Creek offers a glimpse of the expansion that took place in Dubai and where tourists feel like they have stepped into a bygone era.
Now, there’s also the option to cruise around some of the modern neighbourhoods of Dubai. In an extension to Dubai Creek, you can now sail past Downtown Dubai and the Dubai Canal. Punctuated with an illuminated man-made waterfall from Sheikh Zayed Bridge at Al Habtoor City (home to stage show La Perle), the water is occasionally paused as Dhow boats pass beneath throughout the evening.
Dubai Marina is your other modern Dubai cruising option. Built with immaculate planning, this neighbourhood is dotted with soaring buildings, cafes and walkway promenades, along the man-made water canal. The Dhow Cruise at Dubai Marina offers views of the Dubai Marina itself, the Palm Jumeirah Island and the skyscrapers of modern Dubai.
Also viewable is Dubai’s newest iconic project – Ain Dubai, the world’s largest observation wheel.
Timing your Dhow cruise You can either choose to go for a daytime or evening cruise. During the day, dhow cruises operate more as sightseeing tours, while the focus shifts to luxury dinners and entertainment as the sun starts to set over the horizon.
The evening dhow cruises shower guests with hospitality, complete with hearty buffet service, traditional hot drinks, live music and cultural shows.
What to expect on a Dubai Dhow cruise
A Dhow cruise is not just a boat ride along the canals of Dubai. It is an experience to view the city from a different perspective and a memory you will cherish for a lifetime. As a sightseeing tourist, nothing beats a traditional dhow with its large deck windows and open-air upper decks for enjoying unparalleled views of the city. Here’s what you can expect:
Dubai Creek is also known as the “heart of the old city”, and it is here where you will feel like you have stepped back in time. It is a perfectly preserved snapshot of Dubai’s amazing contrast between the old, the traditional heritage houses, wind towers and minarets mixed up between the new, the modern development and tall high-rises.
Admire the glittering lights of Old Dubai as you relax on the cruise from Dubai Creek, sailing along the naturally existing waterway.
In contrast, the cruise from Dubai Marina offers a different, yet equally enchanting view of the ever-changing city. It’s a journey through modern Dubai, allowing your gaze to follow contemporary architectural marvels, some of Dubai’s iconic buildings making up the modern skyline and the buzzing atmosphere of city dwellers. The promenade on either side of the waterway is busy with couples and young families, cafes and date palm trees which light up in the evening.
Selected dhow cruises also offer commentary in English to learn more fascinating information about the city.
Food is part of experiencing a city’s culture, and the dhow cruises do not disappoint when it comes to what they serve their guests. Almost all dhow cruises serve a hearty international buffet, with unlimited soft drinks, tea, coffee, and water. The buffet also includes traditional local delicacies and caters to vegetarians too. Be sure to try “Kahweh”, the local Arabian coffee, usually served to guests in the Bedouin tradition.
A few of the licensed dhow cruises also serve alcoholic drinks on the deck at an extra charge (though this can often explain the price differential between dinner cruise packages if they are offering this all-inclusive).
While almost all Dhow cruises have live music playing in the background as your cruise on the canals of the city, a lot of them also have a few talented performers on board. Performances that include beautiful women belly dancers showing you their traditional Middle-eastern moves, or the folkloric dance known as Tanoura, performed by men in their creative costumes.
All Dhow cruises also include on-board separate toilets for men and women.
Suggested Dubai Dhow cruises to try
We recommend Dhow cruises booked through reputable online ticketing agents such as Get Your Guide or Viator, where cancellation-free options can be selected – critical to consider in these uncertain times.
- Evening Dinner Cruise at Dubai Creek: Sail aboard a traditional dhow cruise and dine under the stars as you take in the dazzling lights of Dubai’s traditional souqs. Enjoy scrumptious buffet meals, while being entertained with onboard performances, such as the Tanora dance show.
- Evening Dinner Cruise at Dubai Marina: Experience world-famous landmarks of Dubai Marina the views of JBR from the man-made canal, as you take the 2-hour cruise, complete with a lavish buffet dinner and entertainment show on board. Watch people having a leisurely stroll along the promenade or having coffee at one of the quaint cafes fringing the shores.
- Daytime Sightseeing tour at Dubai Marina: Marvel at the unique buildings of Dubai, learn fascinating information about the city and take lots of photo opportunities at the day time tour of Dubai Marina. There are plentiful traditional Dhow cruise options through to modern luxury yachts.
Some other interesting Dhow cruises to try:
Pirates of Arabia Cruise: This is an authentic Arab experience aboard Dubai’s resident ‘Black Pearl’ with a touch of pirate spunk. It is a guided tour that departs from Dubai Creek Harbour, offering a 40 minute ride to take in Dubai’s beautiful sky-line made of its iconic buildings.
Musandam Khasab or Dibba Dhow Cruise: This full-day cruise trip takes you to the idyllic Musandam Peninsula, away from the bustling city life of Dubai. Surrounded by the views of rocky mountain peaks, hidden coves and sea-blue waters, relax on board with a buffet lunch and unlimited soft drinks, go for a snorkel and swim, and look out for dolphins.
Frequently asked questions about Dubai Dhow Cruises
Depending on the experience you are going for, the location and the Dhow you are choosing, prices can start from as low as AED 75 ($20USD) per person for a cruise only, through to around AED 230 ($62USD) for a dinner cruise.
It is entirely up to you whether you choose to wear formal or casual attire, as long as you are mindful of local dress code and are properly covered. There is no need to wear a dinner jacket or gown, but it’s nice to treat it as a special occasion.
While you can’t tell one is better than the other, it all depends on the experience you’re looking for and your budget. If you are after the hustle of old Dubai or on a budget, then a Dubai Creek cruise is for you.
If you are looking to experience the growing architectural landscape of Dubai, go for the Dubai Marina Cruise. Regardless of the location, it is the ones with a lavish dinner buffet, lots of onboard entertainment and unlimited drinks to enjoy, that are always most memorable.
Most Dhow cruises with dinner are two hours long, between 8:30 pm to 10:30 pm. The cruises start sailing sharp at 8:30 pm, and guests are welcome to arrive 30-45 minutes prior to departure time to enjoy the view and welcome drinks.
Many tour operators also include pick up services – read the fine print when booking as this could well save you on taxies and transfers.
A dhow cruise is a partially outdoor activity and therefore best during winter months. The weather is pleasant between October to April when you can dine on the upper deck, and enjoy unparallel views of the city.
That doesn’t mean, the experience cannot be enjoyed during the summer months. Between May to September, you can still get the complete dhow experience while being seated at the fully air-conditioned lower deck.
Keep in mind that during the holy month of Ramadan there is no belly dancing, music and alcohol drinks as per the law of UAE.
Whether it’s old or modern Dubai, a Dhow cruise is undoubtedly a memorable part of your Dubai experience you won’t want to miss on your Dubai itinerary.
Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Dubai, a handy guide on what to pack and top tips for first-timers on the do’s and don’ts, laws and customs to be aware of.
- Check out this incredible list of 150+ places you should visit when you’re in Dubai.
- Pick up a Dubai Pass to save up to 50% on top Dubai attractions
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!!!
- Discover the best areas to stay in Dubai, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here:
Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our hotel or tour recommendation links.Dubai Travel Planner