Burj Al Arab at sunset

Dubai: Where Tradition meets Modernity

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Known as the superlative and glamorous city, Dubai is perhaps one of the most popular destinations nowadays. The gem of the Middle East is famous for its skyscrapers, gigantic shopping malls and the lavish lifestyle of its citizens. But Dubai is also full of history and cultural heritage. From the historic Al Fahidi neighbourhood, the bustling Deira to the still-developing Design District, Dubai is where tradition meets modernity.


Until the middle of the 18th century, Dubai was a small fishing settlement on the shore of the Arabian Gulf. It was only known by merchants for its pearling industry. Due to its close proximity to Iran, Dubai became attractive to Iranian and foreign tradesmen, making it an important trading location at the beginning of the 20th century. When oil was discovered in the 1960s, Dubai’s growth surged forward. However, the oil reservoirs in Dubai are very limited, and thus the emirate must find another way to sustain the long run.

Under the guidance of its brilliant rulers, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and his successors, Dubai utilized a large part of its oil revenue to build infrastructure. This leads to enormous success in estate trading, aviation and tourism. Today, it is one of the most shining pearls in the Middle East with a strong economy and ultra-modern infrastructure. Yet Dubai is still able to maintain a rich history. In fact, the city has integrated many traditions into the modern lifestyle, making a trip to Dubai a memorable journey through the time.

Historic Al Fahidi

Characterised by a labyrinth of narrow walking lanes, sand-coloured houses topped with beautiful Barjajeel (wind towers), which provided natural air-conditioning, Al Fahidi is what Dubai looked like in the middle of the 19th century. These traditional buildings are made of natural materials such as muds, stones, corals, palm woods and teaks, and are separated by alleys and public squares. House’s windows and doors were also built in a special way to ensure the privacy and discretion of its owners.

Al Fahidi District

Due to its strategic location at Dubai Creek until the early 20th century, this nicely restored neighbourhood played an important role in managing the emirate and organising the commercial ties overseas. Though the Golden Age of Al Fahidi has gone, the area is still home to numerous cultural and artistic institutions, ranging from exhibitions, museums to the cultural centre, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding.

Coffee times at Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding
The eagle and its trainer. It was trained for hunting

Practical Information:

  • Al Fahidi is located in the northern part of Bur Dubai. To get there, take Metro 2 to the station: Al Fahidi.
  • For a deep guide of this district, you might consider joining a Heritage tour offered by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding. Founded by His Highness himself, the centre is a perfect way to learn about the new culture. Due to its popularity, it is recommended to register for the tour in advance via their website.
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Bustling Deira

At first glance, Deira looks unappealing with narrow, seedy alleys and unspectacular buildings. By the beginning of the last century, Deira was, however, the heart of Dubai where thousands of dhows (traditional naval vessel) landed. They brought tons of gold, spices, frankincense from Iran, Pakistan, India and elsewhere to the city. Goods are then gathered in the souk (bazaar), such as Gold Souk or Spice Souk, and sold to customers for a huge profit. Although Deira has lost its important role in recent years due to the development of areas further down the coast toward Abu Dhabi, it is still an unmissable part of Dubai.

Colourful spices at Spice Souk

Practical Information

  • The souk in Deira is where you can practice the art of dealing. You must bargain and do it hard. The salesman will start with an extremely high price. So you should reduce it at least by half, or even lower. The “walk-away” strategy might work.
  • Be prepared for the annoying salesmen who keep inviting you into their shops. If you do not show any interest, you will be fine. But if you show any interest, even just a little bit, they will stick to you like glue.

Modern Downtown

A modern Dubai filled with skyscrapers is perhaps the most conversant image to most visitors. Having the highest building in the world, the world’s most luxurious hotel and the largest artificial island that has ever existed, Dubai deserves the title “The City of Superlatives”.

Dubai Marina Bay
Burj Al Arab at sunset

But Dubai’s vision does not stop there. Aside from a commercial centre, the pearl of the Middle East is evolving itself to a global centre of art and culture. New districts, for example, the Opera District (right next to the Burj Khalifa) with its brand new opera house in form of a dhow and the Design District filled with cutting-edge buildings and trendy shops clearly reflect this determination.

Opera District
Burj Khalifa peeks up over the Design District

Practical Information

The new Design District lies on the western side of Dubai Down Town. The area is accessible by Bus D3 or D3A from the metro station: Burj Khalifa / Dubai Mall.

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49 thoughts on “Dubai: Where Tradition meets Modernity”

  1. Arundhati Basu – New Jersey, US – The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.
    Dippy-Dotty Girl says:

    Those are stunning shots of the city, Len. You seemed to have captured the essence of it. Cheers.

    1. Thanks a lot! 🙂 I must say Dubai looks really great at dawn and dusk. During the day, it is just too bright and hot.

      1. Arundhati Basu – New Jersey, US – The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.
        Dippy-Dotty Girl says:

        I was there as a child last so I just remember the malls and glitzy aspect of it. I am not a fan but well your photos are alluring.

      2. Same here. I am not a fan of gigantic mall that sell everything. Too confusing and too many people. And thank you for your compliment 😉

      3. Arundhati Basu – New Jersey, US – The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.
        Dippy-Dotty Girl says:

        I know you are a like-minded person going by your photos and likes while travelling 🙂

    1. It was my first time in Arab world too. Many things are totally new for me. Especially bargaining at the market 🙂

  2. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    I have yet to make my way to any of those glitzy cities in the Middle East, each filled with ultramodern, supertall skyscrapers. It’s nice, though, to see that in places like Dubai the historical quarters are well-preserved and still brimming with life. Again, you took some stunning shots! I particularly love the one with Burj Khalifa in the background.

  3. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
    Jolene says:

    I really like your shots of the city at dusk. It’s much better than I have envisaged.
    What camera do you use? Have you gotten photography lessons before?

    1. Nope, I have never had any photography lesson. Only know some basic rules. I am using a Fujifilm X30, a compact camera. A DSLR is too heavy and too complex for me 😉

      1. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
        Jolene says:

        Yep, I feel exactly the same… I can’t imagine carrying excess baggage when travelling so I shoot with my trusty iPhone! My husband’s been telling me to get a DSLR though, I’m yet to be convinced…

      2. Well, your iPhone’s photos look impressive though 😉 The Fuji camera is also easy to use, even for a non-tech-savvy like me. I cannot understand all the parameters, but I am still able to make photos with it 🙂

      3. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
        Jolene says:

        Thanks Len! I love my phone, can’t imagine life without it. Yea agree, we never use all the functions anyway.

  4. Very nicely written and great pictures! Thanks for sharing, I’ve learnt some interesting things. We are going to Dubai and Abu Dhabi next week and would lije to focus on the older parts of town as well. I think I am going to be blown away by the contrasts!

    1. My pleasure! I am glad that you like it. I have heard that Abu Dhabi is more traditional than Dubai. So if you are looking for contrasts, I guess it is the place to go 😉 Enjoy the time there!

  5. jules – Western Australia – I am an educator and writer. I am a qualified Emmett, Reiki and AromaTouch practitioner. I am an active member of the Greens party as I believe we should be transitioning to a more sustainable and equitable world. I also create mobiles and suncatchers: https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/driftwoodelements?ref=hdr_shop_menu
    jules says:

    Great post. Dubai changes so fast. I first visited in the 80s and subsequently a couple of times in the 90s. I’m sure if I return I’ll hardly recognise it!

    1. Indeed, it changed a lot. I saw some photos of old Dubai, around 20-30 years ago. The skyline was totally different, with only a few skyscrapers. And they keep building something new each year. So I guess the whole skyline would be much different in the next decade 🙂

  6. Agness | the Adventure Traveler – Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
    Agness of Fit Travelling says:

    Dubai seems so magnificent and luxurious, Len! Th architecture of the buildings there is simply remarkable. How many days would you recommend staying there?

    1. I think three days would be enough, if you do not include chilling time on the beach or shopping 🙂 Majority of attractions are accessible by metro or bus. But taxi is also affordable.

  7. EmotionalNotions – Easy going, simple & learning to love writing. I have 2 Sites: ReconnectedMind & EmotionalNotions. Looking within... (All Rights Reserved. Please contact to share.)
    EmotionalNotions says:

    Beautiful and very informative. Love your bargaining tip!

  8. vinneve – I believe in this quote "Life is a JOURNEY, travel it well." Wherever we may end up so long as there is LOVE we will be happy!
    vinneve says:

    I will check out that Design district when we come back to AD and will visit Dubai of course.

  9. Zara – Helping people to save money on their daily living things. Get coupon, offers and exiciting deals in UAE.
    0007.ae says:

    Amazing pics. You explained Dubai very well and one can make time travel once they are in Dubai and visiting above-mentioned places. Thanks for sharing such a nice post.

  10. Robert J Jr. – Savannah, Georgia – Retired Army Veteran, photoblogger, photographer. I love taking a good picture as much as editing pictures in Lightroom and Photoshop.
    Robert says:

    Great pictures of your journeys!

  11. Megha's World – I’m a mother of a smart and energetic seven-year-old. I started expressing myself creatively since the last two years. Since then I have been continuously inspired by events in my life and around me which has helped me in penning my thoughts. I’m an avid reader, loves to sing, an ardent lover of poetry and sometimes can scribble few lines too. Loves to dance in the rain, have an undying love for nature, can watch the beautiful sunset for hours. Love to kiss and hug my loved ones. I have worked in the IT field for almost a decade as a manager, worked crazy hours and traveled around the world. In that busy schedule, I never got the time to creatively express my thoughts. Now every time I finish a poem, free verse anything it fills me with so much happiness and excitement and a feeling to have created something of my own. I’m planning to post at least one creation of mine weekly. Lastly, a million thanks to all who visit, like or follow my tiny bits of creation. Every time you do that, I get to know one more beautiful person in my life and get the chance to see their creation too.
    Megha's World says:

    You have a talent for taking pictures of the building and their beautiful architecture. Loved all the picture and your decision about Dubai. I have been to the place only once it was a short business visit so didn’t see too much. Now I know what to see next.Thanks for sharing.

  12. spiritofdragonflies – New York State – My purpose in life is to inspire others to reach their goals, dreams, higher selves. Are you ready to transform your life forever? Allow me to guide you along the steps toward reaching your inspirational, exciting life. I am a lover of life, a certified Mindfulness Outdoor Experience Guide, Certified QSCA Life Coach, Therapeutic Touch practitioner, amateur photographer, and aspiring writer taking steps to reach my own goals and loving every minute. Love and Light!
    spiritofdragonflies says:

    Beautiful photos and guidance. I love the traditional, historical location more than the glitzy high-rises which seem to scream out over indulgence and overcrowding. Your photos of Al Fahidi gives a sense of community and peace – not sure if that is the case but if I were to visit that is where I would gravitate. Thank you for sharing.

    1. My pleasure! I think you shouldn’t worry about an overcrowded Al Fahidi because many visitors skip this place. They go to places that have AC or beaches 🙂 I was there at around 10:30 AM but there are only a dozens of people around. At noon, the alleys are all yours as locals either go to the mosque or take a break.

      1. spiritofdragonflies – New York State – My purpose in life is to inspire others to reach their goals, dreams, higher selves. Are you ready to transform your life forever? Allow me to guide you along the steps toward reaching your inspirational, exciting life. I am a lover of life, a certified Mindfulness Outdoor Experience Guide, Certified QSCA Life Coach, Therapeutic Touch practitioner, amateur photographer, and aspiring writer taking steps to reach my own goals and loving every minute. Love and Light!
        spiritofdragonflies says:

        If ever the opportunity arises I shall visit Al Fahidi. Thank you

  13. Wanda – In the South. – I am a Catholic widow, mother, grandmother, friend and according to my kids just a little bit crazy. My faith is paramount in my life. Spending time with my family, especially my four grandchildren is one of my most treasured blessings. I love Redskins football, Phillies baseball, NASCAR, quilting, genealogy, bibliophile, and struggling blogger.
    Wanda says:

    What a wonderful and informative post! And your photos beautiful!

  14. Kate Frances – UK – Everywhere I look I see potential stories. Sometimes I’ll annoy even myself for using brain power creating a tale about some trivia I spot while waiting in the bank queue, or sat at the traffic lights! If I can one day write something which others enjoy reading, my goal will have been reached 🎉 I laugh. A lot. Humour is often in my stories and laughing is a tonic we should all attempt to take daily. Come laugh with me ...
    Viola Bleu says:

    Stunning .. I’ve never been, but would love to go. Your photos are simply breath taking. Great post.

  15. Tina Schell – I am passionate about photography, love traveling and exploring new places and faces, and seeing the world from different perspectives. My lens is always on the lookout for something beautiful or interesting.
    Tina Schell says:

    Terrific reporting Len, and of course wonderful images. You took me to a place I’d love to see !

  16. Rama Arya – Mumbai, India – A communication entrepreneur and capacity builder; a blogger on travel, contemporary Indian art, giving back initiatives, and communication skills; a #LivingMyPromise pledger and a volunteer with #DaanUtsav Joy of Giving Week; a philanthropist; and a minimalist. When I am not doing all of the above, I love taking long walks and cook a mean plate of chicken jalfrezi. :) About Me: ramaarya.com My Personal [Travel and Art] Blog: ramaarya.blog My Work: thecommunique.co.in My Communication Blog: ramaarya.tumblr.com
    Rama Arya says:

    Gorgeous photography, Len! Your images are infused with such vibrant life.

  17. vinneve – I believe in this quote "Life is a JOURNEY, travel it well." Wherever we may end up so long as there is LOVE we will be happy!
    vinneve says:

    Beautiful photos! Yes Dubai is really a fascinating city.

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