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 neighborhood, 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 time.
1. Historic Al Fahidi
Characterized by a labyrinth of narrow walking lanes, sand-colored 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.
Due to its strategic location at Dubai Creek until the early 20th century, this nicely restored neighborhood played an important role in managing the emirate and organizing 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 center, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Cultural Understanding.
- 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.
2. 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 vessels) 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.
- 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.
3. 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”.
But Dubai’s vision does not stop there. Aside from a commercial center, the pearl of the Middle East is evolving itself to a global center 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.
- 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.
49 thoughts on “Dubai: Where Tradition meets Modernity”
Those are stunning shots of the city, Len. You seemed to have captured the essence of it. Cheers.
Thanks a lot! 🙂 I must say Dubai looks really great at dawn and dusk. During the day, it is just too bright and hot.
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.
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 😉
I know you are a like-minded person going by your photos and likes while travelling 🙂
Amazing pictures, Len, and very nice reportage! I’m very curious about Dubai, I would love to go one day! 🙂
It was my first time in Arab world too. Many things are totally new for me. Especially bargaining at the market 🙂
Thank you 😉
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.
It is also my favourite photo 🙂 Thank you for your kind words, Bama!
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?
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 😉
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… 😐
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 🙂
Thanks Len! I love my phone, can’t imagine life without it. Yea agree, we never use all the functions anyway. 🙂
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!
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!
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!
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 🙂
Dubai seems so magnificent and luxurious, Len! Th architecture of the buildings there is simply remarkable. How many days would you recommend staying there?
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.
Beautiful and very informative. Love your bargaining tip!
Thank you! 🙂 I guess it is necessary to inform others about that.
I will check out that Design district when we come back to AD and will visit Dubai of course.
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.
Thank you for your very kind words! I am glad that you like it 🙂
Great photos and good information as always. looks like a beautiful city.
Many thanks! 🙂
Great pictures of your journeys!
Many thanks! 🙂
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.
Thanks a lot, Megha! 🙂
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.
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.
If ever the opportunity arises I shall visit Al Fahidi. Thank you
What a wonderful and informative post! And your photos beautiful!
Thank you! 🙂
Stunning .. I’ve never been, but would love to go. Your photos are simply breath taking. Great post.
Thank you, Viola! 🙂
Great pictures! Just in time to plan for my Dubai trip in 2 months time!
Nice! I wish you a wonderful trip. The weather will be more pleasant by then 🙂
Terrific reporting Len, and of course wonderful images. You took me to a place I’d love to see !
Thank you 😀
Gorgeous photography, Len! Your images are infused with such vibrant life. 🙂
Hihi I’m glad that you like them 🙂 Thank you!
It’s indeed 🙂 Thanks for visiting!
Beautiful photos! Yes Dubai is really a fascinating city.