While Dubai has many “must-see” attractions for tourists the futuristic city also has some lesser-known attractions where you can immerse yourself in culture, enjoy majestic nature scenes, visit a camel market and experience the splendor of the old Dubai by visiting the beautiful, majestic homes of Iranian pearl traders. Off the beaten track visitors can also indulge in all that Bollywood has to offer or look for or the silence of a bike ride through the dunes.
Whatever your preference – it is worth taking a day or two to visit the non-touristy places the city has to offer.
The Liwa Oasis, about 350 km from Dubai, as a great place for a day visit off the beaten track. The oasis is home to one of the highest dunes in the world and a great place to experience local Bedouin culture. It is also the start of the famous Empty Quarter, the largest continuous sand dune sea in the world.
The Empty Quarter was made famous by the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger and his Emirati and Omani companions in the 1940s and 50s. The dune is over 300 meters high and a popular place for motorsports enthusiasts.
Camel Market Al Ain
Another place suggested by travel bloggers and magazines is the Camel Market at Al Ain for its “authentic atmosphere”, lack of tourists and free entrance. The market is about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Dubai and a top off the beaten track spot in Dubai.
Al Qudra Cycle Path
The Al Qudra Cycle Path, through the sand-dune desert, is another great suggestion for an off-the-beaten-track adventurer in Dubai. The track is close to a hundred kilometers long and winds through mountain dunes. This is a popular destination among Dubai’s adventure seekers and even offers riders a glimpse of some local wildlife like the Oryx.
A visit to the many organic and fresh produce markets of Dubai can make a great day out to support small, local and women-owned business. Buy some organic food here and experience a trendy market atmosphere. The Organic Souk opened in 2108 and the market runs on Saturday from 8 am to 2 pm at Marsa Palace Creek.
Bollywood Parks Dubai
According to Bayut, the park pays homage to the success of the wildly popular Hindi film industry, Bollywood, known for its larger than life performances, dance moves and romance. The park has five zones inspired by Bollywood movies and characters. These are Bollywood Boulevard, Mumbai Chowk, Rustic Ravine, Royal Plaza and Bollywood Film Studios. Visitors can stroll through a recreation of the streets of Mumbai and enjoy 3D rides. There is plenty of live entertainment, cafes and dance performances. Mumbai Chowk offers visitors a chance to explore the street food culture and offer some music.
It is also worth remembering that Dubai has a history that dates back to the Bronze Age. Throughout history, there have been a great number of historical references to Dubai. Arab-Andalusian geographer Abu Abdullah al Bakri mentions Dubai in his Book of Geography dating way back to 1095. Gaspero Balbi, a Venetian pearl merchant visited Dubai in 1580 and made mention of the city in his journal.
A walk along Dubai Creek and a visit to the Bastakiya quarter with its beautifully restored 18th and 19th-century Persian merchants’ residences. These intricate buildings, made from coral, sand and gypsum, are beautifully decorated and feature breezy courtyards and Arabic wind-towers, a unique cooling system invented to survive the heat of the desert. These are the traditional “air-conditioner” of the Middle East, an ancient Persian invention which distributes cold air through the building.
The Bastakiya quarter of Old Dubai has winding alleyways filled with old, ochre-colored buildings of coral, mud and palm wood. The houses mostly feature wind towers, which you will see when you look up when wandering around the old district. These days, many of them now house art galleries, small museums and intimate boutique hotels. Exploring the old town makes a great day out and you will easily happily pass many hours here.
While in this part of Dubai, be sure to visit the Sheikh Mohamed Centre for Cultural Understanding and Dubai’s oldest building the Al Fahidi Fort and Dubai’s first school the Al Ahmadiya School. The fort was built in 1787 and is currently housing the Dubai museum. The center also offers visitors traditional Emirati cuisine.
For an interesting dose of culture and history, try a visit to the Mercato. Located in the centre of Jumeirah, this shopping mall is definitely on the small and cosy side, at least compared to Dubai’s legendary large malls, at 643,067 square feet. What makes this mall special, however, is its lovely architecture, inspired by the Italian Renaissance. The mall, with cobbled streets and its tiny balconies, has over 140 shops selling international brands.