From flamingos, to the Bastakiya Area, there's lots to do in Dubai away from the city's bustle.
7 January 2013| Last updated on 14 June 2017
Between all of the concrete, traffic and sand, there's lots of hidden treasures and pockets of beauty you can visit in Dubai...
1. Lisaili Camel Market
There is a Camel Market in a town called Lisaili that features stalls with handicrafts and trinkets as well as regular camel sales. It is next to the Dubai Racing and Camel Club on the Dubai Al Ain Road... basically drive up the road in the direction of Al Ain until you see an exit for Lisali- take this road and keep going and you will start to see hundreds of camels and eventually the market. If you carry on up this road it will eventually take you to Bab Al Shams resort- which you could visit for a refreshing juice or afternoon tea. Make sure you check it out and buy some of the camel blankets- they are amazing and look great used as throws.
2. Bastakiya Area
Al Bastakiya is a historic district in Dubai. Together with Al Shindagha, Al Bastakiya is one of the oldest residential areas in the city of Dubai. Al Bastakiya is named after the Bastak region of Iran. The locality lies along Dubai Creek and includes narrow lanes and wind towers, as well as the Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest existing building in Dubai.
The construction of Al Bastakiya dates back to the 1890’s. In its prime, the locality was capable of supporting 60 housing units, most of which were separated by narrow, winding lanes. Traditionally a stronghold of rich residents, the demographic of the locality changed with the discovery of oil, which resulted in many rich families relocating to other parts of the city. As a result, expatriate families moved into Al Bastakiya and the Al Souk Al Kabir area (referred to as Meena bazaar by expat residents).
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In the 1970s about a half of Bastakiya was destroyed to make way for the development of a new office complex for the Emirate's Ruler. The remaining area fell into some disrepair and, apart from the Majlis Gallery, an art and crafts centre, the wind tower houses became largely used as warehouses or for accommodation of expatriate labourers. A British architect, Rayner Otter, took up residence in one house and carried out extensive renovations within. In 1989 the Dubai Municipality scheduled the remaining area of Bastakiya to be demolished. Rayner Otter started a campaign to preserve the area and wrote to Britain's Prince Charles who was due to visit the Emirate that year. When he arrived in Dubai, Prince Charles, who is known for his views on architecture and his love of historic buildings, asked to visit Bastakiya. Here he met Otter and explored the whole area. It is understood that during his visit Charles suggested to his hosts that Bastakiya should be preserved. Shortly after his departure the decision to demolish Bastakiya was reversed.
A project aimed at restoring the locality's old buildings and lanes was initiated by Dubai Municipality in 2005 and is still ongoing.
What makes Al Bastakiya unique is its architecture. The wind tower, called barjeel, is in every house of Al Bastakiya. The number of barjeels a house has indicates the wealth of the owner family. Moreover, the doors of the houses are related to cultural behaviors. For example the main door of the house is large whereas the inner door is short, and this is because when men are entering the house they should bend down not facing women directly.
It’s a lovely area to wander around and get a feel for how Dubai must have been in the old days- definitely a must do for all residents and tourists alike.
3. Dubai Creek
The Dubai Creek area really is a wonderful place to visit andf many residents who live in the "New Dubai" area have never been. There are 2 sides you can visit- the Bur Dubai side and the Deira side- you can cross the creek by Abra for 2 Dhs which is great fun too!
On the Bur Dubai side park near the British Embassy and you can wander along the creek past the tourist dhows and abras for private hire- it's about 150 Dhs for a one hour trip- and a lovely way to see the creek. Walk past the Ruler's Court and you will see a Hindu Temple just before the old restored walkways and windtowers of the Bastakiya area. Here there are lots of market stalls selling fabrics and trinkets and you can really imagine what Dubai was like in the old days- get ready to haggle! A great find there are curly toed slippers and lovely pashminas. It's a great place to take photos too. The market buildings have recently been restored and are beautiful.
Take an abra across to the Deira side and you can visit the gold souk and the spice souk as well as a wander to Naif souk if you're feeling up to it. Otherwise you can stroll back up the side of the creek and see the wooden old dhows being laden with produce to be taken to Iran- TVs, fruit and all sorts! It's a great day out and you will see a whole different side of Dubai- don't go in summer during the midday sun- try early morning or early evening as it is very hot otherwise- take water and snacks with you but there are many stalls available too.
4. Al Quoz
From the outside Al Quoz looks like a scary industrial zone inhabited by monster trucks and lorries but within its borders are many great finds and little known places off the beaten track that are definitely worth a visit. You will find everything tucked away in dusty warehouses from carpentry shops to metal work forges and everything in between. There is also a prolific art scene there with many galleries taking advantage of the large industrial spaces available and the reasonable rents. The roads are a little warren like but as long as you are prepared to get lost and meander up and down streets you will have great fun and be surprised at what you will find.
For Art lovers Art In The City run an Art Bus Tour that takes you on a tour of the Al Quoz galleries- the perfect way to find your way about without having to drive. Visit www.artinthecity.com to find out when the next bus tour is scheduled.
There's even some horse stables hidden away. What started out in late 1992 as a single block of stables and a small office completely surrounded by desert sands in the quiet area of Al Quoz, on the outskirts of the city of Dubai, has developed into the main headquarters of the world’s leading international horseracing entity. They are on the outskirts of Al Quoz just near the site of the old Metropolitan Hotel.
Al Quoz is a great place to have custom made furniture built as well as being a really reasonable shopping area- go and explore, see it as a challenge, drive carefully but most of all have fun with it!
5. Wadi Bih
Wadi Bih (pronounce waddy bee) is a canyon like gorge in Ras Al Khaimha that is popular with off roaders, bikers, climbers and campers. It really is an area of outstanding natural beauty. You almost feel like you are on the surface of Mars being surrounded by the red rugged rocks and mountains! The roads are passable by most cars- they are quite shaley and rocky and hard bedded dust for the most part- 4x4s don't seem to have any trouble but it is advisable to go in convoy in case of getting bogged down or a flat tyre scenario.
Also it is best not to go if any rain is expected as a wadi is a dried out water course that can become a river or lake once again if rains fall on the tops of the mountains. You will also see small lakes and ponds and oases of green areas. Do some research, pack up the car, do not forget your camera and go and explore! You used to be able to drive through to Oman but this is not advisable as the border posts are sometimes manned and sometimes not and it's easy to get lost or to not be able to get an entry stamp back into the UAE which can cause problems... so don't go to far :)
6. Hatta Pools
Hatta is a Sheikhdom in the Hajjar mountains- an exclave of the Emirate of Dubai, UAE, to the south-east of its main territory. Its capital town is also named Hatta (which includes a reconstructed heritage village by the same name). Hatta is about 115 km east of Dubai City. Because of its altitude, Hatta has a milder climate than the city of Dubai, making Hatta a popular vacation place for Dubai residents.
The old village of Hatta includes two prominent military towers from the 18th century and the Juma mosque, built in 1780, the oldest building in Hatta, as well as about 30 loamè houses. The reconstructed heritage village displays scenes from everyday life in the past. The traditional water supply using a falaj system has also been repaired.
There are various rock pools that can be visited through the wadi area- sometimes they have water in and sometimes not. there have been reports of a lot of litter being left in the area and petty thefts from cars so do go in a group and lock your car. The latest information can usually be found on the Off Road Explorer book so grab a copy to help you with directions etc.
7. Al Sahra Desert Resort
Fancy some camel cuddling??!! Then check out Al Sahra Desert Resort. There you can experience a true Arabian pastime. The Camel Cuddling activity is an ideal way to interact with these gentle desert creatures, enjoy getting up close and personal and learn more about this fascinating and friendly animal.
The experience includes Meet the Herd, learn their language, wash them, feed them and of course cuddle with them if you like. The unique Camel Cuddling experience lasts for approximately 2 hours and also includes refreshing assorted Arabian juices and a photographer that will capture the perfect moment you can save as a souvenir. More Info>>
8. Dragon Mart
Ahhhh... the wonder that is DragonMart! How to describe it? It's the biggest Chinese market outside of China, it has over 4,000 stalls and shops and is a giant warehouse in the shape of a dragon. They sell everything- and we mean everything- you could possibly think of, it's so big the staff use push bikes to get around! It's on the Hatta Oman Road (E44- Al Khail/ Ras Al Khor/ Al Awir Road) just past International City. Go there to find major bargains on clothing, electricals, furniture, machinery and a lot more besides! You can barter on some things, others are fixed prices (but that doesn't matter when you find out how in-expensive some things are) remember to wear comfortable shoes- you will walk for miles! There will soon be a brand new adjacent shopping centre complex with hotel, so keep an eye out for that.
There is a huge car park spanning the circumference of the complex so remember which entrance you came in because it's so easy to forget where you parked!
9. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Centre (RAWKS)
Are you a twitcher or do you just love the outdoors and wildlife spotting? Then a trip to the bird hides at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is a must. RAWKS is a wetland reserve renowned for attracting migratory birds in large numbers. The wetlands have large numbers of birds, crustaceans, small mammals and fish.
RAWKS is located at the head of the 14Km long watercourse known as Dubai Creek, and covers an area of 620 hectares featuring sabkhas saline flats, intertidal mudflats and mangroves, small lagoons and pools, and a few tiny islands which lies at the interface between the Arabian Gulf and the Al Awir Desert.
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During winter, RAWKS supports more than 20,000 water birds of 67 species and acts as a critical staging ground for the wintering birds of the East African-West Asian Flyway. The site hosts more than 500 species of flora and fauna and is one of the best-managed arid zone wetlands in the region. Located within Dubai city, it is an important eco-tourism destination and receives increasing numbers of local and international visitors.
Entrance is free for all and timings are 9.00 am to 4.00pm Saturday to Thursday. If you fancy going to see the flamingoes visit their website for more information it's a great site with all the fauna information and a special kids section www.wildlife.ae
10. Dubai Astronomy Group
You can get some amazing views of the night sky if you just venture out of Dubai a little bit or even from your balcony or garden if you are lucky. The desert with it's lack of artificial light is a great place to go star gazing- many people have seen shooting stars and meteor showers.
Dubai Astronomy Group is an enthusiaistic group of amateur astrologers who have regular meet ups and star spotting events. It was founded in 1993 as a non profit organisation and has been very active ever since observing and regarding celestial events. They've even got their own observatory- The Zubair Astronomy Camp. Visit their website for a wealth of information about the skies over Dubai www.dubaiastronomy.com
P.S. If you've got an iPad there's a great app called StarWalk which shows you all the stars and planets etc. based on your location and you can get a sky overlay to line it up with where you are and be able to name all those stars you may have been wondering about. Great fun for adults and kids!