Discover the history of Dubai and this country's heritage with these top 10 museums! A must visit for all people in Dubai
20 November 2013| Last updated on 14 January 2020
There are lots of museums and heritage places to visit in Dubai and throughout the UAE.
Here we take a look at some of the main museums and also some of the quirky ones you may not have heard of, which can make for a great family day out or a trip with visitors...
1. Dubai Museum
Dubai Museum is the main museum in Dubai and it is located in the Al Fahidi Fort built in 1787 and is the oldest existing building in Dubai.
The museum was opened by the ruler of Dubai in 1971, with the aim of presenting the traditional way of life in the Emirate of Dubai. It includes local antiquities as well as artifacts from African and Asian countries that traded with Dubai. It also includes several dioramas showing life in the Emirate before the advent of oil, in addition to artifacts from recent discoveries as old as 3000 B.C.
Entrance to the galleries is located at the tower on the south-western corner of the fort. After descending the spiral stairs visitors enter the first gallery, where old maps of Dubai are displayed. Next is the video room, showing a video, updated in 2007 that depicts Dubai from before the discovery of oil in the 1960s to the current day. Below it there is a map that shows the urban scape of the city growing in sync with the timeline of the video.
Life-size dioramas of the pre-oil era await behind the next door. Once they enter, visitors will set foot on the deck of a dhow unloading at the model creek-side souq. Moving ahead they will see the shops filled with craftsmen, vendors and buyers. A tailor, a carpenter, an iron smith, a textile vendor and others line the street. Realistic sounds and life-size videos of craftsmen at work give the impression of a bustling souq.
The street leads to a model mosque, house and family, then turns to the right where it is surrounded by depictions of desert life. A date farm, a camel, wild animals, and a Bedouin tent filled with jewelry, trinkets and objects from the daily life of Bedouins. The walls tell about their knowledge of the stars and how they used it to guide their activities.
Next is the largest diorama which is all about the sea, with a huge scene of the building of a dhow, scenes of marine life detailing local species, in addition to a collection of sea-faring equipment. The last diorama features an archaeological site in Al Qusais area that goes back to 3000 BC. There are tombs, an excavated skeleton, and an archaeologist. All the way sounds, visual effects and electronic guides accompany the dioramas.
Cabinets filled with archaeological finds from Al Qusais site line the walls next to the excavation scene. Finally, the winding track leads to a gallery displaying finds from other sites and historical eras, like the Umayyad site at Jumeirah. The gift shop is the last stop before a spiral ramp takes you up to the museum's southern exit.
2. Car Museum- The Emirates National Auto Museum
This museum is an amazing private collection of vehicles of H.H. Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan. The collection houses a vast array of cars and other vehicles; some seemingly bought from owners there and then, such as a customised camper van, others received as presents from all around the world. While some have been kept as originally intended, others have been modified to suit the Sheikh's preference. It is about a 2 and a half hour drive from Dubai but is definitely worth the trip out... make a day of it!
You will find several Mercedes, one in each colour of the rainbow for each day of the week. And they are all fitted with conveniences such as refrigerators and TV. A number of other vehicles are also rainbow coloured or have a rainbow logo painted on them and have matching seats and hubcaps. There are a number of military vehicles into which children are allowed to climb; one even has a golfing range on top.
The Dodge comes in all sizes but none is as impressive as the 5-metre-high model with a complete apartment under its roof. It is parked next to some dune-bashing monsters and a shiny see-through disco car.
The Emirates National Auto Museum is located about one hour drive south of Abu Dhabi, on the E65 road to Liwa Oasis.
Timing: Open daily 9am-1pm , 2pm-6pm (Timing may vary)
3. Antiques Museum
Although this is called a musuem it is actually more of a giant touristy gift shop in a giant warehouse! It is dark and dusty and feels like you are in an ancient cavern and is great fun to visit. The owners have created a place for people to shop and get a whole experience of sifting through and coming up with a treasure to take home. The experience conjures up old souks and items from places far away, exotic and foreign.
Here are directions in case you need them.
- Take the Time Square Flyover (3rd interchange on SZR)
- Take Left at First Traffic Lights
- Take 2nd Right
- Take 1st Right
Timings: Daily 9am - 8:30pm Fri 9-11:30am 3:30-8:30pm
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4. Hatta Heritage Village
Situated in the heart of the majestic Hatta mountains, Hatta is a lovely inland resort and an ideal weekend getaway. It's an important historical site for tourists, dating back to 2000-3000 years and The Heritage Village consists of 30 buildings. It's also a great picnic spot- only an hour’s drive from Dubai.
Saturday to Thursday : 08:00-20:00 daily
Saturday - Thursday: 09:00-17:00
5. Heritage House
The Heritage House Gallery was established in May 2008 and is a part of Alserkal Cultural Foundation presided by Mr. Ahmad Bin Eisa Alserkal. Its main goal is to promote artists from the region and all over the globe as well as to preserve and uphold the United Arab Emirates culture and heritage. It will also facilitate the interaction between artists from across the Middle East and further the role of art as an effective tool in bridging the Middle East to the rest western world.
The Heritage House is now one of the prestigious art venues in Dubai which showcases local and international artists with both regular and periodic exhibitions. The house comprises of resident artists specializing in drawing, mosaics, stained glass and calligraphy.
The Heritage house is located in Building 79 of the artistic Bastakiya district in Bur Dubai, Dubai. This building is distinguished by its variety of traditional architectural design was built in 1925 by Abdul Razzaq Uztadi. It has two entrances, Barajeel (wind tower), decorative pillars, traditional ceilings and corners and guest rooms. This building was renovated and rehabilitated in 2006 and now it is used as Interactive Gallery. It has well-appointed and equipped rooms to meet the criteria of a gallery space, art facilities, and training studios.
The Heritage House has two floors. The visiting gallery is located at the ground floor and various collections of ceramic art pieces are situated at the open air rooftop gallery. The rooftop is ideally designed for youngsters and businessmen alike to enjoy and relax in an artistic atmosphere free from the busy street life.
Call 04 3535922 for more information.
6. Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House
Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House was the official residence of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, who was the Ruler of Dubai from 1912 to 1958 and who is the grandfather of the present Ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The house which dates from 1896n houses a rare collection of historic photographs, coins, stamps and documents that record Dubai’s history.
Visiting Hours :
Saturday to Thursday : 08:30 am -20:30 pm ,
Friday: 15:00 -20:30 pm
Visiting Hours during Ramadan:
Saturday - Thursday: 09:00 am -17:00 pm,
Friday: 14:00-17:00 pm
Public Holidays: Open
Al Shindagha Area, facing end of Dubai Creek.
Dhs2 per Adult
Dhs. 1 Per Child.
7. Juma al Majid Heritage & Cultural Centre
Established in 1991, this is a non-profit reference library and research institute. The library's collections include 350,000 Arab language titles, with a concentration on Arab and Islamic heritage, plus 17,000 titles in English, French, German, Russian and other languages. There is a separate national heritage collection in different languages, with books and materials relating only to the Arabian Gulf.
Juma al Majid is a scholar and a philanthropist and accompanied by specialists from the center has visited many countries to collect Arab and Islamic manuscripts (originals and copies), and he found that it was very necessary to develop a restoration machine, known as the "Al Majid Restoration Machine" to restore damaged original manuscripts and protect them from corrosion. The machines have been distributed as a gift to more than 14 countries.
Inside, as well as a treasure trove of black-and-white photographs of Dubai at the turn of the last century, you’ll find thousands of books on Islamic history and current affairs and 3,000 periodicals and rare books, many with exquisite calligraphy. Quite a few are in English.
Visitors are free to read any book in the reading room, though none can be taken home.
8. Sheikh Mohammed Centre For Cultural Understanding
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding is a non-profit organisation established to increase awareness and understanding between the various cultures that live in Dubai.
Operating under the banner of “Open Doors, Open Minds” the SMCCU strives to remove barriers between people of different nationalities and raise awareness of the local culture, customs and religion of the United Arab Emirates.
With an overall objective to improve cross-cultural understanding, integration and communication between locals and foreigners across the UAE, they invite you to engage in any of their on-going activities to learn more about local culture in Dubai.
Whether you reside in the UAE or are here for as a tourist, you are invited to visit SMCCU located in a traditional wind tower house in the heart of Bastakiya in Bur Dubai.
House 26, Al Mussallah Road
Bastakiya, Bur Dubai
Phone: +971 4 353 6666
Email: [email protected]
9. Al 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).
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.
10. Dubai Heritage & Diving Village
A traditional heritage village, located near the mouth of Dubai Creek in the Shindagha district, features potters and weavers practicing traditional crafts, as well as exhibits and demonstrations of pearl diving. It is a place where the visitor can take a step back in time and experience some of Dubai’s culture and heritage.
Visiting Hours :
Saturday to Thursday : 08:30 am -22:00 pm ,
Friday: 15:30 -22:00 pm.
Visiting Hours during Ramadan:
Saturday – Thursday from 09:00 to 14:00 hrs, then it opens from 20:30 hrs till 12 midnight.
On Friday from: 20:30 hrs till 12 midnight.
Al Shindagha Area, facing end of Dubai Creek next to Sheikh Saeed’s House.