Offbeat Dubai: Beyond the Burj Khalifa and Desert Safari

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At wee hours when the world around me is lost in dreams, I am writing a presentation. After procrastinating for days my thoughts had finally started to flow. Suddenly my concentration gets broken by the sound of my mobile phone. I hear a familiar voice on the other side asking me a familiar question,

We are planning a 5-6 days holiday out of India. Please suggest some place, which is good for a family and yet has some unique charm to it.

I suggested Dubai but it was shot down instantly.

Reason – There is nothing much to explore in Dubai except for the Malls, Skyscrapers, Desert Safari, and Shopping. No novelty or offbeat charm left in Dubai to explore. And that conversation became my inspiration for this article.

Here are some places to explore in the Offbeat Dubai: Beyond the Burj Khallifa and Desert Safari.

The Bastakiya Quarter

Being an offbeat traveler, I believe offbeat doesn’t mean just going to far-flung places but also rediscovering the forgotten by lanes of a city. One such experience for me was visiting the Bastakiya quarter. Dubai’s oldest neighbourhood somehow got forgotten amidst the skyscrapers and grand malls.

Bastak is the ancient name used for the Iranian traders in the late 18th century. Located amidst the cultural location of Bur Dubai and Dubai Creek, the place is a true reminiscence of the bygone era. The most intriguing part of the place is its calm atmosphere. It’s a refreshing change from the hustle bustle of Dubai. The charming area is flanked by wind towers, small cafeterias, and the exclusive Majlis gallery showcasing the Middle Eastern art work. Sit at any of the road side cafeterias and soak in the old- age charm of the place.

Bastakiya Quarter, Offbeat Dubai

Bastakiya Quarter, Offbeat Dubai

The Abra Boat Trip

Solo travel across the world has taught me one important lesson – if you want to know the pulse of a place, use its public transport. So I experienced the traditional Abra boat ride at the Dubai creek. To those who don’t know, the city of Dubai is divided into two halves by the Dubai creek and the Abras (water taxis) are the most ancient mode of transportation from one side to another. Although I have traveled by faster and more convenient means of transport to the other side of the city, the traditional Abra ride was the best way to cross the creek. And guess what. It cost me just DHS1. While the Abra ride brought a smile on my wallet’s face, it also helped me to connect with the locals and gave me an insight into the lives of the not-so-affluent locals for whom this Abra ride is the best and only way of transportation.

Traditional Abra, Offbeat Dubai

Traditional Abra, Offbeat Dubai

Lunch at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

The true character of a place is not plastered on its walls but hidden in culture gullies. Dubai is no different. To know more deeply about Dubai, I tried to dig into its history and traditions. I started my exploration by visiting the Dubai Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. The charming wind tower house situated in the historical district of Bur Dubai was a perfect potpourri of interesting conversations, delectable food and a walking tour of the famous Al Fahidi district. By the end of the tour, I had become richer with the knowledge of the Arabian culture, traditions, and beliefs.

You can enjoy this heritage cum culture tour either by direct booking or you can take a package from tour operators like Rayna tours, who offer it as a part of their itinerary if requested.

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, Offbeat Dubai

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, Offbeat Dubai

The Jumeirah Mosque

Being brought up in a family where all religions are treated equal, I have always been curious to know about different religions. And what better place to know about them than their place of worship. Being a Muslim dominated country, only a handful of mosques are open to non-Muslims and fortunately, one of the most beautiful mosques in the country – The Jumeirah Mosque is one of them. Beaming with pride in snow-white colour, the Jumeirah Mosque is a melting pot of magnificent architecture and alluring culture. The colossal area can hold over 12000 people at a time. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that in spite of being so crowded you can still feel the calmness in the area. People are not in hurry and are more than happy to have a conversation with you.

Walking tours are available for understanding the Islamic culture, heritage, and architecture.

Jumeirah Mosque, Offbeat Dubai

Jumeirah Mosque, Offbeat Dubai

Dubai’s walking food tour

Being a fan of slow travel and a sucker for stories, my favourite way of exploring the city is on foot. And what better combination than a walking + food tour. Dubai food tours offer a culinary and photography experience like no other. I am not a foodie but Dubai made me one. I thoroughly enjoyed my lime infused Emirati dishes and the melt-in-mouth-falafels along with other authentic Mediterranean dishes during my gastronomic trail in the old Dubai. The best part about the food trail was listening to the fascinating historical stories associated with the cuisines.

The Karama Shisha Bars

Shisha has earned its loyal fan base across the world. I too have tried it at lot of places. The last time I visited Dubai, I tried Shisha at one of the premium outlets at Sheikh Zayed Road of the city. However, this time, it was all about connecting to the roots and therefore, I hit the most densely populated area of the city- the Karama market, the hub for 3S – Shishas, Shawls, and Souvenirs.

While the spice and textile souks are almost always flooded with tourists, I was surprised to see mostly locals at Karama market. The neon-lit, noisy street was too much of an authentic busy bazaar experience. I satiated my craving for the hot spicy biryani at the Karachi Darbar and mint shisha at the Time Café. For a person like me who loves observing people, Al Karama market was a delight.

Like any other Global city, there’s more to Dubai than what meets the eye. After exploring the by lanes of offbeat Dubai I felt more connected with the soul of the city. Dubai an ideal place for solo travelers as well as families.

If you are a budget traveler like me, do check how to travel in Dubai on a budget.

Have you explored the offbeat Dubai yet? If not, then do it now.


  • Tara Nair says:

    Hi Archana! Honestly it is the title of this post, that drew me here from Indiblogger and it was totally worth it. This is a fresh content with regards to travel in Dubai. Glad to be here. Keep sharing such informative post, with more n more beautiful clicks. All the best!

    • Hi Tara,

      Thanks a lot for such a heartfelt feedback. Honestly it is these words that push a super lazy person like me to write. I am the undisputed queen of procrastination and believe me it is just people like you who help me get over it.

      Thanks for your support.

      Really appreciate it.

      Hope to see you more here 🙂

  • When I was in Dubai, I did all of this and trust me this post made me nostalgic. I absolutely agree that Dubai has lots to do beyond the malls and skyscrapers. JBR and Bur Dubai are my favorite parts of Dubai.

    Dubai Museum, Meena Bazaar, Gold Souk are some more places to add on to this list.

    • Thanks Manjulika for the kind words. Dubai is one place that I loathed before visiting it because I thought it was just concrete jungle made with oil money. Not as culturally or naturally rich as other places are. But realised that perceptions are not always right. All you need is a pair of curious eyes and an explorer mind 🙂

  • Sharda says:

    Amazing Post. When I was in Dubai I visited Some places you mentioned. I agree Dubai is the Best place to visit. Next time I’ll visit all of these places. thanks for posting.

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