Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 14 December 2019

Bur Dubai: where to eat, shop and stay in the creekside suburb

Small, independent eateries, cheap boat rides and cute boutique hotels: the suburb has a lot going on

Catching an abra from Bur Dubai to Deira across the creek is a must do. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Catching an abra from Bur Dubai to Deira across the creek is a must do. Chris Whiteoak / The National

With its crowded, colourful, chaotic streets, Bur Dubai is the antithesis of new Dubai. Home to traditional architecture, art galleries and street-side eateries, it’s an unfashionable but inordinately charming corner of the city.

Where to eat in Bur Dubai

Bur Dubai is all about inexpensive eating in street-side restaurants. Al Ustad has been serving its “special kebabs” for the past four decades, in an eclectic space dotted with clocks, stamps, bank notes from across the world and hundreds of pictures of happy customers (including one of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai). On my last visit, my dining companion and I paid Dh75.60, including VAT, for succulent lamb kebabs perched on mountains of rice, served with soup and soft drinks.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , January 9 – 2019 :- Pictures of celebrities and fans on the wall of Ustad Special Kabab Iranian restaurant in Bur Dubai in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For News. Story by Nick Webster
Pictures of celebrities and fans on the wall of Ustad Special Kabab. Pawan Singh / The National

Down a minuscule alley from the Old Souk, Bayt Al Wakeel offers a ringside view of the creek: enormous dhows laden with goods meander past as tiny abras weave around them. The menu is not particularly groundbreaking, but the ambience more than makes up for it.

For a newer selection, head to Al Seef, the Meraas-operated heritage-district-cum-entertainment-centre on the banks of the creek that’s home to countless dining options, including Al Fanar for Emirati-inspired seafood, Five Guys for customisable burgers and MishMash for healthier options.

Where to shop in Bur Dubai

Formerly known as Bastakiya, Al Fahidi District is a series of labyrinthine lanes flanked by traditional sand-coloured houses, complete with statuesque wind towers. Built in the early 1900s, it has been restored in recent years and is home to some of the city’s most intriguing art galleries. Start at Alserkal Cultural Foundation, which has five exhibition rooms, a creativity corner, the Make Art Cafe, a fashion corner, book quarter, home corner and workshop shop. We defy anyone to walk out empty-handed. Around the corner, The Majlis Gallery has a wonderfully laidback vibe and displays contemporary paintings, sculptures and crafts.

For a slightly less laid-back shopping experience, head to the Bur Dubai Souq, where you’ll find an assortment of shawls, unwearable Aladdin-style slippers and souvenirs. There’s a load of tat (and in age-old market tradition, enthusiastic vendors at every turn) on show, but if you look hard enough, there are also some treasures to be found.

Dates at Mahyaee Trading in Bur Dubai souq. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dates at Mahyaee Trading in Bur Dubai souq. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Where to stay in Bur Dubai

Established in 2003, XVA Gallery was one of the first in the UAE to focus on contemporary art from the Arab world. The former home of the Seddiqi family, it is also the site of a boutique hotel, with 15 individually designed suites and rooms, including the Dishdash room, Henna room and Gutra suite. The rate for a standard room at the XVA Art Hotel, including breakfast, is Dh520, excluding taxes.

For a more standardised stay, try Al Seef Heritage Hotel, a former Jumeirah property where rooms start from Dh385 per night, excluding breakfast and taxes.

What to do in Bur Dubai

Cross the creek in an abra from Bur Dubai Abra Station and then wander along the quay on the Deira side. It’ll set you back a whole Dh2, but it’ll give you a feel of how Dubai must have been in days gone by.

Plus, pop into the Dubai Museum. Housed in a historic fort, it’s a wonderfully antiquated introduction to the emirate’s history (with some questionable taxidermy), but it’ll show you what Dubai looked like before all the skyscrapers arrived. Entrance is Dh3 for adults and Dh1 for children under the age of 6.

Updated: November 21, 2019 06:19 PM

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