Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 January 2020

Dubai's Al Fahidi area guide: where to eat, shop and stay in the historic neighbourhood

History, art and culture all converge in the district that reflects on Emirati life from the mid-19th century to late 20th century

Al Fahidi Fort. Getty 
Al Fahidi Fort. Getty 

This district, formerly known as Al Bastakiya, reflects Emirati life from the mid-19th century to the late 20th century. It’s a beautiful corner of the city where history, art and culture converge in a medley of coral-coloured houses built with materials such as stone, sandalwood and palm fronds.

Eat

Arabian Tea House, which opened in 1997, is a must-try. It features a quaint courtyard surrounded by foliage, where diners can sit back on turquoise benches and old rattan chairs, and enjoy the lazy, charming atmosphere. The menu is 20 pages long, with plenty of Emirati and Middle Eastern favourites for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another great foodie option is XVA Cafe, where the offering is Middle Eastern and predominantly vegetarian. It’s in a central courtyard of the XVA Art Hotel, where contemporary art adorns the walls and diners sit at tables that surround a large tree in the middle of the restaurant. If you’re looking for somewhere to settle in, try Make Art Cafe, which offers customers a serene space to work, read or sit quietly amid a courtyard surrounded by art.

Shop

Al Fahidi is an ideal neighbourhood in which to pick up some unique pieces of art. For a start, head to The Majlis Gallery, which is the oldest art gallery in Dubai and was founded in 1989 by British resident Alison Collins. It presents paintings and sculptures by international artists inspired by the region. Alserkal Cultural Foundation is also home to Book Quarter, a “Muslim world” bookshop established by British convert Idris Mears that stocks about 3,000 titles.

Do

There are plenty of museums in the area to meander through. The most famous, which lies on the edge of the district, is the Dubai Museum, the latest incarnation of Al Fahidi Fort. It was built in 1787 and has been a palace, garrison and prison in its time. Nowadays it takes visitors through a crash course in the city’s history, from the earliest archaeological finds to Dubai’s 1950s boom. Also check out the Coin Museum, which displays a fascinating collection of coinage from different historical eras. Elsewhere, there’s the Coffee Museum, where you can sample beans from across the world at the in-house cafe.

Stay

There’s the aforementioned XVA Art Hotel, which has 14 gorgeous little guest rooms with plenty of character, showcasing architectural and cultural motifs from the region. There’s also the Orient Guest House, a three-star hotel in a two-storey villa that offers visitors an authentic Arabian experience at affordable rates.

Plus …

No visit to Al Fahidi, or Dubai for that matter, is complete without a trip to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Join one of the tours, which will allow you to indulge in an Emirati breakfast while sitting on Bedouin-style cushions, before wandering over to a nearby mosque, then heading back to the centre for a Q&A session with your guide on local life and heritage.

Updated: December 21, 2019 12:51 PM

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