Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two days in Dubai

A friend of mine is going to be spending two days in Dubai next month and is collecting opinions on what she should concentrate on. By the time I’d finished my reply to her (getting more homesick all the time), it had turned into an itinerary on a Word file. So I decided to post it here and see if anyone wanted to add to it. Also, I haven’t posted in a while, so on the basis that something is better than nothing, here's my mail to her, as is.



A lot of history is along the Dubai Creek, but the weather might hamper your enjoyment of this. It’s probably too hot now for strolling from place to place. In winter, it used to be one of my chief activities. Anyway, at this time of year, I would suggest choosing air conditioned haunts in the mornings and setting out after three for the creek area towards late evening and sunset. That’s how I’ve listed stuff here, but of course you can mix it up as you choose!

Mid-morning: Jumeirah Beach Road

1. Jumeirah Mosque
It’s very beautiful and I recommend the guided tour.

2. Magrudy’s bookstore
A little way down the same road as the mosque (take a cab), you’ll find Magrudy’s Mall, with the bookstore. It’s an indigenous brand and apart from imported books, also encourages local publications in English. You’ll be able to find interesting Arab-character books and other fun stuff for Rohan, some local history for yourself if you’re so inclined. Chat a bit with the staff and they’ll help you. There are other big bookshops too in several malls – Borders in Mall of the Emirates and Books Plus in Lamcy Plaza have good collections.

3. House of Prose

If you’re still feeling chatty, walk to the next building, Jumeirah Plaza. Hunt around on the ground floor undeterred by the strangeness of this particular mall until you find a little bookshop in an unlikely corner. It looks like a library from the outside. It’s a second-hand bookstore run by a deeply interesting American called Mike McGinley. I first discovered his shop in Muscat - where he started out - and by the time I’d moved to Dubai, he’d also set up a store here. He’s one of the original musician-hippies of Haight Ashbury, has been in the Middle East for ages, been everywhere, done everything, read every book and heard every piece of music. He’s a wonderful person to talk to for perspective on a place that is defined mostly by people who have never been there or never bothered to get to know it.

- Near the mosque, there’s a big building called THE One. Funky interior stuff, from furniture to candles – good browsing and somewhere to escape the sun for a while. It’s a brand that was born in Dubai, used to be a client.
- If you want to pick up cold meats, cheeses, preserves etc from different parts of the world, take a cab down the road after the bookshops to Spinneys supermarket (Umm Suqueim branch).

Lunch suggestion:
Reem Al Bawadi: Lebanese restaurant much further down the same road. Very good food by Arabs, for Arabs, and a very comfortable place to sit on your own (have done it lots of times). Landmark for taxi: HSBC

After three in the afternoon

1. Bastakia, in Burdubai, near the creek (one of my favourite places).
- A restored settlement, wander around the interconnected houses, cobbled paths, the classic barajeel (wind towers)
- Includes the Majlis Gallery (used to be good for gifts and stuff worth seeing generally), XVA Art Gallery, XVA auditorium and the XVA Café (good food)
2. From there take a cab to the Dubai Museum (very close, very walkable in good weather), must see.
3. From the Dubai Museum, walk through the side roads to the wooden souk, which is a beautiful old market, with wooden carvings and lanterns. It was closed for renovation briefly but I think it’s open now. The merchandise being sold there is dead boring but the structure is achingly pretty.
4. When you walk through the souk, you’ll come out at the abra station on the creek. Jump into an abra and go to the other side of the creek – the Deira side.
5. Wander through the spice souks there to see much exotic Arabian-Nights-style incense, spices and things we’ve never heard of.
6. Across from the spice souk is the gold souk. Take a quick walk through, simply because it’s fascinating how much gold there is on display and how casually it’s treated.
7. Outside the souks, stand for a few minutes by the creek where the big dhows are – these are old-style wooden boats that still travel between East Africa, the Middle East and India carrying goods.
8. There's stuff on either side and behind these souks that you can explore if you have the energy.


1. Hope you’ll have company to be able to and go out to see some swanky parts of Dubai in the night.
2. A suggestion if you’re on your own: The evening musical fountain show on the Dubai Mall promenade (another of my favourites).
- It’s free and runs every half hour from 6 pm, but if you can catch the 7:30 one set to opera, that’s the best.
- You can see it from the railings along the promenade. But a better option is to have dinner in any of the lovely restaurants, bars, cafes around the lake, either in Dubai Mall or across the bridge in the Downtown Souk and watch the shows from your table. It’s a great experience. And you can stay there for a while, reading, writing or watching the beautiful people, all rewarding experiences.
- Dubai is very safe if you’re not being silly (infinitely safer than Bangalore in all conditions), so it’s okay to be out late in restaurants on your own.


The Dubai story is incomplete without seeing some of new Dubai.

1. DO NOT miss Burj Khalifa. The At The Top tour is expensive but very worth it.
2. Take the monorail on to the Palm Jumeirah simply for large landscape experience, check out the Atlantis Hotel (don’t do anything in it, stupidly expensive) and return.
3. From there, take a cab to the Dubai Marina, stroll along that promenade, check out the boats and have lunch at any of the nice restaurants there. If you’re lucky to be there on a street market day, you’ll lots of fun stalls where people like you and me are selling things they made.
4. Take the metro whenever you can, it’s great.
5. Any one of the big malls - it's educational.
5. You’ll probably be driving down Sheikh Zayed Road anyway, so you’ll see the financial district in passing.


You can’t not go out into the desert, so book a Desert Safari and go on it. They usually set out before sunset - dune bashing, followed by dinner on the sands, which includes belly dancer, shisha, cups of kahwa, the works. It’s extremely touristy but it’s necessary, trust me. Pick a good safari company – timeoutdubai.com is a trustworthy source of information.

Other things if you have time:

- Sharjah Blue Souk
- Madinat Jumeirah and/or Downtown Dubai
- A dhow race: As far as I remember, the boat racing season is Nov to May so there’s a good chance there’s a race on. For goosebumpy sense of history there’s nothing like a line of traditional wooden ships with giant white sails, racing at high speed.
- If you do end up in Meena Bazaar (round the corner from Dubai Museum), check out the Pakistani fabric. My favourite store is called Bareeze.
- The Saeed Maktoum House/Museum, same general area as the museum: Historic building that used to be the house of the rulers and is now a museum. It doesn’t have much to see, but what there is provides an overview of the history of the place, old currency, trade etc.
- Near the Saeed House is the Heritage Village – provides craft-style gift shop delights.
- The Ras Al Khor mangroves with migratory flamingoes. It’s a walk into a really tiny patch of wilderness right in the middle of the city and leaves you with a strange sense of bewilderment.

- Please, please eat Lebanese food while you’re there. There’s nothing like it when it’s made well, and it’s almost never made properly outside of the Arab world. Make sure you have it at a good place, though. Some suggestions:
o Al Hallab – Branches in Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Mall
o Reem Al Bawadi – branches on Jumeirah Beach Road and on Sheikh Zayed Road
o Automatic – branch in Jumeirah Plaza
o You'll get other recommendations: everyone defends their own favourite Arabic place hotly.
- Food is something that Dubai does well, so you also get very good Japanese, Pakistani, Iranian, Mexican, Spanish and Italian food at different price ranges. So do not be lured into wasting your time here on Indian food.


Poornima said...

Ah, thanks for these. Ill copy/paste & send them to all my friends who keep threatening to visit :-)
Here are a few more suggestions for your friend…
1) The Bus Tour: Saves a bit of time since she’s highly short of it; it covers the museum, old Dubai & other stuff. There’s also a boat-bus which is supposed to be great fun
2) The Dhow Cruise!
3) The JBR walk: i like it better than Marina somehow. Great food out on the Walk & behind at Wagamama, great atmosphere, GREAT cars… & if you climb up the stairs into the individual building fronts, there are some evening/ weekend stalls selling some amazing knick knacks.
4) For souvenirs: please don’t be a cutlet & buy these from Souk Madinat/ Dufai Mall/ Jumeirah type places. You get the same darn stuff (Burj K, Burj Al Arab replicas, Arabic aunty-uncle with bobbing heads, fridge magnets, camels, sand art in frames, bottle openers, ash trays...that kinda stuff) for between 2-10 dhs at (a) this amazing place called Day To Day supermarket diagonally opposite Karama Centre. (b) There used to be a shop called Gifts Village opp Dnata in Deira, God knows where it’s gone...there’s another one on Rigga road though. (c) Also, if she goes a little up the road from the wooden souk you’ve described (in point#3 under 'after 3 in the afternoon') there are a couple of shops bordering Computer Street which also sell souvenirs. If you’re down to earth & friendly you can be certain of getting a decent discount. The reverse is also true.

Happy Dubai-ing!

Gargoyle said...

@Poornima: Oh right, JBR Walk is nice, I'd forgotten about it!

But the bus tour I think is only nice in winter when you can sit in the open bit.

Just realized I didn't add any beach stuff! And also forgot to inform her of the giant Ikea in Dubai (which is very important to know if you live in Bangalore)

Anonymous said...

Ahem....the birthday gift is being collected as we speak:

Mike used to own and run the same bar as in the book by Michener (The Drifters). And what do you mean "been in the ME for ages" ?

For Lebanese food: Abu Dhabi.......... OK, alright, except for Al Hallab and that too only the one at Gharhoud.

Sheesha's: might be the best curio of all to take away from Dxb. I still have the extravagant one's I got as farewell presents with me. But mine are AD spec....

Did you know that people in NA call them 'hookah'; such an Indian word as opposed to 'sheesha' which is Parsi (glass).... They're even called 'hookah-bar's' in NYC.

achan said...

The Desert Safari is a once in a life time experience, never miss that in Dubai.... the dinner is excelent

Abu dhabi desert safari said...

After spending few years in Dubai i must say What moreover you end up to get preferring Dubai been always enjoyable fascinating experiment and a city-state that compare to like no other.

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