For many travelers to Dubai, the thrill of seeing the "world's largest… everything" is enough; but, for others, who crave a more cultural experience, it can be challenging to see beyond the Burj Khalifa.
After making your hotel reservations in Dubai, be sure to draw up a proper itinerary. To help you plan the cultural trip of a lifetime, read on for five ways to have a more in-depth cultural experience in Dubai.
1. Visit the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
When looking to have a more in-depth cultural experience in Dubai, your first stop should be the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. This educational center is a one-stop-shop for learning about Emirati culture, customs and religion, and their programming urges visitors to ask any questions. This is the perfect opportunity for you to ask about things you might not get the chance to inquire about anywhere else.
They offer a variety of activities from Arabic classes to Emirati meals where you can eat and chat with locals, heritage tours and guided mosque visits. In fact, many visitors benefit significantly from visiting the stunning Jumeirah Mosque with them as they teach you a lot about Islam and the practice in Dubai.
2. Learn to haggle in the souks
Down some of Dubai's narrow alleys, you will find bustling spice and gold souks that are filled with goods that make the perfect travel mementos. You will discover extravagant gold jewelry, hand-woven textiles, traditional perfumes, as well as the usual budget knickknacks. However, in these multi-sensory markets, you have to use your haggling skills, as the best deals only come to those who can haggle.
Spending some time in the souks of Dubai — whether the Gold Souk, the Spice Souk, the Perfume Souk, the Textile Souk, or even The Dubai Mall's version of an Arabian-style souk — is an essential experience when traveling in this emirate and an exciting way to witness how traditional Arabian markets operate.
What is even better is that to get to the gold, spice and perfume souks, you will have to take a traditional abra boat across the Dubai Creek. It only costs one dirham (about $0.27) and is one of the most authentic Dubai experiences you can ever have.
3. Dine like a local
Dubai is known around the world for its cosmopolitan nature and high quality lifestyle. But while you are there, you want to make sure you try some local foods and spend some meals at more culturally authentic restaurants.
When in Deira, you must do as the locals do and dine at a roadside eatery. All you have to do is pull up a chair on the pavement, secure a spit roast chicken, and examine Dubai life passing you by. Another must-eat experience is the Emirati staple, shawarma which is a hand-held wrap filled with shredded meat, garlic cream or mayo, and French fries. It is a budget option that is perfect for an on-the-go lunch.
A variety of Lebanese, Egyptian and other Arabic restaurants in Dubai provide a cultural experience for those who are curious about the cuisine. Most of these restaurants offer diverse and affordable menus, while there are also those who serve more high-end Arabesque-inspired dishes.
4. Spend an evening in the desert.
There is nothing more magical than waking up in the middle of the desert surrounded by sand, silence, and your camel. For many travelers, an overnight desert safari in Dubai is the highlight of their trip and an essential part of experiencing the Bedouin lifestyle.
If you opt to participate in an overnight desert safari, make sure you do thorough research into the service provider as different ones offer various packages. This will help you ensure that the one you choose is going to provide the activities that you want. Wear loose and relaxed clothing and pack a shawl or a lightweight jacket as the evenings can get chilly in the desert!
Have you ever been to Dubai?
If so, what are your top recommendations for others who are looking to have a cultural experience? If you haven't been, are you interested in traveling here?
Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!
Habib Khan is a seasoned Hotelier, currently the CEO of Planet Hospitality and General Manager of Arabian Courtyard Hotel and Spa. Khan has more than 30 years of diversified international experience in the hospitality industry. He is an expert in developing, transforming, and managing hotels, with an ability to analyze and solve problems in a challenging work environment.