Civilisations over time always flourish around the rviers. Same for Dubai, where the first settlements started along the Dubai Creek. Separating Deira and Bur Dubai, Dubai Creek is the city’s historic commercial hub.
- History of the Dubai Creek
- Where to Start
- The Old Souks
- Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
- Al Seef Heritage Area
- Abras Rides
- Traditional Dhow Wharfage
- Modern Day Dubai Creek
- Where to Stay
- Visting Dubai Creek
History of the Dubai Creek
In the early 20th century, life in Dubai centred round the Dubai Creek. It still separates Dubai’s two primary districts – Deira and Bur Dubai – and was the emirate’s principal trading hub and was hugely important in developing Dubai’s pearl diving industry. The Al Maktoum dynasty was formed on the banks of the creek when the Bani Yas tribe decided to settle down here. The current ruling family of Dubai are descendants of these early settlers.
The Greeks used to refer to the Dubai Creek as River Zara. Old-style buildings, a mystic aura and traditional style wooden dhows are what most people think of when you mention the Dubai Creek. Historically, the creek did not have any circulation. The water just flows in from the sea and ends abruptly at the Ras Al Khaor sanctuary. After the creek was extended into the Dubai Water Canal, its waters now also flow through the Business Bay and Jumeirah areas.
Where to Start
Suggested itinerary includes taking the abras (water taxis) along the creek, the souks on both sides of the creek at Deira and Bur Dubai, Al Fahidi or Bastakiya district that included the old Dubai Museum, Al Seef district that has been redeveloped to a boutique hotel and recreation area, and traditional dhow wharfage at Baniyas.
But the first stop is often the souks on both sides of Deira and Bur Dubai.
The Old Souks
The Old Souk of Dubai is also called Textile Souk or Bur Dubai Souk, because this market is located in the old Bur Dubai area and because you can buy a lot of clothes. In a distant past, goods from other countries were traded on the Old Souk, which were brought here with Dhow ships. And across the Deira side was the Gold Souk and Spice Souk.
in front of every shop on the Old Souk there is someone who tries to get you into his shop. These are mostly sellers from India and once inside they do everything to sell something. This is a game and if you want to buy something, do not forget to negotiate. The seller often starts with a price that is too high and expects a counter offer. Take a price in your mind what you want to spend and then start with an offer below that price. Often if you want to buy multiple items, you will get a bigger discount. Dare to walk away if you do not agree with the price. You might get the same product elsewhere on the Old Souk for the price you want to pay.
Fittingly for Dubai, ‘the city of gold’, the Gold Souk is a must-see for couples looking for a statement jewellery piece, or visitors hunting for that special memento from their time in Dubai. The wide passageways are alive with tradesmen and artists trained in the craft of designing jewellery, from bespoke pieces to alluring Arabic designs, with prices that aren’t set in stone. In addition to gold, look out for silver diamond-encrusted ornaments and strings of pearls.
A close neighbour to the Gold Souk, follow your nose to the Spice Souk to be instantly transported to the hustle of a vibrant trading floor. Here you’ll find top chefs, home cooks and savvy expats all swearing by their personal picks among the colourful sacks of spices, herbs, rice and fruits. Score high-quality saffron strands at local prices, taste fresh organic dates and stock up on spices, dried fruits, candied nuts and locally-blended teas. You’re sure to discover an exotic new flavour – and yes, you can even sample before you buy.
On the Bur Dubai side of the Creek you’ll discover the colourful Textile Souk. A favourite haunt of the city’s in-demand tailors and emerging fashion designers, the souk’s vast array of shops are crowded with rolls of fabric, including fine silks, airy cottons, exotic weaves, and dazzling sari fabrics. Choose from your favourite materials and pop into one of the surrounding tailors to be measured for a dress or suit made to your design. Most can turn around orders in days.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
Located along the Dubai Creek, this district is a key heritage site with much of the original infrastructure preserved and intact.
A little further from the Old Souk you will find the Al Fahidi district, also called Bastakiya. In this historic district you will find a labyrinth of streets and you get a good impression of what Dubai once looked like. It is also home to many good restaurants and cafes, like this newly minted Michelin Bib Gourmand Emirati restaurant, Al Khayma.
Within walking distance of the Old Souk you will find the old Dubai Museum within the historic Al Fahidi Fort. Currently closed for redevelopment, this is a quaint museum where you can learn all about the history of Dubai. You will get a better understanding of the souks, the trade and the dhow boats; you can’t miss this point of interest, there’s full scale dhow on display at the entrance of the museum.
The oldest buliding in Dubai, Al Fahidi Fort was built in the late 18th century as a defensive structure along the then city boundary. While little is known about those who authorised and managed its construction, the fort was expanded between the 1830s to 1850s, under the rule of the late Sheikh Maktoum bin Butti.
The Ruler’s Court is the official representative office of H.H. Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The British equivalent, though not exactly the same, is the Royal Household. The Ruler’s Court has legal representations that allow H.H. to pass royal decrees which are legally binding. Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and the fourth son of the ruler, has been appointed Chairman of the Court of the Ruler of Dubai since May 2021.
This race boat belong to the late Sheikh Maktoun bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The boat was propelled by 78 towers and was the champion since the first race in 1972 and maintained the same position until 1992. It was crafted by Mohammed bin Thani bin Habib Al-Falasi in 1971. Well, it’s not polite in the Emirates to win the King’s boat I guessed.
Al Seef Heritage Area
Launched in late 2017, Al Seef celebrates Dubai Creek’s beginnings as the famous coastal pearl diving base. Hugging 1.8km of Dubai Creek’s stately shoreline, the 2.5 million square foot development has two sections – a heritage area featuring old architecture, and a second space featuring more contemporary structures.
Al Seef is part of old Dubai and filled with traditional Emirati buildings all linked together with interconnected alleyways, pathways and walkways. There’s deliberate rust on street-side pillar boxes or electrical outlets, and air conditioning units, while modern and efficient, are made to look as if they’ve been there since the ’60s.
Al Seef places a strong emphasis on the region’s proud heritage, and presents forward-thinking elements that showcase the area’s natural beauty. Dotted with windtowers and sandstone buildings, a stroll through the old-world district and its charming sikkas, or alleyways, will offer a glimpse of past Dubai life.
There are also many souvenir shops selling various kinds of items like shawls, rugs, carpets, clothing, keychains and refrigerator magnets. It made a historical area feel commercialised. Buyer beware, as the sales staff are quite aggressive and do engage in ‘hard-sell’ tactics. Most of the items lack price tags.
The architecture is stunning and beautiful, and there are many restaurants and cafes. Man-made Arabian style architecture becomes another good tourist attraction for local costumes, souvenirs shopping. You can spend half a day enjoying creek view, some coffee or photos.
Modern conveniences can now be found everywhere in UAE, including the ubiquitous Starbucks, although this one is quite well concealed into a traditional building constructed from sandstone, teak, gypsum, palm wood and sandalwood.
Depending on your budget, you may take the public abras, which is about AED 1-5 per ride depending on the distance and number of stops; the private abras that can be booked for different durations; the dinner cruises that let you have a meal or a drink while you enjoy the views at both sides.
The abras, or ‘water taxis’ run every few minutes throughout the day across four stations along Dubai Creek. Every crossing on the now-motorised boats only takes about five minutes.
Traditional Dhow Wharfage
For centuries dhows have been the trading lifeline that has linked countries around the Gulf to east Africa and what is now called India and Pakistan, carrying cargoes of dates, fish and mangrove timber. Until the 1960s, sails were more common than engines.
The word dhow is actually a generic term for a variety of traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts with lateen sails found in the Indian Ocean or the Red Sea. Historians speculate that the dhow was either invented by Arabs or Indians and they were originally fishing or trading vessels used mostly to carry items such as slaves, fruit, fresh water or other goods, along the coasts of the Arab countries, as well as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and East Africa.
Although originating in India or the Arabian Peninsula, it was on the East African coast where they flourished and are still in extensive use today. By reading through ancient Greek texts we see reference to these dhows dating back as far as 600 BC.
Wooden dhow-making is an age-old craft that is slowly succumbing to the demands of economics and the lure of modern materials. The descendants of the traditional dhows, driven by engines instead of sails but with their heritage still evident in the shape of their hulls, continue to ply the trade routes.
Many of the dhows were used as floating restaurants and offered dinner cruises of the creek. But the pandemic brought everything to a screeching halt. It was quite sad to see these traditions dhows left to rot literally on the banks of the wharfs.
Modern Day Dubai Creek
Baniyas Road is one of the first modern roads in Dubai that run parallel to the creek. Along the way, you get to see some of the first modern buildings in Dubai, including the Emirate National Bank of Dubai building that was built like a dhow with an its sail up. And in the evening sunset, the glass facade will glow like a golden sail. And then there’s the Deira Twin Towers with the distinct Rolex neon signs that would glow like a beacon at night.
This road is a thoroughfare from the old Dubai towards all the new buildings, symbolising the transformation of this once-sleepy fishing village.
After the creek was extended into the Dubai Water Canal, its waters now also flow through the Business Bay and Jumeirah areas into the bay where Jumeirah Beach, Burj Al Arab and Mall of the Emirates are located.
Where to Stay
There are many choices around the Creek, from the new Curio by Hilton boutique hotel in Al Seef to the traditional inns and hotels in the old Deira district. There’s something for every budget.
A creek-view waterfront property on Baniyas Street and an iconic structure located on Dubai’s historic waterway since 1978, the Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel & Towers continues to be the destination of choice for the social and business traveller.
Buffet breakfast served at the poolside included had a wide selection of cuisines, including the famous Sheraton croissant. The service was fantastic, but the quality of the food was so-so.
As one of the first foreign brands to have a hotel in Dubai, Sheraton Dubai Creek also boasts to have Dubai’s oldest British pub fare at The Chelsea Arms. Over a few evening, we had our meals in the bar because World Cup was on and it wasn’t available on the hotel TV channels. Downside, they allow smoking indoors in UAE, so you have to bear with the cigarettes and shishas.
Visting Dubai Creek
This is by far the most economical part of Dubai that one can visit compared to the exorbitant tickets the other attractions like Burj Khalifa At the Top, Palm Jumeriah Tower, Dubai Frame, Museum of the Future, etc charge.
- The Old Souk is near two metro stations namely Al Fahidi Metro Station and Al Ghubaiba Metro Station. You can walk to the souk from there.
- Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood is totally free to visit; don’t be fooled by websites that claimed to sell you privileged access to Al Fahidi. There is no ticketing or admission fee to access the 31,000 sqm site but the gift shops, galleries and other venues will all charge their own fees.
- Al Seef is easily reachable on public transport, with Sharaf DG and BurJuman metro stations catering to the location.
- It is also possible to take the abra from Deira to reach the Old Souk, or from Baniyas to Old Souk, or Baniyas to Al Seef. And if time permits, you can take the abra all the way to Business Bay. And it only costs AED 2-5 per trip.
Still one of the leading tourist destinations in the city, the Dubai Creek will certainly entertain history buffs and those with a love for all things retro.
Visited Nov 2022
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