“Pashmina, Watches, Spices, Perfume, Turkish Delight …. come look my friend, come look, I give you best prices”. It’s ten o’clock on a weekday morning and already the Spice Souq is bustling with tourists and the shopkeepers are busy trying to herd people into their shops, to taste, try and of course to buy! I’ve popped out for a few hours to one of my favorite ‘happy places’, Dubai Creek and the Spice Souq. It’s the beginning of Winter here in Dubai which means cooler weather and the chance to enjoy the outdoors again after an extremely hot summer and steamy humid autumn. The sun is shining, the sun is out the light is amazing and I’m happy to be out enjoying some time in Old Dubai.
Just have a few hours to spare and want to explore some of Old Dubai? Here’s a suggested Itinerary:
Park behind Heritage Village* make your way through the alleys to the creek and then take a right turn stroll along the side of the Creek towards Al Ghubaiba Abra station. Along the way you pass a number of different museums and heritage buildings which are worth exploring. They are not only interesting, but often provide some welcome shade and coolness in warmer weather. Entrance is mostly free, or a handful of dirhams at most. Learn about Dubai’s history and explore the alleys and buildings which include Sheik Saeed Al Maktoum House, a Calligraphy museum, a poetry museum, a coin museum etc, all showcasing Dubai’s heritage.
Note : as of November 2016 – Heritage Village, showcasing traditional Emirati village life and traditions etc plus all of the museums mentioned above, is currently closed for extensive renovation and is closed. It’s still possible to walk along the creek front and to see the beautiful architecture of the area including the wind towers which provided a form of ventilation/air conditioning.
Once you’ve had your fill of history and tradition (assuming they are open) move further along the creek and perhaps stop for an arabic coffee or breakfast at Burjeel Guest House which is heritage Hotel built in a traditional wind tower. Watch the world go by as modern ferries, traditional abras and large wooden Dhows move their way along the Creek. The Dhows still play a major part in today’s trading, arriving from Iran and India etc and if you walk along the quayside you’ll see their cargo being off loaded onto the busy roadside. Stand for a while and witness the organized chaos which somehow translates into real business for the guys.
Souqs! – Spices, Perfumes & Gold
One you’re done, walk a little further along the quay and either hop on a modern Ferry for a trip along the coast to the Marina and back, you can read about my Marina to Creek trip here** . My personal favorite, includes hopping onto an Abra from the Old Souq Abra station and go across the Creek to Baniyas Road Abra Station where you can wander the alley ways of the Spice Souq and people watch or shop to your hearts content. This is also where you can see the Dhows being unloaded. Walk further back into the Souq and you will eventually enter the Perfume Souq and if you keep walking a lot longer still you will find your way to the Old Gold Souq. Personally I prefer to reach this by road and do it as a separate trip (to be honest I’m not a Gold shopper very often so I don’t tag it onto this trip). By now, you’ve reach quite a crowded part of old Dubai and it can be busy, hustling and bustling and noisy. For me it’s one of those places where sometimes you’re in the mood to haggle and be constantly called to and you want to engage with the shop guys and sometimes you’re not – so I either love my time here and spend ages looking around, or rush through with quick comments of “la, la, la Shukran” – no, no, no thank you! Items to buy include spices, perfumes, I particularly like the perfume oils, there’s some great Oud here too, a very heady arabic fragrance. If pots and pans are your thing, there’s some basic kitchen shops with huge pots and pans (big enough for a small child to fit inside) as well as smaller ones which are unusual gifts. On my most recent trip there was a ton of UAE Flags and National Day items as Flag Day and UAE National Day are about now. There’s also a heap of clothes, pashminas, Turkish lamps etc for sale. You can also buy Turkish delight sweets, but I find them overly pricy to be honest. Look out also for the Queen of Spices, Iranian Saffron. Whilst there are many bargains to be found at the souq, Saffron is one item where you most certainly get what you pay for, quality Saffron is expensive, but oh soooo good, you can taste the difference. Buying spices is always something I do at the souq, my advice is to smell to see how fresh the spices are and don’t be tempted to buy spices in large quantities unless you use a lot of spices in your cooking.
Feel free to shop at your own pace. Wander and browse to your hearts content. Equally, feel free to politely say no and move on if you don’t want to be harassed by the guys. Be prepared to haggle, most prices are negotiable, and always have an idea of the price you want to pay, If you are visiting, always know what the exchange rate is to make sure you don’t miscalculate and have a mistaken expensive purchase. As at any souq/market watch out for quality as not all items are as authentic as you might wish.
Once your bags are full, or you’ve had enough of wandering I tend to hop on an abra back to the other side and have lunch next to the Creek. If you want something a bit different pop into Creekside (turn left once you get off the abra and walk towards the Ruler’s Court), or if you want more traditional fair, which is my usual choice then turn right when you get off the Abra and head towards any of the small restaurants on the waterfront. I tend to eat at Blue Barjeel. It’s not fancy, but the view next to the creek is fantastic . It attracts a ton of different nationalities and there’s always something to watch be it people, boats and/or planes taking off and landing at Dubai’s main airport which is in the distance. The shisha here is quite good too, and lots of people just settle for shisha and a drink.
From here you have a few choices, turn right and head back to the car or turn left and wander along through more souqs and make your way through to Al-Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood which is a cultural and more arty side of Old Dubai. Here you can wander around for some more heritage exploration and take a well earned coffee in the Coffee Museum, There’s tons more to do here, but that’s for another post. Until then here’s a few photos so inspire you to get down to the Creek.
This is perfect for days when you don’t have a huge budget but want to get out and about and explore. Here’s a breakdown of the costs of a simple morning trip :
Car parking : 6/AED for up to 4 hours
Abra 1/AED per person per journey (4/AED)
Lunch : 135/AED – 1 x mixed grill, 2 side dishes, 2 drinks (Blue Barjeel)
Feeling more flush? Upgrade your lunch to somewhere more fancy (Barjeel Guest House or Creekside Cafe) and hire an abra for a private tour – last time I did this we paid 150/AED for an hour or so and got to ride along the whole creek.
Creekside Cafe is situated in Al Suq Al Khabeer, Next to Ruler’s Court and offers Emirati, European and Modern Middle Eastern dishes, it’s also a fun place to go for various workshops e.g. calligraphy etc. Read more about it by two of my blogger friends IshitaUnblogged and PearTreeDiaries
Barjeel Guest house offers Emirati and Arabic Food, with great views of the Creek.
Drive – parking at the Heritage Village
Metro – Al Ghuhaibi Metro Station 2
The above itinerary is good for a couple of hours at the Creek which can easily be extended to a full day depending on how much exploration you want to do both inside and outside. Perfect for lunchtime or evenings, this trip allows for a quick wander through history, an abra trip, spices & perfumes then lunch with a possible extension to the Al-Fahidi Neighbourhood later in the day.
Car ~ park at Heritage Village
Metro – Al Ghubaiba Metro Station
Taxi – Heritage Village or HSBC/Central Bank
After dark !
PSssssttt ….. Don’t forget to go back and do it all again by at night. The Creek changes character again as the sunsets and the lights of the creek get turned on. Dinner cruises on the Creek are a must – from fine dining to buffets abroad an abra. The Abras’ operate until late, so whatever time you get to the Creek there’s always something to see and do!