Al Seef Dubai

Al Seef and story about Old Dubai

Al Seef district is a perfect place to explore and feel the times of old Dubai.
It is a renovated part of Dubai Creek which was opened in December 2017.
Al Seef became one of the most popular tourist attractions, mixing modern style with traditional Emirati heritage.

 

Dubai Al Seef

Al Seef

 

Old Dubai:
from a fishing village to a stunning metropole

Generally, historical records of Dubai are rare before the 18th-19th century.
The earliest written mention appears in 1095 by the Andalusian-Arab geographer Abu Abdullah al-Bakri. Then, Dubai is mentioned in the documentation of the Venetian pearl trader Gaspero Balbi in 1590.

However, Dubai’s first settlement was founded in 1799, when it was a small fishing village. In 1833, Sheikh Maktoum bin Butti of the Al Maktoum dynasty declared independence from Abu Dhabi, beginning their rule over Dubai.
Then, in 1892, Dubai signed a special contract with the Britains and became a British protectorate. After two years, they granted full tax exemption for all foreign traders. Dubai thrived as a trading port in the 20th century, known for fishing and pearl diving until the industry collapsed in 1930 due to cultivated pearls and the global economic crisis.

But everything changed with the oil discovery in 1966. From that moment and under the rule of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Dubai started to develop rapidly.

The Britains left the Persian Gulf in 1971. Dubai established the state of the United Arab Emirates, together with the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah (Ras Al Khaimah joined in 1972).

the Building of Dubai Downtown

The building of Dubai’s Downtown and Dubai Creek

 

Dubai in the present time

Due to the oil and gas exports, Dubai became the centre of trade in the Middle East. The government invested a lot of money in infrastructure, public services, real estate, aviation, social programs, various innovations and projects of renewable energy.
The oil attracted many foreign investments and many expats to the city. All that makes Dubai a global business hub and a luxury tourist destination.

The current ruler of Dubai is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. He is the Prime Minister, the Vice President and the Minister of Defence of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

 

Old City and Dubai Creek 

To understand better what Dubai looks like, let’s start our story from the old part of the city.

Dubai Creek is a natural seawater inlet of the Arabian Gulf, located in the heart of Dubai. The creek is 14 km long and divides the city into two neighbourhoods: Deira and Bur Dubai.

The original extension starts from Deira, passes the mainland and leads to the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a natural wetland area with mangrove trees, flamingos and various bird species. The other extension from the wetland is the artificial Dubai Canal, which goes through Business Bay and the Jumeirah area into the Arabian Gulf.

Together with the Deira and Bur neighbourhoods, Dubai Creek was inscribed on the UNESCO Heritage List in 2012.

Dubai Creek

Dubai Creek and a view of Deira

 

Once, crossing from one side of the creek to the other was possible by riding in an abra, a small wooden boat. Modern abras have engines, and both locals and tourists use them. In 2-3 minutes you can pass from Deira Old Souk to Al Fahidi (the ride costs 2 AED – 0.5 EUR) or Bur district (1 AED – 0.25 EUR). Riding in abra boats gives you an interesting experience of this part of the city, so don’t miss it.

Today, there are other ways of crossing the creek using four bridges and one tunnel.

Dubai Creek and Abras

Dubai Creek and abra boats

 

Deira district

Owing to Dubai Creek, Deira was the main commercial district for many years. Even today it is famous for its traditional souks.
The apartment rent and hotel prices are more affordable than in other areas of Dubai. For example, you can find there hostels, apartments, 2* hotels for 35 EUR, 3* hotels for 30 EUR per night per person and more.
Also, there are 4* hotels, 5* Park Hyatt Hotel, and Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club.

So, we started visiting the old city of Dubai from the Gold Souk. It is the most famous place in Deira with more than 300 shops selling gold, beautiful decorated jewellery, gemstones, and pearls. By the way, in the 20th century, Dubai became a significant trading port known for pearl diving. Do you know that in 1917 one gram of pearl was worth 320 g of gold?

Well, words can not describe the glow of gold and stunning jewellery pieces 🤩

Dubai Gold Souk

Jewellery in the Gold Souk

 

After shining Gold Souk, we continued to the Spice Souk, where you can find various exotic spices, herbs, nuts, oils, and aromatic teas. Prepare cash for a bargain with local vendors and enjoy the smell of colourful spices.

Dubai Spice Souk

Souk with spices

 

The Perfume Souk is also located in Deira, but we don’t have time to see it. In this souk, there are shops with fragrant perfumes, essential oils and traditional oud, a part of many luxury brand perfumes.

So, we passed through Grand Souq Deira with little shops selling various products for home, clothes, and handicrafts, and came to the coast. In front of the main entrance of the souq, there is a Gold Souk abra station with a few routes of Dubai Creek.

Al Seef Heritage Souk

Al Seef Dubai

Welcome to Al Seef

 

 

 

What to see in Al Seef

First, we visited Al Seef and its 1.8 km long waterfront promenade. It was a pleasant walk near the water and between sand-coloured houses. From there, you can see the Deira district with modern buildings, traditional houses, and boats crossing Dubai Creek.

Dubai Creek and Al Seef

Deira behind the Dubai Creek, and walk along Al Seef

 

Strolling along narrow alleys and around small houses resembles some scenes from the movie.

Al Seef Dubai

Corridor and handcrafts in Al Seef

 

Traditional wind towers give this place a special charm taking you back to some other time.
By the way, the wind towers or windcatchers are originally from Iran, known as the Barajeel. It is a four-sided vertical structure with openings mounted on the roofs of local homes.
They have been used to create cross ventilation and cooling in houses in UAE since the late 19th century.

Also, you can see them in the old part of Dubai and Madinat Jumeirah Resort.

Al Seef Aladin Art Gallery

Al Seef, Aladin Art Gallery and a wind tower on the top

 

Shopping in Al Seef

I am sure that everyone can find something interesting to buy in Al Seef 🙂

Strolling Around Al Seef Dubai

Strolling around Al Seef alleys

 

There are open markets, art galleries and shops with various souvenirs, traditional products, clothes, spices, unique jewellery and handcrafts.

Dubai Al Seef Open Market

Al Seef Open Market

 

And when you are tired of walking and the heat, take a break in some cafes and restaurants.

Dubai Al Seef Cafes

Al Seef and Cafes

 

One of the most popular is Starbucks cafe, located in a traditional house. Definetely, it is one of the most interesting locations of this coffee brand.

Dubai Al Seef Starbucks

Starbucks in Al Seef

 

The Museum of Illusions, the world of unbelievable optical illusions and fun is situated across the Starbucks cafe.

Dubai Al Seef Museum of Ilusions and Starbucks

Museum of Illusions (left) and Starbucks Cafe (right)

 

Al Seef Heritage Hotel Curio by Hilton

If you like to feel a traditional atmosphere, you can stay in Al Seef Heritage Hotel Curio by Hilton.
This 4*star hotel offers guests breakfast, lunch and dinner in a Sabaa restaurant, a pool, and a fitness centre. The rooms are decorated in an authentic Emirati style with modern facilities, perfect for an unforgettable experience.

Dubai Al Seef Heritage Hotel Curio by Hilton

Al Seef Heritage Hotel Curio by Hilton

 

Well, it was an interesting walk through Al Seef where past and present are perfectly interwined.

Dubai Creek and Al Seef

The view of Deira Rolex Twin Towers and Creek from Al Seef

 

Bur Dubai and Al Fahidi neighbourhood 

We continue our walk to Bur Dubai and Al Fahidi, historical neighbourhoods of Dubai’s heritage.
Located on the west side of the Creek, Bur Dubai means “mainland of Dubai”. By the way, Al Fahidi is known as “Al Bastakiya” by Persian merchant immigrants from Bastakiya in Iran, who came there in the 1890s.

So we walked through the Bur Souk Market where you can find the Textile Souk and various small shops.

Bur Dubai Souk

Bur Dubai Souk

 

We passed through the souk and winding passageways and arrived in front of the Bur Dubai Grand Mosque. Originally it was constructed in 1900 and renovated in 1998.

Bur Dubai Grand Mosque

Bur Dubai Grand Mosque

 

Across the street and the mosque, there is Al Fahidi Fortress. It is the oldest existing building in Dubai built in 1787.

Dubai Al Fahidi Fortress

Al Fahidi Fortress

 

In the past, it was the seat of Dubai’s ruler and defence centre, and later it was a storage and a prison.
The fortress was renovated and opened in 1971 as a Dubai museum with artefacts from Dubai’s trading past and an exhibition about the UAE. Unfortunately, during our visit in September 2023, it was closed because of the renovation.

Al Fahidi Dubai Museum

Al Fahidi and part of Dubai Museum

 

In Al Fahidi quart you can find the Coffee Museum, which tells you a story about the coffee culture in the Emirates. Also, there are the Coin Museum, the Calligraphy House, and the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding. Various cultural and artistic events are held in traditional houses.

 

Arabian Tea House Restaurant

After a walk through traditional souks and the old city at more than 40 degrees, we went to the famous Arabian Tea House Restaurant. It is the first authentic Emirati restaurant since 1997, located in the Al Fahidi, opposite the Musalla Post Office.

Dubai Arabian Tea House Restaurant

Picturesque Arabian Tea House Restaurant

 

We were delighted with its authentic traditional style and windtower on the roof. Turquoise benches, beautiful flowers, white chairs and photos of old Dubai on the walls…
And of course, there is a lovely corner for taking fantastic photos 🙂

Dubai Arabian Tea House Restaurant Garden

Garden of the Arabian Tea House Restaurant

 

The interesting interior, friendly staff and delicious food make this restaurant the best place to feel Arab hospitality.

You can enjoy authentic dishes: Emirati breakfast, sandwiches, mixed barbeque, lamb or chicken, pasta, fish or shrimp with rice and special Emirati spices, and salads such as Fattoush, Rocca or Beetroot. Try gahwa, traditional Arabic coffee, homemade refreshing lemonade or tea, and something sweet: date cake, date milkshake, or Luqaimat (Greek Loukoumades).
The meal price per person is from 50-100 AED (12-20 EUR) and more. The restaurant is open every day from 8 AM to 12 AM.

Dubai Arabian Tea House Restaurant Inside

Inside the Arabian Tea House Restaurant with delicious food

 

Discover Al Seef and the old city of Dubai

If you have enough time in Dubai, stroll around Deira, Al Seef and Bur Dubai.
The mix of modern facilities and the Middle Eastern tradition will make your visit unique, no matter if it is day or evening.
And you will feel that you have gone back to the time of pearl trading, fishermen,
and souks with aromatic spices and goods coming on boats from faraway lands.

 

 

 

 

author avatar
Natania
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