A couple of our closest friends live in Dubai – never ones to miss an opportunity to spend time with our most-cherished mates or explore a new place, we booked impromptu flights to Dubai and we were off.
To most people a visit to Dubai involves shopping at malls, staying at luxury resorts, or visiting the tallest building in the world. Dubai is now home to more than 400 skyscrapers and a record number of malls.Dubai’s most popular activities include skiing inside a mall (Mall of the Emirates), skydiving inside a mall (iFlyDubai, Mirdif City Centre), and a fountain show outside a mall (The Dubai Mall). Dubai’s premier attractions include some serious superlatives – tallest building, highest restaurant, and largest choreographed fountain system. We really enjoyed these attractions (see Top 20 Things To Do In Dubai) but at Bruised Passports, we also like to get our hands dirty when we visit a place.
We wanted to explore what else Dubai has to offer…and so we did! There is a world full of colour, exotic spices, friendly people, and scrumptious food just waiting to be discovered. Here are our top 5 offbeat haunts in Dubai:
Burj Khalifa- the tallest building in the world
1) Spice Souk
Spend a leisurely morning chasing the drifting smells of aromatic spices – you can find everything from turmeric and chilli to vanilla, saffron, and exquisite potpourri blends here. Make sure you pick up a box or two of local dates. They’re sweet to a fault and make the perfect gift for friends back home.
If you’re up for a laugh, hop over to the neighbouring Gold Souk and check out the garish jewellery in show windows
Just some dainty jewels 😉
2) A Sheesha Bar in Karama
Karama is one of our favourite areas in Old Dubai. Its market is jam-packed with sheesha bars, shawarma joints, and local bakeries.
Our thoroughly adorable friend Croy (hey munchkin, if you’re reading :-)), who has grown up in Dubai, helped us discover a real gem in the area – La Casa is located in Oud Mehta, near the Lamcy Plaza. On the face of it, La Casa is a traditional sheesha bar, but there is something special about it. The entire café is divided into little seating-areas, each of which is equipped with its own couch, television, and playstation. All around people can be seen chatting, cheering their favourite soccer players on television, or working furtively on their laptops. The service is impeccable- try one of their sheesha-pipes or their local Arabic tea. Once you are there, you will not want to move. It is easy to see why La Casa is popular with the locals- cheap prices and the laid-back vibe make it tough to resist.
If you can’t find La Casa, there is no shortage of sheesha bars in Oud Mehta. Try another one- who knows you might come out with a story to tell!
Colourful sheesha pipes
Traditional Arabic tea at La Casa
3) Shawarmas in Karama
When you manage to peel yourself away from La Casa, visit one of the local shawarma joints in Karama. Our favourite is the Al Reef Lebanese Bakery and Roastery. Their shawarma rolls are achingly perfect- we went back for seconds and errr thirds.
That’s the thing about Dubai- as soon as you step out of the malls, local food gets progressively cheaper and better tasting.
4) A quiet stretch of Jumeirah Beach
If all that food has left you too full to explore the city, spend a lazy evening unwinding at Jumeirah Beach. The public stretch of the beach is extremely crowded throughout the day – we suggest driving out of the city centre to find a quiet spot. If you’re lucky, you might have a stretch of the beach all to yourself- stick around till sunset, it is spectacular.
A quiet, shell-laden stretch of Jumeirah Beach
Sunset at Jumeirah beach
5) Sand Dune Bashing
The other place to experience a truly memorable sunset is the Arabian desert. If you’re an adventurer at heart, you must go dune bashing in Dubai. A number of companies conduct tours (we booked our tour with Arabian Night Tours). The company’s representatives pick you up from your hotel and drive you to the desert. Once in the desert, the tyres of the vehicle are deflated, and that’s when the real fun begins. The vehicle will trapeze over sand dunes, small and large, to offer a dizzying experience. Dune bashing is definitely not for the squeamish at heart.
This is what one can expect from Dune Bashing
Vid in the Arabian Desert at sunset
If you, like us, have a voracious appetite for exploring new places then walk around Dubai, interact with local people, examine its intricate mosques, discover its delicious food, or go for an abra boat ride at the Dubai creek. Choose an itinerary that involves an introduction to its rich culture and evocative history- whatever you do, don’t settle for a run-of-the-mill meal at a restaurant chain inside a mall. If you fancy taking some day trips out of Dubai or just going on mesmerising drives in the desert, you should rent a car from Hertz, who have excellent service and cars that are in good condition. Well, a drive around in a super car will complement the opulence of Dubai quite well, we think 😉
What to Wear in Dubai
There is a lot of material online that suggests women should dress conservatively in Dubai. For most part, this is a fallacy.* Dubai is the fashion capital of the Middle East, so dressing dowdily to ‘cover up’ is not an option. As a rule of thumb, opt for relaxed bohemian cuts, flat sandals, and glamourous accessories to survive the Emirati sun while looking stylish. Check out Savi’s outfit suggestions for Dubai for more information.
*If you are there during the holy month of Ramadan, it best to dress as modestly as possible.
70 thoughts on “Offbeat Dubai: Beyond Malls and Skyscrapers”
Great post guys! Thanks for introducing the ‘Dubai outside malls and tall buildings’ to us. Savuu did you bring me back some dainty gold jwels for me? :).
Haha Shilpi the one on the right (i.e. the daintiest one) is all yours 😉
Stunning photos! I especially love the spices 🙂
Karisa they smelt SO good, especially the vanilla 🙂
We did exactly the same things in Dubai…Walking around the spice and gold souk was so much fun. We also came across the creepy guys selling fake Louis Vuittons…lol
Good to know Snig. The gold souk was the best- I still can’t get over those necklaces 😉
I have never heard of sand dune bashing, but now I must try it! Thanks for showing us a different side to Dubai.
Annette we compiled this post because we couldn’t find much information online about Dubai off the beaten track while researching for our trip. You will really enjoy dune bashing – just don’t eat anything beforehand 😉
Having spent several teengage years there, this brings back fond memories. Dubai chnages every year. Every. Single. Year! Lovely shots.
Thanks Tanvi 🙂 Our friends from Dubai kept saying the exact same thing – clusters of condos keep sprouting and skyscrapers keep getting taller.
Loved sand dune bashing! Has been ages since I last visited Dubai.. time to revisit:)
Ciki it’s fun isn’t it?! Maybe you could plan a road-trip around the UAE when you revisit 🙂
i visited Dubai a couple of months back and it was a fantastic trip and after reading this post i feel i re-visited Dubai. 🙂 thanks for such an arresting account through which i came across a part of Dubai which i did not experience/traveled on my first visit!. i intend to visit again and do the city hopping which i missed…
Tanu so happy to hear you enjoyed reading this article – do send us photos when you visit again 🙂 What did you do in Dubai the first time around?
Lovely! I have friends living and working in Dubai and I have always been fascinated by the place. It’s surprising to me how many people I’ve met think Dubai’s just a big concrete jungle with no culture, but this post shows me exactly the kinds of things I want to experience there!
That is indeed the common perception about Dubai. But there is so much more to it 🙂 Hope you get to experience it soon!
Lovely blog…i loveeeeee travelling.. And what i look for in a travel blog is description about the places that makes u feel like u just have to go there no mattrr what!!!! Read about you guys in bangalore mirror.. And just had to check this blog out 🙂
Your message made our day 🙂 Thanks so much for your kind words. We are glad you loved Bruised Passports and hope that you’ll continue to enjoy. There are tons of exciting posts lined up.
Happy travels! 🙂
Thanks for this post. I will share this with those who believe dubai is all about glitter n gold. Having lived here for 3 years I can vouch it isnt.
Richa it made us super-happy to know that a resident of Dubai liked this post 🙂
I am in lllllloooouuuuuvvvvveeee with shishaaaaa. Thank you for sharing a this blog, a shisha place where a non shisha lover can enjoy as much as a shisha lover would.
Thanks Bhavi. You should visit La Casa- they do shisha really well 🙂
hey – quick question, where did you guys stay in Dubai? Im trying to book something for my parents in September.
Gayatri we stayed in Premier Inn by the airport because we were there for a short time. Try looking for a hotel near Deira or Mall of the Emirates for your folks 🙂
I’ve been on the fence about visiting Dubai, but this type of trip is right up my alley, especially the dune bashing! Great post.
Dubai was never on our bucket-list either Jessica. But we ended up there, so thought we would find some interesting stuff for like-minded souls 🙂
Dubai Never Disappointed Me. my favorite place is the Arabian desert.
You are right, Rao 🙂 The desert was our favourite bit about the city as well 🙂
Amazing post and pictures! I went to Dubai about 5 years ago and it’s changed so much since then! Dune bashing is great fun 🙂
You’re right – Dubai seems to change every month – new buildings, new roads, new malls 🙂
Dubai had never really appealed to me before but I guess that’s because I always pictured skyscrapers and resorts but this looks altogether a different picture! Love the colours of the souks and that sunset photo is just spectacular!! It’s quite an easy break to do so I might have to open my mind up to the idea after all!
Hey Shikha – yeah Dubai never really appealed to us either till we found ourselves there with no way to escape 😉
Amazing narration.. Brings back old memories !!
Thanks Priya. Is there anything else you would recommend in Dubai?
I came upon your blog while looking for information on Icelandic road trip and found a wealth of info there…thanks for sharing all that 🙂 But what prompted to set aside my laziness and drop a comment is that mesmerizing desert sunset pic above!! Wow!! What colors!! Now, that is a National Geographic pic right there (I am saying this after I have seen all your Iceland pics 🙂
Aww thank you Rekha – that means the world 🙂 Hope you managed to get the information on Iceland that you were after. If not, feel free to drop us a line and we’ll help you out
nice pictures with high-resolution and the content is also unique thanks for posting the useful information about Dubai and desert safari
Thanks – glad you enjoyed reading it 🙂
Any updates from a more recent trip to Dubai, guys?
PS I love your blog!
Thanks Rashida – unfortunately we haven’t been to Dubai since we wrote this post 🙂
hi guys , how did you travel around in Dubai? or rather what would be the best way to travel around?
Hey we took cabs 🙂 It’s best to rent a car or hail cabs
I am doing a two-day stopover for my honeymoon in Dubai, This helped a lot. Thank you!
You’re welcome 🙂 Hope you had a great honeymoon and a nice time in Dubai!
Well, Just been go through your whole blog as written exceptionally, Looking forward to more articles
A nice and valuable info indeed!
Would love if you can pls share itinerary for Dubai.
Also where can I get good vegetarian food (of course we are not fond of big fancy restaurants rather love the ‘street tastes’)
Your recommendation ‘hertz’ for car hiring I’ve already noted.
Thanks 🙂 All our suggestions can be found in this article itself !!
Enjoy your trip to Dubai
Do you know any tour package for dubai? I am planning to visit dubai in 1st week of November please suggest me.
Not really. We planned it ourselves 🙂
All things considered, Just been experience your entire blog as composed extraordinarily, Looking forward to more articles
Hey, do you have any idea about the local restaurants at Dubai. Something that’s yum ? and not expensive and near the downtown area.
Suggestion is in the article 🙂
Firstly, I have to say you guys are beyond adorable ! You are freaking awesome and two of you give such couple goals ! More power, more smiles and more travels to you 🙂
I am heading to Dubai for 1st time with my family and would really love to get your help plan our itinerary. We are only there for 5 nights.
Which area should we base ourselves in ? Would you suggest staying 1-2 nights at Palm? Any safari tour companies you recommend ? We will be travelling with a 8 year old 🙂
Thanks for your help/
Thanks for all the love 🙂 Well, 2 nights at Palm didn’t hurt anybody ever 😉 You can contact Arabian Nights Safaris for some excursions 🙂 Rest of our suggestions for Dubai are in the article!
Have the best trip
REALLY INSPIRING ATTRACTIONS IN DUBAI THANKS FOR SHARING THIS WONDERFUL BLOG
You’re welcome 🙂
A very interesting blog post content quality is also good .Thanks for sharing with us.
I think these are the most attractive places in Dubai. I wish i could be there on the new year so I can explore these places. Thanks, Savi!!
Its Nice and informational. Thank you for sharing this kind of information. It is useful to many.
Thank You Good info about the Dubai
Just been go through your whole blog as written exceptionally, Looking forward to more articles
Amazing article. Dubai is a wonderful place to visit as it has lots of visiting places. People are crazy to explore Dubai. But, I have a question that recently in this pandemic all the tourism and entertainment are closed. So, when Tourism and visiting places will be opened after the COVID??
Do you have any idea? Looking forward to more Blogs
Thanks and Regards
I liked this post but these google Ads were kind of irritating and didn’t allow me to enjoy reading the posts much.
Eek – we have barely enable ads on our website. Let me look into that Ashita.
Wow!! These are some wonderful places to visit. Thanks for sharing!
You have written about these offbeat places so well, I feel like visiting these places on my next visit! Thanks for sharing!
Dubai is most attractive place for tourist
I wholeheartedly concur! Dubai has a lot more to offer than world-class attractions and an opulent lifestyle. I just had enough time and money to roam about Dubai Creek and the old neighbourhood during my visit to see family in Dubai. Two images that remain with me to this day are the meandering pathways of the picturesque Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood and the bustling Souks of Dubai.
Thank you for sharing a informative information with us.
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