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Written by Savi, 67 Comments

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.

Neither fancy malls nor high-rises fascinate us, so Dubai was never on our wish-list. But 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.

That was when the mall troll reared its ugly head. Dubai’s most popular activities, we were told, 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). Next came a flurry of superlatives to describe Dubai’s premier attractions – tallest building, highest restaurant, and largest choreographed fountain system. Superlatives are all well and good, but at Bruised Passports, we like to get our hands dirty when we visit a place. This was not going to do.

Offbeat Dubai - Burj KhalifaBurj Khalifa- the tallest building in the world 

Can you guess what we did when we got to Dubai? We steered clear of the over-priced sheesha pipes at Souk Madinat (another mall, what else?) and tried our hardest to discover the ‘real’ Dubai. What did we find?

Contrary to popular conception, Dubai sightseeing is not just about hopping from one mall to the other, but exploring what the real Dubai has to offer. 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:


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.

Offbeat Dubai Spice Souk

If you’re up for a laugh, hop over to the neighbouring Gold Souk and check out the garish jewellery in show windows

Offbeat Dubai Gold SoukJust 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!

Offbeat Dubai Sheesha PipesColourful sheesha pipes 

Offbeat Dubai Traditional Arabic TeaTraditional 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.

Offbeat Dubai Jumeirah BeachA quiet, shell-laden stretch of Jumeirah Beach

Offbeat Dubai Sunset at Jumeirah BeachSunset 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.

Offbeat Dubai Dune Bashing in the Arabian Desert.This is what one can expect from Dune Bashing 

Offbeat Dubai Sunset in the Arabian DesertVid 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.

67 thoughts on “Offbeat Dubai: Beyond Malls and Skyscrapers

  1. 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? :).

  2. 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

    1. 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 😉

  3. Having spent several teengage years there, this brings back fond memories. Dubai chnages every year. Every. Single. Year! Lovely shots.

    1. Thanks Tanvi 🙂 Our friends from Dubai kept saying the exact same thing – clusters of condos keep sprouting and skyscrapers keep getting taller.

  4. 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…

  5. 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!

    1. Hey Adrian,

      That is indeed the common perception about Dubai. But there is so much more to it 🙂 Hope you get to experience it soon!

  6. 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 🙂

    1. Hey Aalia,

      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! 🙂

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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 🙂

    1. 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 🙂

    1. You’re right – Dubai seems to change every month – new buildings, new roads, new malls 🙂

  9. 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!

    1. Hey Shikha – yeah Dubai never really appealed to us either till we found ourselves there with no way to escape 😉

  10. Hi,

    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 🙂

    1. 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

  11. Hi SaviVid,
    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.

  12. Do you know any tour package for dubai? I am planning to visit dubai in 1st week of November please suggest me.

  13. Hey, do you have any idea about the local restaurants at Dubai. Something that’s yum 😋 and not expensive and near the downtown area.

  14. Hi Savi

    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/

    1. Hey Pooja,

      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

  15. Dear Savi,

    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

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