While Dubai may be known for glitzy skyscrapers and cutting-edge technology, today we’re looking at the beginning of the city. The places where the first settlers and their families called home and how their contributions shaped the emirate. Here is Bayut’s top three historical places in Dubai that are surely worth a visit!
Al fahidi historical neighbourhood
Built in the mid-19th century, the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (previously known as Bastakiya) is a vibrant symbol of the city’s past and its cultural future. Situated right by the Dubai Creek (on the Bur Dubai side) and the His Highness Monarch of Dubai’s divan, the neighbourhood is one of the first settlements in the city, thanks to its prime location.
Despite Dubai’s growth and the neighbourhoods fall into some disrepair and lose popularity, the city has painstakingly restored and rejuvenated the area. Walking into Al Fahidi today is a treat for the senses…the smell of spices and oud greet you, while the traditional tan wind towers, trees, plants and flowers are a sight for sore eyes. Al Fahidi is also where you can see remains of the old Dubai wall, while the educational and delightfully quirky Dubai Museum is just next to the neighbourhood.
Al Fahidi is also home to the uber-popular yet still a hidden gem, XVA Art Hotel – an art gallery, cafe and boutique hotel all rolled into one. Joining XVA in the neighbourhood is a host of art galleries, creative spaces, restaurants, a few shops and the SMCCU. The SMCCU or Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding is where tourists and even long-time expats can explore Emirati culture, from cuisine to even clothing thanks to the friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Recent years have also seen an upswing in the frequency of events taking place at Al Fahidi, from the Sikka Art Fair during Dubai Art Season to National Day Celebrations, movie screenings and more.
To get here using public transport, hop on the metro and get off at Al Fahidi – the neighbourhood is a 10 to 12-minute walk away. Visiting Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood is free of charge.
sheikh saeed al maktoum house
Built in 1896, the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House is beside the Dubai Creek on the Deira side. It was the official residence for the ruling family for over sixty years and is a fantastic and unique way to explore how they lived…it’s a veritable time machine!
One of the most striking things about the house is that fact that it’s not only huge but immensely simple for what one would imagine the royal family to live in. There is a range of different spaces throughout the house – open, closed and everything in between – as well as a variety of wind towers that are fascinating to behold. The house is also unexpectedly near other dwellings in the area and is designed to foster accessibility between the people and their ruler.
Today, the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House has been transformed into a museum dedicated to Dubai, filled with historic photographs, official documents, jewellery, stamps, coins and other artefacts that detail the city’s history. The displays are spread over nine different wings on the themes of the history of the house, the family, old Dubai, the cityscape, the social life of the city, coins and stamps, maps and documents as well as marine life. For an immersive course on the city’s history, there’s nothing better!
It’s a quick eight-minute walk to the house from the Ghubaiba Metro Station. Entry it just AED 3 for grown-ups and AED 1 for kids, while those under 6 can explore the house for free.
Al Ahmadiya School
The first national school that was established in Dubai, Al Ahmadiya is a step back in time to the beginning of education in the city. Established by one of the most eminent pearl merchants in the Gulf in 1912, the institution had many leading thinkers and scholars teaching at it. After the school ceased operations in 1958, it lay dormant until 1994 when the government renovated it and reopened it as a museum.
As one of the oldest schools in the country, it’s a historic monument in its own rite. Visiting the school is a great way to explore how education evolved in the country, thanks to the display of furniture, academic material, the actual subjects taught here and even the government papers related to the school and its role in the city’s education. Some of the school’s students even went on to become rulers and prominent members of the country, including the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, builder of Dubai, and the late Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the former Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai.
The school is a short three-minute walk from the Al Ras Metro Station and entry is free.