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Insider’s Guide to Dubai – Discover Dubai’s Hidden Gems

Black Palace Beach

Black Palace Beach, Dubai
No one knows a city quite like her people. To discover Dubai’s hidden gems, explore Middle Eastern culture, and enjoy the city like a local, read on for the best recommendations.

Explore Dubai

Dubai’s coastline has no shortage of beautiful beaches, and no two are alike. Each neighbourhood’s stretch of coast boasts its own personality, showcasing Dubai’s vibrant beach culture in its own unique way.

Black Palace Beach, open to all along Al Sufouh Street, is perfect for those looking for a more serene, secluded beach experience.

Despite its prime location, wedged between Dubai Marina and the Burj Al Arab, it’s definitely one of the city’s treasures, and well worth the hunt. Neighbouring the royal summer palaces, the beach promises crystal blue waters, perfect for a midday splash, allowing for a leisurely day out to wind down with the most stunning sunset views over the Palm Jumeirah.

There’s so much to do in Old Dubai – whether you’re looking to uncover a piece of local history or simply savour some traditional delights, Dubai’s traditional Arabian souks have something to offer that you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Wander through them and uncover the true essence of Dubai, an old-world charm woven through these ancient marketplaces, still a crucial part of daily life and trade.

Visit the Gold Souq, lined with bespoke pieces with prices that aren’t set in stone; the Textile Souq, a colourful, vibrant space lined with rolls of fine silk, airy cottons and embellished fabrics on display; and the Spice Souq, offering a sensory overload thanks to the colours and aromas of some of the world’s most prized spices.

Also recommended is travelling between the souk on the Bur Dubai and Deira sides of the Creek by abra – a traditional transport method that costs just AED1 a ticket.

Feasting in the Emirate

Weekend brunches have taken up a special place in the hearts of Emiratis and expats alike; and have quickly established themselves as a permanent fixture here in Dubai.

With the workweek running from Sunday to Thursday, these Friday all-you-can-eat-and-drink feasts are a time for the city’s diverse communities to come together and celebrate the start of the weekend.

Brunches come in all shapes and sizes – many offering a party-style feast, some a more relaxed and intimate dining experience, while others come accompanied by a whole host of family-oriented events and activities, keeping the kids entertained and the parents stress-free.

While brunch is usually enjoyed on Fridays, it has extended to Saturdays and even sparked a whole host of resources and apps have been created to help brunchers get the most out of the experience. For inspiration and discount deals, check out the award-winning Mr and Mrs Brunch website.

For traditional treats, head to Al Reef Bakery, an unassuming Lebanese bakery with a reputation for fresh food that’s made it a staunch favourite among residents in Dubai.

Located in the Satwa area, it’s one of the best places to savour homemade, wholesome sweets, including baklava, knafe, maamoul and kaak.

While gahwa (Arabic coffee) has long played an important role in Emirati hospitality, Indian masala tea, famously known as karak chai, has also become an essential part of Dubai culture.

Traditionally boiled on a low flame and made with a combination of black tea, milk, sugar and Indian spices – often cardamon, cloves, ginger and cinnamon for a richer infusion – karak is the star of low-key outings or gatherings with family and friends, a quick breakfast or afternoon tea, and is even the perfect elixir with which to start and end the day.

A great place to sample a steaming brew of karak is down by Kite Beach, served by FiLLi Tea & Café, one of the first franchises to pioneer a home-grown karak chai café concept.

Experience Dubai’s Old-World Charm

The city first began to grow around Dubai Creek – the beating heart of its import-export industry – and this is where you can discover the roots of Dubai. Visitors are encouraged to meander past the wind towers and coral buildings of Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, all painstakingly restored to their original glory using authentic traditional building materials and methods.

Photography enthusiasts can get perfect Insta-worthy shots at almost every corner of this ancient district, whose low-rise buildings are adorned with Arabesque designs.

XVA Hotel & Unique Art Gallery

For a taste of art appreciation, head over to XVA, a unique art gallery that is also a boutique hotel and café, located in an area that breathes life into a number of art galleries, displaying everything from calligraphy to modern art.

No cultural experience is complete without a trip to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), located in the centre of Al Fahidi, where guests are encouraged to ask whatever questions they may have about Arabic, Emirati and Islamic. culture – no matter how ‘sensitive’.

For a truly authentic insight into the local culture, and to appreciate the enduring fondness that exists between Emiratis and their camels, head to one of several camel races that take place throughout the cooler months of the year.

You’ll see these beloved beasts thunder along sandy tracks in a sport that originates in the Middle East and still boasts an avid following among locals. Racing season runs between October and April,
with races usually taking place early on a Friday or Saturday morning.

There are several tracks in the emirate, but Dubai's biggest is Al Marmoum Camel Racetrack, the home of the Dubai Camel Racing Club. It’s located half an hour’s drive from the city and, with prizes running into the tens of thousands of dirhams, it attracts camel owners from across the UAE – even some from neighbouring countries.

More local traditions can be discovered at Hatta Heritage Village, which takes visitors back in time for a glimpse of what original villages in Dubai used to be like.

The Village opened after its restoration in 2001 in the heart of the mountainous Hatta region of Dubai emirate, about 100km from the city centre. It provides immersive insights into traditional rural life in the surrounding mountains, with authentic models, documents, sculptures, illustrations and graphic/audio content spread out across 17 houses, two castles and a fortress.

For a chance to discover Dubai’s sprawling desert oasis, head to Al Qudra Lakes to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Here, you can spend a quiet morning or afternoon ensconced in nature, exploring a series of lakes sprawled across 10 hectares of Dubai’s Saih Al Salam Desert landscape.

Visitors can tuck into a refreshing picnic after a leisurely ride around the Cycling Track which offers the chance to glimpse some local wildlife, ranging from desert foxes and oryx, to 170 species of bird that include flamingos, swans and a host of migratory birds.

For those staying into the early evening, Dubai’s beautiful desert sunset is worth every second of the wait.

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