We don’t blame you if, on your Dubai holiday, you find yourself spending most of your time exploring the skyscraper-studded promenade of Dubai Marina, chasing surreal skyline views at the city’s stylish rooftop bars, shopping in Dubai Mall or sandboarding in the desert.
But if you want to look beneath the surface and experience this mega-metropolis beyond the packaged tourist attractions, we’ve got you covered. From bold street art, hipster food trucks and eclectic cafés to artisanal stores, art galleries and designer boutiques, these Dubai hot spots are packed to the brim with cultural gold you won’t find in any guidebook.
Home to boutiques, cafés and even a cinema, this out-of-the-box lifestyle destination features an unusual design element: it was modeled after blocks of colorful shipping containers.
The district hosts live entertainment and street shows throughout the year, but it’s also a great place to shop for unique finds. Check out its collection of eclectic stores, such as Typo, which sells beautiful stationery and small home décor objects, and Atelier Des Artistes for haute couture.
The wide range of dining options is reason enough to visit. There’s something for everyone, including modern Emirati cuisine at Logma, classic French dishes at Le Trésor Classic Car Café and fresh gelato at Grom.
Perhaps one of the most Instagrammable spots in Dubai, this alfresco entertainment district is home to cool, witty street art and murals; lively boulevards; outdoor dining in eclectic cafés; boutiques; outdoor festivals; and street food carts.
Thankfully, on those scorching desert days, the versatile destination also houses a variety of indoor options. At Hub Zero, for example, both kids (aged 10 and above) and adults can enjoy state-of-the-art virtual reality games and an activity center offering obstacle courses.
If you’d rather get back to nature, peruse The Green Planet. This onsite bio-dome houses a real tropical forest and the world’s largest indoor man-made and life-sustaining tree, along with more than 3,000 other plants and animals.
The city’s first purpose-built art district, Alserkal Avenue, is where you can expect to rub shoulders with the city’s artists, indie filmmakers, writers, watercolor lovers and collectors.
Tucked away in architect-designed warehouses in the industrial neighborhood of Al Quoz, this art hub is home to several galleries and studios, niche concept stores, community-focused cafés, theaters, live entertainment venues and communal working spaces.
Slip into some comfortable shoes and wander through the warehouses to experience exhibits as varied as the fascinating collection of classic cars at Nostalgia, artist eL Seed’s captivating calligraphic art and the bean-to-bar process of single-origin chocolate making (complete with tastings, of course) at Mirzam Chocolate Makers.
The facility often hosts free events throughout the year, too, including movie and documentary screenings, stand-up shows and concerts.
If you’re feeling more hands-on, opt for one of the dance, music or arts and crafts workshops to learn from the pros.
Get delightfully lost among the winding sandstone alleyways of Al Bastakiya (also known as the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood), a heritage district brimming with traditional character and stories of Dubai from the early 20th century.
Once home to wealthy merchants, the restored houses with wind towers today house boutique hotels, art galleries, studios, museums and courtyard cafés that are beloved by writers and artists.
Explore the city’s traditional side with a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where you’ll enjoy a classic meal, learn about Emirati customs or take a heritage tour of the historic neighborhood. Afterward, relax with an herbal brew at local favorite Arabian Tea House.