The tiny Bastakiya quarter is Dubai’s most engaging neighborhood. Established at the end of the 19th century by well-to-do textile and pearl traders from Bastak, Iran, its labyrinthine lanes are lined with restored merchant’s houses, art galleries, cafés, and boutique hotels. “The Bastakiya is a picturesque step into Dubai’s past. It’s big on atmosphere and a delight to wander.”—Sarah Monaghan, author, DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Dubai.
Begin the tour in the morning with a cultural breakfast at (1) Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (www.cultures.ae). The center is housed in one of the Bastakiya’s most elegant buildings, with a beautiful courtyard, pretty decorative grilles, hanging oil lamps, and wooden lattice on the second floor. The cultural breakfasts are a rare opportunity to meet Emiratis and learn about local heritage and traditions. Go upstairs for views of the Bastakiya rooftops. Note the wind towers. This traditional form of air-conditioning, constructed to funnel cool air into the house, was an architectural feature of buildings in southern Iran.
Outside, turn left and walk toward the waterfront to admire (2) Bastakiah Nights restaurant in another beautiful courtyard house. The staff is pleased to show people the traditionally decorated rooms and fine views of Dubai Creek from their rooftop.
Stroll down the sandy lane to the modern white mosque, noting the splendid architectural details of the grand gypsum, coral, and limestone buildings, in particular the carved wooden doors with brass knockers and the intricate patterned decorative grilles.
Turn left at the end and walk until you see the last remaining section of the (3) Old City Wall. Constructed in 1800 from gypsum and coral, the defensive wall surrounded the old town of Bur Dubai, which included Al Fahidifort and the old Grand Mosque.
Turn left again and wander down the narrow lane to visit more restored wind-tower houses and enjoy Emirati, Iranian, and Middle Eastern art in several gorgeous galleries. First stop, (4) XVA (www.xvagallery.com), a contemporary art gallery with several exhibition rooms around its shady courtyard café. XVA hosts art-house film screenings (including Middle Eastern films), so check the program while you’re here.
Next door is (5) Ave Gallery, a new space opened by exalted Iranian artist, art collector, and curator, Fereydoun Ave. Behind Ave is (6) Majlis Gallery (www.majlisgallery.com), Dubai’s oldest commercial art gallery, here since the 1970s. Situated in another beautiful house, Majlis specializes in more mainstream art such as Asian oils and watercolors of desert landscapes, along with calligraphy and sculpture. Find a souvenir among the beautiful ceramics, handicrafts, and jewelry.
Across the lane, stop at leafy (7) Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Café, in another splendid courtyard house. Try the Basta Special, a refreshing mint and lime drink.
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