Old Deira, on the north side of the creek, is home to Dubai’s chaotic suqs. It’s best visited in the evening from 5 p.m. on, when it’s at its most atmospheric, but if you must visit in the morning, start around 10 a.m., as most shops close by 1 p.m. to avoid the afternoon heat. “Carry a bottle of water at all times, and don’t be shy to hail a taxi, no matter how far you’re going, especially in summer—nobody walks in 113°F (45°C) heat.”—Claire Turrell, editor, VIVA magazine.
Start the walk at (1) Deira Old Suq abra station and cross the road to the (2) Spice Suq, an assault on all senses. Outside the spice shops stand sacks overflowing with frankincense, sumac, zaatar, cinnamon, cloves, and other aromatic spices, while inside shelves are lined with everything from henna shampoo to tiny boxes of saffron—excellent value in Dubai. Buy some frankincense, an incense burner, and coals.
At the suq’s exit on Al Abra Street, hang a right. Walk to the end of the street, turn left into Al Ras Street, continue until Al Hadd Street, and then go right. The fascinating wholesale shops here trade foodstuffs with Iran via the dhows down on the creek.
Head right into Al Ahmadiya Street and continue until you reach (3) Heritage House (1890), a splendid example of a pearl merchant’s residence. Inside, kitsch mannequins in traditional dress reveal how they lived at the time. This house belonged to Sheikh Ahmed bin Dalmouk, who, along with his son, built adjoining (4) Al Ahmadiya School, one of Dubai’s oldest schools, responsible for educating some of the city’s most prominent citizens. At the school’s entrance admire the exquisite decorative gypsum panels. Inside, fascinating black-and-white photos illustrate the school’s history.
Walk along Al Ahmadiya Street, turning right into Old Baladiya Street, a lane of wholesalers mainly trading in traditional sandals, and gutra and agal, the headdress worn by Emirati men. Further down the street a wooden latticed arch marks the entrance to Dubai’s (5) gold suq, home to myriad shops with dazzling displays of gold jewelry in their windows. Be prepared to bargain.
On the side streets are small cafeterias, tiny tailoring shops, neon-lit barbers, and souvenir shops selling belly dance costumes. Walk to the end of the wooden arcades then continue along Sikkat al Khail Street to the (6) perfume suq. This is where Emirati women and gulf tourists bargain for spicy Arabian attars (perfume oils) and elaborate perfume bottles. In the surrounding back streets, the narrow alleyways of (7) Deira covered suq are lined with stores selling traditional kandouras (long robes), textiles, shisha pipes, souvenirs, and not coincidentally, lots of cheap luggage.
Walk to the corner of Sikkat al Khail Street and Al Soor Street where you can revive with a fresh mango juice and delicious shawarma at (8) Ashwaq Cafeteria.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.