Strung out along the southern side of the Creek, the district of Bur Dubai is the oldest part of the city, and in many ways still the most interesting. This is where you’ll find virtually all the bits of old Dubai that survived the rapid development of the 1960s and 1970s, and parts of the area’s historic waterfront still retain their engagingly old-fashioned appearance, with a quaint tangle of sand-coloured buildings and a distinctively Arabian skyline, spiked with dozens of wind towers and the occasional minaret. Away from the Creek the district is more modern and mercantile, epitomized by lively Al Fahidi Street, lined with neon-lit stores stacked high with phones and watches. This is also where you’ll get the strongest sense of Bur Dubai’s status as the city’s Little India, with dozens of no-frills curry houses, window displays full of glittery saris, and optimistic touts offering fake watches or a “nice pashmina”.
Much of the charm of Bur Dubai lies in simply wandering along the waterfront and through the busy backstreets, although there are a number of specific attractions worth exploring. At the heart of the district, the absorbing Dubai Museum offers an excellent introduction to the city’s history, culture and customs, while the old Iranian quarter of Bastakiya nearby is home to the city’s most impressive collection of traditional buildings, topped with dozens of wind towers. Heading west along the Creek, the old-fashioned Textile Souk is the prettiest in the city, while still further along, the historic old quarter of Shindagha is home to another fine cluster of traditional buildings, many of them now converted into low-key museums, including the engaging Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum House.Read More
Cutting a broad, salty swathe through the middle of the city centre, the Creek (Al Khor in Arabic) lies physically and historically at the very heart of Dubai, all that now remains of a river that may once have flowed inland all the way to Al Ain. The Creek was the location of the earliest settlements in the area – first on the Bur Dubai side of the water, and subsequently in Deira – and also played a crucial role in the recent history of the city. One of the first acts of the visionary Sheikh Rashid – the so-called father of modern Dubai – on coming to power in 1958 was to have the Creek dredged and made navigable to larger shipping, thus diverting trade from the then far wealthier neighbouring emirate of Sharjah (whose own creek was allowed to silt up, with disastrous consequences). With its enhanced shipping facilities, Dubai quickly established itself as one of the Gulf’s most important commercial centres. Indeed in hindsight it’s possible to see Sheikh Rashid’s opening up of the Creek, just as much as the later discovery of oil, as the key factor in the city’s subsequent prosperity.
Although the Creek’s economic importance has dwindled in recent decades following the opening of the enormous new docks at Port Rashid and the free-trade zone at Jebel Ali, it continues to see plenty of small-scale commerce. Almost all of this is transported on the innumerable old-fashioned wooden dhows which run between Dubai and neighbouring countries, and which moor up along the Deira side of the water at the Dhow Wharfage. Commerce aside, the Creek remains the centrepiece of Dubai and its finest natural feature: a broad, serene stretch of water which is as essential a part of the fabric and texture of the city as the Thames is to London or the Seine to Paris.