The glitzy city-state of Dubai is known for its massive shopping malls, hip cafes and over-the-top architecture. The mighty Burj Khalifa is the tallest structure in the world and the now iconic luxury hotel Burj al Arab is one of the tallest hotels in the world. With such rampant consumerism you might be forgiven for thinking that Dubai is expensive, takes too long to get to and is somewhat lacking in cultural sights. But you’d be wrong on all counts: flights to Dubai only take a few hours from London and the abundance of budget carriers has kept the prices in check. And the city-state has many cultural and historical gems just waiting to be discovered;
The Dubai Museum is one of the most popular destinations for tourists, and locals enjoy walking through the halls too. Located inside the Al Fahidi Fort, which dates to 1787, the museum offers numerous learning opportunities. The fort itself once served as the main defence for locals, letting soldiers watch for potential dangers. Locals began using the fort as a museum in the 1970s, and visitors will enjoy looking at the dioramas on display. These dioramas depict a simpler time and show how residents lived before they discovered oil in the area. No one should miss the amazing displays that highlight local pearl divers, as these displays show the scales they once used and some of the pearls they discovered.
During the 1800s, residents of Dubai sought to defend itself against attackers and invaders with the construction of several watchtowers to keep an eye out for those invaders. Burj Nahar, which dates back to 1870, is one of the few watchtowers open to the public. During a massive renovation in 1992, the structure was lovingly recreated by hand. Travellers can explore the old watchtower and spend time in the gardens surrounding the tower.
Dubai Municipality Museum
The Dubai Municipality Office constructed this building in the 1950s and used it as their headquarters. When the organization later moved, the building sat empty for several years before it became a museum. Now known as the Dubai Municipality Museum, it offers visitors an inside look at the Municipality Office and what workers did over the years. Each of the exhibits and halls offers visitors information about different eras in the history of the city and the country, and many of those exhibits focus on the history of the bay and how local residents survived harsh conditions and historical problems.
Hatta Heritage Village
Dubai is an old and historic town, and those hoping to see how people once lived should visit Hatta Heritage Village. Established during the 16th century, the village still features many of its original buildings and defences. Visitors can see the two watchtowers, where locals once signalled residents of dangers, and they can also see the original houses, mosque and fort. The Hatta Fort is an impressive site, but most of the buildings feel just as impressive. Made from mud, dirt, palms and whatever other supplies they could find, everyone should take time to view these architectural landmarks.
Al Ahmadiya School & Heritage House
Prior to the 20th century, students in Dubai worked with their parents or loved ones instead of attending school, but that all changed when the Al Ahmadiya School opened in 1912. This two-story building served as the primary place of learning for thousands of students over the years until it eventually closed. In 1995, locals renovated the building and turned it into a museum that highlights its early history. Visitors can also explore the attached Heritage House, which dates back to the late 1800s and see the views from the top of its tower.