With only one day to experience Dubai, I knew this was going to be a “greatest hits” kind of tour. Last night’s surprise architectural extravaganza had offered a preview of what this United Arab Emirates city is all about – biggest, newest, tallest and dressed up in its sparkly best. Attractions are spread out across the city, requiring transportation and often a willingness to accept a photo stop rather than an in-depth visit.

But I also knew there was another side to this land along the Persian Gulf. Dubai’s history dates far beyond the past decades of accelerated growth. The city has an old section that I was hoping to explore, and I was especially curious to see how an eighteenth century fishing village grew into all this.

We met our Tours By Locals guide Maricar outside the cruise ship terminal, with our bags in tow for safe keeping in her car until the end of the day. Originally from the Philippines, Maricar had been living in Dubai for a number of years. Most people in Dubai’s hospitality and tourism industry, she explained, were originally from other parts of the world.

Jumeirah District

We headed out along the coast through the Jumeirah District, a lovely seaside residential area. Maricar stopped for a photo at the Jumeirah Mosque before continuing on to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah and the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab, Dubai’s iconic “seven star” hotel.

The Jumeirah Mosque, completed in 1979, offers organized tours for non-Muslims.
View of the Burj Al Arab from Jumeirah Beach.
The Souk Madinat Jumeirah, part of the Madinat Jumeirah Resort, features shops and food vendors in a traditional Middle Eastern-style marketplace.
Tranquil waterways and a view of the Burj Al Arab outside the Souk Madinat Jumeirah.

The Dubai Marina 

We continued on the coastal route for about fifteen minutes to a two-mile stretch of Persian Gulf shoreline called the Dubai Marina. Nicknamed “Little Manhattan,” the area features an expansive walkway along the waterfront and high-rise residential skyscrapers, including “the tallest block in the world.”

Looking out along the Dubai Marina waterfront…
…and looking back.
A quick stop at the nearby Atlantis The Palm Resort on Palm Jumeirah, Dubai’s palm-shaped man-made island.

Ski Dubai

Next we were off to the Mall of the Emirates for a look at the indoor ski park called Ski Dubai. I found the Mall of the Emirates to be more a bit more understated – if that’s an appropriate word to use when describing something in Dubai! – than the Dubai Mall.

Ski Dubai is covered with snow year-round and maintains temperatures between -1 and 2 degrees Celsius.

Old Dubai

Our last stop was a world away from the dazzling Dubai that had first made our acquaintance. This was the old part of town, down by the saltwater creek, back when fishing was the industry of the day. The Dubai Creek divides the city into two sections and once served as a port for small sailing vessels and a growing pearling business. The Bur Dubai side of the creek, settled by Persian merchants in the late 19th century, is home to the Bastakiya Quarter. The Deira side is filled with a variety of souqs, from gold to spices to textiles.

We began our tour on the Bur Dubai side, stopping for lunch at Bayt Al Wakeel, a creekside restaurant housed in a shipping office from the 1930s. From there we boarded a water taxi called an abra for the short trip across the creek to Deira.

Arriving in Bur Dubai.
The Iranian Mosque in Bur Dubai was inspired by Persian architecture.
A shop in the Grand Souq-Bur Dubai.
View from our corner table on the deck of Bayt Al Wakeel Restaurant.
Heading across Dubai Creek from the Bur Dubai water taxi station.
Sights along the way…

The Deira Grand Souq.
The Spice Souq…
…the gold souq…
…and my personal favorite!

About That Sunset

It was late afternoon when Maricar dropped us off at our hotel. With an early flight to Cairo the next morning, we opted for some time to reorganize our gear and have a light dinner in our room.

But first, we poured two glasses of wine and toasted Dubai from our balcony, overlooking a marina along Dubai Creek. The grand Dubai skyline beckoned in the distance. Emirates Towers, Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Frame were now instantly recognizable as evening began to settle over the city.

The sky took on an orange glow, and a big yellow ball of a sun appeared, surrounded by a crimson aura. But this setting sun didn’t just drop off beyond the horizon. It positioned itself in perfect symmetry between two Dubai skyscrapers, as if it were putting on a grand end-of-the-day performance. It looked like it belonged to this city, an architectural part of skyline’s design. And it even lingered for a while, allowing me enough time to grab my camera.

Now isn’t that just like Dubai?


  • Thanks so much, Deb! This was the first time we’ve used Tours by Locals. I was very impressed with the booking process and how we were able to modify the planned itinerary. Our guide was excellent as well. Thanks for adding you input!

  • Your two parts of Dubai experiences are stunning visually. I’ve imagined Dubai is an architectual wonderland. I thought it might be architecs’ LegoLand. Your photos proved my imagination is not too far from the reality. However, I feel pity of your short excursion . My friends who have travel experiences there said it is suggested to have three days of staying at least to see the buildings outside and have inside tours. I could feel how you and Herb are observant and full of curiosities. I enjoyed very much and polish my dream for future. myron

    • Myron,I love your idea of Dubai as an architect’s LegoLand! Thank you for your insight and kind words. Your friends are so right that three days would be ideal for visiting Dubai. We made the most of our day and a half, but there is never enough time in these fabulous destinations! Keep polishing that dream…I hope you have a chance to visit this fascinating city 🙂

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