Learn About Middle Eastern Culture in Dubai
Dubai is a great place for a first introduction to Middle Eastern traditions. In an atmosphere that feels safe, open and comfortable, you can experience authentic Arabic culture – from souks to mosques. English is Dubai’s common language, so it’s easy to communicate, ask questions and learn.
Step Into Dubai History
Though Dubai’s growth has mostly taken place in the last four decades, there’s still lots of interesting history to discover, revealing the traditions of Middle Eastern life.
A great place to start is at the Dubai Museum, housed in a fort built in 1787, making it the oldest building in the city. The museum depicts everyday life before the discovery of oil with galleries recreating historic Arab houses, mosques and souks.
The museum is located in the city’s tiny Bastakiya quarter which was founded in the 1890s by wealthy textile and pearl traders from Bastak, Iran. The narrow laneways are now lined with galleries and cafés.
Another place to step into the past is at the Dubai Heritage Village, an old-style town at the edge of Dubai Creek. The mix of period buildings includes heritage houses, a barn, museums and small shops. It’s best to visit in the evening when things get busier, including camel and donkey rides, people making traditional crafts and foods, as well as restaurants along the water.
Experience Traditional Lifestyles
Many of the local Emerati people are of Bedouin origin. For centuries – before the discovery of oil – they lived in the desert. To help you experience this nomadic lifestyle, Four Seasons can arrange trips into the pristine Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve – whether just for a morning or overnight. The authentic Bedouin camp offers demonstrations of local cultural activities such as henna, music, dance, bread making and Arabic coffee making. You can even hear fascinating tales of the past from a local Bedouin who meets guests over a traditional breakfast. Then enjoy a camel ride through the dunes!
In years gone by, many local people were fishermen and pearl divers. You can learn more about pearl diving in the Dubai Museum. And you can get a sense of the fishing lifestyle just a short walk from Four Seasons at the Fishing Harbour, a newly developed marina with the aim of bringing back Dubai’s ancient trade and cultural roots. Stroll the jetty and look at the boats, then choose from about five restaurants and cafés. Boat tours can be arranged on a traditional dhow sailing vessel.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Muslim religion, visit the Jumeirah Mosque, just 10 minutes from Four Seasons. This is the only mosque in Dubai that is open to the public and dedicated to receiving non-Muslim guests. It’s a unique opportunity to ask questions about Emirati culture and religion in a relaxed, casual and open atmosphere.
Shop in Authentic Middle Eastern Markets
In Old Dubai, you can experience authentic Middle Eastern markets, known as souks, featuring narrow laneways jammed with merchandise and lively with bargaining. The three main souks are located in close proximity, and they’re not as large and confusing as some in the Middle East – making them much better for an introduction. Four Seasons can arrange a guide to accompany you and show you the best spots.
The Dubai Gold Souk is home to more than 300 Dubai jewellery shops, featuring designs ranging from incredibly ornate to elegantly simple. As one of the largest gold retail markets in the world, there are strict government controls to ensure quality. In the Spice Souk, you’ll discover an abundance of fragrances and spices – from frankincense to cloves, cardamom and cinnamon – sold straight from open sacks. The Textile Souk features small stores selling fabrics, clothes, footwear and souvenirs. It’s an attractively restored traditional bazaar, shaded by an arched wooden roof.
Taste the Local Cuisine
Dubai today offers very cosmopolitan cuisine, featuring dishes from around the world. But it’s definitely a must to try some traditional Emirati cuisine. Many of the dishes are like stews, as everything is often cooked in a single pot, spiced with saffron, cardamom, turmeric and thyme. Dishes are frequently served with rice.
You can enjoy a traditional Emirati breakfast or lunch inside a traditional local house in Bastakiya. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding offers this unique program of cultural meals. While eating, you have the chance to chat with your Emerati host and ask questions about UAE culture, customs and religion.
Another dining option is Al Fanar, the first Dubai restaurant serving local Emerati cuisine. Popular dishes include fish cakes, grilled squid, and chicken and rice cooked with local spices. The décor is inspired by 1960s Dubai.
The concierge team at Four Seasons Resort Dubai at Jumeirah Beach can help make all your arrangements, no matter what aspect of Middle Eastern life you’re interested in exploring. Contact us in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org.