From a population numbering 20,000 just under a century ago to three million in 2018, one of the attractions of a stay in the city is discovering the different cultural faces of Dubai.
First settled by the Bani Yas tribe on the banks of the creek in 1833, Dubai has long been a magnet for different cultures and communities. Home to more than 200 nationalities, with 2019 designated the Year of Tolerance the city continues to stand loud and proud as a successful global poster child for cultural fusion.
This year will see the UAE welcome Pope Francis to its shores for a groundbreaking inter-faith forum set to attract more than 100,000 people; construction will begin on the country’s first Hindu temple; and a government-supported calendar of cross-cultural events will take place throughout the year, from UAE-China Week to the second edition of the Emirati-French Cultural Dialogue programme.
Take a stroll through Meena Bazaar on the edge of the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood on the banks of Dubai Creek for a taste of India. Home to a wealth of narrow lanes and tiny stores stocked high with all kinds of South Asian goodies from vibrant textiles and colourful trinkets to glittering gold jewellery and homewares, it’s been a fixture on the retail scene for decades. If you’re a traveling foodie, the Nasma Luxury Stays team also recommends making a stop to try some of the best Indian food in town with a traditional veggie thali lunch at Rangoli in the heart of the bazaar.
Food is a fantastic vehicle to showcase cultures and for a flavour of the Middle East Al Rigga Road on the Deira side of the Dubai Creek is your go-to. Feast on Iraqi kebabs and fish at Alazeam Restaurant, Persian food at Shayan and Lebanese delights at Al Safadi, among others. Pair culinary exploration with traditional entertainment with both the upscale Dubai Opera and accessible-to-all Global Village hotspots for live music by sellout and seasoned Arabic performers from around the region.
A community with a growing presence, more than 200,000 Chinese choose to call the emirate home and it’s also a popular destination for tourists from the People’s Republic, supported by strong trade ties between the two countries. As well as a profusion of restaurants across town, close co-operation between the UAE and Beijing has seen the 2018 launch of the inaugural China Film Week and expansion of the fascinating Dragon Mart retail destination, which is well worth a visit if only to soak up some ‘tiger economy’ vibes. In early February, the city will be festooned in red and gold in honour of Chinese New Year from The Dubai Mall, which will also feature a giant pagoda and live martial arts-themed entertainment, to a special seasonal light show at Burj Khalifa.
If you want to get a snapshot of the emirate’s international vibe in a single well- thought-out location, then Global Village is perfect for some serious cultural immersion. Located out in Dubailand (a taxi ride away) and open from end October through to April each year, it is home to 27 grand scale international pavilions from Africa to The Americas. Here you can pick up indigenous crafts and gifts, sample global cuisines and take a seat in front of the al fresco main stage or kids’ theatre to catch a stage show, live concert or interactive artistic performance.
The arts and culture scene in Dubai has also grown in leaps and bounds over the last decade and is another vehicle that promotes the city’s international perspective with calendar-favourite events and cultural destinations including Dubai Opera, the annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, Art Dubai week, Sikka Art Fair and World Art Dubai showcase attracting big name talent and international visitors.
The industrial suburb of Al Quoz is the heartland of the thriving gallery community spearheaded by the Al Serkal arts hub, with its profusion of independent galleries, interactive spaces and workshops. The banks of Dubai Creek have always attracted artistic types with the sikkas (alleyways) of the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood the location of some of the area’s original art havens including The Majlis Gallery and XVA Gallery.
A model for harmony and tolerance and a fascinating city where every street corner opens up onto a new cultural experience, no two stays in Dubai are ever the same… and that’s what keeps travellers from every corner of the globe coming back again and again.