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27 March 2016

Bastakiya: A Look Inside the Historic Heart of Dubai's Art and Culture Scene

Hi Rovers,

This trip marks my second visit to Dubai and I’ve made it my mission to discover the region’s art scene. After checking into Rove Downtown Dubai – my base for the week – I quickly unpacked and set about exploring the hotel and neighbourhood.

It wasn’t until yesterday evening at Rove Downtown, hotel in downtown Dubai that I met a group of fellow Rovers who told me all about Dubai’s Al Fahidi District, otherwise know as the Bastakiya Quarter.

My newfound friends reveal that the region’s art enthusiasts and history-loving tourists have long been flocking to this cultural hub known for its galleries, museums, cutting-edge exhibitions and courtyards cafés. I’m sold and spring out of bed bright and early to get a head start on the day – I advise visiting either early morning or late afternoon to beat the midday heat.

Following a recommendation from the night before, the Dubai Museum is my first port of call. Housed within the historic Al-Fahidi Fort – one of the city’s oldest buildings – I learn that the Bastakiya Quarter took its name from the town of Bastak in southern Iran and was originally built in the late 19th century by Persian textile merchants who sought out the city due to its relaxed trade tariffs.

Bastakiya Dubai

Al Fahidi District - Bastakiya Dubai

Image Credit to DTCM

I spend well over an hour wondering through the museum’s impressive exhibition, which charts the emirate’s evolution from a fishing and pearling village to the dynamic global hub it is today. If like me you consider yourself a culture vulture, you’ll love the huge variety of fascinating artefacts, which range from antique weapons to archaeological findings.

Next up, I stroll around the surrounding area to soak up the sights and take photographs. After chatting with several gallery owners, I find out that the Bastakiya Quarter has now been affirmed as a conservation area and many of the buildings have been restored to their former glory. Aligned side by side among narrow walkways and paths, the sand-coloured houses are topped with wind towers – a very early form of air-conditioning, an essential in this part of the world. The maze-like buildings are now home to museums, galleries, craft shops and cafés.

Old House in Bastakiya Area - Al Fahidi District Dubai

Image Credit to DTCM


I soon come across the Majlis Gallery, Dubai’s oldest fine art gallery. This creative haven showcases a curated array of innovative works by both local and international artists, in addition to pottery, calligraphy, glass and lots more crafts. Feeling inspired, I even try my hand at one of the galleries’ painting workshops and end up with a colourful keepsake from the trip.

During the painting class a fellow traveller tells me to stop by Arabian Tea House for lunch. Feeling peckish and armed with my trusty Google Maps app, I find the café tucked away amongst the galleries and boutiques in the Bastakiya’s Meena Bazaar.

With plenty of comfy seating and shady trees covering the courtyard, this hidden gem proves to be the perfect spot to take a break and enjoy a bite.

The eatery serves up a tempting menu featuring a hearty supply of breakfast favourites and lots of traditional Arabian delights such as falafel, mezze, fattoush salad and shish taouk. An avid tea drinker, I was pleased to see that the café also offers a selection of over 100 exotic teas from across the globe. Never one to turn down dessert, I cap off my meal with their delicious Luqaimat, traditional Emirati crunchy sweet dumplings.

Luqaimat - Traditional Emirati Dessert - Dubai

Luqaimat – Traditional Emirati Dessert – Dubai

To work off my lunch I walk over to the XVA Gift Shop, a unique boutique located within the XVA Art Hotel – a small guesthouse nestled in Bastakiya – to pick up a few treasures and trinkets for my friends and family back home. Here I find antique-inspired silver jewellery, flowing printed kaftans, leather goods and art books. The store also stocks a selection of crafts by regional artists.

Next up, I visit Mawaheb from Beautiful People, an art studio for adults with special needs. The space often holds events and exhibitions and also sells a number of colourful goods and souvenirs, including greeting cards, hand-painted cushions and mosaic trays.

My last stop of the day is a trip to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Founded by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, I discover that the centre provides in-depth guided tours of the Al Fahidid Historic District, as well as other heritage sights including the Jumeirah Mosque.

The centre can also arrange communal meals where you can meet and mingle with nationals while enjoying an authentic Emirati feast – definitely one for my next trip.

How to get there:

The helpful team at Rove provided me with the Google Maps route from the hotel in Downtown Dubai to Bastakiya Quarter in Bur Dubai.

The route: 25° 15′ 50.249” N, 55° 17′ 59.9” E

A taxi will take you around 25 minutes or if you fancy taking the Dubai Metro, Al Fahadi is the closest metro station to the Bastakiya and just a short five-minute walk to the galleries. The journey from Rove Downtown Dubai will take approximately 30 minutes.

Happy Roving!

Blog written by Rover Carly, an art passionate student visiting from France. She loves all things art and culture related and hopes to open her own gallery when she graduates. She loves finding hidden spots off the beaten track.