A thriving arts scene, festivals galore and heritage neighbourhoods offer plenty of ways to broaden the mind
There’s much more to Dubai that fast cars, luxury hotels and cloud-piercing landmarks. Peel back the shiny sweetie wrapper that is the emirate’s modern façade and you’ll quickly discover a richly layered cultural scene, with music, theatre and dance ventures rubbing shoulders with an impressive collection of art galleries and institutions.
A great starting point for your cultural journey of discovery is Dubai Creek, the beating historic heart of the emirate, and a key factor in Dubai’s success as a trading port. On the Bur Dubai side is Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, which offers a glimpse of the traditional way of life in Dubai from the mid 19th century until the 1970s. Wander around the traditional buildings topped with wind towers, which today house a selection of art and culture attractions.
If you’ve only got time to stop at one, make it the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which will boost your cultural IQ through its talks and tours. The 90-minute Emirati Cultural Breakfast Experience offers a coveted chance to taste traditional Emirati food while learning more about the customs and traditions of the UAE – simply ask your local host anything you want to know. The centre also offers tours of Jumeirah Mosque, one of only two mosques in Dubai that are open to non-Muslims.
Also in the area is Dubai Museum, housed in the remains of the 18th-century Al Fahidi Fort – the oldest existing building in Dubai. Inside, you can view ancient artefacts, dioramas depicting everyday Emirati life through the decades, and a multimedia presentation charting the discovery of oil.
More museums to add to your must-see list include Jameel Arts Centre on the banks of Jaddaf Waterfront, which is the country’s first non-profit, non-government owned museum dedicated to contemporary art.
“Boost your cultural IQ through talks and tours”
To know more about the birth of the UAE, make a beeline for the aesthetically impressive Etihad Museum on Jumeirah Street. Another museum showcasing aspects of Dubai’s warp speed growth is found at the base of Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park.
For your fill of art, Dubai’s oldest enclave, The Majlis Gallery in Bur Dubai, has been a repository of art since 1989. Alternatively, corporate types rub shoulders with art-loving visitors at Dubai International Financial Centre’s tranche of artsy hubs including XVA Gallery and fine-art photography vitrine The Empty Quarter.
In industrial Al Quoz, Alserkal Avenue has emerged as a thriving arts and culture hub that celebrates diversity. Its cool collection of warehouses contain the likes of: Custot Gallery Dubai, which showcases modern and contemporary artists; The Third Line, which represents contemporary Middle Eastern artists; and dedicated photography centre Gulf Photo Plus, which runs regular workshops and events.
The city is no stranger to street art, with new life infused into various thoroughfares thanks to creative initiatives such as Dubai Walls at City Walk – a collaborative platform for 16 renowned international artists. In addition, buildings along 2nd December Street in Satwa host the permanent works of prominent international artists who took part in the Dubai Street Museum project. For beachside viewing, Jumeirah Beach Residence also boasts a selection of vibrant murals.
Next, get dressed up for an evening of world-class entertainment at La Perle by Dragone, Dubai’s first in-residence show, which draws on the aquatic, aerial and acrobatic expertise of a troupe of outstanding performers to weave a spellbinding tale based on Dubai’s rise to prominence.
As architecturally impressive as its bulging calendar of events, which range from opera and musicals to children’s theatre, the stunningly designed 2,000-seat Dubai Opera is often a sell-out experience. The world’s most popular musical, The Phantom of the Opera, is set to make its Middle East debut here in autumn 2019.
Comedic relief is the order of the day at The Laughter Factory, which imports well-known international acts, while Dubomedy is the preserve of those brave souls of stand-up.
Organised travellers can plan a trip to coincide with one of the many festivals in the annual calendar – many of which take place in spring. The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is usually on in March, bringing an awesome line-up of acclaimed authors to impart their wisdom. Art Dubai also falls around this time. The 2019 edition draws more than 90 galleries from over 40 different countries, providing a coveted chance to engage with the artists.
Main image: Street art at City Walk