Soul city: getting to the heart of the emirate

A new travel guide is taking visitors to Dubai beyond the city’s celebrated modern-day marvels and introducing them to its more offbeat attractions

Dubai is famous for its modern marvels, but scratch the gleaming surface and a fascinating new layer emerges. Backstreet walks, bohemian cafes and edgy art are but a few examples of what makes Dubai tick, and the new Soul of Dubai Guide puts the city’s hidden gems to the spotlight.

The Soul of Dubai Guide, launched earlier this month by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, promises a different take on Dubai. The guide is built on insights from people who know best – those who call Dubai home. Tips on Dubai’s little-known gems range from funky galleries to cultural heritage tours, from tiny juice bars to the best Emirati restaurants. 

Take Dubai’s hotel scene, for one. Regular travel guides are brimming with suggestions, but not many mention that big names aren’t the only option. Hidden on quiet backstreets, characterful guesthouses like XVA Art Hotel and Al Ahmadiya Heritage Guest House offer a boutique take on Arabian hospitality.

XVA Hotel
The XVA Art Hotel offers a quirky and colourful guest house experience

And quirky options don’t stop at hotels. When it comes to eating out, Dubai’s culinary traditions stretch well beyond the walls of the city’s known fine dining restaurants. When it comes to seafood, many locals swear by Bu Qtair, a humble beachside joint. Meanwhile, the streets of old Dubai offer a hole-in-the-wall taste of cooking from the Middle East and beyond.

Elsewhere, a new generation of artists is at work to create a whole new genre: Dubai-bred art. The scene is flourishing in the industrial area of Al Quoz which rarely features in tourist guides. Yet it’s there, within the converted warehouses, particularly around Alserkal Avenue, that such innovation now takes place. 

Dubai’s heart also beats in traditions. A wander down the narrow streets along Dubai Creek was named by nearly everyone interviewed for the guide as a quintessential Dubai experience. The Creek, with its colourful abras and endless energy is, in many ways, the birthplace of Dubai – a gathering place of people, business and culture.

A wander down the narrow streets along Dubai Creek was named by nearly everyone interviewed for the guide as a quintessential Dubai experience

The guide sheds light on Dubai’s character by explaining the city’s development from days gone by to modern life. Dubai has grown fast, but not too fast to forget its heritage. In the shadows of gleaming towers are a number of historic sites that tell the tale of a city that’s always on the move.

The Soul of Dubai Guide aims to maintain that momentum. As an ongoing initiative, the guide will be updated with community feedback and insights into the heart – and soul – of a city that individuals from some 200 nationalities now call home.

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