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Going local in Dubai

In a city as opulent as Dubai, it’s worth looking beyond the famous sites and attractions to seek out the places that speak of the Emirate’s true culture and heritage, past and present. From Emirati hangouts to expat havens, discover how to ‘go local’ with this guide to some of the city’s most exciting and individual enclaves.

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Dubai Museum

It’s easy to forget that, until very recently, Dubai was just a fishing village surrounded by desert. A walk around this museum, set in a restored fort in the historic Bur Dubai district, gives a valuable insight into the city’s history. From video presentations to interactive displays, complete with life-size camels, the museum will open your eyes to a whole range of memorable lessons and attractions.

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

One of the best ways to learn about a culture is to speak with locals. Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood offers visitors a rare opportunity to sit and enjoy a traditional Emirati breakfast with young local men and women. During the insightful, interactive experience, hosts will teach guests about Emirati culture and traditions, ending with an open Q&A session.

Explore Al Fahidi

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Shisha smoking

Shisha (the art of smoking flavoured tobacco through a water pipe) is a popular Arabian pastime. While admittedly not the healthiest habit for the lungs, the social practice is a big part of local culture. There are hundreds of shisha bars and shisha-friendly restaurants across the city, many of which employ ‘shisha experts’ who have spent years learning how to pack the perfect pipe.

Boutique shopping

Dubai may be known for its grandiose mega-malls but in recent years the city has seen an influx of boutique shopping centres and concept stores pop up to satisfy those looking for something a little different. Take a stroll through Jumeirah to discover the bulk of these lesser-known spaces. From designer abaya stores and vintage Western clothing outlets to high-end concept stores and quirky furniture shops, there’s so much for shoppers to discover beyond the malls.

A local's guide to shopping in Dubai

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Camel racing

The Spanish love their football. The English love their cricket. And the Emiratis? They love camel racing. A truly unusual sport to witness, camel races see groups of one-humped mammals speeding down a track, legs flailing, as they gallop at up to 40 miles per hour. While not as graceful as horse racing (another of the Emirate’s most-loved sports), attending a camel race is an experience you’ll never forget.

How to pick the winner in a camel race


If you’re not shopped-out after exploring Dubai’s historic souks, head to the city’s more modern markets. From organic gastronomy at Ripe Market and farm produce at The Market at The Beach, to second-hand fashion at Dubai Flea Market and family vibes at Family Street Market on The Walk, there’s something for everyone most weekends.

A local's guide to shopping in Dubai

Image credits: The Movement © The Movement, A pure juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern © Cherkas, 2013, All other imagery © iStockPhoto