For a glimpse of old Dubai, take a wander through the atmospheric lanes of the Bastakia Quarter. This area was built in the late 19th century by Persian merchants, and these days the buildings have been beautifully restored and are now part of a conservation area.
The Bastakia Quarter is home to the largest concentration of traditional wind-tower houses. The wind-towers were not only decorative, but were an ingenious means of cooling houses in the days before electricity, as they funnel cool air down into the house. The typical homes are two stories, with a central courtyard that most of the rooms open onto. They are fairly plain on the outside, but look out for the carved wooden doors and decorative panels on the wealthier merchants homes.
The are a few interesting galleries in the area, and if you need a break and want to have a look inside the courtyard of one of the traditional homes, head to the Basta Art Café, where you can relax with a drink or a meal in the shady courtyard.
Yes, I know, I should include this tip under Restaurant, but Bastakiah Nights offers more than food.
It's great to visit Bastakiyah Nights at evening time, since the light will create strong exotic Arabic atmoshphere. Bastakiyah Nights is a restored heritage building and the creative owner opens the restaurant with the breathaking atmosphere for people to enjoy the taste of interior design combined with the great food.
In the Bur Dubai area districts like Bastakiya are living reminders of Old Dubai. The narrow passageways with their tall wind towers (al barajeel) are evocative of a time when both sides of Dubai Creek were lined with low buildings in the shelter of higher wind towers. These are not simply decorative elements of a bygone architectural style. These towers are capable of trapping the slightest breeze and funneling it down into the dwelling below.
They work by partitioning the open shaft of the tower vertically from corner to corner, forming four triangular chimneys. As the breeze enters the open top of the tower, it is directed downward into the house. Pretty cool, eh?
If you are interested in seeing what Dubai looked like before the invasion of the skyscrapers go to Bastakiya where a few streets of old Dubai architecture has been built / restored. Each time you turn a corner you may find a coffee shop or a gallery, an intriguing shop, an old doorway and other views which give a glimpst to a era long passed in Dubai.
This is one of the oldest parts of Dubai and has maintained some of its original character. It is a peaceful place with many old villas. Now, they are used mainly by organisations and associations as office buildings. This makes Bastakiah very quiet, even during daytime. Take it as a contrast program to the souk strolls and enjoy the different atmosphere. But sometimes, tradition comes back to life when there’s some event going on or a big “Bastakiah Nights” party is taking place.
In Bastakiah, you’ll also find the only remaining piece of the old Dubai city wall.
This area near the creek waterfront is one of the oldest to still remain in Dubai. It features a number of traditional old merchant houses that were built at the turn of the 20th century for wealthy Persian merchants lured to Dubai by it's relaxed trade tariffs. Most came from the Bastak district in what is now southern Iran, hence the name Bastakia.
The quarter has undergone recent renovation and has now been declared a conservation area. As you walk around the narrow streets you will notice the traditional wind towers which act to cool the houses. Also you will notice that the houses still contain their original carved wooden doors.
The Bastakiya area is another place to see traditional Arab architecture. There are some museums and heritage houses to visit. There are also restaurants and guest houses. It is worth having a wander around. It is very close to the Dubai Museum. Nearest metro Al Fahdi or walk from the Old Souq abra station.
Head back through the ages by taking a tour of the Bastakiya district. The oldest part of the city, the area contains the best preserved examples of the old wind towers that were once used all over Dubai to keep the local houses cool. They would funnel any breeze down into the building in the earliest form of air-conditioning. It is an atmospheric place of great historical interest. A museum, art gallery and cultural centre offer further attractions but most people enjoy merely wandering the streets of the district soaking up the ambience of old Dubai.
The Bastakiya Quarter in Dubai Old Town in Dubai is where you can find traditional emirati houses, shops, wind towers, the Grand Mosque, Souks, the Center for Cultural Understanding Tour House and just beside it is the Al Fahidi Fort. You should also see the area from the Dubai Creek along the Dhow Cruises at Night as it casts a beautiful glow too. Established at the end of the 19th century by well-to-do textile and pearl traders from Bastak, Iran, its labyrinthine lanes are lined with restored merchant’s houses, art galleries, cafés, and boutique hotels. It is not included in the traditional city tours of dubai but you can take the Big Bus Tour and it drops you at the Al Fahidi Fort and just a 3 minute walk and you will enter this ancient quarter and can buy souvenirs at the Old Souk. You can also reach the area by waterbus from the Dubai Old Souk dock or by metro from the Al Fahidi station
Along with Al Shindagha a little further NW on the same side of the Dubai Creek, Al Bastakiya is one of the oldest residential areas of Dubai and is moments from Al Fahidi Fort/Dubai Museum and the Creek itself.
It dates from the 1890s and was originally for wealthy families but the discovery of oil changed all that with Al Bastakiya becoming the home of migrant workers. Much of it was demolished in the 1970s and it is reported that an intervention from Prince Charles in 1989 resulted in the reversal of the planned demolition of the remaining part of the neighbourhood.
A complete makeover of the remaining buildings, wind towers and alleyways took place as recently as 2005 and Al Bastakiya is now a delightfully preserved enclave, with tiny museums (eg coins), galleries (eg the famed Majlis Gallery), small boutique hotels (eg XVA and The Orient) and craft shops. But not many of them, which is the saving grace. It's not become a tourist trap - simply a place to wander the streets and alleyways. It's also small, so it's not a major undertaking in the heat of the day!
This is a nicely restored section of the city with art galleries, museums and cafes. It makes a great stroll even after hours.