How to explore Deira, Dubai

Deira is one of Dubai's most fascinating districts. From navigating souks to spotting traditional dhows, if you're looking for an authentic experience, you'll find it here. Here's how to explore the area with a little help from Insight Guides' local experts
Dubai view over Golf Creek Club and the river. Photo: Shutterstock
Dubai view over Golf Creek Club and the river. Photo: Shutterstock

This leisurely day-long walking route offers a rewarding wander around Deira’s souks, while a couple of absorbing heritage buildings and a visit to the city’s old wooden dhow anchorage round out the tour, before ending with cocktails at the Boardwalk.

Distance: 6km (3.7 miles)

Time: A full day

Start: Deira's Gold Souk

End: Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club
Ideal Insight Guides' tour: Our UAE Essentials holiday includes guided tours of the souks, as well as plenty of time at leisure to take in the areas mentioned below.
Points to note: To reach the starting point of the route, either take a taxi directly to the Gold Souk or a taxi to Bur Dubai Abra Station and then an abra to Deira Old Souk Abra Station, from where it’s just a few minutes walk to the Gold Souk. At the very end of the tour you’ll probably want to take a taxi from the southern dhow moorings to the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club – this should cost only around Dhs10. 

By taking your holiday to Dubai with Insight Guides, our local experts can pre-plan this for you. Simply modify our suggested itineraries or get in touch today to plan your dream trip from scratch

The commercial heart of the old city, life in Deira still largely revolves around the souk. The shops may be modern, and jazzy neon signs may have replaced the traditional hand-painted boards, but business here is still conducted more or less as it has been for over a century past, with thousands of shoebox shops wedged into the district’s rambling bazaars, retailing everything from cheap toys and textiles through to gold and frankincense – a far cry from the modern malls that dominate newer parts of Dubai.

The district is also home to a number of other rewarding heritage sights, including dhow moorings, with dozens of old-fashioned Arabian dhows tied up along the banks of the Creek, as well as more modern sights on the creek side such as the towering buildings, relaxing hotels, and the sails of the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.

Before the shopping starts, ease yourself into the day by wandering through the moored boats, which offer a fascinating glimpse of life in old Dubai.

Dhow Moorings

Begin your day's exploration at Deira Old Souk Abra Station. Facing the Creek on your left is the warren of lanes and alleyways that make up Deira Old Souk. Ahead of you, stretching down the waterfront, are the old city’s dhow moorings, with lines of traditional old wooden cargo boats moored up along the edge of the Creek – an unexpectedly old-fashioned sight amongst the modern traffic and office blocks.

Huge piles of cargo usually stand stacked up along the road here – anything from mounds of fizzy drinks to washing machines and the occasional car – waiting to be loaded up onto boats and shipped off overseas. Many of the dhows here head off to Iran (and many have Iranian crews). The impossibility of enforcing proper customs procedures along the crowded roadside has proved something of a headache for the authorities; attempts are being made to gradually move shipping to more secure facilities down the coast. For the time being, however, the dhows remain.

Traditional wooden dhows boats in Dubai creek, Deira. Photo: ShutterstockTraditional wooden dhows boats are a must-see in Deira. Photo: Shutterstock

Deira Old Souk

Turning away from the Creek, head into the attractive tangle of covered alleyways making up Deira Old Souk. Most of the souk’s shops are now devoted to relatively mundane items like cheap toys, textiles and clothing.

The most interesting part of the Old Souk is the Spice Souk, close to Deira Old Souk Abra Station. This is one of the prettiest corners of Deira, a few narrow alleyways with shops fronted by colourful sacks and trays of fragrant produce, although unfortunately, it’s also shrinking due to competition from local hypermarkets and supermarkets, which is where most modern Dubaians now go for their spices. Goods on offer include mainstream spices (plus relatively inexpensive saffron) and other local cooking ingredients like dried cucumbers and lemons, as well as piles of rose petals, used to scent tea. The souk is also a good place to buy frankincense, sold in various different forms and grades; frankincense burners can also be bought in the souk for a few dirhams. Most stalls sell natural cosmetic products such as pumice and alum, a clear rock crystal used as a kind of mineral aftershave.

Right in front of the Spice Souk (opposite Deira Old Souk Abra Station) stands the small Dubai Municipality Museum, occupying the former headquarters of the Dubai Municipality – a simple but elegant, two-storey structure with a long wooden balcony offering fine views over the commercial hustle and bustle below. Inside, the museum hosts a modern array of civic documents and old photographs.

Deira Gold Souk

From here, you’re a short walk away up ‘Souk Street’ to the entrance for the Gold Souk, probably the most famous in Dubai, and certainly the most valuable. There are about a hundred shops here, lined up under a wooden roof, their windows overflowing with vast quantities of gold jewellery ranging from florid Arabian designs through to more understated pieces – the traditional Emirati-style bracelets are particularly nice.

Dubai is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy gold, attracting a colourful array of shoppers from West Africa, Russia, India and elsewhere. Jewellery is sold by weight (despite its intricacy, the quality of the workmanship isn’t usually factored into the price). If you ask the price of an item, it will first be put on the scales and weighed, and its value calculated according to the day’s gold price (which may be displayed in the shop). Asking for ‘discount’ or ‘special price’ should help knock a further chunk off the price. At this point – and assuming you’re still interested in buying the piece – it’s time to start bargaining. If you are interested in buying something, do not reveal your full interest to the seller. Start your offer low – at around half the amount you estimate you would finally like to spend.

Many shops also sell silver and precious stones, while the area is also a major centre for Dubai’s thriving trade in designer fakes.

Deira Perfume Souk

Returning to the Gold Souk entrance, head east for a block along Sikkat Al Khail Street and then turn left up Al Soor Street. Dozens of traditional perfume shops line these two streets, an area commonly known as the Perfume Souk. Shops stock a mix of western brands (not necessarily genuine) and more flowery local scents. Many places can also mix up a bespoke perfume for you on request from the rows of glass scent bottles lined up behind the counters.

Dried herbs flowers spices in the spice souq at Deira. Photo: ShutterstockDried herbs, flowers and spices in the spice souq at Deira. Photo: Shutterstock


Fish, meat, fruit and vegetable markets

Continue to the top of Al Soor Street and across the Gold Souk Bus Station on the far side of which a footbridge crosses the busy Al Khaleej Road to reach the Fish, Meat, Fruit and Vegetable Souk, the old city’s main wholesale area for all things edible. Before venturing inside, take time to wander among the ice lorries parked to the right of the main building. The fish are kept here in iceboxes and either wheeled into the market by porters or sold to bulk buyers such as restaurateurs. You’ll be amazed at the variety of shapes and sizes of fish, and, here in the sun, you can also appreciate their often stunning colours. Red snappers, belt fish, king fish, sardines and baby sharks are among those weighed and tossed into barrows or flat-bed trucks. In the market proper, walk between the trays of fish towards the sound of chopping at the top left of the hall. Here, buyers can have their fish descaled, filleted and diced by an army of knife-wielding workers in blue overalls.

Next to the fish souk – but definitely not for those of a squeamish disposition – is the smaller Meat Souk, where skinned goats (the carcasses come complete with tails), lambs (without tails) and cows hang. Somewhat easier on both the nose and the eye is the Fruit and Vegetable Souk in the next hall, a particularly good place to buy a wide range of dates from across the Gulf.

Assuming the sight of all this food has made you hungry, return down Al Soor Street for a classic Dubai lunch of shawarma at the small but enduringly popular Ashwaq (see below), a no-frills little cafeteria whose pavement tables are one of the best places in Deira to people-watch.

The Covered Souk

Continue east along Sikkat Al Khail Road back past the junction with Al Soor St, then turn right down any of the various little lanes to reach the Covered Souk. The shops and merchandise here are fairly humdrum compared to other souks in Deira – household items, cheap toys and clothes predominate – although it’s an enjoyable area for an aimless and disorientating wander, attempting to pick a route between the shops and piles of merchandise through the labyrinth of tiny lanes and alleyways.

Al Wasi Souk

Keep heading east and, all being well, you’ll come out somewhere along Al Sabkha Road. Cross this and continue through Al Wasl Souk ) – even bigger and more disorientating, particularly after dark, when the pavements are thronged with crowds of local shoppers. There are all sorts of different routes through the bazaar, although it’s more fun to wander where the urge takes you, aiming ultimately to come out around the northeastern corner of the souk somewhere near the junction of Sikkat Al Khail Street and Al Musalla Road.

Naif Museum

At the far eastern end of Sikkat Al Khail Street, close to the junction with Al Musalla Road, stands the interesting, but little-visited Naif Museum in Naif Fort, the first headquarters of Dubai Police, when the force was established by Sheikh Rashid in 1956.

The fort, which remains a police station today, was added to a single square defensive tower constructed in 1939 to bolster the defence of the northern approach to Dubai. The original tower still stands, while the rest of the fort was reconstructed in 1994 on the orders of Sheikh Mohammed (himself a former head of Dubai Police and Public Security in 1968, a position to which he was appointed at the age of just 19).

The museum is housed in a room below the tower. Among the exhibits are early handguns and rifles, a stock restraint, known as Al Hataba, for prisoners’ feet, and uniforms, including the current military-style green outfit and the first police kandoura, which was white with a red belt and red epaulettes.

South along the Creek

From the Naif Museum it’s a 10-minute walk down busy Al Musalla Road to Baniyas Square, the centre of modern Deira, then onto the Creek. A wide and attractive waterfront walkway heads south from here, running past the Radisson Blu hotel (formerly the InterContinental, the city’s first five-star when it opened in 1970) and a line of tourist dhows moored up along the waterfront.

The Radisson Blu has a number of good venues for lunch or dinner, including Yum!, see below, and Shabestan.There are fine views back up the Creek towards the city centre from here, with the wind towers of the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood over the water in Bur Dubai.

A leisurely 10-minute stroll brings you to the cluster of modernist creek-side buildings, including the landmark National Bank of Dubai building and the triangular-topped Dubai Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Sheraton Hotel, and the Etisalat Tower, surmounted by its distinctive ‘golf ball’.

Immediately south of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, a second set of dhow moorings line the banks of the Creek, and are usually home to dozens more traditional wooden dhows, surreally framed by the glass-fronted modernist buildings behind.

Modern architecture of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club. Photo: ShutterstockThe modern architecture of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club is unmissable. Photo: Shutterstock

Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club

The southern end of the dhow moorings is marked by Maktoum Bridge, the first in the city when it was opened in 1963. Beyond here stretches the expansive grounds of the beautiful Dubai Creek Golf Club (although it’s not much fun walking down the busy Baniyas Road, so get a cab – around Dhs10).

The club is best known for its famous clubhouse, an eye-catching structure inspired by the triangular sails of the traditional Arabian dhow and looking a bit like a Dubai version of the Sydney Opera House in miniature. Close by stands the idyllic Park Hyatt hotel, with its pretty, rather Moorish-looking swathe of white-walled, blue-domed buildings overlooking the adjacent Dubai Creek Yacht Club where dozens of expensive yachts sit moored up alongside the Creek.

There’s a surprisingly good range of places to eat and drink here, either in the golf clubhouse, at the yacht club or in the Park Hyatt. The lively Boardwalk restaurant, see below, offers water-front dining at the yacht club, while The Terrace bar at the Park Hyatt, also featured below, is particularly lovely, with sublime creek-side views past the yachts and down to the high-rises of Deira in one direction, and Sheikh Zayed Road in the other.

Food and drink

1. Ashwaq
Al Khail Road, near the entrance to the Gold Souk
Daily 10am–10pm

A popular little cafeteria, serving up juicy shawarma sandwiches and big cups of various fruit juices – get your lunch then grab a seat at one of the pavement tables.

2. Yum!

Radisson Blu, Dubai Deira Creek
Daily noon–11.30pm

Attractive modern noodle bar with brisk service and flavoursome pan-Asian dishes – mainly Thai, plus a few Chinese, Malay, Indonesian and Singaporean dishes.

3. The Boardwalk
Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club
Sun–Thu noon– midnight, Fri and Sat 8am–midnight

The menu of international food is reliable enough, but it’s the terrific Creek and city views from the outdoor seating that really steal the show.

4. The Terrace Park Hyatt Hotel
Nr Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club

A very smooth Creekside cocktail bar, with a superior (if pricey) drinks list, discreet ambient music and wonderful waterside views.

Including Deira on your Dubai holiday itinerary

Insight Guides can help you with planning, organising and booking your trip to the Dubai, with a walking tour of the traditional Deira district included. Simply, get in touch and share your budget, interests and travel style. Our local experts will create an itinerary exclusive to you and your requirements, which you can amend until it's just right. Alternatively, browse and modify ready-made holidays to create your dream trip today.