Of the many reasons one might choose to visit Dubai it would seem culture and heritage seldom appear at the top of the list any more.
In a region that is steeped in history the Emirate has almost become a victim of its own success in shifting the gaze of tourists towards its uber modern infrastructure and outlook.
Where Babylon is famed for its hanging gardens and Giza is renowned for its great pyramids, Dubai is considered to be a modern wonder of the world with proud buildings such as the Burj Khalifa and artificial archipelago such as the Palm Jumeirah proud symbols of its contemporary vision.
But overlooking heritage completely would be a grave mistake for anyone visiting the famed Emirate, which is why Ramadan is one of the best times to organise your excursion.
Ramadan in Dubai
Dubbed “Dubai’s best kept secret”, Ramadan is a wonderful time of the year to visit the UAE if you want to get a feel and appreciation for local life in the region.
One of five pillars of Islamic faith it is well known as being a month where Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids or smoking, but it is equally a time for reaffirming the faith through prayer, readings of the Quran and doing good deeds and charity.
So the normally frenetic city takes a slow, deep breath. Stereos get turned down a notch, shopping malls become more serene and people revert to holiday mode, giving visitors a chance to witness beautiful holy traditions, taste mouth-watering Emirati meals, soak up the sunshine and get stuck into Arabic tradition.
History and heritage
It also presents an ideal time to get to know the Emirate and the rest of the UAE.
A federation of seven emirates – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain – the country was united in 1971 after the British government gave it independence.
Since then it has experienced phenomenal growth. For most Emirates this has been propped up on oil money, but in Dubai, where the government chose to diversify the economy from trade-based but oil-reliant to one that is service- and tourism-oriented, it is another story altogether.
Today Dubai is the top tourism destination in the Middle East and the fifth most popular destination in the world.
It welcomes tens of millions of tourists every year and certainly has the infrastructure to capacitate it, with modern hotels, airports and some of the best tourist attractions around.
The popularity of Dubai as a destination also allows it to show off traditional Emirati culture, which is particularly accessible during the month of Ramadan.
5 ways to explore traditional Emirati culture in Dubai
– Take a cooking class
Emirati cooking is a wonderful melting pot of cuisines from several continents, and there’s no better way to explore all it has to offer than to experience it first hand in one of Dubai’s top restaurants.
Seven Sands offer a cooking class experience which gives guests two hours of hands-on cooking with Executive Chef Bassel Ibrahim, who will guide participants through an exciting Emirati culinary adventure.
The class will teach you how to cook two of the nation’s best-loved dishes, after which everyone will sit down to enjoy their creations with a three-course meal.
The class will also include kitchen etiquette, and tips and guidelines to recreate these dishes at home. Participants go home with an apron, a recipe booklet and a jar of bezar spice mix.
– Go on a desert safari
Experience local wildlife, climate and cooking on a desert safari.
Throughout Ramadan you can take part in a traditional iftar in a magical setting in the Dubai Desert.
Platinum Heritage offer the opportunity to take a step back in time and experience Ramadan in Dubai as it was 50 years ago.
You will break the fast at a sunset falcon show the traditional way with dates, chami cheese and sparkling date juice and enjoy the company of local Bedouin as they share stories about Ramadan in the region.
Then make your way to a luxury desert camp, lit with gentle flames nestled inside a private Royal desert retreat and enjoy a scrumptious Iftar dinner under the stars.
– Visit the old town
With traditional Middle Eastern buildings, markets and ports, you can get a taste for where it all started in Dubai’s old town.
The legendary Creek was once the entryway to the Gulf’s most successful pearl-diving port, and that presence is still felt today with fishermen and merchants crossing the calm waters intersected by passenger boats.
Take a boat out to the market and you can experience Dubai’s famous souks, with gold, perfumes and textile stalls littering the streets. But the greatest sensory overload comes from the spice souk, which comes alive with vibrant colours and scents.
– Join a program at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
The Centre for Cultural Understanding was set up by Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to reach out and educate expatriates and tourists in the traditions and customs of the UAE.
During Ramadan you can join the centre in breaking the fast in the evening, with representatives on hand to discuss Islam and answer any questions you may have. You will also be given a tour of a nearby mosque, where you can ask further questions about the religion.
– Check out the Etihad Museum
Exploring the remarkable, albeit short, history of the United Arab Emirates, the Etihad museum is a must for those looking to learn more about the country’s past and its future.
The 25,000 m2 landmark is befittingly located at the very place where the UAE was founded in 1971.
Through a unique visitor journey, the various pavilions house experience-driven exhibitions, interactive programmes and education initiatives that explore the chronology of events that culminated in the unification of the Emirates in 1971, with a key emphasis on the period between 1968 and 1974.
The programmes also aim to educate visitors about the nation’s constitution, in particular – the rights, privileges and responsibilities that it bestows upon the people of the UAE.