Dubai’s sights need little introduction. From the towering heights of the Burj Khalifa to the opulence of the Palm Jumeirah, the largest city in the UAE has more than its fair share of instantly recognisable landmarks. But what is there for visitors who seek the path less travelled? Plenty, as it turns out. Our clandestine guide to secret Dubai points you to the city’s enchanting, lesser-known highlights.
Majlis Ghorfat Umm Al Sheif
Once the summer home of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the father of modern Dubai, what this elegant little building lacks in stature, it more than makes up for in historical significance. Now a small museum home to furniture, art and utensils of heritage Emirati leaders, Majlis Ghorfat Umm Al Sheif is a little palm tree-bordered haven in the bustle of downtown Dubai.
Don’t let the name confuse you. Dubai’s Antique Museum isn’t exactly a museum so much as a vast warehouse bazaar offering millions of items for sale from across the Arab world and beyond. Polish up your haggling skills and treat yourself to trinkets of all sorts, from decorative items and furniture to tea sets, shishas and pashmina shawls. The Antique Museum is a true Dubai secret.
Al Qudra Cycle Track
A treat for visitors seeking some pulse-raising action, Al Qudra is a dedicated cycle track that winds through the desert for nearly 100km. The striking scenery and clear air make it a picturesque location to pedal up a storm and it’s just a 25-minute drive from Dubai’s centre. It’s best tackled early in the morning or at night when the sun’s not at its peak. There are rest stations along the way, but bring plenty of fluids. Keep a look out for the Arabian Oryx which roam around in herds.
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
A nature reserve of rolling red sand dunes and striking landscapes, Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve is the largest conservation site in the region, taking up five per cent of the total area of Dubai. It’s home to many beautiful native species, including Arabian oryx, sand foxes, caracals, and the adorable pygmy shrew. Specially selected operators lay on tours for this unique brand of Emirati safari.
A dramatic rocky outcrop in the desert, several hours’ drive from the city, Fossil Rock is famous for its marine fossils dating back millions of years to the Cambrian, Permian and Triassic periods. Renowned for its spectacularly preserved specimens, Fossil Rock is a must-visit for fossil-hunters from all over the world, and is the perfect destination for a road trip in a 4x4 dune basher hired from a local tour operator.
In Dubai’s Al Fahidi heritage area, the Coffee Museum is a haven for any true fan of the region’s other black gold. Built in a traditional style, it’s bursting with antique coffee paraphernalia from all over the world, including many centuries-old artefacts from the bean’s home in Ethiopia. It smells amazing, and needless to say, the café experience at the end is worth the trip alone.
If you’re planning to explore the secrets of Dubai, the authentically Arabian Al Seef Hotel by Jumeirah marries historic architecture with exquisite luxury and impeccable service.