From Dhow Cruises on the Old Creek to overnight safaris in the Arabian Desert, here’s how to get off the beaten track in Dubai. 

Step aside, Burj Khalifa, and give the Dubai Mall a miss this time around. There’s much more to see in this desert emirate than its high-rise hotels and shopping malls. And with upwards of 15 million overnight visitors enjoying the glitz and glamour of the UAE’s number-one destination in 2023, there’s no better time to get off the beaten track in Dubai than now.

Luckily, it doesn’t take a lot of planning to escape the tourist trail in Dubai. Whether it’s a dhow cruise on the Old Dubai Creek or an overnight safari far from the city’s crowds, an off-the-beaten-track adventure is just a click away. If you’re planning a trip to the UAE, then keep reading, as I explore the best ways to get off the beaten track in Dubai. 

How to get off the beaten track in Dubai

I’ve been to Dubai on countless occasions. I spent several years of my childhood living over the border in Muscat, Oman, and Dubai was always a fun weekend trip away for us. Even back in the 90s, it was clear to a young kid like me that Dubai was going places, and on every return trip since, something larger and more outrageous has been built since the last time I was there.

Nothing has changed in over two decades, and Dubai’s growth continues to outstand me. For tourists, that’s great, and you can spend your morning skiing on an indoor slope and your afternoon enjoying bottomless brunch at a five-star hotel. But despite all the mad attractions, it’s still possible to escape the tourist trail, find snippets of authentic Emirati culture and get off the beaten track in Dubai. Here’s how. 

1. Join a Dhow Cruise of Old Dubai Creek

Embarking on a traditional Dhow cruise in Dubai is a journey through the city’s maritime heritage of old. In the Old Creek, board a traditional wooden Dhow and sail past age-old souks, where the Arabian traders of yesteryears still echo in the labyrinthine alleys. 

Conversely, in the Marina, sleek Dhows glide along a lavish waterfront, offering panoramic vistas of futuristic skyscrapers and opulent yachts. Against the backdrop of modern architectural marvels, a traditional dhow cruise unveils the city’s contemporary allure. As the sun sets, the waters shimmer with the reflection of illuminated dhows and the skyline, evoking a sense of timeless elegance in a Dubai that’s constantly in flux.

Take a dhow cruise and escape the crowds in Dubai. Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Countries Are in the Middle East? Everything You Need to Know.

2. Book an overnight desert safari

An overnight desert safari in the Arabian Desert offers an exhilarating chance to escape the city itself as you sleep beneath the vast desert skies where Bedouin nomads once roamed. The journey begins with an adrenaline-pumping 4×4 off-roading experience, as expert drivers navigate the undulating sand dunes, providing thrills and panoramic vistas of the golden landscape.

As dusk descends, the convoy reaches a secluded overnight desert Safari Dubai camp, where traditional Bedouin-style tents await weary travellers. Under the star-studded canopy, guests indulge in a sumptuous barbecue dinner, savouring the flavours of grilled meats and Arabian delicacies amidst the desert ambience.

At dawn, the desert awakens in a palette of golden hues, offering a serene sunrise or adventurous activities like camel riding and sandboarding before bidding farewell to the age-old beauty of the Arabian Desert.

Photo by Fernando Jorge on Unsplash.

3. Visit Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary

Visiting Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai unveils a hidden oasis teeming with biodiversity amidst the urban landscape. Located along the shores of Dubai Creek, this protected wetland reserve offers an off-the-beaten-track escape for nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers alike.

As you wander along the wooden boardwalks and observation points, you’re greeted by the sight of pink flamingos wading through the shallow waters, their colourful plumage contrasting against the backdrop of mangroves and reed beds. The sanctuary is home to a diverse array of bird species, including herons, egrets, and migratory birds such as the greater spotted eagle.

Pink flamingoes abound in Ras Al Khor. Photo by Hassan Pasha on Unsplash.

4. Kayak Dubai Creek

Kayaking along Dubai Creek offers a unique perspective on the city’s rich maritime heritage and modern skyline, and all under your own steam. Paddling through the historic waterway, kayakers are immersed amongst traditional dhows navigating the busy waters, contrasting greatly against a backdrop of towering skyscrapers and ancient Emirati houses.

As you glide along the creek’s gentle currents, admire iconic landmarks such as the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, Dubai Gold Souk and Heritage Village from a tranquil vantage point, away from the city’s busy streets.

Photo by Karthik Thoguluva on Unsplash.

5. Delve into history at the Etihad Museum

The Etihad Museum is a beacon of national pride and a testament to the United Arab Emirates’ history and heritage. Located in Dubai, this state-of-the-art museum offers a fascinating journey through the nation’s remarkable story of unity and independence.

Housed within a striking modern architectural structure, the museum’s immersive exhibits and interactive displays chronicle the pivotal events leading to the formation of the UAE in 1971. From archival documents and multimedia presentations to artefacts and personal stories, visitors are transported back in time to witness the vision of the UAE’s founding fathers.

The Etihad Museum, Dubai. Photo by Saj Shafique on Unsplash.

6. Get creative on Alserkal Avenue

Alserkal Avenue is hidden away in Dubai’s Al Quoz industrial district, providing visitors with the chance to explore a cultural enclave amidst the city’s urban landscape. This dynamic arts district serves as a symbol of Dubai’s emerging creativity and innovation, showcasing a diverse array of contemporary art galleries, design studios and creative spaces.

Visitors to Alserkal Avenue are treated to a sensory feast, as they wander through its industrial-chic warehouses transformed into galleries and exhibition spaces. Here, you’ll encounter cutting-edge artworks, avant-garde installations and thought-provoking exhibitions by local and international artists, pushing the boundaries of artistic expression and discourse in an unexpected location.

Read more: How To Travel Overland From Dubai to Muscat By Bus!

7. Gain a deeper understanding of Emirati life at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) serves as a bridge between cultures, fostering dialogue, understanding and appreciation for the cultural heritage of the United Arab Emirates that’s so often lost amongst Dubai’s modern skyline. Located in the historic Al Fahidi neighbourhood of Dubai, the centre offers immersive cultural experiences providing visitors with insights into Emirati traditions, customs and values.

Through interactive programs such as cultural meals, heritage tours, and cultural awareness sessions, the SMCCU invites visitors to engage with Emirati hosts in meaningful exchanges, where they can ask questions, share experiences, and gain a deeper understanding of Emirati culture and hospitality.

Photo by Zosia Szopka on Unsplash.

8. Explore the Emirati past in the Bastakiya Quarter

The Bastakiya Quarter offers a glimpse into the city’s storied past amidst its modern skyline. Located in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, this atmospheric quarter is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways, traditional wind-tower houses and picturesque courtyards, evoking the ambience of old-world Dubai.

Wander through the cobbled streets of Bastakiya and you’ll encounter a treasure trove of cultural attractions, including art galleries, museums, and heritage houses that showcase Emirati architecture and craftsmanship. Highlights include the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where visitors can engage in cultural exchange programs, and the Dubai Museum in Al Fahidi Fort, which provides insights into the city’s evolution from a humble fishing village to a global metropolis.

There you have it. The best ways to get off the beaten track in Dubai! What will you be adding to your UAE itinerary?