Of Scents And Stories: A Walk Around Dubai's Al Seef

Al Seef in Dubai is A seamless blend of old-world charm and contemporary Flair
Founded in the latter part of 2017, Al Seef, a waterfront promenade, commemorates the roots of Dubai Creek
Founded in the latter part of 2017, Al Seef, a waterfront promenade, commemorates the roots of Dubai CreekPhotos: Shutterstock

Established in late 2017, Al Seef, a waterfront promenade, pays homage to Dubai Creek's origins as a coastal pearl diving hub. Spanning 1.8 km along the Creek's shoreline, this 2.5 million square foot development is divided into two sections. The first showcases historic architecture, while the second embraces contemporary structures. Once a bustling gateway to the Gulf's thriving pearl diving port, the Creek's historical legacy persists at Al Seef with its wind towers and sandstone buildings.

"Made to look old, you'll encounter narrow corridors, market stall traders, and buildings that have been created to look as if they've been there since the '60s, when my father settled here," says Muhammad Bilal, a 57-year-old store employee from Pakistan, packing a kilo of Mamra almonds for me.

Al Seef is made to look old
Al Seef is made to look oldShutterstock

A Diverse Culinary Hub

As I wander around Al Seef, the air is filled with tempting aromas from the many waterfront restaurants where families, couples and friends are sitting around, enjoying their meals and conversations.

Al Fanar: Housed in a historic dwelling that mirrors Dubai's evolution, this eatery offers authentic Emirati cuisine.

Khofo: Celebrating Egyptian cuisine, the decor is inspired by the great pharaohs and the ethos of ancient Egypt.

Nablus: This restaurant is a tribute to the historic city of Nablus in the northern West Bank of Palestine, with its alleyways and brick pathways. You must try the Nablusi kanafeh, a middle-eastern dessert.

Starbucks: The Starbucks at Al Seef is unlike any other that you may have visited. Get your caffeine fix at this quaint outlet that has a thatched roof, wooden doors, and lanterns, creating a rustic Arabian vibe.

You can buy an array of dried fruits
You can buy an array of dried fruits Shutterstock

Shopper's Paradise

Immerse yourself in the lively market atmosphere at Al Seef, where you can discover an array of souvenirs. It offers a diverse selection from Dubai-themed T-shirts, fridge magnets, camel figurines, home decor, handicrafts and jewellery.

Ibrahim Naseeri: This Afghan store specialises in semi-precious stones sourced from diverse corners of the globe. You can explore an array of treasures, from amethyst crystals, celebrated for their healing properties, to rose quartz and cowrie shells. Their collection includes loose stones, necklaces, prayer beads, bracelets, and earrings. Beyond stones, the shop offers mosaic-style clutches and authentic Afghan jewellery, ideal for special occasions.

Eter Story: This boutique showcases an exquisite range of French and Arab perfumes. Whether you prefer delicate florals, earthy musks, refreshing citrus blends, or woodsy oud, this shop has it all.

However, if perfumes are your passion, venture out from Al Seef to Deira's Perfume Souk around 7 km away. Here, the air is heavy with the scent of oud.

Al Seef pays homage to the UAE's distinct heritage
Al Seef pays homage to the UAE's distinct heritage

"Derived from resin, this fragrant oil is traditionally worn by Emirati men and women, offering a scent rich with a signature earthiness," said Arif, the young worker at an attar store owned by a Bangladeshi migrant.

Perfume Souk also has renowned stores like Ajmal and Swiss Arabian, offering various Arabic and French-inspired fragrances—sticks, stones, oils, or powders. Ajmal specialises in traditional Arabic perfumes with a modern twist, having operated in Dubai since 1951. Khadlaj, another well-established perfumery, offers brilliant blends, and you can request a fully personalised aroma based on your skin type and personality.

Zafarana: Having the charm of a local grocery shop, this store offers a diverse selection of dried fruits, flowers, herbs, spices, and sweets from around the world. During your visit, do buy authentic saffron, baklava (a delectable layered pastry), and dates.

Where To Stay

Al Seef Heritage Hotel: While there are many contemporary options to choose from like Canopy by Hilton, the Al Seef Heritage Hotel located along Dubai Creek's southern banks, takes you back in time and invites you to discover Dubai's architectural heritage.

With 190 guest rooms spread across ten traditional Arabian bayt (homes), complete with iconic wind towers, the hotel provides views of nearby souks, rooftops, courtyards, alleyways, and Dubai Creek's waterways.

Getting There

Al Seef is accessible by car through Sheikh Zayed Road, water taxis, and Dubai Metro. If using the metro, disembark at Burjuman station.

An abra (a traditional wooden boat) is a great way to explore Al Seef's exotic sights and sounds as it traverses Dubai Creek. This affordable excursion, costing AED 1-2 (INR 22-44) per ride, shuttles between four stations along Dubai Creek. The first route connects Deira Old Souk to Bur Dubai Abra Station, while the second busier route links Al Sabkha to Dubai Old Souk Abra Station.

Use it to explore Al Fahidi, constructed in the early 1900s, a historic district that transports visitors to another era. The Dubai Museum is situated here, occupying the city's oldest structure, Al Fahidi Fort, dating back to 1787.

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