Museums in Dubai, cultural spaces from the past to the future
While architecture is often the main reason people travel to Dubai, there are plenty of cultural offerings that can also make a trip worthwhile. In addition, many of Dubai’s museums have a surprisingly modern look. You only have to glance at the exceptional Museum of the Future or the Etihad Museum to realise that no building is designed at random and that they conceal secret messages everywhere.
Although in Dubai you’ll find museums as curious and entertaining as the Museum of Illusions, we recommend you choose a few where you can discover the history and culture not only of Dubai but also of the United Arab Emirates. Of course, you shouldn’t miss a visit to the Dubai Museum, because from that moment on you’ll be ready to understand this city and visit both its old and modern areas in a more mindful way. In addition to visiting the museums we suggest below, it’s also interesting to see the historic properties that date back to the merchant era before the oil boom. And if you’re a curious traveller, discover smaller museums dedicated to perfume, pearls, philately, camels, coffee, or traditional architecture.
- Museo de Dubái
- Etihad Museum
- House of Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum
- Heritage House Museum
- Museo del Futuro de Dubái
- Museo de las Ilusiones
- Museo de Arquitectura
- Centro de Arte Islámico de Dubái
- Otros museos de Dubái
- Dónde alojarse en Dubái
In the Al Fahidi neighbourhood, at the southern end of the Dubai Estuary, you’ll find the fortress that houses what is probably the oldest building in the city and is now home to the Dubai Museum. The fort was built around 1787 and has been the seat of the monarchy, an arsenal of weapons, and even a prison before it was renovated by Sheikh Rashid al-Saeed al-Maktoum. The museum has been in operation since 1971 and tells the story of Dubai’s history and culture and describes the ancient pearl trade before the advent of oil.
The Etihad Museum is the perfect place to keep a finger on the pulse of new cultural trends while discovering the country’s contemporary history. Unsurprisingly, it’s housed in a modern building in the Jumeirah area and has several interactive pavilions for visitors to browse through. The Etihad Museum covers more than 25,000 m2 and was built on the site of the former Union House. The building, designed by Canadian architects Moriyama and Teshima, has an original curved roof inspired by the shape of the constitution and several columns that resemble the quills with which it was signed.
House of Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum
The House of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum provides an excellent opportunity to get an inside look at the historic residences of the families of Dubai’s high society. Here, the sheikh’s good relationship with the local population is reflected in how close his private residence is to the rest of the properties in the neighbourhood. Notice how it faces Mecca, and admire the layout of the various rooms inside. To visit this house museum, head to the Bur Dubai neighbourhood.
Heritage House Museum
Another must-see museum in Dubai is the Heritage House Museum, a building built in 1890 by Matar Saeed bin Mazina that is considered a good example of a historic house. Inside you can see its layout, furniture, belongings, clothes, and jewellery, among other things. Next to this house museum is the Al Ahmadiya School, which was the first school in Dubai. Between 1912 and 1958, it welcomed excellent students who went on to become great scientists and prominent figures.
The Dubai Museum of the Future
One of Dubai’s latest architectural surprises has come in the form of a museum, and its design means it’s aptly named the Museum of the Future. This asymmetrical building, with a gigantic convex ring shape, is clad in steel and glass. The architect Shaun Killa is the designer of the project, who wanted to convey three concepts: the void, the building, and the hill. The hill on which the museum sits represents the earth, what is permanent, while the glowing, futuristic building represents humanity, and the central void represents the future that has yet to be written for mankind. The letters printed on the surface of the museum are verses from the poems of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE.
Museum of Illusions
Dubai is also home to the Museum of Illusions, a type of museum that has flourished in cities around the world. Located on Al Seef Street, this space plays with the senses through over 80 exhibits. It also has the largest collection of optical illusions in the world and, as you can imagine, it’s a hit on Instagram. It’s the perfect place to visit with the family and experience new sensations together, such as weightlessness, reflections, and illusions.
Continuing with museums in Dubai, we recommend the Traditional Architecture Museum. This might not be one of the first museums you choose to visit, but if you have the time it’s not to be missed, as it allows you to learn about the characteristics of different buildings all over the country, the desert, the mountains, rural areas and, of course, urban areas as well.
Islamic Art Centre in Dubai
One of the places that can shed the most light on the way the Islamic religion is understood and transmitted through art is Miraj, the Islamic Art Centre in Dubai (582 Jumeirah Beach Road). From this set of beliefs, which are common in so many countries, emerge ceremonial elements, designer textiles such as rugs, beautifully inlaid weapons, gold-painted ceramics, and hand-painted miniatures, among other objects. In this museum you’ll be fascinated by Islamic iconography.
Other museums in Dubai
If after visiting all the above museums, you still feel like delving deeper into the culture of this exciting emirate, you can continue with other museums. Among them, we recommend you consider the Naif Museum, located in a former police station and prison, the Women’s Museum at Bait Al Banat, which gives you an insight into the role of women in the UAE, and the Al Shindagha Museum, which offers an interesting tour that uses interactive videos, photographs, and touch screens to tell the story of life in this place and its relationship with trade.
Where to stay in Dubai
The modern city of Dubai has a number of hotels of all categories to suit the needs of travellers. Well connected to Downtown Dubai is the Occidental Al Jaddaf, a four-star hotel with 365 rooms and suites. On-site facilities include fine restaurants such as Carmen Tapas and Beit Beiruty, as well as a heated swimming pool, gym, sauna, and Turkish bath.
In the heart of the Palm Jumeirah, you can opt for Dukes The Palm, a Royal Hideaway Hotel, a five-star hotel with 279 rooms and suites, plus 285 apartments. It has a private beach, a large infinity pool, and the renowned Khyber restaurant. And if you’re travelling with your family or you feel like staying for longer, a great option is to book an apartment at the Barceló Residences Dubai Marina. There are 253 residences that form part of excellent facilities with swimming pools and a gym.
Two other options are the Occidental Dubai Production City, a four-star hotel located near the Dubai Expo, with 239 rooms, two restaurants, bar, two heated pools, and a sky lounge with a swimming pool. And the Occidental Sharjah Grand, another four-star hotel in Sharjah, a city close and well connected to Dubai, has 221 rooms, a private beach area, and a selection of different cuisines.
Frequently Asked Questions
What museums should I visit in Dubai?
There are many varied cultural and museum options in Dubai but some of these venues are considered a must see on a trip. Take note of the Museum of the Future, the Museum of Illusions, the Dubai Museum, and the Etihad Museum.
Which museum should I visit to learn about Dubai's history?
Dubai's history can be explored in a number of museums around the city. If you're interested in this type of venue, be sure to visit the Dubai Museum, the Etihad Museum, and some of the historic houses that provide an insight into traditional architecture such as the House of Sheikh Saeed al Maktoum.
Are there family-friendly museums in Dubai?
While children are welcome in all types of museums in Dubai, there are some museums where they can have a great time. Very entertaining options include the Museum of Illusions, the immersive OliOli Museum, and even the Etihad Museum that will really catch their eye because of the architecture.