Exploring Dubai: Fear of the Darkside

The Darkside (n) any part of the city of Dubai that lies north of Karama. Divided by the buffer zone of Satwa and Karma The Darkside is also know as old Dubai, and was once the CBD of the city.

Dubai newbies are not uncommon. This transient city churns out expats like a Mr. Whipy machine and it has no shame about it. Not everyone lasts long here; some people stick it out a few months, others a couple of years, some even make it half a decade. But there comes a point in everyone’s Dubai life when they think they know everything – they become the authority on the best places to go, believe they know the ins and outs of getting things done – and they believe their wasta is strong, but they’re not, they don’t and it isn’t.

I’ve been here for going on 25 years and I still don’t know everything, so don’t tell me that after doing your time for five years you’ve cracked it. Unless you can find your way around Bur Dubai without reaching for Google maps, navigate Deira without swearing at someone (albeit under your breath) and can keep your calm driving in Al Qusais I just don’t buy it. (For the record, no I can’t do those things).

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One thing you find about most people here is a fear of The Darkside. A fear of crossing that imaginary line where things stop being shiney and start being a little more real – it runs around the end of Zabeel and Trade Centre bends around Satwa and to the end of Jumeirah 1. Satwa and Karama are a strange buffer zone where – only when accompanied, the nervous will venture and only when they absolutely have to.

It’s like standing at the edge of the sea and dipping your toes in but not going for a swim because you’re afraid of sharks.

It’s not that scary. Honestly. Just take the plunge. I have spent many an hour wandering around Deira and Bur Dubai, looking for the most random little restaurants you can imagine, I can tell you first hand it’s not scary.

Busy. Sure, loud? Most defiantly. But in all the best ways. Old Dubai is the real Dubai. It’s where this city came from, it’s where everything started when Marina was just another patch of desert and IMPZ was used for dune bashing and quad biking. Plus some of the looks you get as you navigate the backstreets of Naif are priceless, you’ll see many a surprised shop keeper wondering how you could have possibly gotten so lost to have ended up there.

So why venture North?



It’s cheap, it’s mad and the music is great. Don’t expect clubs banging out the latest EDM chart toppers and bottle service Ciroc. These clubs are all about having a good time, making new friends and dancing until your feet hurt. You’ll feel great waking up the next morning and knowing there’s still money in your wallet to order in that hangover breakfast you so desperately need. Plus if you get the metro there you’ll only have to pay the journey back once the clubs close up.

My top Darkside nightspots:

  • Kit Kat Club: See in the wee hours with great music, potent drinks and a lively crowd who love a great dance.
  • Club Seven: With its own theme song (watch it here) and regular performances throughout the night to break up your hours of busting a move on the dance floor you’ll find a rowdy crowd, flashing lights and cafeteria style tables boasting beer towers and deliciously comforting Filipino food.
  • Music Room: Some of the best bands in Dubai have graced this stage and kept the crowds skanking, moshing and shaking their groove thang. With nights offering free shots for the ladies, great nibbles to satiate those late night muchies and a pool table if getting sweaty on the dance floor isn’t really your scene.
  • 88 Ultra Lounge: An oasis in Deira, somehow so far removed from the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest intersections in the city, serving dangerously delicious cocktails, it is the perfect way to start off any night.



Some of the city’s oldest restaurants are still going strong; tucked away as the skyscrapers grow around them. With so much history and so many stories plus menus that have stood the test of time they have to be doing something right; right?

My top Darkside eats:

  • Special Ostadi: Iranian Kebabs with a fun and quirky twist. Experience decades of history through photographs plastering the walls of the restaurant, you’ll even find a piece of the Berlin wall and an impressive selection of telephones.
  • Caesers Restaurant and Confectionary: From family dining booths to decadent cakes Caesers has become somewhat of an institution with branches opening up all over the city. With a menu of delightful Indian dishes and a few interesting Indo-Chinese offerings you’re spoilt for choice filping through the menu page after page.
  • Sonamu: Fine dining Korean cuisine complete with Soju and hot pots. Tucked away in the heart of Deira this restaurant might not have quite the lengthy history of many of its neighbouring eateries it is still worthy of a visit.
  • Sultan Dubai Falafel: Street food, snacks and the best falafel in the city. What more could you need? With fresh fruit juices, a secret recipe and a custom machine you can expect moreish nibbles, sandwiches and dips.



Dubai’s melting pot of culture culminates here. With so many people trying to find their own little piece of home you’ll find yourself completely immersed in a clash of ideals, religion and custom.

My top Darkside cultural experiences:

  • Shiva Mandir & Krishna Mandir: A Hindu temple tucked down an alleyway in Bur Dubai will transport you to a whole different world. The air is filled with insence, the walls lined with shops selling colourful flowers and garlands, it is a complete sensory experience. Just take a wonder down the street soaking up the sights and smells or speak to someone on site and gain an insight into the religion.
  • The Coffee Museum: Experience coffee in a whole new way with displays featuring traditional brewing techniques from some of the world’s most famous producers. Learn more about growing, roasting, selling and brewing these precious beans.
  • Diwan Mosque: Forget Jumeirah Mosque, everyone has been there and done that. Take the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Under Standing Heritage Tour and have a look inside this beautiful mosque. Built in 1985 it is not quite as steeped in history as the surrounding Al Fahidi buildings but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
  • Fishing Dhows: Take a walk by the Deira side creek and see the fishermen and sailors loading and unloading cargo from all over the world or taking their daily catch to be sold at the fish market. Snap some great photos of the guys as they work, many of them are more than happy to strike a pose.


  1. Thanks for sharing this! I’m actually planning to go Dubai next year so I’ll be revisiting this post around then! Top darkside cultural experiences seem so interesting


  2. Really a nice coverage on Dubai’s traditional area. I also like this area as it is affordable. There are live music and dance bars where we can see traditional dances and dine while watching.


  3. Wow, what a way to explore Dubai, being on the night side and venturing it out. Watching out traditional music and dances with some grill food in those wee hours can be such a great change!


  4. My friend recently moved to Dubai and I follow her photos on social media and it looks amazing! I had heard it was ridiculously expensive to socialise over there but I guess you get what you pay for!


  5. I have been to Dubai with my husband on a business trip a few years back. I am a spirited soul and am never afraid to have an adventure and with 72 hours found myself immersed among the people and spices of old Dubai town . I loved every second of it as the people were real and not full of false values that too much wealth inevitably brings with it. Great post!


    • I used to live down there – in the very olden days – when my parents first moved to Dubai that’s where we lived. It’s a part of Dubai people don’t really talk about.


  6. I never knew that The Darkside could be beautiful too. I guess the life there is a little laidback and people would go there once they are suffocated with the life in the city.


    • Pretty much! It’s my favourite part of the city when I need to escape the bubble but cant afford to get on a plane, I like going and experiencing a life that’s a little more real!


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