Dubai may be best known for its seven-star hotels, skyscrapers and giant shopping malls but to those who claim that my new city has no culture - not so fast. It's there, you just need to know where to look. And by "where to look" I mean use Uber and direct your driver to Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz.
In an industrial area of the city, a network of streets have seen independent galleries and cafes which could be more than at home in Hackney pop up and nestle themselves in amongst mechanics and wholesalers. The area reminded me, in a way, of the 798 District in Beijing - the perfect spot for a solo wander, a rare moment of quiet away from the bright lights of the big city and somewhere I can't wait to take visitors to to show them another side to this city.
Leila Heller gallery is one of the larger galleries in the area. With a New York sister gallery boosting its credentials, this gallery is sure to become a favourite with its frequently changing exhibitions.
The Third Line showcases work from Middle Eastern artists and the current exhibition by Sophia Al Maria titled Everything Must Go draws on the region's love of consumerism and the conflict of growing up between eastern and western cultures.
The surroundings are as Instagrammable and intriguing as the exhibitions inside the galleries. Look in every door way you walk past.
There are a few cafes within Alserkal Avenue but Wild & The Moon was on my to-eat list in its own right after some frantic Googling for vegan cafes in Dubai. The cafe is an absolute delight - a high-ceiling, bright space with the type of menu that I thought I wouldn't find out here (meat is very much the flavour of the month). The staff are super friendly and there's free wifi (essential when you still have a UK phone). I spent a happy hour sipping an almond milk cold brew out of a mason jar and feeling very much at home.
Shop and Do
Mirzam Chocolate Factory is a small-scale factory producing bean-to-bar chocolate in Dubai. The packaging is beautiful and the chocolate has a Middle Eastern twist - white chocolate with saffron is a must try, as is dark chocolate with fig. There's a small cafe and staff on hand to explain the chocolate-making process and bars of all sizes to purchase as (self) gifts.
The chilled A4 Space boasts a cafe, a shop, a cinema screening room and a community library. There's a co-working space upstairs and free wifi - whether you need to catch-up on work, Instagram your surroundings or flick through a book. The atmosphere hits that sweet spot between a coffee shop and a library, so basically my ideal place to spend time in.
- check opening times before visiting, galleries are closed on Friday and possibly on public holidays
- there's an ATM next to A4 Space but gallery entry is free and cafes take cards
- you'll probably need to call an Uber to pick you up unless you can hop in a taxi that has just dropped someone off (or walk the 15 minutes to Noor Bank metro stop as I did)
- leave your sandals for the beach as the area is still a functioning industrial estate