Anchored by the iconic twin Jumeirah Emirates Towers, the Financial District is the domain of the business brigade. At its heart is the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), easily recognised by a minimalist triumphal arch called The Gate. Two wooden bridges link DIFC to the Gate Village, a modernist cluster of 10 mid-rise stone-clad towers built around walkways and small plazas and home to numerous fine-art galleries, as well as some excellent restaurants.
Local Knowledge: Dubai Trolley
Getting around Downtown Dubai has never been easy, but the free, hydrogen-powered Dubai Trolley (www.thedubaitram.com/dubai-trolley) is a right step in making the area more accessible. The first 1km section was rolled out in 2015 and makes three stops along Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Blvd, including the Dubai Mall and the Vida Downtown hotel. Eventually, the nostalgic double-decker streetcars are supposed to cover 7km linking the mall with the Burj Khalifa, other hotels and the Dubai Metro station. At the time of writing, though, construction seemed to have stalled.
Local Knowledge: Alserkal Avenue Arts Campus
Right in the industrial district of Al Quoz, not far from Dubai’s famous beaches, luxury resorts and megamalls, an unlikely oasis of contemporary art and urban culture has been quietly germinating in an old marble factory: Alserkal Avenue.
It was its owner, local real-estate developer and arts patron Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, who had the vision of turning this ramshackle cluster of concrete and corrugated steel buildings into a nexus of creativity. The first art space, Ayyam Gallery, opened in 2009. An expansion in 2016 has brought in both local pioneers like the Third Line and outposts by such international hot shots as New York’s Leila Heller Gallery and London’s Waddington Custot, known as the Custot Gallery in Dubai.
And it’s not just the visual arts gaining a foothold as the numerous cafes, indie-flick-house Cinema Akil, the Mirzam chocolate factory and The Junction community theatre prove. Designer studios, concept stores, co-working spaces, arty cafes, project rooms and even a cultural internet-radio station have also been popping up at a steady clip. Alserkal Avenue is Dubai at its best: dynamic, unpolished and surprising.
Note that galleries are closed on Friday and that many don't open until the afternoon on Saturdays (despite their advertised hours).
Ask at the first gallery you step into if they have a spare map of the complex. They are quite hard to come by, but extremely helpful in navigating the area, especially on a hot day (there is little shade).