Earlier this year, I attended the 16th edition of Art Dubai. This gave way to a yet another entry in our City Art Guide Series, where we explore the top 10 things that art lovers can do when they visit Dubai. This list ranges from the modern metropolis's vibrant public art and festival scene to more intimate experiences at some of the city's most prestigious galleries and cultural spaces.
Uncovering Dubai's Art Scene
Despite its fairly recent entry on the global art scene, Dubai has spent the last two decades investing in the arts and those creating them. Coupled with its strategic location and cosmopolitan nature, Dubai has emerged as a global center for art in the Arab World, West Asia and beyond. Dubai’s thriving art scene now attracts regional artists and figures from the international art world.
For those traveling to the city, Dubai offers a wealth of destinations tailored to art lovers and culture seekers. Here are ten (technically eleven) of the best things for art enthusiasts to do in Dubai:
1. Take A Tour of Al Serkal Avenue (2-4 hours)
This chain of warehouses is an emerging arts hub in what has traditionally been an industrial area of Dubai. Al Serkal is home to galleries like The Third Line, Carbon 12, Tashkeel, and eL Seed Studio. These sit beautifully and strategically alongside organizations like Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) and Cinema Akil. Wander through its alleyways and courtyards to discover a dynamic blend of Dubai’s contemporary art, food, and startup scenes.
Visitors to Al Serkal Avenue can explore the various galleries and exhibitions on offer, as well as attend talks and workshops. The area is also home to a variety of cafes and restaurants, making it the perfect place to spend an afternoon or evening.
2. Visit the Dubai Mall (2-4 hours)
I know what you’re thinking, what’s a mall doing here and why is it so high on the list? Shy of dissecting the relationship between art and capitalism (if that’s something that interests you, let me know in the comments section and I’ll write something up), The Dubai Mall is quite simply a diverse and massive space that includes plenty for art lovers to experience.
The Dubai Mall is a modern-day marvel. It is one of the largest shopping centers in the world, boasting over 1,200 retail outlets, and it offers a wide range of entertainment and leisure facilities. For art lovers, the mall is home to several galleries and exhibitions, showcasing works by some of the region’s and the world's most renowned artists.
The mall is also home to the Dubai Fountain, which features a stunning display of water, light, and music. Visitors can enjoy this free spectacle while exploring the mall's many art and cultural offerings.
3. Stroll Among the Public Art at d3 - the Dubai Design District (2 hours)
The Dubai Design District, also known as d3, is an avant-garde creative hub for both regional and international design brands, but it also contains several art galleries and design studios. They showcase works in various media, from paintings and sculptures to product design.
d3 is known for its cutting-edge exhibitions and events, showcasing the latest in design, fashion, and art.
Visitors to d3 can attend exhibitions, talks, and workshops, as well as explore the many galleries and studios in the area. The district is also home to a range of cafes and restaurants, making it a great place to spend a day or evening.
4. Spend (at least the better part of) The Day Jameel Arts Centre (4-6 hours)
This 10,000 square meter, three-story multidisciplinary arts center is a major new addition to Dubai’s cultural landscape. It hosts art exhibits, theatrical performances, film screenings, and educational workshops. Its art collection focuses on modern and contemporary works from the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.
Visitors to the Jameel Arts Centre can explore the various exhibitions and installations on offer, as well as attend talks and events. The center is also home to a library and research center, offering resources and information for art enthusiasts and researchers.
5. Tour the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) (Time depends on program)
While it’s easy to forget Dubai’s roots as an Arab Emirate given how international and futuristic it is, the SMCCU is there to bring knowledge and understanding of the Emirate’s rich heritage. It offers award winning Cultural experiences that bridge between the many different nationalities living, working and visiting the UAE.
This center promotes Emirati culture through a variety of artistic events and public educational programs. They host art exhibits, film screenings, traditional dance and music performances, Arabic calligraphy and henna design workshops. Their website allows you to book several daily scheduled programs, all offering an authentic experience with Emirati presenters.
6. Go Art Gallery Hopping at the DIFC Gate Village (full day)
The Dubai International Financial Centre contains a number of art galleries featuring leading contemporary artists from the Middle East and around the world. Galleries and institutions like Art Sawa, The Mine, and Christie’s are housed within DIFC's Gate Village.
7. Catch a Performance at the Dubai Opera (2-4 hours)
This world-class opera house, with a striking dhow-shaped design, showcases musical theater performances, concerts, dance shows, and live entertainment from around the globe. Art lovers can experience the iconic building itself, as well as all the creative performances inside.
The opera is also home to several restaurants and bars, making it a great place to spend an evening.
8. Time Your Trip Around an Art Fair or Festival (1 to 3 full days)
Events like SIKKA Art & Design Festival, an annual fair featuring works by Emirati and UAE-based artists, and Art Dubai, the Middle East's premier art fair, are a great way to discover local talent and buy unique artworks. These fairs offer a glimpse into Dubai's thriving art marketplace.
9. Catch a Brew and and Art Show (or a few) at the Foundry (1-3 hours)
Housed in a former iron foundry on the Boulevard Crescent, this edgy arts complex contains studios, galleries, and theaters. It hosts everything from experimental art installations to stand-up comedy shows to flea markets selling handmade goods.
The Foundry has become a popular hangout for creative types in Dubai (bonus tip: grab your laptop if you’re looking to catch up on work as the place also functions as a free coworking space).
10. Transport Yourself to Another Universe: Take a tour of the Dubai Miracle Garden (Open from October - May)
or AYA Universe (Open year-round) (2-3 hours)
Having just completed its 11 season, The Dubai Miracle Garden is one worth timing your trip around if you’re into botanical art. This is a stunning botanical garden that's home to over 45 million flowers. The Dubai Miracle Garden is a must-visit for anyone interested in nature and design, with a range of stunning displays and installations on offer.
If you’re there outside of those months, then you’ll likely be intrigued by AYA Universe in Wafi Mall. AYA Universe describes itself as “a sanctuary for the curious”. AYA Universe was built to resemble a person's imagination of what hides beyond the stars.
An immersive, other-worldly experience that will fulfill and fuel your imagination, AYA is well worth the hype. You’ll get to explore 12 unique chambers and the vibrant worlds enfolded within.
In summary, Dubai has a thriving contemporary art scene, with enough museums, galleries, arts centers, and public artworks to satisfy any art enthusiast visiting the city. From Al Serkal Avenue to the Jameel Arts Centre to D3, there are countless destinations where you can experience the beating heart of Dubai’s creative community. This dynamic art scene is not to be missed on your next trip to Dubai.