From glittering skyscrapers to glimpses of an old world city, we've rounded up all of the best cafes, sites, and experiences to photograph in Dubai. While is city is largely known for its glitz and glamour, before the discovery of oil, which led to a huge boom in tourism, Dubai was little-known and a completely different city. Just a couple of decades ago, Dubai was a small fishing village off the Arabian Gulf, in the area now known as Old Dubai. Today, it's home to hundreds of different nationalities and a modern metropolitan city. So whether you're looking to get a taste of historic Dubai or a cosmopolitan city, we've compiled a list of the top things to do to get the full experience of both Old and New Dubai!
1. Camel Uschi Desert Camel
A traditional way to explore the Dubai desert! of all of our experiences in Dubai, Uschi's Camel Farm is one of our most memorable - and one of the most loving and ethical animal experiences we have ever had. Uschi is a German woman who moved to the UAE decades ago and treats the camels here like her own children - from the moment we arrived the love and affection they have for each other was apparent, and all the camels are bred, trained, and cared for on the farm. Take a guided ride into the sunset, and then return to the Bedouin camp for tea and an amazing handmade local dinner, and a campfire. A trip to Dubai isn't complete without a traditional camel ride, and experiencing the desert outside of the city (there are so many amazing ways to do this - keep scrolling for more!). Desert safaris are a popular way to escape the fast-paced city life and relax in the Arabian desert. Kamel Uschi is a popular company that offers a camel ride and an overnight stay at their farm. They also offer a desert evening trip if you're interested in spending the night in a traditional bedouin tent under the stars.
Trip Price: $68 to $150 USD depending on the trip
2. An Abra Ride On Dubai Creek
Riding across the Dubai Creek on an abra is one of the fastest and most convenient ways to get around the city. Abras are small boats or water taxis that run every few minutes across the Dubai Creek and each ride usually takes around five minutes. Each abra holds about 20 passengers or you can even hire your own personal abra for the hour.
Insider Tip: For a relaxing morning, catch an early morning abra and watch all the local traders dropping anchor and offloading goods for the day.
3. Dubai museum exterior / Al Fahidi Fort
Don’t leave Dubai without visiting the Dubai Museum. Located inside the Al Fahidi Fort, the museum is the oldest building in the city. The museum shows snapshots of what traditional life in Dubai was like before the discovery of oil. Old Dubai and the new modern Dubai are only a few years apart but the effect the oil industry has had on the city is huge.
The museum is located in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, which is a great place to stop by after the museum. There are more than 50 different buildings to explore, including a Coins Museum and a Calligraphy House. Make sure to check out the Dubai Calendar to see what cultural events are taking place.
By Train: Take the train that goes to Al Fahidi Station. Al Fahidi Station is on the Green Line, Zone 5
By Abra: Make your way to the neighborhood of Deira and walk towards the Deira Old Souk Abra Station. Exit at the Bur Dubai Water Taxi Station.
4. Gold & Spices Souks
If you’re looking for a touristy activity while you’re here, look no further than the gold and spice souks. From Al Fahidi, hop on a boat taxi to the fold and spice markets. It’s easy to get lost in the large amounts of stuff here if you don’t take it in stride. The gold market is the perfect place to buy trinkets and gifts to return with. You’ll find everything from Arabian-style clothes and shoes to accessories.
Located just around the corner from the gold souks are the spice souks. Here you can spend an afternoon wandering the aisles and score some high-quality spices and local teas. The spice markets are overflowing with all kinds of spices and scents. Not into spices? Stock up on some dried fruits or candied nuts. The best part is all the free samples!
Insider Tip: The prices aren't set in stone so don't be afraid to haggle for a good price.
5. Al Bastakiya Historical Neighborhood
Al Bastakiya is a village located along Dubai Creek known for being one of the oldest residential areas in Dubai. Back in 1690, Al Bastakiya was made of just 60 housing units, mostly owned by wealthy Iranian merchants who visited the country. In more recent times, a lot of this village was dissembled for new construction, and then later rebuilt in the traditional style. Today, the village serves as a reminder of Old Dubai. Old homes were built of limestone, coral, and mud so renovations are being done to make sure some of the historic buildings are preserved. If you're a big history buff, you can sign up for a cultural tour. Or spend the afternoon exploring the old buildings on your own. Make sure to hop into one of the many art galleries or the Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Cafe for a quick snack. This was one of my favorite areas of Dubai to explore and photograph, and gives the feel of being in a very historic part of the world without leaving the city.
6. Andaz the Palm Hotel
Andaz the Palm Dubai is a brand new boutique hotel located just a few blocks away from the Dubai Mall and the Mall of the Emirates. In signature Andaz Hotel fashion, the decor perfectly blends together old-world charm with contemporary luxury. The rooftop, cafes, and beach club area are all beautiful and extremely photogenic. Not to mention they have access to a private beach and infinity pool. Do you really need anything else?
Other Places to Stay:
Five Palm Jumeirah Dubai - A beachfront property with five outdoor swimming pools and access to a private beach.
Al Seef Heritage Hotel Dubai - A perfect getaway for couples!
Atlantis The Palm - Home to Aquaventure, the largest waterpark in the Middle East.
7. Dubai Aquarium (But only at midnight)
The Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo is a popular attraction located in the Dubai Mall. The aquarium is home to over 30,000 aquatic animals, including a 40-year old crocodile! The best part is, you can see all the animals for free through the world's largest acrylic panel. If you're looking to get up close and personal with the animals, purchase a ticket to walk through the tunnel.
Visiting Tips: The aquarium is open seven days a week from 10 AM to midnight. The Dubai Mall is usually extremely crowded with visitors and this aquarium tunnel is often packed wall to well with people. We came close to midnight, right before closing, and it was the best idea we had - and is about the only way to get the entire place to yourself!
8. Al Seef Street
Located right on Dubai Creek, Al Seef is a popular area to visit for shopping, dining, and entertainment. You'll find everything from local artists to modern fashion labels. There's also a plaza that hosts all kinds of live activities so make sure to check the calendar before you go. Events include plays, live band performances, and programs for kids. The streets are made of charming alleyways located right next to the marina. The light here in the mornings is particularly beautiful!
9. Burj Khalifa Observatory
The Burj Khalifa is the world's tallest tower, standing at 160 stories tall, and the public observation deck is located on level 124 of the tower. This may have been the highest building I have ever scaled and the views from up top so vast and unlike any other - you can see the water, the manmade islands, and a 360 view of the city out into the desert! An elevator zips you up to the top where you'll see panoramic views of the city. Admission prices range depending on a variety of packages available - or save with a combo ticket for both the Burj Khalifa and the Aquarium!
Visiting Tip: It can get crowded so book your ticket in advance. For the best views, book a tour for 90 minutes prior to sunset and see how the city transforms with the night lights.
10. A Hot Air Balloon Ride Over the Desert
Riding a hot air balloon had been something on my bucket-list since I was born - I grew obsessively watching the Chipmunks Great Adventure - and Dubai was the first chance we ever had to do it!
Due to the desert heat, the balloons almost always take off before sunrise, so you head out to the desert in the dark of night and then see the sun rise from a couple of thousand feet up in the air! Maybe balloon tours will also have a falconry show - you can see me and our prized falcon above. From a birds-eye viewpoint, you'll be able to see everything from breath-taking sand dunes to camels wandering through the desert as the sun rises. The Dubai Dunes is one company that offers these hot air balloon rides. After the balloon ride, most trips include a ride to a campsite with breakfast.
Photo Tip: I was unable to get the shot that I really wanted here - to get the balloon in the frame, you need to be under the balloon in the center of the basket and the person with the camera needs to be on the far corner - if you have a wide angle lens and both lean out, you can get the image that I was dreaming of and was unable to get!
11. Platinum Heritage Bedouin Desert Camp
Platinum Heritage is one of the most popular and loved tour operators in all of Dubai. We opted for the Platinum Heritage Bedouin Desert Camp experience because they offer sustainable tours. Their mission is to protect the culture and natural environment of Dubai by preserving local culture. Platinum Heritage is the only desert safari company in Dubai that offers wildlife drives rather than dune bashing which can be harmful to the environment.
For our trip, we chose the Bedouin Desert Camp experience, which started off with a ride into the Dubai desert and then a camel ride to the nomadic Bedouin camp. Platinum heritage does it right - the Bedouin camp is stunning, their land rovers and tours are all impeccable, and the food is always stellar!
12. Desert Sand Dunes
You can't go to to the desert without experiencing the sand dune! We've trekked through dunes in Morocco and Oman, as well as Dubai, and I never get over so beautiful and photogenic they are. Desert sand dune adventures are one of the most popular activities to do while in Dubai. Whether you're into ATVing or sandboarding, there are tons of tour packages to match your preference and budget. OceanAir Travels is one of the most popular companies offering all sorts of tour packages at a reasonable price. Dubai Desert Tours also offers a mini-half-day ATV excursion to see the famous red dunes for less than $100.
13. Dubai Miracle Garden
A flower lover's dream! Dubai is home to the world's largest natural flower garden with more than 150 million beautiful blooms on display at the Dubai Miracle Garden. The heart-shaped pathway is one of the most popular spots for Instagrammers. Don't forget to head over to the castles decked out in floral displays or walk through the colorful umbrella tunnel. The ceiling is made entirely out of upside-down umbrellas that are separated by the most vibrantly color-coordinated flowers.
Getting There: The garden is easily accessible by train bus or taxi. If arriving by train, take the Dubai Metro and hop off at the Mall of the Emirates (MOE) Station. For those arriving by bus, take the RTA bus No. 105 which will take you directly to the garden.
14. Shangri-La Dubai Roofdeck
It is somewhat of a secret that the best city view in all of Dubai is from the rooftop terrace at the Shangri-La Dubai hotel.
If sleek and modern architecture is your thing, then look no further than the Shangri-La Hotel Dubai. Everything from the polished and patterned tile floors to the giant chandelier displays sleek glamour. Not to mention it's a five-star resort with very reasonable prices. If you're not looking to stay overnight, the Shangri-La Hotel Dubai is also the perfect place to stop in for a sunset drink. Located on the 41st floor, the rooftop offers some of the most stunning views of the skyline and all the way to the Arabian Sea.
15. Burj Al-Arab Beach
The Burj Al Arab Hotel is known as one of the nicest, most luxurious hotels in the world - and is incredibly exclusive to get in to. But the view from the beach is born iconic and free!
More of our magical evening with Camel Ushi
Street scenes on the Old Dubai streets.
Exploring the desert and hot air balloons with Platinum Heritage.
And finally, the beautiful Andaz Dubai The Palm Hotel!
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