Dubai is a strange place, and I mean that in a very good way!
100 years ago, Dubai was some random part of the Arabian Desert that most people didn’t really know of unless you were in the pearl trade. However, as with many countries in the Middle East, oil changed all of that. What was once a small fishing village has become a thriving metropolis of skyscrapers, artificial islands and luxury hotels (which are usually combined to great effect) that has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary stay at Four Seasons DIFC, a complimentary photoshoot with Flytographer and a complimentary helicopter tour with HeliDubai. Some of the links in the article are affiliate links, helping me keep this blog running at no cost to you! All opinions are my own.
I booked my trip to Dubai quite last minute and didn’t actually do that much research before I went. Before booking, I had been worried about how safe I would be while I was there. I spoke to a few fellow travel bloggers who had either visited Dubai or lived in the UAE and was reassured it would be totally safe.
And you know what? They were right.
I felt safer in Dubai than I did in Paris, I felt just as comfortable (or maybe even more so) walking alone at night in Dubai as I do in my current home of Berlin.
Although I didn’t do too much research before going, I spoke extensively (aka I incessantly asked questions) with two UAE-based bloggers, Jenny (based in Dubai) and Sarah (based in Abu Dhabi). I also did my usual round of stalking Instagram to find the best spots for photography (and the nicest hotels!).
Well, thanks to Instagram, I can now share my list of the most instagrammable spots in Dubai with you!
Note: Unfortunately, I was unable to visit all of these places myself. Some are seasonal (damn crazy warm summer!) and others I simply ran out of time for, but they all come highly recommended either by myself or other bloggers and Instagrammers. I also visited during Ramadan, so you will notice a major lack of anything to do with food. However, Ramadan did mean that I had the opportunity to see a lot of places when they were much less busy than they would otherwise be!
One of the most well-known sights in Dubai (probably the most well-known), the Burj Khalifa towers over everything else in the city. Not surprising, since it is the tallest building in the world. Skyscrapers that would dwarf everything in other cities look small in comparison to the Burj Khalifa, with its 154 floors and total height of 829.8m or 2,722 feet. If you’re wondering (which you probably weren’t), that’s just over 518 Penelopes.
The best option is to buy tickets in advance for the tours as these are cheaper and mean you skip the queue at the entrance. I went with fellow Instagrammer, Caleb, and we actually ended up buying our tickets online during our walk from the parking lot to the entrance. There are a few different options for tickets:
- a standard ticket (which we did) for access to the 124th and 125th floors
- a combination ticket for the 124th and 125th floors that includes a pastry and coffee at the café
- a ticket with access to the 148th floor as well as the 124th and 125th
Unfortunately, the Madinat Jumeirah was one of the places that I didn’t end up having time to visit. It will be one of the first things I do when I go back to Dubai! The ‘City of Jumeirah’ is a throwback to the Arabian citadels, with a maze of waterways that makes me think of it as the Venice of Dubai.
Here you can find the Madinat Souk (a market) as well as one of the most popular attractions there, which is the Abra ride (wooden water taxi). There are the options to hire an Abra outright (if you’re not the sharing type) or you can go for the ‘budget’ option, which are the scheduled Abra tours that last for 20 minutes and carry up to 10 people (85 dirham per person, 50 dirham for children).
Burj Al Arab
The Burj Al Arab is a self-proclaimed 7-star hotel designed to look like a sail. It has nothing to do with the Burj Khalifa (I got very confused between the two at first and for a while thought they were the same place), as ‘Burj’ simply translates as ‘tower’. Okay, maybe it was only me that made that mistake… *hides in the corner*
The Burj Al Arab is the third tallest hotel in the world at 321 metres (1,053 feet or just over 200 Penelopes, since that is now a very important measure of height), although 39% (!!) is non-occupiable space. It is located on a man-made island and the most expensive hotel room retails at $24,000 (which I can totally afford…) which makes it the 12th most expensive room in the world.
Dubai Miracle Garden
Due to the heat, Dubai Miracle Garden is closed May – November, which meant that I was unable to visit while there. It is the largest natural flower garden in the world (do you see a theme here with Dubai and being the largest in the world yet?) with over 109 million flowers. Maintenance of the flowers involves over 750,000 litres of water per day (over 200,000 US gallons) which is re-used waste water.
I also find it amusing to note that it’s called a ‘natural’ flower garden (presumably since they are real flowers and not artificial) while being the world’s largest flower garden… in the middle of a desert. As far as ‘natural’ goes, this is not.
However, it is a beautiful place and the perfect spot for many Instagram shots (which may or may not include couples, ‘follow me to’ shots, and twirling).
Saying ‘Dubai desert’ as a location is a bit misleading, since Dubai IS (or was) a desert and the city is entirely surrounded by the Arabian Desert. However, the desert is an ideal location for a photoshoot! Depending on which part of the desert you go to, you will find it looks different. Head to Lahbab for the sand dunes tinged red from iron oxide, or the Empty Quarter (Rub’ al Khali) to see desert that stretches into the distance (as far as the other Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Oman).
You can take the opportunity to do activities such as a dune bashing (4×4 dune safari), quad biking or sandboarding, or the more laidback option of heading to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve and the Al Maha resort and spa that is there.
Note: Dunes are harder to walk on than they look. I managed to look entirely not elegant while on my desert photoshoot (thank you to Natelee from Flytographer for making me LOOK graceful at least) as I continuously sank into the sand. You can also get $25 off a Flytographer shoot in ANY city with my discount code FLYAWAY25!
Dubai Marina is a skyline image that is often used for Dubai – a dramatic skyline of skyscrapers that is impressive when all lit up at night. Jen has assured me that Dubai Marina has some of the best spots for food and drinks (something I, unfortunately, didn’t get to find out as I was there during Ramadan), including Baker & Spice and Cafe Bateel!
Heli tour / Palm Jumeirah
Technically not a precise ‘location’ for a photo, but rather an activity. As a city that offers Uber Choppers (I mean, seriously, we barely get normal Uber in Berlin and Dubai has Uber helicopters?!), Dubai is definitely a city you have to do a helicopter tour in.
Seeing the Palm Jumeirah and The World Islands from above is the best way to see the incredible artificial islands in all their glory!
Four Seasons DIFC
I spent my last night in Dubai at the Four Seasons and it was amazing. From dinner at the Firebird Diner (the sliders are incredible!), virgin cocktails and iftar at the Penrose Lounge to cocktails with incredible views at the Luna Sky Bar, the food and drink opportunities at Four Seasons DIFC are to die for! Combine this with the rooftop pool (I mean it looks like an aquarium – HOW COOL) and jacuzzi, it’s a great spot to relax and get some Instagram-worthy shots.
If you’re looking for a hotel with amazing pool views (I mean, you can see the Burj Khalifa from the pool, how awesome is that?!) and incredible architecture, this is the one!
Level 43 Sky Lounge
Level 43 is the best place to enjoy a cocktail with an epic view over Dubai. Located at Four Points by Sheraton, the views from the Sky Lounge are impressive. Some of my favourite Dubai photographers inspired me to put this bar on my list!
Bonus: Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Okay, this one is cheating a little as it’s not actually in Dubai, but rather in Abu Dhabi. However, if you’re in Dubai then you must take a day trip to Abu Dhabi, even if it’s just for a few hours! The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is absolutely incredible and completely blew my mind. It can hold up to 41,000 worshippers (I’m from a town of 9,000 people so you could fit the entire population 4 times over and STILL have a whole lot of space) and the carpet in the main prayer room was imported from Iran, took over TWO years to complete and is the largest carpet in the world.
So, it’s a little bit epic.
You should definitely make a visit to the mosque if you are in Abu Dhabi (or Dubai)!
Wizz Air recently started direct routes to Dubai from Hungary (Budapest), Bulgaria (Sofia), Poland (Katowice) and Romania (Cluj-Napoca and Bucarest). This now means that you can fly from various European cities to Dubai for less than €50 each way!
Dubai is an absolutely incredible city and has so many places perfect for photography! I definitely need to go back when it’s not Ramadan so I can see the city while truly lively (and try some of the well-recommended cafés and restaurants!) and also see some of the sights that I didn’t get the time for.
Have you been to Dubai? Let me know in the comments!
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