Are you planning a trip to Dubai for the first time? You are probably wondering what you need to know before visiting this paradise on the Arabian Peninsula. Dubai is a dream Middle Eastern bucket-list destination. It’s where Evian-clear turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf meet fierce modern skyscrapers and the Arabian Desert. And with a little prep about the local culture and customs, you can have a carefree trip to the United Arab Emirates’s bustling capital.
Photo: Akemi in Dubai for Flytographer. Christina and their partner celebrate their honeymoon in Dubai with a couple photoshoot.
1. Best Time to Travel
We asked our local Emirati and ex-pat photographers what the best time of year to travel to Dubai might be. They said that when you are visiting Dubai, the winter season is October to April, and this is the only time you want to visit if you plan to spend any time outside not sweating your face off! Outside of this window and in the summer months, the weather can reach an unbearably humid and sizzling 45 C/ 113 F (that’s hotter than hot tubs, people!).
One of the unique facts about this desert oasis is the fact that you can even visit the ski slopes at the indoor ski resort called Ski Dubai. If you are celebrating New Years in Dubai, make sure to get a front-row seat of the NYE firework and light show from the Burj Khalifa! If you are visiting in the months of April and May, make sure to acknowledge and respect the period of Ramadan for the local Islamic people.
Photo: Akemi in Dubai for Flytographer. Cam and their partner capture memories in Dubai Desert with a couples photoshoot.
2. FYI on PDA, Drinking and Showing Skin
It’s a Muslim country, and yet a bit more tourist-relaxed than others in the UAE. You can drink at licensed establishments like restaurants, pubs and bars, but don’t walk around drunk, you could absolutely get arrested. A public display of affection (PDA) is a no-no, and considered extremely offensive, so keep your kissing (and even hand-holding) to behind doors at the hotel. Bikinis are common-place at the beach, but in general, women need to dress modestly, with nothing too tight, too short or see-through. Men, keep those pecs undercover with a shirt when you’re not poolside.
Photo: Sergiy in Dubai for Flytographer. Belle celebrates her birthday in Dubai with a Modern Headshot photoshoot.
3. Let’s talk currency
The currency is called the Arab Emirates Dirham (AED) but you can use any credit card at most established businesses. We asked our local photographer, Akemi in Dubai about tips to save money (and spend it!) as travellers.
“There is an amazing app that many residents in Dubai use that offers 2-for-1 deals which makes a big difference when traveling with family and friends. The app is called “The Entertainer.” It’s definitely worth purchasing (eg. the Dolphin Experience at the Atlantis is 1000aed for 2 instead of for 1 person!) and this app has anything a tourist loves (waterpark, Dubai safaris, dune bashing, boat cruise, restaurants, spa, etc.)” – Akemi
Akemi also says that you should expect to be quoted a higher “tourist price” at souks (markets). It is common to haggle (40-50% off to start) at souks in Old Dubai, at some stands for spices, fruits, textiles etc. She says, “Personally, I wouldn’t try and barter with a lone veggie vendor on the road though as they are really trying to make a living. Also, boat/taxi-boat prices on the creek are fixed but if you hire a private abra/boat, you can ask for a lower price.” – Akemi
Photo: Gabriela in Dubai for Flytographer. Margie captures memories on her trip to Dubai with a Modern Headshot photoshoot.
4. Photo Permission
This is not a place where you can go buck-wild with your camera phone. Make sure you respect people’s privacy and keep any strangers out of your photos, if you’re going to include anyone and it’s not a big touristy area, you need to get their permission; this is especially a big deal with Muslim women. Also, you shouldn’t take photos of the following: military installations, airports or government buildings. (Which is all the most boring stuff, anyway.)
Photo: Akemi in Dubai for Flytographer. Juliana and their family capture memories in Dubai with a family photoshoot.
5. The Best Place to Take Photos
- Jumeirah Beach Walk. Social media saw it first – this beach walk has views of the Palm Jumeirah and the iconic Atlantis 5-Star Hotel! Flytographer Akemi says, “This boardwalk near the Dubai Marina is a lovely location offering various backdrops (the ocean, cafés and restaurants, water fountains, residential high rises and hotels, cute food trucks, stylish beach cafés, etc). Very popular with locals and tourists alike.”
- Dubai CityWalk. Flytographer Akemi says that this new route in downtown Dubai is a modern self-contained shopping and dining area that is more of a community rather than the Dubai mall. “There are a lot of open spaces, fountains, street art, textured walls and colourful façades for great photos. It’s supposed to be more of a European town centre and is very popular with the local residents. A great place for a fun and colourful shoot with iconic skyscrapers in the background.”
- Old Dubai. “This area is a must-see for all visitors to Dubai, I think, as it offers a more authentic picture of the traditional Dubai. The Bastakia Quarter in Bur Dubai has been declared a heritage site. Many of the restored buildings feature the typical wind towers and in addition to the mosque, there is the Centre of Cultural Understanding, some courtyard cafés and lots of narrow alleyways to roam around. The nearby Spice and Textile Souks are very popular with visitors as well. Taking an abra (local wooden taxi boat) over to the Gold Souk area or simply along the creek is a peaceful break and offers a different perspective.” – Flytographer Akemi
Find the top 10 places to take photos in Dubai from our local, professional photographers in the city.
Photo: Akemi in Dubai for Flytographer. Jayne and their partner capture memories in Dubai Desert with a couple photoshoot.
6. Dubai transportation tips
On a tighter budget, the Dubai metro system and public transport bus are great options. There’s a so-called NOL card that needs to be purchased and loaded at the metro station. Otherwise, Akemi recommends taxi drivers (Careem via Careem App is a good option and you can request a child safety seat!). Uber is slightly more expensive but may be worth the extra dirham if you are looking for a luxe transportation experience. If you are looking for a unique way to get around this desert oasis, book a water taxi along the Dubai Water Canal.
Photo: Akemi in Dubai for Flytographer. Swati and their partner capture memories in Old Dubai with a couple photoshoot.
7. How to see Dubai in a day trip
“I would start with a sunrise in the desert, then a walk around Old Dubai/the Old Quarter with a refreshing stop in one of the cute cafes along the creek. If you have time, get a public boat ride, it’s just 25 cents and takes you to the other side of the canal where the gold and spice souks are. The Miracle Garden—which is indeed a miracle considering that it’s in the middle of the desert—is the largest natural flower garden in the world. It’s open seven months a year and the best time to visit is in the morning before it gets too crowded. For unforgettable, panoramic views of Dubai, head to the 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. If you go there at least an hour before sunset you will witness the transition from daylight, throughout sunset and blue hour, and then into the evening. For uninterrupted views of Burj Al Arab, the best thing is to go to Madinat Jumeirah and have a coffee or a meal in one of the many venues around it or get an abra boat tour around the canals.” – Flytographer Gabriela
Photo: Akemi in Dubai for Flytographer. Saquria and their partner celebrate their birthday in Dubai with a couple photoshoot in the desert.
Get 10 Free iPhone Photo Tips!
We made a downloadable cheat sheet just for you with our favourite iPhone photo tips! Sign up for our mailing list and get your download instantly.
8. The Best Places to Eat
Are you a big foodie? You might think Dubai is only filled with expensive restaurants but the price point offerings are as diverse as the types of street food. Gabriela’s favourites? “Karma Cafe in Souk Al Bahar has a terrace with great views of the Dubai Fountains and Burj Khalifa. It’s a Pan-Asian restaurant and while you can’t really go wrong with anything, my favourites are the raw seafood starters,” says Gabriela. “I always go there when family and friends are visiting. If I am in the mood for Italian, the number-one choice is Alici on Blue Waters Island. The sea urchin pasta is to die for. The skyline view of the marina is unbeatable as well.”
Photo: Zuzana in Dubai for Flytographer. Prad and their partner get engaged in Dubai with a surprise proposal photoshoot.
9. Where to Get Your Coffee Fix
“My favourite coffee spots are Comptoir 102 and Brunch & Cake,” says Gabriela. “They are both cozy, with visually appealing interiors (hello, Instagram) and the first one is a concept store as well. I always order fresh juices or smoothies when I go for a coffee, but if you happen to be hungry while at Brunch & Cake, make sure to try their crumbed burrata burger.”
Photo: Flytographer in Dubai. Joseph and their partner capture memories in Dubai with a couple photoshoot.
10. Camels on the Fly
“If you want to have a camel experience but you don’t have enough time for a whole desert safari, visit JBR beach after 9:30 a.m.,” says Gabriela. “There are a few camels there available for photos and short rides. The juxtaposition between the camels, the beach and the skyline behind makes for fantastic photos!” she says. And what a perfect way to round out your desert escape to the UAE.
Photo: Akemi in Dubai for Flytographer. Kristine and their partner capture memories in Dubai Desert with a couple photoshoot.
Capture memories in Dubai
Wondering how to meet a local in Dubai? Our local Dubai photographers will not only help you decide which photography spots are best for you, but they can also recommend the very best things to see and do. Capture your memories in Dubai with a Flytographer photoshoot and experience this oasis in the Middle East like a local.
“Working with Gabriela was better than we could have imagined. She was friendly, a strong communicator and gave us endless ideas for actions and posing. She clearly has a wealth of experience in the landscape as well as in working with couples. Her directions were super helpful for people like us who are not photographed often. She made the whole experience easy, fun and enjoyable. The pictures are stunning and exactly what we were looking for.”
“Akemi captured the exact desert vibes we were going for in Duabi! She was very personable and friendly. She created a relaxed shooting environment that my husband and I felt very comfortable in. Our photos could not have turned out any more perfect, we are literally obsessed with them. Would 100% recommend booking her again!”
“Gabriela is the very best!!! I am no professional by a long shot but she made me look like one! Not only did she take the most beautiful pictures but she made the experience a lot of fun as we treked through the dessert! Thank you so much again!”