Dubai may be famous for its architectural marvels, but the United Arab Emirates’ largest city has many awe-inspiring sights beyond the glittering spires. Dubai’s cultural coming-of-age is evident in witty street art and neighbourhoods that blend old-world romance with modern style. On your next trip to Dubai, you’ll want to capture the full spectrum of visual delights the city has to offer. Here are the best places to photograph in the city.
1. Bastakiya Historical District
To explore the Bastakiya district, allow yourself to get lost in the narrow backstreets, shaded courtyards and quiet, maze-like alleys of this nineteenth-century neighbourhood. Built in a traditional style with wind towers, the restored buildings now house boutique hotels, museums, art galleries and cafés. Visit early in the morning or late afternoon to avoid tour groups. Compose your shot to include street art or frame the shiny, white minaret of Al Farooq Mosque.
2. Al Seef
There’s plenty to photograph at Al Seef, a waterfront promenade with a marina along the Bur Dubai Creek, which is among the best attractions in Dubai. You’ll see vendors selling karak tea and hotdogs, people strolling along the creek and cafes housed in contemporary retail blocks. At the other end is an Arabian souk with traditional architecture that begs to be photographed. Wait for locals to emerge for a shot that includes modern passersby set against the ancient structure.
3. Bur Dubai Creek
Time seems to stand still on Bur Dubai’s old creek where locals and tourists board abras or wooden dhows and sail across the water to the souks of Deira. With locals enthusiastically feeding flocks of seagulls along the creek and on the boats, the photo opportunities are endless. To get a similar shot to the one above, stand on the shore just outside the Old Textile Souk. Arrive an hour before sunset when the light begins to soften, and use a zoom lens to catch all the action.
4. Sunset Beach
Appropriately, Sunset Beach is the ideal place to get a perfect sunset image with the iconic, sail-shaped Burj Al Arab in the foreground. Arrive just in time for the golden hour, and experiment with different shots as the sky is painted orange, gold and lilac. There are often people swimming here until sunset, so don’t set up a bulky camera on a tripod, instead shoot handheld. Take advantage of silhouettes to add scale and a human element to your images.
5. Tolerance Bridge
The Tolerance Bridge connects the two banks of the Dubai Water Canal. Its impressive arch frames the skyscrapers of Sheikh Zayed Road. Arrive twenty minutes before sunset and set up your tripod on the boardwalk below the bridge, a couple hundred metres from the ramp on the same side as Safa Park. As the sun dips below the horizon, the lights of Sheikh Zayed road, the skyscrapers and the bridge offer the perfect conditions to take a long-exposure shot, creating interesting light trails on the canal. You can get a similar result with an iPhone by converting a “live photo” into a long exposure (find this option by swiping up on a live photo).
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With its hip vibe, industrial warehouse containers, quirky boutiques, cafés and fairy lights, BoxPark is great for street photography. Perhaps the most attractive corner on the block is the one at Roxy Cinema where lights accentuate the vibrant colours of the containers, creating an intriguing backdrop for silhouettes. Take a friend along to pose and place your camera or a wide-angle lens attached to your smartphone on the floor, tilting it slightly to get a unique, upward perspective.
7. La Mer
Dubai’s urban beachfront venue is especially busy on weekends with families, groups and beachgoers hanging out at food trucks and cafés. In the streets that run parallel to the beachfront promenade, you’ll find boutiques, restaurants and street art. Bring a friend to pose, and pick a mural that takes your fancy. Take a straight-on shot or place your camera on the ground for a different perspective.
8. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
The Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is a tidal estuary with salt-water lagoons that attract resident and migratory bird species. Arrive around 2:30 p.m. to beat the tour groups. At the Mangrove Hide, you’ll spot grey herons, reef herons and more, while the Flamingo Hide is a gathering spot for pink-feathered supermodels. Make sure to save enough time for the Flamingo Hide; it is the more photogenic of the two. Bring your zoom lens and use quick shutter speeds to capture movement and flight.
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9. Dubai International Financial Centre
The Dubai International Financial Centre sounds like an unlikely photography spot, but it’s is worth visiting thanks to its beautifully symmetrical spaces. Visit on a Friday or Saturday afternoon to avoid having people in your photos. The bridge featured above has great symmetry, and getting a friend to pose for you adds interesting scale to your images. Try using your smartphone to take photos, as security might politely stop you from using a DSLR.
10. Dubai Marina at Al Emreef Street
The waterfront promenade in Dubai Marina is one of the best places to see the city’s impressive skyscrapers. People run, bike and exercise along the marina, and yachts, catamarans and water taxis float through the long canal, making for interesting photography subjects. While you’ll also get good shots from the promenade, head to one of the bridges—Al Emreef Street offers the best view. Arrive just before sunset and set your tripod on the bridge. Use a wide-angle lens or your smartphone’s panoramic setting to capture activity on both sides of the water.
11. Jumeirah Fishing Harbour
Jumeirah Fishing Harbour is a great place to admire beautiful yachts, see fishermen banter as they prepare their tools and watch flocks of seagulls around sunset. Along the harbour, restaurants serve fresh seafood specialities with al fresco seating in the traditional-style buildings of the souk. Use your smartphone to take photos of the souk (for personal use only), as photography of the harbour isn’t officially permitted. On your iPhone, use the burst mode to get a crisp image with flying seagulls.
Natasha Amar is a travel writer, blogger and photographer based in Dubai. She regularly contributes to print and online publications for hotels, airlines and tourism organisations around the world. For more info, visit her website TheBohoChica.com or Instagram @thebohochica.