Celeste van Rooyen - Photography

All about Dubai: Camera/Photography Holiday

The essential Must Do list : My Dubai

Marhaba– welcome

A glance at the city where I spend most of my time – my “Must Do List” was inspired to assist my first-time visiting friends, and aimed at you, to make the most of your time here. Images was added to enhance the feel of my travel writing – as I’ve spent 8 years of my life here and have seen and luckily also experienced with my camera: the growth and enigma of this city.

I have blogged about: Thailand, Cuba, India, Cape Town, Japan and think it’s about time to share: My Dubai reportage!


 Celeste welcomes all travel writing photojournalism projects and is willing to travel. She also provide tourist photography courses:  photography tours during your stay that will include some of the city’s amazing landmarks and teach you how to use your new SLR camera.


Any magazines that would like me to tailor write you a Dubai article with some great images, act quick. Everybody would love to hear or know someone or want to stop over in Dubai.


The essential ‘Must Do list’ : My Dubai


Dubai has changed face drastically during the last 8 years.
In some ways it’s easier to describe the city as one long road: Sheikh Zayed Road. It connects the old town (the creek and Deira souks area) with the Burj Dubai area (tallest building and brand new ‘Old Town’) and further down (pass Jumeirah, Burj al Arab and the Madinat landmarks), leads to the vibrant Marina, JBR and The Palm.
A city that started out as a fishing village and used to be the biggest construction site in the world, now houses some immaculate building structures, all types of entertainment and an ever changing, unique social scene/crowd. With the recent recession and the new transport addition: the Metro, Dubai underwent even more changes.

The Arabic culture is in minority, but many of the neighboring Arabic countries has found their home here, all with their own Arabic dialect, cultures and religions. The Arabic culture here thus includes the locals, Lebanese, Saudi Arabians, Syrians, Egyptians, other North African cultures like Marocco and Tunisian, Iraqi, Iranians speak Farsi and not Arabic, and a lot of young new culture where one of the parents are Arabic.

The Middle East has really become a hub connecting the world as you can seen by the first point of contact:  the airport.  At the end of the day: one big cosmopolitan city.

Now, the Metro is also a must and the most cost effective option to view the whole city and connect all the malls and tourist spots.
Most interesting would probably be the women and children section (the second cart just behind the VIP section) where most men have landed accidentally and have been rudely removed as this section is ONLY for women and children – very interestingly of all walks of life.

The dollar is fixed on 3.65 Dirhams, the local currency and don’t forget the week here starts on a Sunday. Weekends are Fridays and Saturdays.

When to visit

February thru to May is always a good time to visit. The weather is great and you’ll find some of the world’s biggest events happening here during this time  (i.e. the famous Dubai World Cup horse races; Dubai Rugby Seven’s etc.) Try avoiding the Ramadan holy month towards the end of the year (Non-Muslims are also required to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public places during this time as a sign of respect and no music in bars/clubs is available), and definitely avoid the humid summer that will restrict you from going outdoors at all (June – September).  During Ramadan, the city is dead quiet.  Everybody that can, try to leave and go on holiday this time of year.

September is then the time where life returns to the city. Almost like a beginning of a new year/chapter.  This is the time where work opportunities are popular and accommodation is scarce.

South African passport holders need a visit visa to enter and if you fly Emirates Airlines you can easily obtain one from the agency they provide. For many South Africans, this is the new ‘London – experience’, meaning most of us that did the two year visa thing in London before they ended this, are now experiencing Dubai.


I would suggest you first get a feel for the city and take in the sights and sounds by doing the routes on the hop-on-hop-off bus tour. You’ll get your bearings, learn some history and can then decide how to fill in the rest of your holidays with the interests of your choice.  Big Bus Tours

The dessert tour is a must! For a touch of culture, it includes dune bashing, sand boarding, traditional dinner at the dessert camp, opportunity for camel riding, henna hand painting; …all that makes for a great evening out.  Knight Tours

Al Bastakiya

Al Fahidi Str. XVA HOTEL This is a great lunchplace in the oldest area in Dubai and both needs mentioning. The Deira/Satwa area is where most of Indian/Pakistan communities lives. It’s home of the gold, material (plenty tailors here), spice and fish souks – and provide a total different ‘real life’ atmosphere away from the rest of luxury Dubai. Take the cheap abra (old style boat used as water taxi ) from the one side of the creek to the other (or even up and down the creek just for fun), and you’ll notice the locals smoking sheesha waterpipe; Arabic coffee – due to the many spices (Cardamom) it contains – and dates, the historic, traditional architectural feature of the windmills used for cooling air, fishermen; and the hustle and bustle of life that wants to be lived.

Many little details of this culture to be noticed.  For example the handshake of the arabic coffee cup from side to side that means that the individual has finished drinking arabic coffee.

A very interesting fact about the arabic culture is their perfume: Bukhoor. When you smell it, you can’t help but go: What is this? It’s unique and not always refreshing. None the less, typical to the culture.

The local men and women that choose to wear the cover up clothing to cover their hair and I sometimes think that we don’t usually realize this, but hair is a sensual tool.   Due to this I’ve always thought that when the men show a part of their ear and hair, this would be a: ‘wanting to be notice’ – move.

Dubai malls is also unique to this city and also provide its own entertainment. Dubai Mall is the biggest mall ever; centrally located just next to the Burj Khalifa with spectacular fountain shows, it boasts with an impressive aquarium and ice skating rink and a viewpoint from the top. Whilst, where in the world can you snowboard and ski in the dessert? Indoors at Emirates Mall; seeing is believing! The Atlantis Hotel, on The Palm, is not a mall but needs to be mentioned here for the most amazing aquarium, that boasts with a whale shark; and the opportunity to swim with dolphins. A ‘dream come true’ day out.

As a traveler there is not a lot of Internet shops available, but most restaurants or coffee shops should have free WIFI available: my favourite: MORE Café and BOHO café in the JBR Marina Walk.

My top favourite spots for drinks/dinner

1. Barasti – (still my personal favourite after all these years) Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Marina – on the beach

2. Sho Cho’s – Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa – a beach bar surrounded with various themed bars and restaurants

3. Neos Sky Lounge – 63rd floor of the Address Hotel Dubai Mall (go early to get in – good for sunset views of the city ) indoor cocktail bar

4. QD’s & The Terrace – Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club – outdoor restaurant

5. 360 degrees – Jumeirah Beach Hotel – beautiful bar and restaurant situated in the ocean with great views and photo opportunities on the Burj Al Arab

6. The Jetty another chic beach bar where I love the feel and view.

7. Bu Qtair (Dubai’s best hidden secret) – I should also not even be mentioning this little fish shack on the beach – just to lessen the crowd flocking here, but if you are tired from all the luxury everywhere, then the local most divine fish, cooked in front of you, would probably make your day. This is still my most favourite place as I just enjoy my healthy fish right on the beach as a take away. Situated a stone throw from the Burj Al Arab Umm Seqeim off beach road – follow the queues see you there.

My city is big on free drinks for ladies and a vibrant mostly single social scene, but don’t forget that even with an 80% expat population, Dubies is still a muslim Arabic country with zero tolerance on drunken driving – even after one glass you’ll rather want to take a taxi. PDA (public displays of affection) is taboo and dancing is only allowed in bars with a dancing license. Note that the weekend falls on a Friday and Saturday, with Thursdays as the big night out. Also note that most western medicines contain Codeine, which is illegal here. Respect the Islam religion and you’ll be fine as Dubai is still one of the safest cities in the world.
The alcohol in this city is super expensive – (petrol is cheaper than water): so don’t hesitate to bring your bottle or two of vino, that you are allowed, with you through customs.

Try a new activity – Have a look at: Time Out Dubai, Dubizzle and the What’s on magazine for much more excitement to experience and you’ll find that this city of diversity does not only entertain a weird crowd sometimes, but has lots to offer to those that keep an open mind and a travelers spirit. From diving in Fujeira and/or Oman, all types of water sports, autodrome car racing and ample variety of cuisine, to Persian carpet bargaining in Sharjah, flamingo watching at Ras al Khor, clay pigeon shooting at Jebel Ali Hotel etc.. the list is endless…

I recently did a photojournalism project on the local community sport: Pakistani Wrestling. (see images below) Word must have spread a loads of other photographers also seem to have had the same idea. This event happens once a week during weekends in the old Deira area opposite the fish market. Very primitive, still cultural, I watched the men of Dubai’s biggest community (the Indian-Pakistani community) congregate in a neat disciplined circle on an open sandpit to bid and enjoy this sport.

Some common words you will hear regularly:

Shukran – Thank you
Aiwa / Na’am – Yes
Yalla – Lets go, come on, hurry
La – No
As-salama alaykum – Hello
Insha’Allah – If its God’s will
Habibi – my love (habibti for a women)
Abaya – women’s full length black robe
Dishdasha – man’s shirt-dress
Souk – marketplace
Abra – local waterboat
Iftar – Breaking fast

Ma’al salama – Goodbye

dubai 5

dubai 4

dubai 6

cabin crew 8


dubai 10



Instagram and 4S makes images look great on the Iphone screen but don’t be fooled – as soon you download it you can see the lack in quality.


6 comments to All about Dubai: Camera/Photography Holiday

  • Heiko

    This is a very nice, good and interesting report about the different sides and views of Dubai. Also very interesting to read for someone who already lives in this country for some years. The pictures are, of course, amazing!

  • Absolutely a great blog and a must read to all visitors or even if you call Dubai home. Your stills are amazing and a like on your view of things!

  • thanks guys. After so many years here I have contacts to shoot in various locations with horses or falcons or where-ever you would like your portfolio taken xx

  • Fanclub

    hi Celeste. Your work is so inspiring. I love the last image with the architectural lines.

  • HI the last image was taken at DIFC – if you feel like having an arty day with so much art and chick people around – a feel of a different world and various of open space and great atmosphere cafe’s, then spent an afternoon here. You will not be sorry. You are not allowed to take pics tho but its worth the stroll. Also if you feel like more inspiration afterwards – dont miss the Al Quoz 1 Area – Al Serkal Avenue. Where all the studio’s are , here is an area with Galleries and my favourite: Shelter and hidden arty gems!

  • Chiara Purje

    Celeste Van Rooyen is an incredible and brilliant photographer. Currently she is my Photography Teacher, as I have been taking a few lessons with her; and what I have learnt in such a short amount of time from her, no book or course could have taught me likewise.
    Her article on Dubai inspires me even further to continue developing my photography skills, and to embrace what she has taught me.

    I am very honored and privileged that I am able to have Celeste as my Photography teacher. She puts in 200 percent effort into what she is teaching and although she is extremely busy and active in her career, she is always willing to make the time for her students and offer her full support.

    It is a privilege to witness the rapid and dynamic growth in Celestes’ career; as well as her extraordinary achievements both creatively and commercially.

    I look forward to watching her career evolve and flourish. Celeste is without a doubt, ready to shine on the world stage in the field of Photography…….as she is sparkling already.

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