Whether you’re looking for adventure, culture, nightlife, family fun or blissful relaxation, there is always something for you to do in Dubai.
Abu Dhabi’s islands
The eight natural islands off the coast of Abu Dhabi include the spectacular Sir Bani Yas, home to the swanky Anantara Desert Islands Resort & Spa and around 30 free roaming Arabian and African animal species.
Head east through spectacular scenery from Abu Dhabi or Dubai to the resort and former caravan stop of Al-Ain. The resort includes a camel market, zoo and museum containing old and new artefacts and Mesopotamian pottery. The lush oasis village also offers excellent hiking at nearby Jebel Hafeet.
The ancient fortressed villages of Hatta and Wadi Hatta are close to Dubai, in a surprisingly lush and attractive valley in the foothills of the Hajar Mountains. The area also has a number of naturally formed pools to cool off in.
Explore the important archaeological digs at Hili, 10km (6 miles) from Al Ain. The stone tombs, including the famous Great Sepulchre, date back 5,000 years. Al-Ain also includes a camel market, zoo and museum containing old and new artefacts and Mesopotamian pottery. There’s also offers excellent hiking at nearby Jebel Hafeet.
The historic Bastakiya alongside Dubai Creek is Dubai’s Bohemian quarter, with some wonderful cafés, and eclectic art galleries. It’s particularly pleasant during the evening when the mosques sound their call to prayer.
The beaches offer white sand and warm, clear waters but in Dubai, Fujairah and Abu Dhabi, the best are to be found at luxury hotels. You can pay a few dirhams to visit beaches with toilet facilities, such as Jumeirah Beach Park, Dubai, and Sandy Beach, Fujairah (for incredible snorkelling opportunities). Excellent beaches include JBR Beach, Jumeirah Open Beach (a favourite for surfers), and Kite Beach (a favourite for kite-surfers). Topless bathing is not permitted anywhere, but women are free to wear bikinis at the beach.
The waters of the Gulf are excellent fishing grounds. Fully-equipped boats with crew can be hired for deep-sea fishing trips from all marinas, via hotels and local tour companies.
Off-road driving in the desert is excellent for thrillseekers. Vehicles are available for hire either with or without guides at nearly every hotel. Adventurous travellers can view the dunes by air, in a hot air balloon.
Take a traditional dhow cruise from the Abu Dhabi or Dubai Creek marina, or book a fully-equipped boat for deep-sea fishing trips. Alternatively, catch a traditional spluttering abra (small boat) along Dubai Creek for only a few dirhams each way. Yacht trips are also available from the Dubai Marine Yacht Club.
Dubai World Cup horse race
Go to the races at the annual Dubai World Cup (www.dubaiworldcup.com), or learn more about the Arabs’ passion for horses at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club (www.adec-web.com) close to the UAE’s capital.
First-class golf courses
Dubai is unequivocally one of the world’s top golfing destinations. Venues like the Emirates Golf Club (www.dubaigolf.com) regularly host top international competitions, and there are scores of others dotted around the UAE, though the bulk and the best are in Dubai. You can even try your hand at sand golf.
At more than 828m (2,716.5ft), Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (www.burjkhalifa.ae) is the tallest building in the world and if you reserve ahead you can visit the observation deck on Level 124. Tours of the sail-shaped Burj al-Arab or Abu Dhabi’s sprawling Emirates Palace hotel (reportedly the most expensive in the world) can also be arranged.
Mosques and forts
Don’t miss the many historic mosques and forts dotted around the older parts of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, notably the incredible Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi and Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai. Non-Muslims are welcome to enter during certain visiting times, however women must cover their hair and body. Sheilas (head scarf) and abayas (traditional black dress for women) are available to borrow.
Dubai’s manmade palm-shaped island is rumoured to be visible from the moon, and it truly does have a wow-factor – especially when seen flying low over the city. The built up areas consist of residential and hotel projects including the awesome Atlantis The Palm, home to Aquaventure water park – an absolute must for a hilariously wet, fun day out.
Outdoor lovers will enjoy Ras al-Khaimah (www.raktourism.com), which has coastline, the rugged Hajar Mountains and Khatt mineral springs.
Go haggling in Dubai’s famous souks, magnets for those in search of gold and jewellery bargains, and also for photographers or those who just want to experience the sights, smells and hubbub.
Wadis and Mountains
Wadis are dried out river beds and Emiratis love to explore them in four-wheel drive cars, a past time known as wadi bashing. The best areas are in Hatta and Jebel Hafeet mountain in Al Ain, or head for the hills in Ras al-Khaimah.