Dubai: The long weekend marking the 51st UAE National Day has begun, and this is the perfect opportunity to explore the country’s rich heritage as well as modern, record-breaking attractions.
If you are new to the UAE, or still unfamiliar with its history and formation, read our detailed guide here on the big facts and figures you should know about the country.
With seven Emirates comprising the UAE – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah – here is a quick look at some of the top places you can visit on your journey of exploring the country.
How to move around the UAE
Travelling from one Emirate to another is relatively easy, even if you do not drive. While a road trip from Abu Dhabi’s Ghuweifat border on the Western most point of the country to Ras Al Khaimah’s northernmost border will take just under seven hours, another way to traverse the country is to visit the different Emirates by taking the time out to explore all they have to offer. You can do that even using inter-Emirate public buses, that take you from your Emirate to your destination of choice. Once you are in the Emirate, you can either use the local public transport or hail a taxi to go to a specific location.
Did you know that the world’s tallest sand dune lies in the Empty Quarter desert, which borders Abu Dhabi? ‘Tel Moreeb’, which is in the Al Dhafra region of Abu Dhabi, is over 300 metres high, with a 50-degree incline, making it a prime destination for motorsport enthusiasts.
But if you are not looking for a high adrenaline experience, Abu Dhabi is a great place to visit for its calm oases, wildlife, islands, pristine coastlines and man-made attractions.
Here are some of the places you can visit:
1. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
This is one of the world’s largest mosques and its architecture makes it one of the most recognisable landmarks in the UAE. A visit to the mosque will not only provide you with a glimpse of Islamic architecture and design, you can even book a free cultural tour, which lasts for 45 minutes. However, you would need to book a slot in advance on the mosque’s official website - www.szgmc.gov.ae. Read more here.
2. Emirates Palace Hotel
Emirates Palace hotel stands on its own private bay along Abu Dhabi’s Corniche. Its has a distinct white and gold dome-topped structure and is a great attraction to visit.
3. Qasr Al Watan
Abu Dhabi’s Presidential Palace, Qasar Al Watan, and a visit to the palace allows people to learn about the UAE’s formation, it’s system of governance and diplomacy. You can visit various zones within the palace, which showcase Arabian artistry, craftsmanship and architecture. To know more, click here.
4. Al Maqta Fort
This is a 200-year old monument that shows the rich culture and history of Abu Dhabi. It is located off the E22 highway, and you will spot it just before the famous Al Maqta bridge, on your way to Abu Dhabi.
5. Heritage Village
This is another family-friendly spot, where you can experience the UAE’s traditional way of life in the desert. The village offers an immersive experience, with a traditional souq, mosque and camp modelled on life in pre-modern UAE. When you visit the village, you can shop for spices, herbs, handmade soaps or other souvenirs. You can also discover artefacts and watch artisans make pottery, blow glass and weave fabric on a loom. The village is located near Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi city.
6. Al Ain National Museum
If you are a history buff, how about visiting the UAE’s oldest museum? Established in 1969, the museum was built to chart the history of Al Ain from the Stone Age through to the foundation of the UAE in 1971. The museum houses artefacts recovered from the many archaeological sites scattered across the region, including flint tools and arrowheads dating back to the sixth millennium BC. It is located off of Zayed Bin Sultan Street in the central district of Al Ain.
7. Jebel Hafeet mountain
While in Al Ain, how about taking a drive to the highest point in the Emirate? You can also enjoy visiting the date palm oasis in the city, which has been recognised by United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for its importance as a repository of genetic resources, biodiversity and cultural heritage. It has also been designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS).
New districts in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi has also developed many new districts, which offer great entertainment and recreational experiences.
- Saadiyat Island is an great place to visit if you are looking for a cultural experience – the island provides a great drive along Abu Dhabi’s coastline and is home to several museums including Sheikh Zayed National Museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
- Al Maryah Island is another new development in Abu Dhabi which has several family-friendly options, including a 5.4km waterside promenade, shopping outlets and restaurants.
- Yas Island is a venue dedicated to sports and entertainment. It is home to the Formula 1 circuit, Ferrari World theme park and Yas Water World, as well as many hotels and restaurants.
Plan your visit
While the list above provides only some of the many attractions in the Emirate, you can also plan your own journey by visiting Abu Dhabi’s tourism website – visitabudhabi.ae – or by calling them on 800 5353.
Dubai is always one of the top cities on people’s list, whether it is for a trip within the UAE or for international travellers. This year, in fact, the city was named the most popular destination in the world by American online travel company – Tripadvisor.
If you are visiting the Emirate on a short trip, here are some of the top attractions and places to keep on your list:
Landmarks in Dubai include both historic and modern structures, with the chance to enjoy adventure sports, cultural experiences or to shop till you drop. Here are some of the top places you can visit:
1. Burj Khalifa
It is one of the most iconic man-made structures in the world, and a trip to the tallest building also gives you the chance to enjoy many other experiences in Downtown Dubai. You can get a view of new and old Dubai when you are ‘At the top’, and also enjoy some shopping at one of the biggest malls in the world, the Dubai Mall. While there, you also get the chance to witness the Dubai Fountain show, which is open to all visitors.
2. Dubai Museum
Housed in Al Fahidi Fort, this is the oldest existing building in the city and a ferat way to discover what life was like in Dubai in the mid-19th century. The fort was originally built in 1787, and was later turned into a museum. It showcases Dubai’s history and heritage through galleries that recreate historic Arab houses, mosques, souks and date farms, while also depicting scenes from desert and marine life. The larger Al Fahidi District, also known as Bastakiya, provides great cultural experiences. You can book a cultural tour with the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU), and even enjoy the traditional Emirati breakfast. Once you are ready to do some shopping, you can visit the nearby Meena Bazaar, which is one of the oldest markets in the Emirate. You can also go on ab abra ride across the creek to visit another trading hub – the market in Al Deira.
3. Palm Jumeirah
The largest man-made island is another iconic construction in Dubai. You can explore the island through the Palm monorail, which connects key landmarks in Palm Jumeirah. If you are a thrill-seeker, you can enjoy skydiving at the Palm, or for a quieter experience, enjoy the largest dancing fountain in the world – the Palm Fountain at The Pointe. Other attractions include The Atlantis Hotel, which has the Aquaventure waterpark, or simply enjoy looking at the Dubai skyline from the beach, with the Burj Al Arab, Ain Dubai and other landmarks clearly visible.
4. Hatta Heritage Village
Located nearly 130km southeast of central Dubai, Hatta offers some unique experiences that are perfect for a quick getaway. Hatta, like other mountain regions in the country, often has cooler weather conditions compared to the cities.
You can visit the Hatta Heritage Village which has been preserved and reconstructed by the Dubai government to showcase rural living dating back centuries. Opened in 2001, the village brings to life Dubai’s heritage, with reconstructed huts and buildings. While you are in Hatta, you can also enjoy mountain hiking, kayaking or simply dipping your feet in the many lakes.
5. Global Village
Now open for its 27th season, the Global Village is a great way to take a trip around the world, while munching on delicacies and street food from every corner of the earth. With 27 pavillions from different countries, to hundreds of shows and performances every night and adventure rides, you may have to dedicate a day to just this one destination.
Some other places you can add to your list include:
- Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo - it is one of the largest indoor aquariums, featuring thousands of aquatic animals and a 270-degree walk-through tunnel
- KidZania- it provides a unique and realistic educational environment for children to experiment with careers through role-playing
- Dubai Ice Rink - it is an Olympic-sized rink and is located in The Dubai Mall
- Children's City - it is an edutainment centre spread across more than 80,000 sq. ft. area in Dubai Creek Park
- Wonderland, Splashland and Wild Wadi - these are amusement parks with water slides and other rides.
- Dubai Safari Park - it houses approximately 2,500 animal species from all over the world.
Plan your visit
While the list above provides only some of the many attractions in the Emirate, you can also plan your own journey by visiting Dubai’s tourism website – visitdubai.ae – or by calling them on 600 55 55 59.
Sharjah stands out for its architectural and cultural wealth. Its touristic sites include historical areas like Heart of Sharjah and modern sites like Al Qasba and Al Majaz waterfront.
In 1998, it was named ‘The Cultural Capital of the Arab World’ by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and in 2014, it was named ‘The Capital of Islamic Culture for 2014’ by Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC).
If you are looking for a trip that helps you connect with Nature, check out the five top ecotourism sites in Sharjah.
The Emirate also has the following enclaves - Dibba, Khor Fakkan and Kalba on the UAE's east coast, which are a great place to visit, especially during the winter months.
Here are some other places you can visit during your trip:
1. Buhairah Corniche
Take a stroll by the Buhaira corniche and stop by the Al Majaz waterfront where you can enjoy the 100-metre high fountain. There are also many art galleries, cafés and other leisure facilities at the waterfront.
Inaugurated in 2020, the Khorfakkan amphitheatre is a cultural landmark in Sharjah, a picture of which can be seen on the Dh10 polymer note. Inspired by Roman architecture, the amphitheatre also has a waterfall next to it, made out of natural rock. Both the amphitheatre and waterfall face the Khorfakkan shore, making it a perfect place for a time out with family and friends.
Location: Rugaylat Road, Al Mudaifi, Sharjah
3. Al Hisn Fort Museum
A double-storey traditional rock, coral and adobe fortification in the centre of the city of Sharjah, the fort was originally constructed in 1820. While at the museum, you can also continue on to Sharjah Heritage Museum on the opposite side of Hisn Avenue.
Stroll through the fruit and vegetable souqs or shop for carpets and antiques at the central souq, also known as Blue Souq, and do some jewellery shopping at the gold souq.
583 metres above sea level, the Al Suhub Rest Area offers a stunning view of Khorfakkan and includes a two-floor flying saucer-shaped building, with a diameter of 30 metres.
Some other places you can visit during your trip to Sharjah include:
- The Eye of the Emirates Wheel in Al Montazah. This will give you spectacular views of the emirate.
- Sharjah Aquarium - Submerge yourself in the underwater world at the aquarium, home to a variety of marine animals.
- Sharjah's Museum of Islamic Civilisation
- Sharjah's Archaeology Museum - Learn about the Emirate's many archaeological sites and its ancient past dating back to prehistoric times.
Plan your trip
While the list above provides only some of the many attractions in the Emirate, you can also plan your own journey by visiting Sharjah tourism website – visitsharjah.com.
Ajman is blessed with a natural harbour on the Arabian Gulf. It is situated along a central creek with a 16-kilometre long stretch of white sandy beach. Although fishing and dhow-building are still important aspects of life, it has undergone significant developments, especially in the area named as 'New Ajman' along the Emirates Road.
Some of the major landmarks in Ajman are:
- Ajman Museum
- Masfout Castle
- Masfout Gate
- The Red Fort
Ajman is famous for its beaches, Masfout mountains, nature reserves and parks, Masfout Castle, Red Fort and the 18th century Ajman Fort which was converted into Ajman Museum. The museum houses an interesting collection of archaeological artefacts, manuscripts, old weapons and reconstructions of traditional life.
Ajman has two rural agricultural enclaves: Masfout to the southeast on the road to Hatta and Manama about 60 kilometres east just off the main road between Al Dhaid and the east coast.
To plan your trip to Ajman, you can also visit the official tourism website of the Emirate – ajman.travel.
Umm Al Quwain
Umm Al Quwain is the most ancient Emirate in the country. Archeological traces show strong evidences of the Emirate’s relations with Mesopotamia that existed during the 3rd millennium B.C. The Emirate of Umm Al Quwain is about 20 minutes’ drive north of Ajman.
Umm Al Quwain has beautiful beaches. Windsurfing, waterskiing and sailing can all be enjoyed at Umm Al Quwain Marine Club on Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Moalla Rd. The Club also has a popular horse-riding centre.
Umm Al Quwain Fort, which was home to the Ruler of the Emirate, guarded the entrance to the old town. Later it became a museum. However, the emirate has six other forts which you can visit.
Dreamland Aqua Park, a water park and a recreational resort is another landmark that you can visit with family and friends.
Umm Al Quwain also has several islands: Al Sinniya, Jazirat Al Ghalla, Al Keabe, Al Sow, Al Qaram, Al Humaidi, Al Chewria and Al Harmala.
An air tour from Umm Al Quwain Aeroclub will give you a bird's-eye view of these locations.
Falaj Al Mu'alla, an enclave of Umm Al Quwain, is a natural oasis, about 50 kilometres southeast of Umm Al Quwain City on the road E55 to Al Dhaid. It has a camel racetrack as well.
The Emirate is also home to a number of archaeological sites such as Tell Abraq (dating from the Bronze Age), Alokaaab Island and Ed Dur, a site with significance in the first century AD.
Ras Al Khaimah
While Jebel Jais – the highest mountain in the UAE – is a popular destination in Ras Al Khaimah, the Emirate also has a long beachline, is home to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world and offers the chance to unwind and relax, too.
If you are in the mood for a desert safari or to go on a Nature trail, you can also head to desert and mountains in the Emirate, where you can try falconry, horse riding, camel riding or wadi adventures.
The old town of Ras Al Khaimah has the National Museum, which used to be the residence of the ruling family until the early 1960s. The museum houses a collection of archaeological and ethnological artefacts. A visit to the museum will give you a real sense of time and place, particularly the maritime past of the region, its role in the pearling trade and the Qawasim who had built up a fleet of over 60 large vessels.
You can visit the Pearl Museum on the shores of the creek and learn about Julfar, which was a major medieval trading centre in the region where merchants from east and west came to purchase the precious pearls that were harvested locally.
About 15 kilometres from the city is Dhayah Fort, a strategic military fortification that played a major role in the history of the UAE. The fort overlooks the village of Shimal, also the location of a significant archaeological site.
Hot springs at Ain Khatt are very popular, too.
You can explore the ruins of partially restored abandoned stone houses at Jazirat al Hamra, on the coast between Al Hamra Fort Hotel and the Cove Rotana.
To plan your trip to the Emirate, visit the official tourism website - visitrasalkhaimah.com.
Fujairah's historical importance goes back to 3000 B.C. when the area was inhabited by herders and fishermen. It was then named as the Land of Titans or 'Ard Al Jababerah'. It is unofficially called 'the Jewel of the Middle East'.
Wadi Al Wurayah waterfalls and Ain Al Madhab Gardens are major tourist attractions in Fujairah. Wadi Wurrayah, a 31,000-acre nature reserve, lies between Khor Fakkan and Bidiyah, where you will be able to see the UAE's only waterfall. Other sites include the UAE's oldest mosque Al Bidya Mosque and the Heritage Village.
Fujairah has many beaches and beach-side resorts including the five-star hotels. Interestingly, the Emirate does not have a desert; it is mostly mountainous, covered by Al Hajar Mountains which separate the Emirate from the rest of the country.
Fujairah is cooler than the rest of the UAE. It is popular for water sports like swimming, sailing, jet skiing, fishing.
Along the road to Fujairah from Dubai, you can also stop over at the popular Friday market. It is a good place to buy locally produced fruits and vegetables and other ethnic items such as pottery and rugs.
You can also visit the restored fort at Bithnah, one of the many forts and watchtowers that once protected the routes through the mountains, to the mainly low-lying Fujairah City.
Fujairah Fort, which is about 360 years old, stands on a slight incline at the edge of date gardens in Fujairah city. These forts are often identified as Portuguese but many were older in construction.
Fujairah Heritage Village has a good selection of traditional houses ('Arish) and fishing boats (Shashah) made from palm fronds, providing an interesting backdrop to its living reconstruction of traditional life in the mountains and on the shores of the east coast.
Find more about how you can plan your trip to Fujairah, by visiting the Emirate’s tourism website – fujairahtourism.ae