It’s that time of the year again when UAE residents make those last-minute travel plans to jet off for the Eid Al Fitr holidays.
Gulf News tabloid! has shortlisted holiday destinations for the discerning traveller, along with Eid week flight plans and deals to be had.
For the quick getaway
Often called the Pearl of the Caucasus, Azerbaijan is a country rich in culture, history and luxury.
The capital city of Baku will give you major feels of Dubai, with its towering skyline and its pristine beaches cradling the waters of the Caspian Sea. Unwind and breathe fresh air as you stroll across Baku Boulevard. Within it, you will find a small Venetian dream made up of a myriad of islands with gondolas sailing through the canals and restaurants dotted across the shore.
While in Azerbaijan, check out the primitive petroglyphs of Gobustan situated 60km from the capital city of Baku. Rising out of the semi-desert, Gobustan is a Unesco World Heritage site, known for its 6,000 rock engravings, which go back 40,000 years.
A 4.5 hour drive from Baku is the Sheki Khan Palace, a place paying tribute Azerbaijani craftsmen famed for their ‘Shebeke’ — a mosaic of coloured glass set in wooden latticework and assembled without nails or glue.
Must try: Do indulge in the crunchy sweetness of pakhlava, a local desert coated with flakes of golden skin and stuffed with crunchy nuts and filo pastry doused in a delicate sugar syrup. Also, do not miss out on a chance to get messy by spending the day soaking in a crude oil bath. The treatment is used to heal various ailments.
Details: Flydubai and Air Arabia from Sharjah fly direct to Baku. Flight time to Azerbaijan is just shy of two hours, while return averages four hours. Eid ticket prices on Air Arabia star at Dh2,260, while Flydubai costs Dh4,020. Four Seasons Baku is also offering an Eid package, located along the waterfront in the heart of central Baku, where you get a complimentary fourth night. Rates start from $200 per night.
Sun, surf and an island getaway, it really doesn’t get better than Seychelles. Spread out over 115 islands, the island nation is a slice of paradise located just off the east coast of Kenya. Bursting with pristine beaches, marine sanctuaries and Unesco heritage sites, one could get lost in exploring nature in all its glory.
All flights will land in Mahe, the main island where British and French influence is still readily visible in the colonial architecture and the cuisine. Capital city Victoria and its surroundings are filled with old world charm, with beautiful artisan boutiques tucked away in the bylanes to get lost in.
For those looking for some private, quality time, the islands of Praslin and La Digue are a short boat ride away offering access to some of the best beaches and a chance to swim with turtles as well.
Must try: Seychelles is a paradise for lovers of seafood with its Creole influenced cuisine adding that dash of spice to the palette. Victoria market is perhaps the best place to try local grilled fish, with hawkers ready to BBQ it to perfection.
Details: Emirates flies direct to Seychelles, with Eid fare averaging Dh3,625 with a flight time of four hours and 40 minutes. Over Eid, the H Resort Beau Vallon Beach is offering a special rate with 10 per cent off the best available room rate to 15 per cent discount at the resort’s exceptional restaurants and spa. All room bookings during this period are inclusive of a buffet breakfast as well as early check in and late check out, subject to availability.
For the family affair
From exceptional cuisine to towering castles, Portugal is the perfect Eid destination, especially before the summer onslaught of tourists commence.
One could get lost in Lisbon alone, exploring the city on foot or riding the yellow and white trams that form the backbone of the city. The Alfama neighbourhood gives you a snapshot into Portugal’s Moorish history, with cobblestone streets leading up to hilltop fortifications of Castelo de Sao Jorge.
If you have the time, rent a car or book yourself on a day trip to Sintra, a royal sanctuary and a Unesco World Heritage site, to visit the majestic Sintra National Palace, a Moorish castle and the hilltop 19th-century Pena National Palace. Just 30 minutes from Lisbon, you won’t be disappointed.
Must try: If time permits, drive down to the municipality of Faro and visit Cabo de Santa Maria, which stands as the southernmost point of continental Portugal. Once you’ve had your Insta moment, head back up to the cliffs to take in one of the most majestic sunsets you will ever see.
Details: Tap Portugal flies from Abu Dhabi, with a single stop for Dh3,285, while Emirates flies non-stop averaging Dh4,375 with flight time of eight hours. Tivoli Hotels and Resorts is offering special rates for GCC travellers for its hotels in Lisbon, Sintra and The Algarve. The property is also facilitating tours, including an exploration of Lisbon in a tuk tuk and a tour of the city’s street art.
Nestled in Eastern Africa, Uganda’s tourism push has finally opened up its natural wonders for the world to see, from the majestic Murchison Falls to encountering gorillas in the mist.
The capital city of Kampala, which borders Lake Victoria, is a treasure trove of cultural wonders, with the National Gadhafi Mosque, the Kasubi Tombs (a Unesco World Heritage site), along with various temples and craft markets.
Gorilla trekking at Mgahinga Park and Afro-Montane Bwindi Impenetrable Forest have undoubtedly put Uganda on the tourism map, but the chimpanzee treks in the Kibale Forest National Park should not be overlooked if time permits.
With its dense misty forests, snow-peaked mountains, beautiful lakes and vast savannahs, it’s not hard to see why Winston Churchill described Uganda as ‘The Pearl of Africa’.
Must try: The most popular local dish in the central region is matooke (bananas of the plantain type) which is served with peanut sauce, fresh fish, meat and chicken, but each Ugandan tribe has its own unique dishes.
Details: Emirates and code-share partner flydubai offer a double-daily service and Etihad Airways also serves the destination from Abu Dhabi. Over Eid, flydubai is offering return flights for Dh1,720, inclusive of luggage, while Emirates is priced at Dh1,995.
For the couples
What more can we say about Maldives that has not been said before? It is the ultimate beach getaway for couples, which is also the reason why there’s an annual mass exodus of honeymooners here. Spend the days basking in the sunshine, or take a dip in the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean.
Most resorts offer a number of water activities, including snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking and so on.
Must try: While January to April used be the best time sight dolphins and whales in and around the waters of Maldives, due to the changes in the weather patterns, you now get a chance to see the playful mammals well into summer months.
Details: Emirates flies direct to Male, with round-trip airfares costing Dh2,845 during Eid week. Many resorts are offering Eid deals, with the Coco Bodu Hithi giving a 25 per cent discount on room rates for a minimum of three nights, while Sun Siyam Resorts is also offering discounts across The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi and the Olhuveli Beach & Spa Maldives. Other properties with Eid deals include the Velaa Private Island and The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resorts.
The rolling greens and the lush landscape of the Emerald Isle are simply made for romance. Starting out with the capital city Dublin that serves up cultural experiences such as River Dancing. There are a variety of museums, markets and dining destinations to stop by check out making Dublin a trip for the books.
Venturing further from Dublin will bring you to the oldest city in Ireland, Waterford, founded by Vikings in 914AD, which calls for travellers to visit its greenway and the Mount Congreve House and Gardens.
Kilkenny located south of Dublin, forms the heart of Ireland’s ancient east, and offers the perfect family getaway. Known for its magical myths and legends, the county is home to the Medieval Mile Museum, where travellers can acquaint themselves with the years of intriguing heritage that stand behind its current appeal. Alternatively, the more adventurous visitors can go deep into Dunmore caves, try their hand at fishing, experience the thrill of the zip line in Castlecomer or visit the charming Nore Valley Farm.
Must try: Even if the final season of Game of Thrones is behind us, you can still experience the Northern Ireland tours into the world of Westeros. The ever prevalent Kingsroad awaits, whereby visitors can follow in the footsteps of their favourite characters and drink in the impressive sight of County Antrim’s Dark Hedges.
Details: Emirates flies direct to Dublin with Eid week return flights priced at Dh3,095. Flight time is 7.5 hours.
For old-world charm
St Petersburg, Russia
The sheer grandeur of St Petersburg never fails to mesmerise, with its opulent history, breathtaking architecture and old world charm.
The most Instagrammed monument is perhaps the grandiose Winter Palace, offering up riches of the Russian imperial family.
Also on the must-see list is the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg’s equivalent to Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, along with St Isaac’s Cathedral and the Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Blood.
However, those who plan on travelling over Eid will also witness the White Nights phenomenon, which continues until July. Because the city is positioned at such a high latitude, the sun never really descends below the horizon for it to become dark. This, of course, is cue for the locals to party by night with festivals and concerts taking place all through the period.
Must try: Bustling with life, the city’s rivers and canals are a perfect way to discover the magic of St Petersburg. Take the hydrofoil as you sail down the Neva, tucked into a heady meal as live jazz soothes the soul.
Details: Emirates flies direct to St Petersburg, with the Eid week airfare averaging Dh3,305. Meanwhile, an Air Serbia code-share with Emirates is priced at Dh2,525 with a stopover in Moscow.
North and Central Vietnam
With its vast wonders spanning the country, Vietnam is not a place that can or should be explored on a single trip alone, which is why we have picked the culturally rich North and Central Vietnam as the ideal Eid getaway for those looking to step back into the pages of history.
One of favourite places is the ancient city of Hoi An, nestled amid a plethora of canals amid the French Colonial and Chinese architecture. Days spent exploring its rich history is only coupled with evenings spent wandering through its busy riverside food market. If you have time, rent a bike and cycle down country roads to experience the simple life.
Vietnam’s capital Hanoi is another great city bursting with a cultural cocktail of Chinese, French and Southeast Asian influences. From the chaos of the Old Quarter to the Dong Xuan Market, it’s a city to get lost in.
Must Try: Hanoi is also the starting point for the Halong Bay tour. If time permits, do book yourself into a cruise aboard a Vietnamese junk. Although, we prefer the Bai Tu Long Bay cruise, which takes you further afield into the Unesco Heritage Park, with days spent kayaking in the pristine waters and evenings spent dining in hidden caves lit up by a thousand candles.
Details: Over Eid week, Emirates, which flies direct to Hanoi, is priced at Dh2,595.