We absolutely love the United Arab Emirates and all of the amazing sights and experiences that it has to offer. Therefore we proudly present the ultimate guide to the country, with our ’50 Essential UAE Experiences.’ Whether you’re a long time resident or a tourist just passing through – we guarantee that this is the list for you as there are things included that you won’t find in any guide book – enjoy!
50. Ride In A Sea Plane: Take to the sky with Sea Wings who offer scenic city tours of Dubai and Abu Dhabi that will take in all of the iconic sights and landmarks such as the World Islands, Plam Jumeriah, Burj Arab and Burj Khalifa. There is nothing quite like an aerial view to give you an appreciation of the city from an entirely different perspective. Add to that the thrill of taking off and landing on water and you have a truly great experience http://www.seawings.ae
49. Beautiful Saddiyat: This island off the coast of Abu Dhabi is set to become a cultural haven over the next year or so, as the landscape transforms from barren desert to the home of the Louvre, Guggenheim and Zayed National Museum. For now though, there is a beautiful beach with turquoise waters where (if your lucky) you can see turtles nesting. There is also Manarat Al Saddiyat, an art gallery that holds a number of changing exhbitions. It is easy to see why this island s about to become the place to be in the capital.
48. Al Ain Zoo: is the largest and oldest zoo in the UAE and was founded over forty years ago. Situated in a marvelous location at the base of the Jebel Hafeet mountain, the exhbits are large and the animals look happy. The most popular area is the mixed-African exhibit that contains free roaming giraffes, rhinoceros, zebras, and antelope. The zoo is a great place to visit as it is not only educational, but they have actually put into place great measures to boost conservation and ensure that these animals are around for future generations to experience. http://www.alainzoo.ae/
47. Karama Market: a trip to Dubai wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Al Karama. Upon arrival you may not think much of it, but once you have been approached with an offer to visit one of the ‘secret shops’ – you will see why people rave about this place. A haven for fake handbags, sunglasses & watches. Make sure you have your haggling skills at the ready, and try not to be too perturbed by the aesthetics of the location.
46. The cultural attractions of Sharjah: Dubai’s neighboring Emirate is currently undergoing a process of reinvention as it tries to market itself as the cultural capital of the Arab World. The city is thriving with museums and heritage exhibits as it continues to promote the nations culture, Some of the museums you could try include: Sharjah Arts Museum, Sharjah Museum Of Islamic Civilisation, Sharjah Maritime Museum, Sharjah Archaeology Museum or Sharjah Science Museum. http://sicc.ae/en/
45. Travel By Abra: why not take a trip one of the traditional wooden boats and see the historic sights of Dubai Creek? For just one dirham you can cross the creek on a traditional transport system and fall in love with a completely different side to Dubai that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years:
44. Take A Dip In The Indian Ocean: why not head to Fujairah, the only Emirate whose coastline does not lie on the Arabian Gulf. Being in the east of the country Fujairah’s sandy coast is located on the Indian Ocean and the beaches here are idyllic – flanked by the Hanjar Mountains and generally isolated. This is the ultimate spot for a relaxing retreat.
43. Flamingo Fever: Ras Al Khor is an ornithologists paradise located right in the heart of Dubai and an unexpected find. Flamingos flock to Ras Al Khor reserve all year round so get you camera ready and prepare to be amazed..
42. Indoor Fun: Due to the climate of the UAE there are lots of options for indoor fun away from the incessant heat. If you have children the options are almost endless with soft play, bowling, ice skating, indoor trampolining (courtesy of bounce UAE or Jump Boxx) and tee and putt mini golf. Remeber Fun City offers all rides for one dirham on a Monday or go all out with a trip to KidZania or Sega Republic in Dubai Mall.
41. Al Majaz Waterfront: Sharjah’s Waterfront area is such a lovely space to spend an evening. Full of great restaurants and cafes, as well as mini golf and a splash park for kids. The waterfront area also boasts a coloured fountain show, which though no match for the Burj Khalifa fountains – tells the history of the UAE using holograms and lasers.
40. Explore Madinat Jumeirah: More than just a five-star hotel complex. Madinat Jumeriah contains a modernized and trendy version of a souq. Not only is this a great (albeit expensive) place to shop for touristy trinkets. It is also one of the best places in Dubai to eat and drink. It’s Venetian style waterways also provide one of the best views of the Burj Arab that you can get! http://www.jumeirah.com/en/hotels-resorts/dubai/madinat-jumeirah/
39. Dubai Land: The area known as ‘Dubai Land’ is fast becoming somewhat of a ‘must see’ at the moment. This area on the outskirts of Dubai is about to open a marvel superheroes theme park in the coming months which will only increase the areas popularity. For now you have the Dubai Miracle Garden which hold the Guinness world record for largest flower garden in the world, and is truly spectacular with its flower structures which include replicas of the Burj Khalifa. Next to this is the newly opened butterfly garden where you are free to roam in a bubble full of butterflies. Finalltt here is Global Village – a massive market featuring goods and entertainment from all over the world. http://www.dubaimiraclegarden.com/
38. Watch A Camel Beauty Pageant: Al Dhafra Camel Festival is the most famous camel festival in the world! Participants travel from all over the gulf region to Millionaire Street in Madinay Zayed’s Rub Al Khali desert. The festival includes races as well as the infamous camel beauty contest! If you are in the UAE in January, then this should not be missed!
37. Afternoon Tea: A quintessentially British pastime! Afternoon teas in the UAE are a decadent affair and range from typical English high tea, to more Arabian influenced events. Popular teas include the ones held at Atmosphere in the Burj Khalifa & our personal favourite – the all you can eat afternoon tea buffet in Al Bayt in The Palace Hotel, Downtown Dubai.
36. Spend Some Time At JBR: Jumeriah Beach Residence and Dubai Marina are the ultimate place to hit the beach, eat, party and people watch. This Dubai neighborhood has it all! From the marina promenade with its luxury yachts., to the beachfront area with its mall on the sand. This is one place to see and be seen in Dubai.
35. Hot Air Ballooning – take to the sky and see the Dubai desert from an entirely new perspective. Feel at one with nature as you glide above the sand dunes and see spot oryx and camels from above. This is a unique and seasonal experience that can only bo booked through Ballooning UAE. http://www.ballooning.ae/
34. Relax In The Park: the United Arab Emirates is blessed with a number of beautiful outdoor spaces and its parks are certainly something to be proud of. From the majestic Jahili Park in Al Ain with its traditional fort, to the shade house and animal barn in Abu Dhabi’s Mushrif Central Park. No matter which park you choose, it is unlikely that you will be dissapointed! These are great places to socialize and let the kids run around:
33. Kayak The Eastern Mangroves: take a trip into Abu Dhabi’s Eastern Mangroves on a kayak. This trip with Noukhada gives you the opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and get back to nature. Weaving through the mangroves forests you will see crabs and lots of bird life, plus there is the opportunity to stop off at a small beach to swim: http://noukhada.ae/
32. Watch The Formula 1: The countries premier sporting event comes to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit each November and is an event that the whole country seems to embrace. Not only are there the races,but there are also concerts and festivities. On days when the Grand Prix is not running there is an opportunity to walk/run/cycle on the racing track or even drive one of the formula one cars: http://www.yasmarinacircuit.com/
31. Sample Karak Tea; Karak is a flavoured tea beverage made by mixing black tea with spices such as cardamom , cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Originating from India (where it is known as Masala Chai), this is a very sweet and milky beverage, but absolutely delicious and something that should be sampled by visitors to the Emirates:
30. Visit The Future: There is nothing quite like a trip to Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. The personal rapid transit (PRT) is the main draw. These white driver-less vehicles are a fun and unique attraction, controlled by sensors without any human intervention. For full details read our blog post: Masdar City – a trip to the future:
29. Experience Arabian History: for all those culture vultures, we suggest you visit Al Ain for a history lesson about the UAE. The city boats same great attractions such as Jahili Fort, the National Museum and most important of all the Palace Museum. This was the residence of Sheikh Zayed between 1937 and 1966. The palace which is located on the edge of Al Ain Oasis, has now been transformed into an informative museum, which is free to enter. Taking a stroll around the grounds and buildings will give you a fascinating insight into Emirati culture and the way in which the Sheikh lived.
28. Escape To A Desert Retreat: one of our personal favourite experiences is to stay in a hotel out in the desert, where you feel like you are really away from it all. Al Gharbia’s Rub Al Khali desert (also known as the empty quarter) boasts two spectacular desert retreats – Tilal Liwa and Qasr Al Sarab. Either resort will reward you with views of the seemingly endless sea of sands.with nothing but camels for company… This is the perfect escape.
27. Smoke Shisha: also known as hookah or hubbly bubbly. Shisha is an instrument for smoking flavoured tobacco, where the vapor is passed through a water basin. The shisha dates back to the Mughal Empire (1542 AD) and is an essential part of Arab Culture. Though we are not here to talk about the health implications of smoking shisha, we do believe it is something that you may want to try and is an essential part of Emirati culture:
26. Water Sports: The Emirates are a haven for water sports enthusiasts due to the large coastline and year round good weather. So if you have ever fancied jet-skiing, paddle-boarding, or the latest crazes of fly boarding and jet-blading then the UAE is the place for you. Equipment can be hired from most beach-side hotels, but keep an eye of daily deal sites such as Groupon for discounted packages:
25. Ras Al Khaimah: meaning ‘top of the tent’ in Arabic. RAK is a wonderful place to see and can be visited as a day trip from either Dubai or Abu Dhabi. It is largely untouched by tourism, so visitors are rewarded with a chance to experience traditional Arabic culture. Highlights include Jebel Jais the tallest mountain in the UAE and the ghost town of Al Jazirat Al Hamra. One piece of advice – don’t be surprised to find camels in the road as you travel around the Emirate.
24. Visit An Oasis: head to the garden city of Al Ain and enter the shaded palm groves of one of its seven oases. You will feel as if you are miles away from the city and that you’ve been transported back in time. Walking through the oasis you may be surprised by just how cool it is (especially in the summer months). You are free to roam as you please within the confines of the oasis, so venture down into the palm groves to see the ancient ‘falaj’ system – an ancient method of transporting natural water along channels to the date palms, allowing for irrigation.
23. Jump From A Plane: SkyDive Dubai offers tandem jumps over the Palm Jumeirah and the Dubai desert. Whichever location you choose, you will get amazing views and the thrill of accelerated free-fall. For those looking for a bit more you can join the skydive school and train to jump on your own without assistance. For the brave thrill-seekers out there, this is one activity you will not want to miss! http://www.skydivedubai.ae/
22. Dine On Emirati Cuisine: Finding Emirati cuisine can be somewhat tricky especially for tourists. Yet any visitor to the country really should make the effort to track down some of the traditional dishes. Luqaimat are sweet fried dumplings served with syrup and sprinkled with sesame seeds, Whilst Al Harees is made with meat and wheatt. These dishes can be sampled in restaurants such as Seven Sands (JBR), Logma (Boxpark) and Al Fanar (Ritz Carlton, Abu Dhabi).:
21. Bull-Butting In Fujairah: on the other side of the Hajar mountains lies the Emirate of Fujairah and the perfect spot for a weekend stay-cation. Fujairah has a lot to offer and you should certainly not miss the Friday market in the mountain town of Masafi where you can pick up an Arabic rug, shisha pipe or sample some delicious sweets. Also on a Friday, the ancient art of bull-butting takes place on Fujairah’s corniche. It can only really be described as bull wrestling and is a unique sport that you are unlikely to see anywhere else in the Emirates:
20: Tal Moreeb: also known as Moreeb hill. Tal Moreeb is located south of Liwa Oasis and consists of a large plain surrounded by sand dunes, of which the tallest is Moreeb Dune – reportedly the highest sand dune in the world! In Arabic the name Tal Moreeb literally translates as ‘hill of horror’ and it’s easy to see why, as the dune towers 300m above you with a steep incline of 50 degrees. The drive there is exhilarating as you twist and turn along the sand dunes, passing through salt flats and more sand than you can believe. The great thing about this desert drive is that you do not need a 4×4 vehicle as the road is paved all the way to the dune. This is the ultimate in desert driving and is a do-able day trip from the capital. For further details read our blog post Tackling Tal Moreeb.
19. Sir Bani Yas Island: located 9km offshore from the coast of Al Gharbia lies Sir Bani Yas Island. Originally used as a retreat for Sheikh Zayed, he established a wildlife reserve here in 1977, which has now become the tourist attraction that can be visited today. It is an outdoorsy location and this is reflected in the activities on offer, from kayaking to mountain biking Te highlight though are the wildlife drives, where you travel through the reserve in 4×4 vehicles. You may spot oryx, sand gazelles, peacocks, deer, hyenas, jackals, giraffes, ostriches and (if your really lucky) cheetahs. Read more about this in our blog post Exploring Bani Yas Island
18. Wadi Adventure: located in Al Ain, Wadi Adventure takes a completely different approach to the term ‘water park’ in the fact that there are no slides. Instead thrill seekers can take to a white water rafting run straight through the desert (and the worlds longest man-made white river run). If that’s not your thing, why not participate is some kayaking, wake boarding, or take to the sky on the aerial wire park – all against the spectacular backdrop of Jebel Hafeet. Boasting the only beach in the desert, as well as a family splash pool, this is one of the best attractions within the Garden City .http://www.wadiadventure.ae/
17. Drive Jebel Hafeet: Towering 1240 metres over the garden city of Al Ain is Jebel Hafeet – Abu Dhabi Emirates highest peak and the second highest in all of the UAE. The drive up is very pleasant and the road is exceptionally good, (with two lanes for ascending, and one for descending). The road weaves steadily upwards through the craggy limestone peaks and there are multiple viewpoints to stop at and have a look at the scenery below. You will see the desert, the city of Al Ain, and all the way into Oman. For more details read our blog post Drive Jebel Hafeet.
16. Al Qasba: Sharjah has unfairly been given a reputation as Dubai’s industrial neighbour, but there is lots to see & do in the Emirate. A visit to Sharjah wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Al Qasba, home to the UAEs first large scale Ferris wheel the ‘Eye Of The Emirates.’ The views from the top of the wheel are spectacular as you look across the Sharjah cityscape towards Dubai. Back on the ground there are some lovely cafes & restaurants grouped along the canal side – a great spot for friends and families alike.
15. Camels: A trip to the Emirates wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory camel ride to make you feel like a true Bedouin. These ‘ships of the sea’ can be encountered in the desert or at the beach (JBR), but we highly recommend a trip to the camel races. Races take place between November and March at Al Wathba (Abu Dhabi) or Al Marmot (Dubai). It’s a early start, but completely worth it just to see the robot jockeys – we kid you not!
14. Atlantis: This is the ultimate resort & has it all. Not only is it a hotel and premier fine dining destination, but there are also nightclubs, an aquarium, swimming with dolphins & arguably the UAEs best water-park in Aquaventure. You could easily spend your whole vacation here without leaving the resort. Add to the fact that it is located on the man-made Palm Jumeirah and it is an unmissable attraction for any visitor. https://www.atlantisthepalm.com/
13. Ferrari World: Abu Dhabi boasts the worlds only Ferrari branded theme park. The predominantly indoor destination is perfect for families as most of the rides are aimed at a younger demographic But for thrills seekers there is ‘Formula Rossa’ the world fastest roller coaster (so fast you have to wear special goggles to ride) reaching speeds of 240kmph in just five seconds! The park is also about to launch ‘Flying Aces’ which when complete, will have the highest loop on a roller coaster ever… We certainly can’t wait! https://www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com/
12. Ski Dubai: we don’t think that there is anywhere else in the world where it can be 50 degrees outside and – 2 degrees inside! Ski Dubai is the premier tourist attraction in the Mall Of The Emirates and is great fun for the entire family. Ski, snowboard, zorb, or just play in the snow – it’s all on offer. It’s also great for little ones with a snow park for making snowmen, snowballs and the opportunity for penguin encounters. http://www.theplaymania.com/skidubai
11. Burj Arab: this iconic landmark that looks like a ships sail is classified as the world only seven star hotel, It is an image that will forever be associated with Dubai and the luxury that it invokes. The Burj Arab can’t be visited without a reservation, so if you would like to go, the best (and cheapest) way is to make a booking for a drink in the bar. Failing that you can experience the majesty of this building from afar on the public beach at Umm Suqeim: https://www.jumeirah.com/burjalarab/
10: Water Parks: for the ultimate in family fun visit one of the UAEs many water parks. No matter which one you opt for you will be rewarded with a great time – with thrilling rides and ample opportunity to relax in the year round good weather. We believe a trip to the UAE wouldn’t be complete without a visit. For more info check out our blog post ‘The Water Park Rundown.‘
09. The Emirates Palace: Indulge in the absolute luxury of Abu Dhabi’s premier hotel which (unlike the Burj Arab in Dubai) can be visited by tourists, First time visitors will be astounded by the architecture and the domed gold roofs and pillars that can be found throughout the hotels interior. For the ultimate experience why not order the 24 carat gold leaf cappuccino – the ultimate is decadence. http://www.kempinski.com/en/abudhabi/emirates-palace/
08. Visit The Souq: A souq is a traditional open air market that can be found throughout the Arab world. They are exceptionally interesting places to visit for an opportunity to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of the local culture, or to indulge in a a bit of shopping for locally crafted items. Bur Dubai, Deira and Sharjah’s Blue Souq are all excellent locations for picking up spices, textiles or handicrafts. Whilst Dubai’s Gold Souq is also a very popular destination. In all cases it is imperative that you haggle – which is all part of the fun. There’s nothing like purchasing a shisha or some spices as a reminder of your time in the UAE.
07. Dubai Mall: Shop until you drop at the world largest shopping mall and Dubai’s tourist destination of choice. Dubai Mall received more visitors that New York City in 2012 (according to Wikipedia) and is a great leisure destination. Aside from the 1,200 shops and restaurants there are a number of must visit attractions including: the aquarium and underwater zoo (the world largest), Dubai ice rink, the Dubai dinosaur (the only skeletal dinosaur remains in the region), KidZania and Sega Republic. You could literally spend days here and not get bored and the choices on offer are completely overwhelming: http://www.thedubaimall.com/en/
06. Desert Safari: There is nothing quite like the sense of wonder you will feel during a trip into the desert and this is probably the most popular UAE experience with toursits to the region, These desert trips are run by a number of vendors throughout the country and vary is quality (so make sure you do your research)! Most desert safaris will include dune bashing, falconry, sand boarding, camel riding and quad biking – plus a BBQ dinner and shisha. Visiting the desert gives you an opportunity to see another side to the Emirates and as the sun sets over an endless sea of sand dunes, it it likely that you will never want to leave. For full details on the desert safari experience read our post on the blog: Desert Safari Experiences
05. Brunch: Friday Brunch has become a national pastime in the UAE (and rightfully so) with its all you can eat/all you can drink concept – there is no better way to spend a Friday afternoon chilling with friends. Wether you are after a-la-carte or buffet, seafood or cocktails – there is a brunch to cater to all tastes and budgets. At no other time is it socially acceptable to eat your own weight in lobster, oysters and sushi… other than Friday brunch! There are literally too many excellent brunches to list here but we highly recommend Olea at the St. Regis Saadiyat & Origins at the Viceroy (Abu Dhabi). Or if in Dubai we like Saffron at Atlantis or the mega-brunch at Al Qasr.
04. Hit The Beach: The Emirates are surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of pristine coastline and there is no better way to spend a day relaxing, than on one of the many beaches. We are particular fans of JBR and Al Mamzar in Dubai or Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi. Each location offers something different, from beach side malls (JBR), to natural nesting grounds for sea turtles (Saadiyat), to iconic landmarks (Burj Al Arab Beach). No matter which beach you end up at you are bound to have a great time with soft sand and year-round warm water there is no better place to relax.
03. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: Located in the Abu Dhabi (the nations capital) is this amazing mosque, one of the only mosques that can be visited by non-Muslims in the country. The mosque was constructed between 1996 and 2007 and is the largest in the Emirates, with a prayer hall that can accommodate over 7000 worshipers. The architecture, design and decor on offer here are awe-inspiring and include the world’s largest carpet and seven large chandeliers adorned with Swarovski crystals. The mosque is open daily and free to visit – tourists are welcome to take photos but please ensure that you dress respectfully. http://www.szgmc.ae/en/
02. Dubai Fountains: Las Vegas has the Bellagio fountain show and Dubai has its own version in the Burj Lake. The free fountain display is held each evening in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa and is a must see attraction for anyone visiting the Emirates – if you are only going to see one thing, then we suggest that this is it! The fountain shows run every half hour from 6pm and are the worlds largest dancing fountains, using an incredible 22,000 gallons of water in each performance. This water is synced to a selection of Arabic and Western music, shooting jets of water up to 150m into the air. This is spectacle in its purest form.
01. Burj Khalifa: The Burj is synonymous with the UAE and this iconic landmark currently holds the title of the world tallest building, towering 828 meters (2,716 ft) above the desert floor. It is a marvel to behold, but it is quite difficult to actually judge the scale of this architectural wonder, due to its sheer size. A trip to the UAE would not be complete without a visit to the observation deck ‘at the top’ where you are literally on top of the world! The view is outstanding and on a clear day you will be able to spot familiar sights such as Atlantis on the Palm Jumeirah or the World Islands. There is no greater way to see Dubai, just make sure you book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment. http://www.burjkhalifa.ae/en/
All views within this blog are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.