UAE – The perfect mix of culture, landscape and urbanity

This is a complete UAE travel guide. Further components comings soon! To read about History of the UAE, click.

Traveling to UAE is quite a different experience. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is located in the eastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, and consists of seven emirates. Founded in December 2nd, 1971, this young nation is teeming with rich heritage established earlier than the formal foundation of the country. Recent archaeological findings have shown that modern human habitat was established on this land over 100,000 years ago, and evidence has been found of ancient trade routes between the people of the Arabian Peninsula and with the Indus Valley civilisation, amongst other ancient societies. From older, nomadic tribes, to European conquests along the shore, to diving for pearls for self-sustenance, to the recent oil-boom and current diversified economy, each Emirate in the UAE contributes equally to the nation’s historical tapestry, each with their own unique attractions – both old and new. 

Fujairah

Fujairah Fort
Fujairah fort

The Emirate is a modern, industrial town and boasts a stunning mountain (read also Dolomite Mountains) range known as the Hajar Mountains, which separates the space from the rest of the UAE. The Hajar Mountains border the coast on the Gulf of Oman, and form parts of the northern emirates, including Sharjah and Ras al Khaimah. Thanks to their incredible coastline, the Emirate is the perfect place for water-related activities, like swimming, scuba diving, surfing, and more. The resorts on Fujairah are calm and overlook the pristine ocean, and the Emirate itself is packed with historical monuments.

35 kilometres away from the city is where guests can find the oldest mosque in the UAE, known as Al-Bidyah mosque (named after the older town that once surrounded the mosque). Consisting of a prayer hall and arches, with a central pillar that divides the space into four squares, the small mosque is also next to an Islamic graveyard, which contains a tomb that dates back to the Iron Age, a harkening to the UAE’s ancient past.

Bidyah Mosque on the right and a view from the bottom of a fort in Fujairah
Bidyah Mosque

The Fujairah Fort was first built in 1670, and was badly damaged by an attack from the British in the early 20th century. Serving as a defensive building and home for the ruling family, this fort was the only stone building along the Fujairah coast for many centuries. Surrounding this fort is an area that is now part of a Heritage Village that was set up by Fujairah’s Department of Archaeology and Heritage. Here, guests can learn about the earlier ways of life, and see restored old houses and learn more about Fujairah’s rich heritage.

Water-lovers can visit Al Aqah Beach, located 45 kilometres north of Fujairah. This coast offers the best opportunities for scuba diving and snorkelling, and is the best spot in the UAE for water activities. There are a number of hotels that line the shore, each offering a number of water activities, with diving operators available. For a more relaxed holiday, simply spread a blanket and bask in the sun, as this quiet coast is also the perfect spot for a nice swim and some sunbathing.

Mountaineers can check out the Hajar Mountains, and Fujairah serves as an excellent base for further exploration of the rocky terrain. This area of the mountain is well known for its wadis (a term that is used to denote a dry riverbed, or can refer to any valley oasis), and wadi-bashing (driving or hiking through the wadis) is a favourite local pastime.

Umm Al Quwain

Umm Al Quwain is the least populous, and the smallest emirate in the UAE. Initially formed in 1775 when Sheikh Majid Al Mualla established the region as an independent sheikhdom, the emirate is a peaceful, quiet place, making it an ideal trip for those looking to enjoy the sound of the waves, and get away from the hubbub of popular tourist spots. Hotels offer boats for guests to sail into the calm lagoon waters, and boat lovers can enjoy a lovely trip in the stunning blue waters, with no one else to disturb their reveries. Similarly, the emirate is also a great place for water-sport enthusiasts, and the emirate is ideal for water-skiing, kayaking, wind-surfing, and jet-skiing, among other sports. Located along the coast are a number of smaller islands and caves, and guests can sail right up and explore the mangrove swamps, and look at the turtles, crabs, pink flamingos, and other animals in their natural habitat.

Umm Al Quwain also houses Dreamland Aquapark, UAE’s largest water park. Covering about 250,000 square metres, the park features a number of rides including a wave pool, lazy river, water slides, and a spa-like pool complete with a bar. Not far from Dreamland is the UAE aviation club, and the club is renowned for its skydiving and parachuting championships. For the daredevils out there, the club offers chances for flying, hot air ballooning, parachuting, and skydiving in the UAE, with training lessons offered throughout the year. 

Bird watchers can also enjoy a stunning holiday pursuing their hobby at Khor al Beidah and other popular sights in town. There is also a marine sanctuary on Al Sinniyah Island, and is visible from the Corniche. From November to March, several seabirds are regularly spotted flying a few feet above the sea; the shallow lagoons and mud flats create the perfect habitat for several species of heron and plover, making this emirate a unique spot to study the UAE’s diverse wildlife.

Ras Al Khaimah

Ras Al Khaimah is the UAE’s northernmost emirate, and is the perfect place for beach lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike, thanks to their stunning beaches, sandy shores, sprawling oases, and easy access to the mountain ranges. The emirate boasts many heritage and tourism sites, and is considered to have the most fertile agricultural land amongst all the emirates. A number of archaeological excavations have shown that this area has been inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC, making it very historically relevant. History enthusiasts can visit the Ras Al Khaimah National Museum to learn more about the emirate’s long-standing history.

Ras Al Khaimah Fort

For those looking for more glimpses to the past, the Jazirat al-Hamra area is a wonderful attraction as it gives a taste of calm Emirati life, featuring pearl divers and fishermen, before the oil boom in the 20th century.

Mountaineers can visit Jebel Jais, the UAE’s tallest mountain, part of the Hajar Mountain range. About 55 kilometres northeast of the emirate, the mountain summits at 1,934 metres. The local government has focused on making the mountain more accessible and has installed more attractions for guests to enjoy, including the world’s longest zipline on the mountain (stretching for 2.8 kilometres, with zipliners travelling at speeds of up to 120 kilometres per hour), and a road that snakes to the top (almost to the summit), with a number of viewing platforms for visitors to enjoy the stunning views along the way. Near the top of the road, a number of viewing platforms and cafés offer up some amazing views of the peaks all the way down to the coastal plain, and the view is especially breath-taking in the late afternoon and at sunset. 

Apart from the stunning mountain ranges, the emirate also has plenty of activities; the long shoreline is dotted with luxury resorts and private beaches, and many resorts offer day-passes for non-guests to use their facilities.

The beaches are pristine, with top-of-the-line facilities including sun loungers, freshwater showers, and various water-sports equipment for hire, including kayaks and jet-skis.

Ajman

Ajman, despite being one of the lesser known emirates in the UAE, is definitely worth the visit, as it is home to a number of attractions, from natural reserves to ancient forts, to luxurious resorts that are perfect for a weekend getaway. The culture in Ajman is steeped in hospitality, and is borne out of an austere natural environment and a long-time emphasis on receiving and providing for guests.

The Al Zorah Nature reserve is populated by pink flamingos and mangroves, and is the perfect opportunity for those looking to get away from crowded city life and spend some time reconnecting with nature. The reserve also attracts bird watchers who can check out over 60 different species of birds that can be found here.

Picture of Ajman corniche
Ajman corniche

The corniche is another popular spot in the emirate, and attracts residents and visitors alike to dine near the water and enjoy the bracing sea breeze. The Corniche is filled with restaurants and shops, and offer a lovely night out for the family, with many food options available, along with a view of the crystal-clear water. The Corniche also houses a number of hotels, allowing guests to stay at one of the popular hotspots in Oman.

A picture of a stamp from ajman
Ajman Postcard Stamp

History enthusiasts and those looking to learn more about Ajman can visit the Ajman Museum, which is built in the old Ajman Fort. The UAE houses a number of historical sites which help educate the public on the history of the country; despite its recent foundation (the UAE will celebrate its 50th National Day next year), the country has a rich, colourful history, and the Ajman Museum helps showcase Ajman’s past. The museum houses a number of documents and weapons that are centuries old, and guests can even take a glimpse of an excavated cemetery. 

Sharjah

Sharjah is the third largest emirate in the UAE, and is renowned for its Arabic and Islamic architecture, along with its libraries, museums, and cultural centres. Sharjah was also named as the World Book Capital in 2019, and is the acclaimed arts capital of the UAE. The efforts made by the government to preserve the area’s rich culture and heritage have gained the emirate the title of the Cultural Capital of the Arab World by UNESCO in 1998. The city also houses many parks for its residents, and a large community of Arabs from around the Arab World make it a lovely cultural meeting point for many different Arab communities. Unlike Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah offers visitors a greater view into Arabic and Islamic art, literature, and architecture, and is the perfect spot to visit to have a more authentic experience of the Arab world and learn more about the Arab and Islamic way of life.

Magic Hour view of Qanat al Qasba and the ferris wheel
Qanat Al Qasba

The emirate also houses the annual Sharjah International Book Fair, which features hundreds of literary events and a line-up of authors from around the world. Other cultural festivals are celebrated, including the Sharjah Arts Biennial, Sharjah Heritage Days, and many others. The emirate’s most famous landmark is the Central Market, and the intricate blue tile work on the outside earned it the nickname, ‘the Blue Souk’. The Central Market houses over 600 stores, where shoppers will find sections for jewellery, clothing, food, electronics, and gift items. The upper floor of the market has an authentic Arabian bazaar, and guests can roam the floor and watch vendors selling antiques, carpets, Omani and Yemeni jewellery, and other fun, exotic souvenirs. The market also houses a number of cafés and restaurants for visitors to cool their feet while exploring this landmark.

Al Noor Island is a public park that is accessed by a bridge from Sharjah’s Corniche Street, and is the perfect spot to visit after walking through Sharjah’s museums and shopping centres. The island is visually stunning, and blends art with nature in its design, with gardens and modern art sculptures and installations scattered around the island, with many of the designs created by some of the world’s most renowned artists. The island is family-friendly, and the premier attraction is the butterfly house, where over 500 different species can be seen.

Dubai

Compared to other emirates this city brings a diverse experience with history, culture, diversity and modern architecture.

View of Dubai Creek from top
Dubai Creek

Dubai is chock-full of interesting sights and activities for tourists, residents, and citizens alike – from the Burj Khalifa, to Dubai Mall, to Atlantis on the Palm, there is an activity for everyone in the emirate. For an iconic view of the city, guests can visit Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and take an elevator ride to the top, where there are designated viewing platforms to see the entire city. On a clear day, the view is stunning; for those who want to continue their stay, guests can visit Atmosphere on the 122nd floor, or head to the Lounge, which covers floors 152, 153 and 154, making it the tallest lounge on the planet.

The Dubai Fountain, right outside Dubai Mall (the largest shopping mall in the world) is a feat unto itself, and features the world’s largest choreographed fountain system. This dancing water show jets out streams of water as high as 150 metres into the air, and there are lights around the fountain to produce colourful, illuminated jet streams. The water jets out in time to different musical numbers around the world, and this show is a must-see for any visitor to the UAE. The shows happen in the afternoon (1:00 PM and 1:30 PM), the evening displays begin at sundown and take place every half an hour, with the final performance beginning at 11:00 PM

Dubai Marina Skyline
Dubai Marina Skyline

The Palm is another incredible feat of engineering and construction done by Dubai’s government, and consists of large man-made islands in the shape of a palm frond. The island is home to many apartment complexes and villas, with the Atlantis Hotel sitting at the very top of the Palm. The hotel is also home to Atlantis Aquaventure, a popular waterpark here in Dubai, complete with water slides, wave pools, a zipline across the park, and a large children’s area for the young ones. A popular ride in Aquaventure is The Leap of Faith, a 27.5 metre plunge that also carries you through a clear tube surrounded by sharks and rays – the ride is adrenaline-spiking and breath-taking, rolled into one package.

Abu Dhabi

The second-most populous emirate, and is the capital of the UAE. Abu Dhabi also houses local and federal government offices, and is home to the UAE government and Supreme Petroleum Council, and is also home to the President of the UAE.  It is also the country’s centre of politics and industry, and is a major centre for culture and commerce, and contributes to about 2/3rd of UAE’s economy.

It is filled with heritage areas, along with more modern attractions. The emirate is also popular for housing one of the best motorsport tracks in the world, and guests can visit the actual track itself. Yas Island houses the F1 track, and during off-season times, guests can drive around the circuit, with drag racing and drifting lessons offered for budding Formula 1 racers. Car-lovers will also jump at the chance to visit Ferrari World, home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, the Formula Rossa, and a Ferrari museum. A new rollercoaster, Flying Aces, was also introduced to the park, making it more inviting than ever.

Interiors of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque i
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Fans of Islamic architecture are encouraged to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque; the mosque has over 82 domes, more than a thousand columns, and a 12-ton chandelier within. This mosque is open to non-Muslims as well, encouraging everyone to learn more about Islam and the role the religion plays in the country’s culture and heritage. Entry into the mosque is free, as the goal is to help spread knowledge about Islam and invite others to partake in stunning Islamic architecture.

Off the coast of are over 200 small islands scattered on the water. Looking to make your trip more interesting? Guests can go on boat trips that will take you around the many islands off of the coast, making this trip a perfect sunlit getaway, complete with picnics aboard the ship, and fishing trips out on the sea. 

Art lovers can visit the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Middle East’s most popular museum, which traces the history of humanity’s artistic achievements, from the Neolithic era, up to the current day. The museum’s contemporary architecture itself is a work of art, and necessitates a visit up close to take in the gorgeous view. The permanent collection covers over 12 galleries in the museum, and regular exhibitions are staged each year in the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Further plans are being made to open more museums on Saadiyat Island, which is set to become the cultural epicentre in the city.

The emirate also offers a recluse for nature lovers – guests have the option of driving out to the desert for some wonderful desert safaris. This would include riding on dunes, and enjoying authentic Emirati food under a starry night, away from the bright lights of the city.

The emirate is also home to a number of mangrove forests, that ring the islands along the shore of the city. There are kayaking tours available for guests, and these tours allow people to learn about the importance of mangroves and their contribution to the ecology, while still taking part in the emirate’s forests, a unique sight to see in the desert.

Alternatively home to a number of attractions, including golf courses, ancient forts, water parks, theme parks, and arenas – indeed, many performers have come to perform at Yas Arena in Abu Dhabi (one notable performance was Eminem, who came last year). Whether you want to catch a grooving performance, go kayaking, tee off on the vast greens, or enjoy a stroll down the corniche at night, Abu Dhabi offers their guests every possible luxury.

The UAE is a country that teems with culture, diversity, authenticity, and a sheer zest for life. From prehistoric beginnings in the Arabian Peninsula, to rocky times during the European conquests, to the 20th-century oil boom, the country looks forward to leading the globe in terms of economy, diversification, and safety. With sprawling beaches, happening night-life, and calm, quiet oases, the UAE truly does offer something for everyone. 


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