A Complete Travel Guide to the UAE

The UAE is a small country, but it has a lot more to do than people originally thought. A lot of visitors come to Dubai and don’t venture out of the city, but that’s a shame. The UAE is home to one of the largest deserts in the world, nature reserves, mountains, great food, ancient history, a museum of fantasy art and much more. Here’s everything you need to know to plan a trip across the country.

Get around: If you are staying in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, public transport is good, taxis are easy to report, and Uber and Careem work everywhere (you can call taxis directly through Careem and it’s cheaper than Uber). To get out of cities, especially in the desert, rent a car.

Dubai

Check out this comprehensive guide for what to do and eat in the city of Dubai, and read on for what to do in the rest of the emirate.

Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve

Visit the UAE’s first national park home to the Arabian Oryx (which was endangered until recently), 120 species of birds, antelopes, etc. It’s easier to see on a tour. Platinum Heritage Desert Safaris offers tea tours and a falcon show, and vintage Land Rovers are ultra-instagrammable. The full-day tour gives you a great overview, but you can also spend the night in a Bedouin-style tent. Or, for something more luxurious, you can drive yourself and stay at Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa.

Hatta

Hatta is part of the Emirate of Dubai, but about 130 km from the city. It has a restored heritage village and fort, and you can hike and participate in other adventure activities. Or you can just relax with a view of the mountains. Will stay Hatta Fort Hotel or Hatta Damani Lodges.

Al Qudra Lakes

Only do this if you are in the UAE for a while. If you live here or are here for a week or two its nice to go camping at Al Qudra, but if you are here for less than a week then spend your time visiting the main sites of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the Empty Quarter and Sharjah.

Abu Dhabi

Visit the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

Take a tour Empty neighborhood, the largest unbroken mass of sand in the world between the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Saudi Arabia. You will see lots of beautiful black camels and huge seemingly endless dunes. There are plenty of places on the highway to stop to take pictures. If you want to splurge on a night in the desert, stay at Qasr Al Sarab.

Drive to Shuweihat Island. Unfortunately, much of the beach has been blocked off by private owners in recent years, but you can still find places to have a picnic, and it’s especially pretty at sunset.

If you are in the United Arab Emirates in July, take a trip outside of Abu Dhabi to Liwa Date Festival.

-Eat-

Market on the dates of Min Zayed– Stop by one of the stores (they all have the same deals) and try dates from UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and elsewhere. Some of the best dates in the world come from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and you can buy them for a small fraction of the price like in the States.

Al Mina Fish Market–This restaurant is right on the harbor and the fish is fresh and plentiful. Select your fish from the many vendors, then take it away for cooking at one of the on-site restaurants.

Ethiopian restaurant Bonna Anne–Abu Dhabi has a large Ethiopian population and this restaurant is stellar.

Nolu’s–Afghan meets Californian cuisine. Get the bulani, mantoo, and Qabuli pulao.

Gunaydin Gourmet Bakery and Cafe–Serves a delicious Turkish breakfast.

Tean– Ideal for a romantic evening, and gives you a reason to visit Saadiyat Island.

Al Ain

Al Ain is part of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, but big enough to justify a day or two on its own. the Al Ain cultural sites are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They “constitute a serial property which testifies to the sedentary human occupation of a desert region since the Neolithic era with vestiges of numerous prehistoric cultures”.

-Do-

Visit the Oasis of Al Ain, known for its first underground irrigation system, called the falaj system. There is also a small date museum.

Al Ain Palace Museum

Al Jahili Fort (The fort opened in 2008 and feels very new. It is best seen from the outside).

Drive to the top of Jebel hafeet for a view of the oasis. At the bottom you can see Bronze Age tombs.

Eat: Modern Lebanese Bakery

Sharjah

-Do-

Stroll through the historic center and shop in some of the antique stores, where you will find Turkish copper pots, Iranian tea cups, Syrian furniture, and more.

Visit the Sharjah Art Museum. It’s a great museum showcasing art from all over the region – I particularly like the contemporary Arab art exhibit.

Stroll through the Rain room.

Buy beautiful Persian rugs for very reasonable prices at Persian carpet kingdom.

-Eat-

Arab tea house

Al Bahar Al Ahmar {Yemeni food – Sabayyad, a Yemeni flatbread, is one of my favorite dishes.}

Restaurant Aroos Damascus

Al Rabat sweets and bakery {Iraqi and Turkish sweets and breads}

-Stay-

Al Bait. A UNESCO World Heritage Site turned into a luxury property. I wrote about it briefly here.

Ras al Khaimah

Drive to the top of Jebel Jais, UAE’s highest peak in the Hajar Mountains.

Fujairah

-Do-

Visit the Al Bidya Mosque, one of the oldest in the Gulf.

Snorkel at Snoopy Island.

Relax at Al Aqah Beach.

Eat: Oysters from Dibba Bay (also available in many restaurants in Dubai)


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