Top 10 Must See & Dos in the United Arab Emirates
Most famously known for its iconic skyline of high-rises, impressive architecture, luxurious beach resorts and of course its magnificent deserts, the UAE has become a hot spot for holiday maker’s city breaks. The most common destination being Dubai and its epic towering Burj Khalifa building which reaches high above the city providing insane views.
However, there is a lot more to the UAE than just Dubai. With bountiful culture, history, forts and mountains there is something for everyone’s tastes here. If this wasn’t on your bucket list before, then be sure to add it now for the ultimate Bedouin experience.
These are our top picks for your adventure:
1. The Burj Khalifa
As mentioned above, the Burj Khalifa is of the UAE’s most iconic buildings which soars an impressive 830m providing some of the best views of the city and is also the tallest building in the world. If you are not afraid of heights then step into the elevator which has the longest travel distance, inside of the tallest freestanding structure and highest observation deck in the world.
The panoramic views that greet you at the top will take your breath away, leaving you unable to take your eyes away from the impeccable infrastructure of the city as interweaves amongst itself and moves like a living organism. You will be able to see the vast ocean, its shoreline, orange sand desert and of course the palms (see below). If you suffer from vertigo, then maybe give this a miss.
2. Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi
When you think of temples, nothing in your imagination could prepare you for the astonishing sight of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is an immense mosque which somehow manages to comprise itself of contemporary design and grandeur with ancient craftsmanship seemingly seamlessly blending modern styles with Islamic techniques.
The first thing you will notice first and foremost is the striking contrasts of prime white and lavish gold, combined with mosaic tiles and superb glass work which looks dramatic against the Emirati blue sky. If you are looking for some ultimate Instagram shots, then this is the place for you. Remember to take some sunglasses because they can get bright in the daylight.
3. The Hajar Mountains
If you are as fond of nature as you are of the impressive city of Dubai, then the Hajar Mountains are definitely for you. These epic ridges form a scythe that cuts its way through the desert, creating a natural barrier and some awe-inspiring sunrise and sunset moments. Small villages dot their way along the base of the mountains providing the perfect pit stop on hiking trips and great opportunities to get to know the locals.
While hiking, you will be able to experience striking dry riverbeds, valleys, rock formations and plenty of bird-watching opportunities which are super fun to explore. Be sure to wear some decent hiking boots as it can get quite strenuous in parts but if you hire a local guide they will be able to help you along the best and more manageable routes.
4. Jebel Hafeet
If you find yourself somehow bored of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, then you have to take a day trip out to the summit of Jebel Hafeet which is the second-highest peak in the UAE. The most appealing part of this great vista is the long winding roads which weave in and around the steep inclines of the mountains that follow to the top.
The colours are pretty fantastic, ranging from deep rust oranges to charcoal grey providing an interesting contrast that is super eye-appealing and makes the journey extremely Instagrammable. Once you arrive at the summit you will be greeted by a panoramic view of the sumptuous dessert that you will never forget in your lifetime.
5. Bastakia Quarter
Also, known as ‘Old Dubai’ this is the last remaining portion of the more ancient part of the UAE and its unique history. Now a small heritage area, it is a stark contrast to the city of skyscrapers which fill the skyline, with beautifully preserved buildings in typical Arabian architectural styles. The most common of these being wind-tower features, arched windows, sloping roofs and almost an ‘Aladdin’ feel.
The Bastakia quarter also has a selection of museums which offers you the chance to enter many houses and experience the colourful patterned Arabian interiors and the older way of life. There are so much culture and history here, you will find that a day is just not enough to take it all in. If the hustle and bustle of the main city aren’t for you, then be sure to check out the Old Dubai.
6. The Beaches
Looking for a bit more sand, sea and sun instead? Well luckily for you there is a beach for everyone in the UAE which will most certainly take your fancy and offer that well-deserved relaxation time you have been after. While there are city beaches along the coast of Dubai towered over by the skyscrapers, you can also find quaint golden sand beaches along its island speckled coastline of Abu Dhabi.
If you are after more luxury rather than quaint, then you will need to head to Ajman where the impressive sweeps of sand wrap around the many shades of blue water offering a unique experience. Typically, these are where many of the luxurious hotels have sprung up and offer private beaches, however, for a small fee you can use them for the day. To add some excitement to the day, why not try some paddleboarding, diving, snorkelling, jet skiing and parasailing.
7. Dubai Creek Dhow Ride
While the Burj Khalifa can give you impressive aerial views of the city, the most iconic can be found a bit closer to the ground, which is great news for those of you that may suffer from vertigo and instead take to the water. The creek snakes its way through the city and can be accessed via traditional Arabic boats called Dhows. It is almost like Venice with their canals and punt boats but a more modern version.
If you want to have a truly stunning trip, then book yourself onto a sunset cruise where you can watch the city to come life at night as its lights slowly twinkle on one by one and the effervescent burst of colour explodes over the high-rises. If the budget is a bit tight then you can always try the local ferry which is called Ablas and cruise between Bur Dubai and Deira providing the same intimate views.
8. Sky Dive the Palms
So you thought that going to the top of the tallest building in the world was as high as you can go to witness this awesome city? Well, guess again. For the more daring adrenalin seekers of you, Dubai is the perfect place to go skydiving as it offers glorious year-round sunshine and offers pristine views. There are plenty of companies you can book with that provide a tandem dive with qualified instructions to take you on your leap over the city.
This is the perfect time to get the GoPro out and snap some seriously impressive aerial shots of the skyscrapers and Palms which are world-famous and you will be the envy of all your friends. Did I mention you will get to see the seemingly never-ending golden Arabian desert too? It is honestly a sight you will never forget and which no photo or video will ever be able to capture.
You can’t visit the UAE and not go shopping. It's near enough possible, believe me. Due to the sheer amount of mammoth-sized malls, it is one of the main attractions which draws a lot of tourists and locals alike to get their designer gear and spend some serious cash. While this is an experience in itself, it is nothing compared to the traditional Souks, otherwise known as street markets.
In Dubai, the Deira district in the main place to find Souks where you can find traditional souvenirs, local produce, delicious food, handicrafts, ancient wares and lots of weird and wonderful products that I can’t even begin to describe. Be prepared to haggle to get better prices, and you will walk away with a truly Arabic experience.
10. The Desert
The UAE is one giant sandy desert dotted with cities, towns, villages and Bedouin camps in which nature is constantly trying to reclaim daily. The best part? It's plenty of space to some pretty crazy and adrenalin-pumping activities which you would not necessarily be able to do anywhere else in the world.
From four-wheel-drive excursions and bouncy dune-buggy journeys to sandboarding, hiking, and camel treks you can do a lot of bucket list ticking here. Most people plan a desert trip from Dubai, but Abu Dhabi and Fujairah are also perfect bases for a bit of desert sightseeing and fun. One of my favourites is the Bedouin-style dinners under the starlit black canopy which you will get to experience in the empty beauty of the desert.
Be sure to check out my website for more information and travel advice as well as my Twitter @TakeLeapTravel and Instagram @taketheleaptravel.
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