Most people think Dubai is the United Arab Emirates, but nothing could be further from the truth. It would be like thinking NYC represents the United States of America. There are lots of different sides to the UAE and many things to explore in addition to the grandeur of Dubai.
The UAE is a federation of 7 emirates, located on the Persian Gulf, and shares borders with Oman and Saudi Arabia. Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the capital, are without a doubt the most famous Emirates. The other emirates are Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al Quwain. The expat community of the Emirates has grown expansively over the years and expats now make up about 80% of the total population, with over 200 nationalities living there.
Although Dubai has a lot to offer and the emirate is on a continuous journey of building bigger and better, it would be a shame to fly to Dubai and not visit anything outside its state borders. If Dubai is not your thing at first glance, don’t brush off the idea just yet. Have a look at everything the Emirates as a whole has to offer as odds are it has something for you too.
Here are some of the top places to visit in the United Arab Emirates.
Sharjah is the only emirate located both on the Arabian Gulf (also known as the Persian Gulf) and the Gulf of Oman and is home to the most natural reserves in the UAE.
Rather than doing one of those very touristy desert tours in Dubai, why not come to Sharjah to explore the desert? The Mleiha Archaeological Centre offers different possibilities – from horseback riding to a bumpy (but extremely fun and scenic) buggy tour. On top of that, the Mleiha Archaeological Centre has a permanent exhibition about the unique environment of Mleiha and other pre-historic sites of different regions of the emirate of Sharjah. After all the excitement, the café at the centre is the perfect spot to unwind before continuing your journey.
Read more on visitsharjah.com.
Ras Al Khaimah
Ras al Khaimah is often referred to as the most scenic of all the Emirates because of its diverse landscape, yet it remains quite unknown to outsiders. But Ras al Khaimah is not prepared to stay behind and is on its way to reinventing itself as a tourism hub of its own.
The emirate just recently made headlines for its brand-new attraction: the world’s longest zip line! Starting from Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountain, the thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies among us will get the chance to travel at speeds of up to 150 km/h at a height of 1,680 m above sea level. Who’s up for the challenge?
Find out more on jebeljais.ae/worlds-longest-zipline
Dubai doesn’t need an introduction, being by far the most popular emirate and the second largest. You can go indoor skiing or ice-skating in the morning, visit the flower Miracle Garden at lunch, go to the beach in the afternoon and finish off the day watching the world’s largest choreographed fountain system from the viewing platform of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. Breaking records seems to be a national sport here. And really, Dubai needs an article of its own.
What most people don’t know, is that you can get away from the hustle and bustle… while actually staying in Dubai. And I’m not talking about the world’s fanciest spa! A 1.5 hour drive from Dubai will take you to the gorgeous Hatta dam. Hatta dam, located within the emirate of Dubai, which offers beautiful views on the turquoise waters of Hatta lake and is surrounded by the Hajar mountains. Rent a pedal boat or kayak (and wear lots of sunscreen) and discover a whole new side of Dubai you never knew existed.
Head to www.visitdubai.com for more information on Dubai.
Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate, occupying an impressive 84% of the country’s territory. The federal capital of the Emirates shares borders with the Sultanate of Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Although Abu Dhabi has plenty to offer (sporting events facilities, amusements parks and impressive museums), there are two things you just can’t miss when you go: the Emirates Palace and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
The Emirates Palace is a one of a kind luxury hotel. Part of it is open to the public, so dress up, walk in and feel like royalty for a bit. The grounds are beautiful but the interior of the hotel is definitely worth seeing too. The price of an afternoon tea will actually surprise you in a good way, so if you have time take a moment to sit down and enjoy a small bite on the spot. When were you ever given the chance to order a 24K gold-flaked Palace Cappuccino? Of course, it sounds like something you don’t really need to experience but hey, in Rome do as the Romans do? You only live once.
From there, go to a more “feet on the ground” experience and head to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. If you’re an Instagrammer, odds are you’ve seen pictures of the mosque before. It is extraordinary. Words can’t explain the splendour of this place and I suggest you take your time. You don’t need to be an architect to recognize the beauty of this place and how amazing it looks in any light. Photography tip: do not miss the blue hour. You’ll remember it forever.
Visit VisitAbuDhabi.ae to find all the info you need on this emirate.
Explore even more
The other emirates, Ajman, Fujairah and Umm al Quwain, are worth mentioning and visiting too. To do this you should rent a car and explore.
While Ajman is the smallest of the seven emirates, it offers historic landmarks such as the recently restored Ajman Fort.
Admire Fujairah’s mountain landscape as you make your way to this emirate’s very own Sheikh Zayed Mosque. (Sheikh Zayed is the Founding Father of the UAE). Although not as big as its namesake in Abu Dhabi, it is worth seeing for its impressive architecture inspired by Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The mosque can welcome up to 28.000 worshippers.
The last emirate, Umm al Quwainn, is known for its more traditional activities such as falconry and camel racing.
These are just some of the incredible places to visit in the UAE that will give you a great range of experiences. When planning your trip also read things to know when visiting the United Arab Emirates for additional tips.