Our Ultimate Travel Guide to the United Arab Emirates

There are so many amazing sights and sounds to discover in this awesome part of the world, and we’ll aim to give you a good overview of them all with our travel guide to the United Arab Emirates. Here’s our guide to this dazzling luxury year-round sun destination.

You may already know the answer to the question what is the United Arab Emirates? But do you know just how diverse the region is, or all the amazing things you can get up to?

We’re not just talking about Dubai here either. Sure, Dubai and the capital Abu Dhabi might be the most notorious but did you know there are actually seven Emirates which make up the famous UAE:

  1. Abu Dhabi
  2. Dubai
  3. Sharjah
  4. Ajman
  5. Fujairah
  6. Ras Al Khaimah
  7. Umm Al Quwain
Dubai Marina
Dubai is just one of the amazing places we’ll cover in this ultimate guide to the United Arab Emirates. Photo by Timo Volz.

More than just big cities

You’ve probably seen all the images of opulence that come with the territory with the best things to do in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. But that says nothing about the natural beauty and sheer diversity of the UAE.

That’s why we thought we’d knock a more balanced travel guide to the United Arab Emirates.

We know you’re a discerning bunch. You want more than just shops and beaches on your break. Which is why we’re going to tell you all about this amazing region, from the cuisine, deserts and best time to go to where to stay when you decide to travel. 

So let’s get into it… 

Shot of a huge dune in the Arabian Desert
Get out into the desert as well as the gleaming city in the UAE. Photo by Shot by Cerqueira on Unsplash

Why visit the United Arab Emirates?

Why not?

Due to its unique geography, you can indulge in so many amazing activities. Six of the seven Emirates feature stretches of stunning Persian Gulf coastline 

But where you can find idyllic beaches you can also find examples of more extreme natural landscapes. From the largest sand desert in the world right through to the Hajar Mountain range. 

Your days in this Middle Eastern haven can range so dramatically. From adventures in the desert, to lounging on paradise-like beaches. Live it up in a modern city before heading off on mountain hikes. 

Another great thing about the United Arab Emirates is its synergy with the old and the new. The region constantly juxtaposes modern aesthetics with the rich heritage of the Arabian Peninsula.  

Traditional sitting area setting up for tea in the Arabian tea in the desert
Nowhere else can you see such a contrast between the ancient and modern like the UAE. Photo by Gül Işık

Brief overview of Emirati culture

Predominantly a Muslim country, much of the heritage and culture of the UAE is shaped by its connection to Islam. This rich heritage and bond to faith can be seen no better than in Abu Dhabi. The impressive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque pulls in visitors from all over the world.  

Of the seven Emirates, though, Sharjah seeks to deliver the most authentic of experiences for visitors to the UAE. Having been named ‘The Cultural Capital of the Arab World’ by UNESCO. As well as the Capital of Islamic Culture by the Organisation of Islamic Countries in past. 

It’s also worth mentioning, for all you culture vultures out therethe UAE is completely awash with museums. Learn all about the history of the country at the UAQ National Museum in Umm Al Quwain. 

The museum occupies the beautiful Al Ali Fort building. The elegant citadel was first established way back in 1768 as a residence for the Emirate’s ruling family.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi at dusk.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi. Photo by David Rodrigo on Unsplash

What is Emirati cuisine?

One huge part of the culture in any country is the cuisine. As you might expect from a country with 650km of coastline, seafood featureheavily on UAE menus.  

But there’s more depth to Emirati cuisine than just fish. Being in the Middle East, chicken and lamb also make up a decent proportion of the local diet’s meat section. Vibrant herbs and spices like cardamom, saffron, thyme and turmeric help to drive those sumptuous flavours. Hearty sides like rice and potatoes feature heavily too. 

This indulgent mix of grains and spices has formed as a result of the country’s centuries-old meeting place reputation. Links with places like India, Persia, and Zanzibar meant that these strong flavour roots came as a matter of course.  

The national dish of the UAE is KabsaA fragrant, rice-heavy, dish which mixes lamb or poultry with mixed vegetables and all those amazing herbs and spices. 

Things to do in the UAE

Many countries market themselves as a place where your possibilities for adventure are endless. However, in the UAE’s case, you really can! But when you come across a country with such diverse geography fun is bound to follow 

Each of the seven Emirates offers different characteristics and landmarks to explore. As we’ve said, Sharjah is the place to go for history and culture 

However, if you’re looking for a breath of natural beauty then the list of best things to do in Fujairah is probably more suited. Here the imposing Hajar Mountains dominate the skyline (rather than skyscrapers). Plus, locations like Snoopy Island, Umbrella Beach and the Ain al-Madhab hot springs are perfect for a spot of snorkelling, chilling or rejuvenating. 

Many will know about the famous attractions in Dubai, the place is littered with special sights. For example, the Burj Khalifa and Dubai water fountains top most people’s sightseeing lists. However, Dubai Creek is also an amazing day. Take a float along the meandering water to Ras al Khor bird sanctuary at the city limits, before the desert takes over again.

Where to find extraordinary nature in the Emirates?

Another thing that may not spring to mind when you bring up images of the UAE is thriving nature. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.  

Attractions like Wasit Wetlands Centre and Al Zorah Natural Reserve are perfect for spotting amazing indigenous natural life and definitely some of the best things to do in Ajman

As we just mentioned, Fujairah is one of the best Emirates for natural attractions. Those who prefer to get their sightseeing done under the waves should definitely check out Fujairah and Al Aqah Beach in particular. A rocky outcrop dubbed “Snoopy Island” delivers some of the finest diving conditions around.  

Is the UAE good for a family holiday?

The first thing you think about the United Arab Emirates might not be fun for the whole family. However, you can certainly have an awesome family break in the Emirates, if you know where to look.  

There are a host of fun things to do in Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain. These two Emirates aren’t the biggest, but they do offer a wide range of activities to help keep travellers of all ages occupied. 

From amazing beaches to help you relax through to exciting amusement parks. Ice Land Water Park, Al Khaimah and Dreamland Aqua Park in Umm Al Quwain are some of the country’s biggest. It’s also worth mentioning these two Emirates are reasonably close to Dubai. So a day trip to take in the sights and sounds of the city could be on the cards. 

Where to stay

Whether you’re thinking a beach escape, city break, natural oasis or an adventure-filled experience for your next break. You can do it all in the UAE. 

Locations like Fujairah also make a brilliant, luxury alternative to grabbing some year-round sunshine. Not only can you guarantee the weather, but you’re also just under an hour away from Dubai. Making the gleaming metropolis a perfect opulent day trip option – rather than a 7-10-night stay. 

All you have to do now is decide which Emirate you’re going to call home on your getaway. Click the button below to see our top hotel picks.

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