From mountain biking in the wadis of Ras Al Khaimah, to exploring secret cafes in Umm Al Quwain, here’s the ultimate guide to uncovering the whole of the UAE…
If you need a change of scenery and have anything from an afternoon to a weekend on your hands, fill the tank, put on some tunes, and start exploring with our bucket list guide to the seven emirates.
Sharjah has a lot to offer the plucky traveller. What it lacks in manmade islands and skyscrapers, Sharjah makes up for in culture and heritage. Explore Dubai’s unique neighbour and you’ll find an emirate bubbling with hidden gems
Sharjah Natural History Museum And Desert Park
One for the whole family, Sharjah Natural History museum has several fantastic exhibits. The ones depicting how life began and, of course, the unique dinosaurs are particularly interesting. It’s also right next to the Arabia Wildlife Centre, which is worth a visit, too.
Al Dhaid Road, Sharjah, Sat to Wed 9am to 5.30pm, Thur 11am to 5.30pm, Fri 2pm to 5.30pm. Tel: (06) 5311411. Taxi: Sharjah Natural History. sharjahmuseums.ae
The Blue Souk (Central Market)
Photo credit: Susanne Nilsson
Local statistics suggest that this public space is Sharjah’s most photographed building, but this behemoth of a shopping mall is worth more than just a quick snap from the outside. The souk houses six incredible buildings adorned in blue tiling, and a tunnel connects the two separate sections of the souk. If you’re looking for electronics, kitchen utensils, UAE-sourced gems and jewellery, The Blue Souk will stock itz.
King Faisal Road, Sharjah, Sat to Thur 9am to 10.30pm, Fri 4pm to 10.30pm, free. Tel: (06) 5623333. Taxi: Central Market Sharjah. shjmun.gov.ae
Paintball at the Sharjah Golf And Shooting Club
What better way to get your friend back for eating the last slice of pizza than by shooting them with a paintball gun. Gather a gang of friends, make a list of all the grievances they’ve caused you, and get justice via a small pellet of paint. Clamber over and around bunkers, huts, aircrafts, bridges and towers as you do battle.
Emirates Road, Sharjah, daily 10am to 11pm, Dhs100 (100 paintballs). Tel: (050) 2032288. Taxi: Sharjah Golf And Shooting Club. golfandshootingshj.com
Dine: Paper Fig Desserts
Appetisers are nice and entrées are essential, but here at What’s On, we adore dessert. Luckily Paper Fig Desserts make some of the best you’ll find in the Emirates. Highlights include the signature blossom feast (Dhs74), a raspberry sponge cake, vanilla panna cotta, chocolate crumbs, pistachio ice cream and flowers, all served in a plant pot. Simply put, it’s an edible garden and one that we’d graze over all day.
Muweilah, University City, Sharjah, Sat to Wed 8am to 11pm, Thur and Fri 8am to midnight. Tel: (600) 560601. Taxi: Muweilah. paperfig.ae
Known for its beaches, and the spiny Al Hajar Mountains running throughout, Fujairah bears more resemblance to Oman than the rest of the emirates, with the border between the two to the north. Tourism has been rather sluggish in getting off the ground in Fujairah, but the incredible marine life and stunning scenery are leading the charge for the adventure tourism market
Fujairah Historic Fort
Photo credit: Mike Che
Set against a backdrop of mountains and a distant glistening sea, Fujairah Historic Fort is far from just another touristy castle. For a “historic” fort, Fujairah’s mud brick castle is actually relatively young, being built around 1670 – but no one really knows who built it. While it is a defensive fort, the ruling family also used to live there. It was badly damaged by a British attack in the early 20th century, but has been recently restored to its former glory. Best of all, it’s free to explore. The museum next door is worth a wander too.
Cnr Al-Nakheel and Al-Salam Roads, daily 8am to 6pm, free. Tel: (09) 2231554. Taxi: Fujairah Historic Fort. fujairahtourism.ae
Snorkel around Snoopy Island
Side on, this craggy little island may resemble Snoopy, the cartoon beagle – but it’s beneath the surface of Snoop that’s really special. The island is a marine paradise with quite possibly some of the best snorkelling in the GCC: turtles, fish every colour of the rainbow and even little white tip reef sharks have made this sparkling cerulean sea their home. Onshore, Sandy Beach Hotel is well worth a post-snorkel drink, too.
Learn to scuba with Nomad Diving
When the marine life is as good as it is in Fujairah, you’ve got to explore deeper. Nomad operates two dive centres, albeit 15 minutes from one another, but in different countries. Its Fujairah location operates out of the Royal Beach Hotel, and offers divers a chance to visit the best diving in the UAE. If you’re lucky you’ll see turtles, eels and lionfish as you glide through the reefs around Dibba Rock. For beginners, try a Discover Scuba Diving course, or if you’re game and have a few days spare, you can study for your PADI certification.
Nomad Ocean Adventures, Dibba, Dhs500. Tel: (968) 26836069. Taxi: Nomad Ocean Adventures, Dibba. discovernomad.com
Dine: Gonu Bar And Grill
With a thatched roof, and open dining allowing you to be fanned by the warm air blowing straight off the Indian Ocean, Gonu is a super secret beach shack, which serves tasty steaks and seafood.
Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort, Fujairah. Tel: (09) 244900. Taxi: Le Méridien Al Aqah. lemeridien-alaqah.com
3. Ras Al Khaimah
Encircled by the enormous Hajar Mountains, Ras Al Khaimah is the UAE’s northernmost emirate. Aside from a handful of luxury hotels, RAK is an outdoor adventurist’s paradise, thanks to an incredible range of activities on offer from camping and rock climbing to horse riding and ziplining.
Bedouin Oasis Camp
Fancy a night under the stars? Try Bedoiun Oasis Camp. They offer several different categories of glamping from basic igloo tents with a mattress (Dhs450 for two people), to luxury tents with A/C (Dhs750 for two people). Dinner, camel riding, entertainment and breakfast are all included in the price.
Zipline and via ferrata
Prepare for an adrenaline adventure with Ras Al Khaimah’s flagship activity and zipline across Jebel Jais. The ‘Iron Path’ comprises three individual start and finish points, as well as three ziplines coming in at 165 feet, 195 feet and 985 feet long, making it the ultimate experience for thrillseekers. Tours operate twice daily at 8am and 1pm and costs Dhs400 per person.
Cycle at Wadi Showka
Hit the track at a specialised outdoor cycling centre, which is open to cyclists of all experience levels. Bike rental is also available.
Wadi Showka, Sharjah-Kalba Road, Wed, Thur and Sun 8am to 4pm, Fri and Sat 6am to 4pm, Dhs75 per hour. Tel: (050) 8591934. Taxi: Showka. showka.bike
Horse ride at Al Wadi Equestrian Adventure Centre
Saddle up for an organised horse trek through 500 hectares of unspoilt nature. You can also explore the surroundings by camel.
Al Wadi Equestrian Adventure Centre, daily 7am to 11am and 4pm to 8pm. Tel: (07) 2435422. alwadiequestrian.com
See: Sunset from Jebel Jais
Make your way up the tallest mountain in the UAE, the famous Jebel Jais, for a unique picnic hosted by Safarak Tours (Dhs280 with soft drinks, Dhs350 with house drinks, Dhs450 with champagne). Take in the beautiful sunset and tuck into finger sandwiches, salads, Arabic mezze, desserts, soft drinks and champagne.
4. Umm Al Quwain
Small, sleepy, quaint and free of international resorts (for now), Umm Al Quwain’s old-school feel is charming, warm and surprisingly inviting.
Often bypassed by visitors making a beeline straight for Barracuda Beach Resort’s infamous supermarket, Finer Things is a lovely little gourmet deli that looks like it’s been transported from a sleepy French village and plonked down in the middle of nowhere. Step inside and you’ll find an array of fresh cheeses, chocolates, oils, biscuits and so much more. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get an extra item for free – just because they’re nice out here in Umm Al Quwain.
Barracuda Beach Resort, daily 8am to 8pm. Tel: (06) 7681175. Taxi: Barracuda Beach Resort. facebook.com/Finer-Things-184998051596426
Camp at Dreamland
Before Yas Waterworld there was a fantasy water park hiding on the west coast that catered to the UAE’s residents. The park offers basic slides and rides with a few quirky additions. While you have the bog standard children’s wet play area with buckets and slides, there are also serpent tube rides, and even a hippo island. Lodgers at the waterside campsite in the park can choose from a tent or cabin with sleeping bags, a cooler, a barbeque dinner and breakfast all included.
Ras Al Khaimah Highway, Umm Al Quwain, Sat to Thur 10am to 6pm, Fri 10am to 7pm, Dhs900 for two adults sharing a cabana. Tel: (06) 7681888. Taxi: Dreamland. dreamlanduae.com
Do: Watersports at the Marine Club
Some of the best watersports can be found at Umm Al Quwain’s mangrove lagoon. Try your hand at wakeboarding, kayaking, or stand-up paddleboarding. There’s a clubhouse, a pool, and a high ropes course, too.
Umm Al Quwain Marine Club, daily 8am to 6pm. Dhs150. Tel: (06) 7666644. Taxi: UAQ Marine Club. uaqmarineclub.com
Welcome to the smallest of the emirates. Ajman may be mini but it still has lots to offer visitors, including luxury hotels and sandy beaches, with a few heritage attractions, too.
Embrace the tastes of Palestine at Chouzaki, a homely café where all the ingredients are imported from Palestine. Sink your teeth into Musakhan, a flatbread lathered in olive oil and topped with caramelised onion, pine nuts and chicken.
Chouzaki, Al Ethihad Building, Corniche road, Al Nakheel, Ajman, daily 7am to midnight. Tel: (06) 7477734. Taxi: opposite Fairmont Hotel Ajman. chouzakime.com
Visit Ajman Museum
The restored 18th century fort houses a large collection of archaeological artefacts. Check out the exhibition of an excavated graveyard discovered near Ajman City Centre; some of the jewellery and pottery found there dates back as far as 3,000 BC.
Al Bustan area, Ajman, Sat to Thur 8am to 8pm, Dhs5. Tel: (06) 7423824. Taxi: Ajman Museum. ajman.travel
6. Abu Dhabi
There’s lots to love about the UAE capital: pristine beaches, luxury hotels and lush islands. The dining scene continues to impress, and the wilderness of the Empty Quarter is only a short drive away.
Explore Sir Bani Yas Island
Fancy a safari but can’t afford the trip to Africa? Head to Sir Bani Yas Island, where protected animals such as giraffes, cheetahs and hyenas roam free. The resort offers guided tours by car, mountain bike and horseback riding.
Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara, Sir Bani Yas Island. Tel: (02) 6561399. desertislands.anantara.com
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
If you’ve yet to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque then add it to your Abu Dhabi bucket list immediately. With its marble domes and mosaic floors, this stunning structure looks like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights, and can accommodate more than 40,000 worshippers. It’s open to visitors throughout the week, and guided tours are available. Admission is free.
Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street, 5th Street, Abu Dhabi, Sat to Thur 9am to 10pm, Fri 4.30pm to 10pm, free. Tel: (02) 4191919. Taxi: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. szgmc.ae
Manarat Al Saadiyat
The Manarat Al Saadiyat has long been a hub of arts and culture, but the most exciting development is that you can see a preview of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi artworks from now until the end of July 2017. The Creative Act features 18 international artists and includes paintings and photography to sculpture and multimedia installations.
Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, daily 9am to 8pm, free. Tel: (02) 6575800. Taxi: Manarat Al Saadiyat. saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae
Dine: Butcher & Still
As you might have guessed from the name, Butcher & Still is a carnivore’s dream. Located in the Four Seasons, this new steakhouse gets top marks for its impeccably cooked, high-quality meat, as well as the excellent service. There’s even a secret private dining room, to add to the speakeasy-style feel.
Four Seasons Abu Dhabi, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi, daily 6pm to midnight. Tel: (02) 3332700. Taxi: Four Seasons. fourseasons.com
The What’s On Award-winning Dubai restaurant Coya has been leading the charge of Peruvian restaurants. Now residents in the capital will get a chance to experience the high-end cuisine, thanks to a new branch in The Galleria at Maryah Island. Splash out on the private dining room for a special occasion – it seats 12 and has its own special entrance and elevator.
The Galleria, Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi, Mon to Sat 12.30pm to 11pm. Tel: (02) 3067000. Taxi: The Galleria. coyarestaurant.com
There’s never a dull moment in the emirate that we love to call home. Not content with giving the world its biggest buildings, hotels, malls and more, the desert city continues to expand with its adrenaline-boosting activities, jaw-dropping theme parks, and world-class dining scene. Here’s a few new things to try in the city.
The trend for escape games shows no signs of dying out, and Escape Reality might just be the best one yet. At 6,000 square feet, it’s the largest of its kind in the UAE and there are 22 themed rooms to choose from, where teams of up to six people together will put their investigative skills to the test, in order to solve a mystery within 60 minutes and guarantee their escape. Some of the themes you can choose from include ‘Alcatraz’ (based on the notorious prison) and ‘Nosferatu’ (a world populated by vampires).
Indigo Sky, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, Sun to Wed noon to 10.30pm, Thur to Sat noon to midnight, Dhs140. Tel: (056) 8004304. Taxi: Indigo Sky. escapereality.com
Freefall at Skydive Dubai
When it comes to Dubai bucket list activities, nothing beats skydiving for the adrenaline hit and the bragging lights (not to mention the impressive Facebook profile picture). The best place to do this is undoubtedly Skydive Dubai, which offers skydives over its Palm drop zone as well as in the desert. The company recently announced that its drop zone tandem skydives will continue throughout the summer – a first at Skydive Dubai – so there’s no excuses for putting it off.
Skydive Dubai, Al Sufouh, Dubai, Dhs1,999 including photo and video. Tel: (04) 3778888. Taxi: Skydive Dubai. skydivedubai.ae
Explore Burj Khalifa from every angle
Of course, no trip to Dubai would be complete without a trip to the tallest building in the world. There are many different ways to take the Burj Khalifa in, from an abra trip around Burj Lake to dining alfresco in Souk Al Bahar. For a glamorous option, visit the Burj’s restaurant At.Mosphere on the 122nd floor for breakfast, and choose from indulgent treats such as truffle scrambled eggs and lobster eggs benedict.
At.mosphere Burj Khalifa, Downtown Dubai, Dubai, daily 7am to 11pm. Tel: (04) 8883828. Metro: Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall. atmosphereburjkhalifa.com
The newest project from La Serre’s award-winning Chef Izu Ani doubles as a concept store. But even we were too distracted by the food to shop, thanks to delicious sharing plates of Levantine-influenced cuisine: the spicy shakshuka and olive oil cake should all be on your must-try list.
Building 6, Dubai Design District, Sun to Fri 8am to 11pm. Tel: (04) 4226024. Taxi: D3. dubaidesigndistrict.com
If you’re planning a trip to Dubai Parks And Resorts, make a weekend of it by booking into the family-friendly Lapita. Colourful and comfortable, the Polynesian themed venue has everything to keep adults and children happy, with its kids and teens club, lagoon style pool with a lazy river and even a Q-Fast pass to help you beat the crowds to the nearby rides and rollercoasters.
Dubai Parks And Resorts, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, daily 10am to midnight. Tel (04) 8109999. Taxi: Dubai Parks and Resorts. dubaiparksandresorts.com
See: Dubai Canal at night
Photo credit: Joji Philip Koshy
No trip to Dubai would be complete without getting out onto the water and seeing the city’s most iconic landmarks from the sea. Make like a celebrity and rent a luxury yacht for a few hours; there are boats to suit every budget ranging from Dhs300 to Dhs5,000. We suggest you take a trip at night along the new Dubai Canal to see the multi-coloured waterfall gushing down from Sheikh Zayed Road.