We bring you some of the UAE’s lesser-known treasures…

It’s no secret the UAE home to some incredible scenes. With its sprawling desert, sun-soaked beaches and mind-boggling buildings, we’re spoiled when it comes to photogenic sites in the UAE.

But we’ve scouted out a few places you might not know about… From wild flamingo sanctuaries to breathtaking mountain trails, here are 12 picture-perfect places in the UAE you didn’t know existed.

1. Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary


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It might look like something out of an African safari, but the Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is located just a few minutes’ drive from Dubai Mall. More than 20,000 birds of 67 species inhabit the area, which is most famous for its magnificent flock of flamingos. To see them, head to one of three viewing hides dotted around the perimeter of the sanctuary. These are open from 9am to 4pm Saturday to Thursday, and entrance is free (there are binoculars available to borrow, too).

2. Iranian Mosque, Bur Dubai


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Not too many people know about this beautiful mosque, but you might be lucky enough to stumble upon it while wandering around the area near the Textile Souk. Also known as the Ali ibn Abi Talib Mosque, the building is adorned with intricate blue tiles. It’s one of two ornately decorated Iranian mosques in Dubai – the other, Imam Hussein Mosque, is located in Satwa.

3. Moon Island, Dubai


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Not to be confused with Abu Dhabi’s Moon Island Resort, this tiny sliver of sand is located 50 kilometres off the coast of Dubai. You’ll need a boat to reach this moon-shaped sandbar – where, swimming, sunbaking and fishing await – but the view’s even better if you can capture it from above.

4. Hatta Dam


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Believe it or not, this stunning turquoise dam is less than a two-hour drive from Dubai. Surrounded by rocky mountains, you’ll enjoy some spectacular views along the way – don’t forget to bring a picnic. To make the most of the calm waters, we recommend renting a kayak or pedal boat from Hatta Kayak.

5. Al Wathba Fossil Dunes, Abu Dhabi


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They may be just a 30-minute drive from downtown Abu Dhabi, but these twisting, wind-swept rock formations feel worlds away from the capital. Take the Al Ain truck road and the E30, then head south of Al Wathba Wetland Reserve.

6. Al Ain Oasis


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Al Ain Oasis had the honour of becoming the UAE’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2011. Spread over 3,000 acres, the oasis is one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements, dating back more than 4,000 years. You can wander through its tranquil pathways, with more than 147,000 date palm trees providing a lovely green canopy.

7. Snoopy Island, Fujairah


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Named after the cartoon dog, which the island is said to resemble in shape, Snoopy Island is a marine paradise offering some of the best snorkeling 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.

8. Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, Abu Dhabi


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About a 45-minute drive from Abu Dhabi is the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, a five-square-kilometre area of water bodies, salt flats and dunes. Its star attraction is flamingos – the birds bred there for the first time in 1998, and the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan established the reserve as a protected area.

9. Dubai Ladies Beach Club


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This might look like a scene you’d be more likely to find at a five-star resort in the Maldives, but you’ll actually find this pretty ocean swing at the Dubai Ladies Beach Club in Jumeirah. Non-members can purchase a guest pass to use the private beach – visit the Dubai Ladies Club website for more details.

10. Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain


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Abu Dhabi’s highest peak at 1,240 metres, you’ll find the “empty mountain” as it’s called in Arabic in Al Ain. Its winding turns make it a great road to drive up, and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views at the top. At its base are ancient burial tombs that date back an incredible 5,000 years.

11. Stairway to Heaven, Ras Al Khaimah


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Did you know that Ras Al Khaimah is home to a Stairway To Heaven? The breathtaking mountain trail, located in Wadi Ghalilah near the Oman border, is not for the faint-hearted – only experienced climbers should attempt it – but making it up the 1,900 metres to the top will not only score you an epic photo, but some serious bragging rights.

12. Masfout, Ajman


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A 90-minute drive from the centre of Ajman, this tiny enclave is located in the rugged Hajar Mountains, flanked by Hatta, Ras Al Khaimah and Oman. It’s an off-the-beaten-track favourite for hiking and mountain biking – and the old fort is particularly photogenic. If you’re not a GCC national, be sure to take the Sharjah-Kalba Road, as this avoids the Oman border crossing.

Images: Instagram