Soaring skylines, old-fashioned souks and silky sands make holidays to Dubai and Emirates great all-rounders.
The United Arab Emirates – aka the UAE – is made up of seven states snuggled into a corner of Arabia. In the last 50 years, it’s burst into action – shaking off the sand and grabbing attention with sky-piercing structures and manmade marvels. That said, it’s not unusual to get ancient mud-brick forts and Bedouin campsites within miles of the city’s bright lights.
The big name in these parts is Dubai. And this mega-metropolis doesn’t do things by halves. The world’s tallest building. The largest shopping mall. And a manmade island shaped like a palm tree. They’re all here. Plus, it’s packed out with plush hotels, restaurants and mega-clubs. For a culture hit, there’s the polar-opposite old district, where you can haggle for souvenirs at the bustling souks.
A duo of sandy retreats
It’s a bit calmer further up the coast in Ras Al Khaimah. Here, the miles of powdery sands are backed by the majestic Hajar Mountains and a cluster of luxe hotels. Over on the Gulf of Oman, you’ve got Fujairah. It’s the baby of the UAE states – picture Dubai without the make-up. The pearl-white beaches serve up R&R and some of the best snorkelling and diving sites around.
Things to See and Do in Dubai and Emirates
When it comes to beaches, this place is blessed with some real lookers. Dubai, alone, racks up 60 kilometres of the sandy stuff, and it caters for all types. There are secluded stretches or all-action strips, complete with watersports, running tracks and snack bars. And, in Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah, the mountain-backed patches are all about peace and quiet.
The big beach
The standout stretch is Umm Suqeim Beach. It’s got the postcard-ready Burj Al Arab for a neighbour, so tourists flock here for the perfect sunset selfie – hence the nickname Sunset Beach. There aren’t any facilities as such, so make sure to pack a picnic and umbrella alongside your camera. The surf’s legendary here, too. Rumour has it the waves can reach up to three metres.
The secret beach
About 15 miles from Fujairah, Khor Fakkan is tucked away at the foot of the Hajar Mountains. The main public beach is made for families, with a playground and plenty of palms for shade. But star billing goes to its nearby sister stretch, dubbed Heart Beach. It’s a 15-minute trek away, but well worth a visit. You’ll get your own little slice of paradise with powder-soft sands and gentle waves.
Dubai and Emirates might be known for its glitz, but it’s easy to track down a bargain at one of the bustling souks. You can smell Dubai’s well-known Spice Souk from a mile off – just follow your nose over to the Deira district. On Fridays, there’s also the Masafi Market on the road towards Fujairah. Here, you can pick up pottery, rugs and souvenirs on the cheap.
The gigantic Mall of the Emirates is no exception to Dubai’s bigger-is-better rule, with over 500 shops. Ras Al Khaimah’s equivalent, Manar Mall, also reels off all the household names. For something a bit different, head to the Renaissance-style Mercato Shopping Mall. Inside, it’s all cobbled streets and pretty piazzas with a mix of high street and designer brands. Dubai’s Outlet Mall, meanwhile, specialises in discounted designer gear. Just bear in mind that it’ll probably be last season’s.
The UAE and designer shopping go hand-in-hand. At the BurJuman shopping centre, in Dubai, you're looking at names like Versace, Mont Blanc and MAC. The Dubai Mall’s also got the luxe Fashion Avenue, which is home to high-end designers, plus a 96,000-square-foot shoe district.
If clubbing ‘til dawn isn’t your thing, head to Ras Al Khaimah for a night that revolves around good food and music. At most of the hotels, you’ll find places with killer cocktail menus and live bands. In Fujairah, it’s even more laidback. You can pull up a comfy cushion and tuck into meze platters in the designated shisha corners.
When it comes to stay-up-late nightlife, Dubai doesn’t mess about. Get your glad rags on and join the masses at one of the beachfront nightclubs. It’s a case of early doors, so make sure you’re there in the afternoon if you want to bag a daybed. The city’s also chock-full of sky-high rooftop bars for scenic sundowners.
Emiratis have adopted the beloved shawarma as their own. Here, the chicken and lamb is marinated in spices then dished up in pita bread with garlic sauce and salad. Keep an eye out for a hole-in-the-wall or local eatery with a vertical rotisserie – they’re usually open 24/7.
This all-in-one dish is a favourite for big family get-togethers. Chicken or lamb is boiled with spices and veggies until the meat’s fall-apart tender. Then, black-dried lemon, dry fruits and nuts are thrown in. To round things off, it’s plated up with plenty of rice.
Manakish is basically the pizza of the Arabic world. It’s served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And you can choose from toppings like cheese, meat or herbs.
Baba ghanoush fans will love this one – it’s a spicier take on the traditional dip. Moutabal is made from eggplant and tahini paste, with some garlic, lemon and chilli in the mix, too. Scoop it up with some pillowy pita bread.
Got a sweet tooth? Order up some luqaimat. These deep-fried golden puffs are drenched in syrup and honey. Wander down any traditional street in the UAE and you’ll probably come across local women making the sugary treats.
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Marjan Island (Ras Al Khaimah)
The UAE is known for its manmade marvels and Marjan Island is one of the latest to have popped up in the Arabian Gulf. Four islands form this coral-shaped cluster. And they’re all filled with swanky hotels, private beaches and fancy shops.
Al Hamra (Ras Al Khaimah)
Below-the-radar beaches are Al Hamra’s trump card. They’re backed by box-fresh hotels, which are starting to multiply along the seafront. Things are still pretty low key compared to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but the unspoilt sands won’t stay towel-free forever – so be sure you don’t miss out.
Al Aqah (Fujairah)
Easy-going Al Aqah’s a big hit with Emiratis who come here for a break from big city life. As one of the UAE’s newer holiday spots, it’s far less developed than the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Only a handful of hotels stand between the striking Hajar Mountains and the saffron-coloured sands of the long, ruler-straight beach.
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