It’s a short trip to the other side, but for an activity that takes you back to everything Dubai is really about, it can’t be beaten. There are two routes that run parallel to one another, one runs from 6am-midnight, the other operates 24 hours a day. Pay a dirham, take a seat on the long, narrow abra that sits low in the water and look out.
The boat will zig-zag to avoid others, seagulls will circle overhead and if you time it for sundown, the light will hit the buildings on either side of the shore quite spectacularly.
This experience can’t be beaten. Dhs1. From Deira Creek or Dubai Textile Souk, Bur Dubai.
Get lost in The Empty Quarter
A huge expanse of dessert with some luxuty thrown in for good measure
The Empty Quarter, or, Rub Al Khali, to give it its Arabic name, is the largest uninterrupted sand mass in the world.
If that don’t impress you much, then it’s also where the Star Wars: The Force Awakens was filmed. Needless to say, there’s an almost unending landscape of rolling dunes, giving you a sense of your place in the universe. It’s also a reminder of where the metropolises of Dubai and Abu Dhabi came from.
It’s about a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi but once there you can stay in the luxurious Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, a veritable oasis in the middle of the desert. It resembles an old Arabian fortress town, which is nestled in the valley of mountainous dunes. There you can take part in dune dawn walks, camel trekking and dune bashing, as well as watching falconry.
At the edge of The Empty Quarter you’ll find the desert resort of Tilal Liwa Hotel. Similar to Qasr Al Sarab, there are great restaurants, a top pool and a range of activities to try. Head south from Abu Dhabi towards Madinat Zayed. Marvel at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque .
The single most impressive sight in
Abu Dhabi that has to be seen up close
This majestic architectural marvel attracts thousands of worshippers and visitors each and every week.
Voted the second favourite landmark in the world in 2017 (ranking ahead of iconic sights such as the Taj Mahal and Sydney Opera House), it should be the first stop on any trip to Abu Dhabi.
Plans for the jewel in the capital’s crown were first dreamt up by the man whose name it would take on, HH Sheikh Zayed, back in the 1980s.
The bold vision was slowly turned into a brilliant reality when construction got underway in 1996, taking a staggering 11 years to complete. The epic project features 82 domes, the world’s largest hand-woven carpet and a chandelier embedded with one million crystals.
Guided tours are held, with staff on hand to answer questions and enlighten you on all elements of Islamic culture. Open Sat-Thu 9am-10pm, Fri 4.30pm-10pm. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street, Abu Dhabi (02 419 1919).
Of all the incredible spas in the UAE, this one might just be our favourite
Life here in the UAE isn’t too bad, really. There’s all-year sunshine, cool things to do and great restaurants to eat at to name just a few of the positives. But if you think you can’t feel any better about yourself, the chances are you haven’t paid a visit to Talise Ottoman Spa, a little pocket of luxury nestled away in the opulent Jumeirah Zabeel Saray.
Behind carved turquoise doors lies a soothing sanctuary where any worries will be washed away. Experience the ultimate in relaxation with 42 treatment rooms, steam rooms, saunas, a snow room and two thalassotherapy pools.
At the heart of the marble-built spa, beautifully decorated in dark woods, mosaics and murals, is a Turkish Hammam which is taking chilling out in the tub to a whole new level.
Spend some time here and you’ll feel rejuvenated, revitalised and raring to go. Open daily 9am-9.30pm. Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Crescent Road, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai (04 453 0456).
It’s fun, it’s cheap, it’s for everyone and it’s pretty much always an option
We know, it takes a while to get used to the idea that you long for the end of summer so you can head outside for a picnic. But when the temperatures cool down, the months between October and April are perfect for a picnic in a park.
There are plenty of lush, green spaces where you can lay down your wicker basket throughout the UAE. In Dubai, you can bring along the family for a fun day out at top picnic spots such as Al Khazzan Park (pictured middle), the first totally solar-powered amenity of its kind in the country, and the sprawling Zabeel Park (top), where you can watch the boats gently cruise across the lake while you tuck into your lunch.
In Abu Dhabi, you can head over to spacious Khalifa Park or travel out of the city to Green Mubazzara Park in Al Ain. Khalifa Park: Dhs2. Near Park Rotana Complex, Abu Dhabi. Zabeel Park: Dhs5. Off Al Majlis Street, Al Kifaf, Dubai. Al Khazzan Park: Free. Al Safa Street, Dubai.
Visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Al Ain Oasis is exactly what it says on the tin – and it is beautiful
When you visit the UAE’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, at first you might think you’ve stepped into another country altogether. It’s not called Al Ain Oasis for nothing, this is a lush area, filled with trees, plants and shrubbery.
There are almost 150,000 date palms in this tranquil spot in the middle of Al Ain city and it uses the traditional falaj water system for irrigation and wells to store the water to keep the foliage blooking all year round.
It’s an interactive experience, where visitors get to see how Al Ain farmers have worked with the delicate eco system for generations.
There are places to get food and drinks, free parking and it’s close to Al Ain’s other excellent attractions, including Al Ain Palace and the National Museums.
To see why Al Ain is called The Garden City, you really don’t need to look any further than this beautiful spot. Hessa bint Mohammed Street, Al Mutawaa, Al Ain (03 712 8523).
See the stars of tennis in action
Two top tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Dubai attract the sport’s biggest names
Tennis great Roger Federer has a home in Dubai, so there is a small chance you might pop into him while he’s getting served at the shops one day. But if you want to guarantee seeing the sport’s very best in action, the ball really is in your court in the UAE.
Swiss ace Federer is a regular entrant (and winner) of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships held each February, with fellow tennis titans Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal also among an elite list of champions who play at the prestigious event.
World Number One Nadal is down the road in Abu Dhabi in December 2017, too, at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, which is one of the warm-up events for Grand Slam season.
You can set sail with pals or get out on your own from the harbour
Looking for a day out with a difference? Well, you can really push the boat out at Dubai Marina. The beautiful blue waters don’t just make for wonderful views, you can jump aboard and see the lovely stretch while cruising on a vessel.
You can make a proper day of it by signing up for a luxury two-hour dinner cruise, boasting an international buffet spread, taking in superb views while the marina is illuminated by twinkling lights.
If you want to set your own schedule, why not hire about and really make waves with your pals. Anyone who has spent any time strolling around the circular marina won’t have failed to notice the fun-packed party boats on the waters. You can hire your own vessel, with room for a load of pals, and dance the day away for one of those brilliant ‘only in Dubai’ kind of experiences. Various options for hire, including Guguboat. www.guguboat.com.
Look around the UAE’s oldest mosque
A hugely-important part of Islamic history right here in the UAE
Despite what the naysayers seem to think, the UAE wasn’t actually only built when it became a unified county back in 1971. The seven emirates all have their own rich and varied histories, dating back many centuries.
If you want a deeper understanding of Emirati heritage, go on a voyage to the oldest mosque in the entire UAE, Al Bidyah Mosque in Fujairah. Located in a small village in the emirate, the mud- and stone-built structure is thought to have been built in the 15th century, but many experts feel its construction dates back even further than that.
Apart from some minor restoration work, the mosque has stayed true to its roots, offering visitors a unique insight into the past. As well as its band of faithful worshippers, the mosque attract thousands of tourists each year. Take the coastal road north out of Fujairah and past Khor Fakkan until reaching the village of Badiyah.
Visit the Northern Emirates
Ras Al Khaimah and Ajman are perfect for a relaxed weekend getaway
Dubai and Abu Dhabi usually steal the headlines and limelight, but their northern cousins, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain are all beautiful places with their own identities.
Each has plenty of quirky independent venues to explore. And the beaches rival their more famous neighbours’, too.
We love the Kempinski Hotel Ajman (pictured right, middle) for a getaway. The golden sands are some of the best anywhere in the UAE and the hotel has a fine selection of restaurants and bars.
Just along the road is the Fairmont Ajman (bottom), another luxury stay.
The UAE’s northern-most emirate, Ras Al Khaimah is another beauty and the Waldorf Astoria is the jewel in its crown, with amazing Japanese restaurant Umi one of the best venues in the country. Kempinski Hotel Ajman, Sheikh Humaid Bin Rashid Al Nuaimi Street (06 714 5555). Fairmont Ajman, Sheikh Humaid Bin Rashid Al Nuaimi Street (06 701 5757). Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, Vienna Street (07 203 5555).