A historic village filled with museums, workshops, cafés and restaurants
With its soaring skyscrapers, glittering hotels, man-made islands and even indoor ski parks and rainforests, Dubai is a shimmering symbol of modernity.
But scratch beneath the surface and you will discover a rich and intriguing past. The UAE may still be in its infancy but each emirate's history stretches back centuries. And this is one place you can check out Dubai's.
You can take a step back in time at Al Fahidi Historical District. The area was once a trading hub for textile and pearl merchants in the shadow of the imposing Al Fahidi Fort, which now houses Dubai Museum.
Away from the museum, the district's narrow walkways are scattered with cosy café’s, restaurants, art hubs and cultural centres as well as the super-cool XVA Art Hotel (bottom). And every year is plays host to the SIKKA Art Fair (top) which really brings the area to life. A different side to Dubai. Al Fahidi Historical District, Bur Dubai.
Walk the Red Carpet at DIFF
The stars descend on Dubai every year for the city’s annual film festival
Every December it’s a case of lights, camera, action at Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah for the annual Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF).
The event showcases more than 100 original films from the Arabic cinema world and beyond, bringing fresh cinematic talent, and new and distinctive filmmaking to a whole new audience, all from it’s glamorous base at the Madinat Jumeirah.
As well as a jury panel and premieres, the festival also showcases movies in cinemas across the city. Film fans will be able to see screenings at the Madinat Jumeirah Arena and Madinat Theatre as well as at Vox Cinemas at Mall of the Emirates and in JBR.
There are Q&As and special appearances from a star line-up of talent during the festival, too.
In 2017, Hollywood icon Cate Blanchett adds star power to the proceedings as head of the jury for the sixth IWC Filmmaker Award.
If you’re in town, make sure you get in on the action before the credits roll. December. Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai, www.dubaifilmfest.com.
Explore a deserted village in RAK
One of the most intriguing places in the UAE is brilliant for photographers
If the hustle and bustle of daily life gets a bit much, then there is a place you are guaranteed plenty of peace and quiet.
The abandoned pearling village of Jazirat Al Hamra, in Ras Al Khaimah, has remained almost unchanged since its inhabitants left in 1968, making it a permanent monument to a bygone era.
Populated constantly from the 16th century until just 40 years ago, forts, schools mosques and many other buildings still stand in the area. After oil exploration began in the UAE, a mass exodus of an entire community took place, leaving it deserted.
While it is completely empty, the vilage’s atmospheric, almost end-of-the-world quality ensures its gets its fair share of visits from intrigued tourists. It even has a celebrity friend in the form of Brad Pitt, who flew down by helicopter to film scenes for War Machine, which was released on Netflix in 2017. Between Al Hamra Village and Al jazeera Port in Ras Al Khaimah.
Go on safari at Sir Bani Yas Island
A must-visit isle off the coast of Abu Dhabi is a total escape from the city
It’ll take a few hours to drive to, even from Abu Dhabi, but once you make it to the island from the port at Jebel Dhanna, it’ll be worth the journey. To jet there, you can also charter a Seawings plane from Jebel Ali Gold Resort & Spa, if flying is more your thing.
There’s as much adventure as relaxation here and we recommend making the most of the trip by taking a nature and wildlife drive. There are cheetahs, giraffes, flamingos and more to see in the Arabian Wildlife Park. You can also try your hand at horse riding, archery, land sailing and mountain biking across the island terrain.
Inside the walls of Al Fahidi Fort is a brilliant tribute to the city’s past
A vivid picture of the past is formed during a visit to Dubai Museum.
The historic building is home to a wide variety of life-size dioramas that depict Emirati life from a bygone era.
Soak in the heritage as you take a tour through traditional scenes of Arab households, souks and mosques, with more offering unique insights into life in the desert by the sea.
The nation’s all-important pearl diving industry is also paid homage to.
Most of the exhibits and galleries at the popular culture spot are housed underground in Al Fahidi Fort. The fort and its courtyard provide a striking contrast to the glittering riches of modern Dubai. But here in the old part of the city, you can learn how the foundations where laid for the bustling, cosmopolitan Dubai of today. Dhs3 (adults), Dhs1 (kids under 6). Open Sat-Thu 8.30am-8.30pm, Fri 2.30pm-8.30pm. Al Fahidi Historical District, Bur Dubai (04 353 1862).
Watch the fantastic dancing water shows while enjoying a great meal
Delightful by day and enchanting in the evening, the spectacular Dubai Fountain show is always a huge hit with city-dwellers and tourists alike.
The fountain is more than 900ft in length – the equivalent of two football pitches – and shoots water into the sky to a range of different songs, from classical music to contemporary Arabian tracks and classic pop songs.
There are plenty of spots to catch the all-singing, all-dancing performance, but if you are looking for dinner with a show then head over to the bank of restaurants at Souk Al Bahar.
Take in the wonderful water attraction while tackling a juicy steak at top Turkish meatery, Günaydin, sampling seafood at the smart The Atlantic (pictured, bottom) or taking in the cool vibes at pan-Asian eatery, Karma Kafé. They’re all winners. Dubai Fountain shows: Free. Sat-Thu 1pm and 1.30pm, Fri 1.30pm and 2pm, daily 6pm-11pm (every 30 minutes). Downtown Dubai.
Head to Abu Dhabi’s highest point
The views from Al Ain’s Jebel Hafeet are absolutely stunning
Can you rise to this challenge? At a towering 1,240 metres, Jebel Hafeet is the highest peak in Abu Dhabi, but the mountain will make you work for those rewarding views.
Forged out of craggy limestone, weathered over the course of million years, this mountainous landmark stands guard over Al Ain and borders Oman. You can drive your way to the top (it is one of the best road trips around) or, if you are up for it, cycle to the summit via a winding highway.
Whatever course you take, you can be sure of stunning views over Al Ain to enjoy. After your adventures, rest up at the Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet Al Ain Hotel near to the peak.
Jebel Hafeet is a hugely significant heritage site, too. Over 500 ancient burial tombs dating back 5,000 years have been found in the Jebel Hafeet foothills, marking the beginning of the bronze age in the UAE. Key fossil discoveries have been also been made in the area, which are vital pieces in the city’s ancient history.
Not just a pretty picture, then. Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet Al Ain Hotel (03 783 8888).
Take a shine to Sharjah Light Festival
The emirate shines bright during the spectacular annual event
Sharjah never shines so bright as it does during its annual light festival. The emirate has been illuminated for the last seven years by dazzling displays of colour crafted by an array of local and international artists.
The event attracts thousands of visitors each and every year, who come to marvel at the live shows and projections which literally light up the third largest city in the UAE.
The festival, which was held over the course of 10 days in 2016, takes place in several locations all over the emirate, making use of innovative light techniques set against a stirring soundtrack to create eye-catching three-dimensional designs on mosques, key landmarks and historic buildings. The festival is the first of its kind in the UAE and looks set to provide many more years of light entertainment. www.sharjahlightfestival.com
A stunning building bringing the very best in sound and stage to the city
If Dubai was lacking one thing until recently, it was perhaps a good old night at the opera. But now a city with a real sense of theatre has a great stage for international artists to perform on.
The striking Dubai Opera House, based in the heart of the busy Downtown district, raised the curtain for the first time at the end of summer 2016 and has already welcomed a galaxy of stars, including two thirds of the three tenors, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras and the iconic Blue Man Group, as well as world-renowned stage shows such as Cats and Les Misérables. And it’s now branching out into pop and rock music, bringing Status Quo and Scouting For Girls to the city.
As if we needed any more excuses to get dressed up to the nines for a flashy night out, hugely respected chef Sean Connolly has opened a rooftop bar and restaurant at the venue. Downtown Dubai, Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard (04 440 8888).
Discover the past at Etihad Museum
A beautiful building filled with the fascinating history of the UAE
A state-of-the-art museum that is every inch the symbol of UAE modernity offers up a unique window into the country’s rich and fascinating history.
Etihad Museum, fittingly located at the very place where the declaration was signed that confirmed the foundation of the UAE back in 1971, takes visitors on a unique journey through decades of remarkable progress.
The striking culture spot, which is shaped like a manuscript, includes permanent and temporary halls, a theatre, an educational area, interactive maps and videos, and more.
The pavilions house exhibitions, interactive programmes and educational initiatives that explore the history-making events that shaped the unification of the seven emirates.
It is also home to an interactive pre-union panoramic map, a section on the founding rulers of the UAE, a gallery of old photos and historic artefacts, a library with 300 titles, temporary exhibits, seminars and plenty more. It may feel like you are stepping into the future, but is a great place to immerse yourself in the past. Open daily 10am-8pm. 2nd of December Street, Jumeirah 1, Dubai, etihadmuseum.dubaiculture.ae (04 515 5771).