We've found the 50 things that you really have to do in the UAE so take note and get cracking. Quick smart
New and quirky
For those who really want to push the dhow out during their time here. 1 Get in the thick of Indo-Pak wrestling: Head to the ‘backside’ of Deira fish market at 4pm on a Friday. Find the crowds of Indian and Pakistani men, some with extraordinary curly moustaches, a couple wearing brightly coloured Y-fronts, all looking very animated. You’ve struck gold – Dubai’s weekly Indo-Pak wrestling session. Go for the atmosphere, the firecracker-fast commentating and, evidently, the thrill of the fight.
2 Sample a secret restaurant: Food always tastes better when it feels a bit… well, different. Whether it’s Jumeirah’s best known secret. Thai eatery Smiling BKK (near Jumeirah Post Office, Al Wasl Road; 04 349 6677), Al Dawaar Revolving Restaurant in Deira’s Hyatt Regency (04 317 2222) or Bur Dubai’s quaint Creekside Bait Al Wakheel (04 353 0530) – you’ll feel like a true local once you’ve sampled somewhere with a quirky atmosphere.
3 Watch bulls butting: If you happen to be in Fujairah on a Friday afternoon, head to the bull fighting arena. Yes, bull fighting – it arrived here following a 16th century Portuguese visit. The beasts tussle, the crowd shrieks as they lurch too close and 20 judges decide which one is the winner. Corniche Road, just after the coffee pot roundabout, next to Café Maria.
4 Coo at baby turtles: About three hours’ drive south of Muscat lies Ras al Jinz, home of a rather special turtle sanctuary. Guided walks to see the shelled ones run every day at 9am and 4pm. On our last visit we saw babies making a break for the ocean. If that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings then nothing will. Call +968 96 55 06 06/www.rasaljinz.org.
5 Burn up the road to Jebel Hafeet: The winding road to Jebel Hafeet, one of the UAE’s highest peaks, has been ranked the best driving road in the world by www.edmunds.com. Immaculate tarmac, fierce turns and barren desolation that would make for an ideal car ad. Just be careful on the steep hairpin bends on the way back down.
6 Catch the fish market: Even if you don’t buy anything, experiencing the sea sale is worth the trip. Dozens of Indian and Pakistani men display their wares – and are very keen to have their photo taken holding the very biggest catch. Deira, opposite Hyatt Regency. Open 9am-1pm, 4pm-10pm.
7 Run Dubai Marathon (or 10K): Yes, it’s not the most stimulating route (up Jumeirah Beach Road, then back again). But nothing can beat the feeling of triumph after pushing your body to its limit – whether it’s 42km, 10km or 5km. Then you can always do the Ras Al Khaimah half-marathon (for the biggest half-marathon prize in the world). www.dubaimarathon.org (Jan 2010); www.rakmarathon.org (February 2010).
8 Visit a haunted house: Quickly vacated when its former occupant believed the Djinns were after him, this palace sports a decidedly creepy opulence. KFC roundabout in RAK, with restaurant on your right, take the next right. Continue down this road until you see the Emirates petrol station on your right. The palace is on the left. 9 Join in a street sport game: Think Dubai is all work no play? Have a look around. Cricket, football, basketball, volleyball - you name it, people are playing it on any open space they can get their balls on. Get involved: the courts at the top of Diyafah Street in Satwa ought to make for a good multi-cultural fix.
10 Snoop in a sheikh’s place: Located near the Heritage and Diving Village, the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House is where HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s grandfather lived until his death in 1958. These days it’s a museum, displaying old pictures and artefacts. Go and nose about as much as you like. Dhs2 entry, 04 393 7139. Open Sat-Thu, 8.30am-9pm; Friday 3pm-10pm.
11 Take falconry classes: Peter Bergh runs morning lessons in falconry from his Shaheen Xtreme camp in Al Sahra Desert Resort. Pick-up is at sunrise from anywhere in Dubai, followed by an intensive hands-on lesson that gives you all the basic know-ledge you need. Dhs1,000 per person, two people max. Breakfast and refreshments included. 050 8745725; www.shaheenxtreme.com.
13 Go crab hunting: Whether or not you enjoy crab genocide is something you should only share with a qualified psychiatrist, but the evening’s massacre in the waters surrounding Umm Al Quwain’s Flamingo Beach Resort is something of a rite of passage. Save room for the crab supper. Flamingo Beach Resort, Umm Al Quwain, from 8pm daily, Dhs170 per person incl. dinner. 06 765 0000.
14 Ride in the desert: The chance to ride in the silence of the desert is a rare treat, and frisky Arabian horses present a real challenge to even the experienced rider. If you’re a beginner, farm-based treks are also available. Call Tina on 050 662 0969 or visit www.alawadistables.com.
15 Go boating: Channel your inner Lady (or Lad) of the Lake and spend an afternoon cruising the waters of Safa or Za’abeel Park, in one of their plastic boats. Throw in a blanket, brie and barbie sausages (and a couple of towels) to make a day of it. If you get lake-sick, try the cable cars in Creekside Park instead. Safa (04 349 2111); Za’abeel (04 398 6888); Creekside (04 3367633).
16 Jump out of a plane: It’s an oldie – but a goodie. We did this last month at Umm Al Quwain Aeroclub and we’re still buzzing. UAQ remains the only place in the UAE where you can tandem skydive. Dhs1,000 per person for a tandem dive, Umm Al Quwain Aeroclub.
17 Get henna-ed: On your arm, on your face – wherever, just step inside an Arabic beauty salon (unfortunately fellas, this is for ladies only) and get a design painted somewhere – they only last a week or so. It was one of the most cultural experiences we’ve had so far. Hi Beauty Saloon, Jumeirah 3, 04 394 6669.
18 Visit dive bars: Every now and again, Dubai’s luxury can become a little suffocating. The cure to this horrific affliction? A trip round Deira’s shabbier nightlife establishments. Drink is cheap, as is the entertainment, and the kick of discovery is priceless. We recommend Garage Club (Ramee International, 04 224 0222), Moulin Rouge (The Broadway Hotel, 04 221 7111) and The Music Room (Majestic Hotel Tower, 04 359 8888, right) for starters. 19 Emirate hop: Take an art tour round Sharjah, a jaunt through Al Ain Zoo, hike in the hills of Ras Al Kaimah, dive in Fujairah, fish in Umm Al Quwain and watch a concert in Abu Dhabi. Then get some shut-eye in Dubai. Why not take a week off and blitz the UAE?
20 Head for the hills: What's around 4,000 years old and covered in engravings? Al Ain's Hili Archaeological Park. Hundreds of bodies (bodies!) have been recoverd here, along with stone utensils, some of which can be seen at Al Ain National Museum, inside Al Jahili Fort (07 376 4559).
21 Decorate your passport: Many a marketing campaign has labeled Dubai ‘the centre of the world’ – in terms of travel they have a point. Within short-haul distance from Asia, Africa, Europe and the rest of the Middle East – why not make the most of your location while you’re here? Especially with the imminent arrival of budget airline Fly Dubai. Go! Explore! www.flydubai.com.
22 Emiratise: Make an Emirati friend. Or, at least, show an interest in UAE culture. They welcome us into their country, making it possible for us to do everything else on this list. Sheikh Mohammed’s Centre for Cultural Understanding runs traditional UAE breakfasts every Monday from 10am. Booking required. Dhs50 per person. 04 353 6666, www.cultures.ae.
23 Enjoy a night in a hotel: Indulge – stay in your favourite hotel for one night. Experiencing the place as a holidaying tourist allows you to see the city in a different light. Personally, we’d go for the One&Only Royal Mirage. www.oneandonlyresorts.com.
24 Clean up Dubai: Sometimes giving something back is as enjoyable as experiencing everything you can from it. Even when it’s picking up litter from beaches (really, who leaves a whole kitchen lino on the shore?). Worth it if the result means clean sands. Check www.eeg-uae.org.
25 Take photos: This city is changing, perhaps more rapidly than any other in the world. You’re in a position to capture it, so grab a camera and get snapping. And if your shots are as aesthetically pleasing as Mickey Rourke’s face? Well, see www.gulfphotoplus.com for courses. Then send your pics to www.timeoutdubai.com.
The old favourites
These are the essentials – fail to complete them and we’ve heard they don’t let you out at border control. Honest. 1 Experience the desert: Whatever you do – get out of the city, at least for a day. Our top tip is Liwa’s Rub Al Khali (the Empty Quarter). Or try your own Camel Safari from Al Ain’s Hilton Hotel. Camel Safari: 03 768 8066. One hour, Dhs150. Rub Al Khali: 04 286 1991; www.explorertours.ae. Dhs7,000 for two days; Dhs10,000 for three days, four to seven days by special request.
2 Buggy up: After being picked up, Blue Banana will drop you off at a Bedouin campsite where you’re introduced to 1,500cc’s of dune buggy power. This is a totally different proposition to quad biking – more power, more adrenaline, more crazy. Half day (90mins) Dhs600; full day (180mins) Dhs900, pick-up included. 04 436 8100; www.bluebananaarabia.com.
3 Go hot air ballooning: Ballooning over the desert in Al Ain is the ideal way to see the majesty of the dunes without getting sand in your crevices. Do it before rides stop at the end of May. Dhs950 per person for one hour; Blue Banana: 04 436 8100; www.bluebananaarabia.com.
4 Have afternoon tea at the Burj: Do this, so you can tell people, ‘it’s not that impressive, actually’ – when really you thoroughly enjoyed the view and stuffing yourself silly with cake. Ideal for visiting mums. 1pm-5.30pm, daily except Friday; Dhs395 per person; 04 301 7600/www.jumeirah.com.
5 See the sun rise and set: Whether after an evening’s bop at Chi, camping in the desert or Atlantis’ Nasimi Beach Full Moon Party (May 8, email@example.com) – make sure you save enough energy to see the sun rise.
6 Learn to dive: What better way to escape the heat than by heading underwater (or moving to Alaska). Check out Al Boom Diving for one-to-one Padi beginner classes and tuition. They arrange supervised scuba and snorkelling excursions. 04 342 2993/www.alboomdiving.com.
7 Sleep under the stars: There are stars in the UAE sky – out of town. Even if you’re not the tent and pegs type, one night in the ‘wilds’ (close to a restaurant or bar, if you must) builds personality. If you’re inexperienced, Discover Nomad offers excellent eco-friendly camping trips. 050 885 3238/www.discovernomad.com.
8 Wear a tailored outfit to the races: Wearing a tailormade suit or frock one day a year is the least you can do. Really, you should make as much of the low-priced tailor services here as you can. We’ve even had bridesmaid dresses cut to order. Our favourite is Ishwar off Satwa Road. 04 349 2434, first right after Deepak’s, before Abdullah Hassan Al Balooshi butchers. 9 Ski on sand, sea and snow: Really, what did people do in Dubai before Ski Dubai? Snowboard on sand dunes, no doubt. While a discovery skiing lesson at the snow dome costs Dhs150 (04 409 4000), one of Lama Tour’s desert trips is Dhs275, including sandboarding (04 334 4330), and water skiing with Club Mina is Dhs120 per 20 minutes (04 399 3333). If you do all that in a day, you’re fit.
10 Swim with sharks: Even our nans have done this. Drive to the East Coast and snorkel around Snoopy Island (outside Sandy Beach Hotel, 09 244 5555), to spot shoals of multi-hued tropical fish – as well as the occasional (non-predatory and really rather sweet) reef shark.
11 Learn a new sport: Quit wasting weekends on the sofa, get out there and learn a flashy new skill – here in the UAE, the epicentre of extreme sports. Our favourites include wakeboarding (call The Wakeboard School, Al Ghantoot, 050 768 9504), sailing (Bluesail, 04 882 3129) and desert driving (Desert Rangers, 04 340 2408).
12 Go to the other races: The Dubai World Cup is the big one, but there’s more speed to be seen. As well as the camel races around 30km up Al Ain Road, there are car, kart and motorbike events at the Autodrome (www.dubaiautodrome.com/04 367 8700) and the desert challenge in March (www.uaedesertchallenge.com).
13 Get beautiful: Dubai’s reputation for vanity has one upside – dozens of beauty salons and spas. We love both Desert Palm’s Lime Spa (04 323 8888) and Satwa’s Pretty Lady Salon (04 398 5255) in equal measure – even though they’re at opposite ends of the price spectrum. Get a massage at Lime and blow dry at Pretty’s.
14 Discover your top street eat: Find the city’s best shawarma, falafel or curry and stick to it, no matter what new stalls open up next to it. We’re loyal to Deira’s Al Safadi Restaurant’s Dhs7 shawarmas. Al Rigga Street, 04 229 8200.
15 Cross the Creek by night: Abras are the traditional boats used to transport people across creeks and rivers. Think of it as an Arabic gondola and you’re halfway there. Dhs1 each Creek crossing; head to abra stations in Bur Dubai or Deira.
16 Marvel at the view: There are several spots in Dubai perfect for gazing at the city’s glorious skyline. We love the terrace at Uptown (Jumeirah Beach Hotel; 04 406 8181), Raffles’ China Moon (04 314 9888) and Neos Sky Lounge (The Address; 04 436 8927). Although Burj Dubai’s observatory will beat the lot when it opens later this year. 17 Learn the lingo: Whether it be Arabic, Hindi, Tagalog, Farsi or Urdu – this multicultural ‘tossed salad’ of a city is ideal real-life practice. The Eton (we kid you not) Institute of Languages runs courses (800 3866) – and now you can learn Arabic on your lunch break.
18 Catch a sailfish: If you don’t see fishing as a sport, that’s probably because you’ve never wrestled a sailfish, felt it wrench on the line and then experienced the raw disappointment of it getting away. Trust us, this is brilliant fun. Ocean Explorer Fishing Charters, 04 399 3333, Dhs2,000 for four people for four hours.
19 Eat your weight in food: Summer’s approaching which means one thing: it’s brunch season. From the Waxy O’Conners Dhs65 free-for-all (Ascot Hotel, Khalid Bin Al Waleed Road, 04 352 0900) to Warehouse’s new Dhs266 ‘drunch’ (Le Méridien Airportwa, 04 217 0000), you haven’t done Dubai until you’ve grown out to the next hole in your next belt.
20 Visit Jumeirah Mosque: Take an hour out of your day and Dhs10 from your purse to learn lots more about Islam and the day-to-day lives of fellow Dubai dwellers. It’s also a rare chance to see the inside of a beautiful building. Tours from 10am, Jumeirah Mosque,Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Conservative dress advised. Dhs10. No booking required, 04 353 6666.
21 Run on the beach: The Jumeirah Open Beach track is worth a huff simply for the experience – Filipino rollerbladers, Indian speed walkers, dribbling Lebanese footballers – they’re all on rotation on the spongy path. Or take an evening picnic and watch the sunset. Gorgeous (and free!).
22 Walk the shark tunnel: When The Dubai Mall opened, there was much talk of its size, shops and ice skating rink. But it’s the aquarium we went crazy for. For Dhs25 you can go eye-to-dead-eye with dozens of tiger sharks and hundreds of fishy species in their tunnel. Soon you’ll be able to go diving with them (post-feeding time) too. www.thedubaiaquarium.com.
23 Do the ice rinks: Really, you wouldn’t be getting the most from Dubai without making use of all its winter sports facilities. Start from the past – the Hyatt Regency’s Galleria, (Dhs25 per session, 04 209 6550), followed by Al Nasr Leisureland (Dhs10 for two hours, 04 337 1234) – then to The Dubai Mall, after you’ve done the Aquarium (Dhs 50 for two hours, 04 437 3111).
24 Survive the Sceirah: It’s truly terrifying – but if recent visitor Lily Allen can ride Wild Wadi’s Jumeirah Sceirah so can you. Even better – make sure you get to all three water parks: Wild Wadi (04 426 0000), Aquaventure (04 426 0000) and Dreamland (06 768 1888). Then decide you like Umm Al Quwain’s crumbly feel best after all.
25 Dolphin spot off a dhow: There’s nothing like the isolation of the Musandam, and few better places in the region to see bottlenose dolphins. Charter a dhow from Golden Tulip Khasab to Telegraph Island, as these sociable sea creatures chase the boat to the whistles of your captain. Call +968 2673 0777, Dhs1,800 for a five-hour roundtrip for nine people.