Four day weekends don't come around too often. Make the most of it
Do you need a break? With a four-day weekend coming up next week (likely to start Tuesday August 30 or Wednesday August 31, continuing until the following Sunday), now’s a better time than ever to escape the city. Many expat residents spend just a few years in Dubai, and for most it’s the time of our lives when we’re most central in the world, making travel a high priority.
Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan: ‘eid’ means ‘festivity’ in Arabic, and ‘al-fitr’ means ‘original nature’, implying that people, after fasting, will have restored their human nature to its purest state. The dates change every year, but Eid is always three days long. With September 3 – the day that may follow Eid – being a Saturday, this is as opportune a time as any to book a three-night break. We’ve found cheap options (all prices include taxes), adventurous breaks (fancy being in the middle of a stampede of wildebeests?), city sojourns and truly relaxing escapes, all within seven hours’ flight of Dubai. Read on and get booking!
Cheap breaks Goa, India Why go? Silver sands and turquoise seas offer a fantastic backdrop for whiling away the days, dining only on barbecued fish, spicy Goan seafood curries and fresh fruit. For those looking for a more active getaway, Goa’s renowned (and somewhat infamous) nightlife scene speaks for itself.
Don’t miss: It’s difficult to choose just one attraction, but for culture fans the Cabo da Rama Fort is worth a visit. Those looking for a bargain (and beautiful souvenirs) should head to Anjuna Flea Market.
Where to stay: Villa Anjuna, in Anjuna Beach, offers basic but clean rooms from Dhs150 a night. It also has a pool. www.villaanjuna.com (+91 832 227 3443).
Airline to try: Fly direct from Dubai to Goa with Kingfisher Airlines from Dhs1,600 return. www.flykingfisher.com.
Lucknow, India Why go? This vibrant city is the capital of Uttar Pradesh and the heart of culture in northern India. It’s particularly known for its rich cuisine, which has a royal Mughal touch.
Don’t miss: Shia shrine Bara Imambara. Built in 1783 as a tomb due to a large famine, it is a key example of Mughal architecture and is home to the largest arched hall in the world, as well as a mind-boggling labyrinth (hire a guide for this bit – you will get lost).
Where to stay: For Dhs300 a night at double occupancy, you can stay in the central, reliable but by no means luxury Meera Mann (a hotel that advertises hot and cold running water as one of its main features is never going to blow you away). The heritage-style Vivanta by Taj Gomti Nagar is a more luxury option at Dhs600 a night. www.hotelmeramann.com (+91 522 263 8181), www.vivantabytaj.com (+91 522 671 1000).
Airline to try: Fly direct from Dubai to Lucknow with flydubai from Dhs1,693 return. www.flydubai.com.
Kathmandu, Nepal Why go? Kathmandu will knock your socks off from the moment you walk out of Tribhuvan Airport. The city, and in particular the central district of Thamel, is enchantingly chaotic and ludicrously budget-friendly, from the stellar eats on every corner to the North Face knock-offs that could fool even the most seasoned trekkers.
Don’t miss: Swayambhunath stupa, also known as Monkey Temple, thanks to its furry residents. An important part of the pilgrimage is the long staircase up the hill.
Where to stay: Ambassador Garden Home is a rare place of tranquility situated in frenetic Thamel. Prices from Dhs213 per room, per night. www.aghhotel.com (+977 01 470 0724).
Airline to try: Fly direct to Kathmandu with flydubai from approximately Dhs1,434 return. www.flydubai.com.
Adventurous breaks Masai Mara, Kenya Why go? Between July and September every year, the great wildebeest migration sees 1.4 million wildebeest and 191,000 zebras make their seasonal trek to find water and greener pastures. Even a glimpse of the 500km trek (nay, stampede) is one of the most humbling things you’ll ever see.
Don’t miss: The Masai Mara reserve is also home to lions, giraffes, elephants and more. Lions are particularly alert during the migration thanks to the constant stream of food travelling to their door.
Where to stay: Porini Mara Camp in the conservancy of Ol Kinyei is 18km from Masai Mara park. With only six tents, it’s a quiet, spacious and luxury bush experience that has bespoke service to boot. Packages start from Dhs5,700 per person for two nights’ accommodation, park fees, Nairobi to Siana airstrip return flights, conservancy fees, game drives, walks with Masai warriors, full board, sundowners and unlimited soft drinks, hops and grape (so yes, pretty much everything). www.porini.com (+254 77 413 6523).
Airline to try: Fly direct from Sharjah to Nairobi with Air Arabia from Dhs1,915 return. www.airarabia.com.
Ethiopia Why go? The vast, mountainous kingdom provides sweeping vistas, rich cultural heritage and fantastic coffee (served absolutely everywhere).
Don’t miss: The capital, Addis, is a buzzing (not to mention relatively safe) city that’s a great start to a tour of the country. Lalibela is home to amazing rock-hewn churches, Gonder boasts art deco buildings and ancient palace ruins, while the Danakil Depression offers some of the most otherworldly, incredible scenery on the planet.
Where to stay: Check out the Asheton in Lalibela, from Dhs32 for a double room. (+251 333 360 030).
Airline to try: Fly direct from Dubai to Addis Ababa with Emirates from Dhs2,125 return. www.emirates.com.
Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt Why go? To snorkel or dive in the Red Sea, which boasts perhaps the best range of aquatic wildlife in the world. You can head out afterwards on the busy bar circuit (the Middle East’s answer to San Antonio).
Don’t miss: The 480 sq km Ras Mohammed, one of the best-kept diving parks in Egypt. Ensure your travel insurance covers you, and keep an eye on www.cdws.travel, which provides regular updates on diving conditions or (very rare) dangers.
Where to stay: Camel Divers hotel offers good-value backpacker-style rooms with rates from Dhs110 per person per night. The hotel also runs diving trips and courses. www.cameldive.com (+20 69 3600 700).
Airline to try: Fly to Sharm El Sheikh via Amman with Royal Jordanian from Dhs1,729 return. www.rj.com.
City breaks Berlin, Germany Why go? The city is super-trendy, with affordable restaurants and bars, and it’s also full of interesting cultural elements and educational (but at-times harrowing) museums.
Don’t miss: The Holocaust Memorial, designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold, is an eerie and emotionally affecting maze of 2,711 concrete blocks. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is immersing.
Where to stay: Circus Hotel is a trendy inner-city spot with good service, clean rooms, bargain prices and a cosy restaurant and bar, with rooms starting from Dhs370 a night. www.circus-berlin.de (+49 30 2580 0667).
Airline to try: Air Berlin now flies direct to Dubai, with return flights over Eid starting from Dhs3,400. www.airberlin.com.
Copenhagen, Denmark Why go? Described as Scandinavia’s capital of cool, Copenhagen is a very modern city.
Don’t miss: The neverending nightlife. Things don’t usually kick off until the early hours of the morning, so it’s hardly surprising that brunch is practically an institution here. Head to Vega to hang with the cool crowd (www.vega.dk).
Where to stay: Bertrams Hotel Guldsmeden provides a great location with a rustic yet charming vibe. Rooms from Dhs1,000 a night. www.bertramshotel.com (+45 70 20 8107).
Airline to try: Emirates flies direct to Copenhagen from Dhs3,075 return. www.emirates.com.
Hong Kong Why go? The island prickles with energy, from the striking skyline to its fantastic restaurants and energetic nightlife. Hong Kong’s expat-heavy culture bears resemblance to Dubai’s, but the former is steeped in its own unique history (and has far more indigenous residents – around 95 per cent).
Don’t miss: It’s a tourist trap, granted, but The Peak (www.thepeak.com.hk) is a fantastic vantage point from which to appreciate just how stunning the city is at night.
Where to stay: Central Park Hotel on Hollywood Road (in the north-west of the island) offers rooms from Dhs460 a night. www.centralparkhotel.com.hk (+852 2850 8899).
Airline to try: Cathay Pacific flies direct to Hong Kong from Abu Dhabi from Dhs1,520 return. www.cathaypacific.com.
Relaxing Breaks Cappadocia, Turkey Why go? For a holiday that’s truly unique, head to this historic area in the centre of Turkey. With its moon-like craters, underground cities and hotels in a cave, you could be mistaken for thinking you’re walking onto the set of a movie.
Don’t miss: A hot air balloon ride over the ‘fairy chimneys’. These chimney-like rocks were formed over thousands of years as a result of erosion by wind and rain, and make for spectacular aerial views. Fly with www.goremeballoons.com from Dhs831 per flight, including bubbles, breakfast and transfers.
Where to stay: The ultimate experience is to stay in a cave hotel, and one of the best is Esbelli Evi. No detail is too small for owner Suha, who goes above and beyond to make you feel at home. Rooms from Dhs440 a night. www.esbelli.com (+90 384 341 3395).
Airline to try: Fly direct to Istanbul with flydubai from Dhs2,382 return. From there you can get either a second flight to Kayseri with Turkish Airlines from Dhs2,376 return, or you can brave the 11-hour overnight bus journey from Istanbul for Dhs127. www.flydubai.com, www.turkishairlines.com, www.otogaristanbul.com.
Langkawi, Malaysia Why go? An archipelago of 99 islands in the Andaman Sea, Langkawi is a peaceful, sunny haven with the best beaches in Malaysia.
Don’t miss: Take a tour of Gunung Raya, an 888m mountain with awe-inspiring views of the area. Don’t forget your camera.
Where to stay: Berjaya Langkawi in Burau Bay is flanked by a rainforest. It’s peaceful (you’ll stay in an over-water chalet) yet full of activities, from spa treats to golf and watersports. See below for prices. www.berjayahotel.com (+60 4959 1888).
Package to try: Go with Etihad airways and stay in a chalet at the Berjaya Langkawi (above) for three nights, get your international return flight from Abu Dhabi (there’s a bus that leaves from Dubai) and your domestic flights to Langkawi and back, along with breakfast and airport transfers, for Dhs4,135 per person return. Additional nights start at Dhs280 per person. www.etihadholidays.com.
Lopud, Croatia Why go? Quite the hidden gem, Lopud is a beautiful and compact island near Dubrovnik. Take long walks along the numerous scenic pathways and find yourself a secluded beach for a private picnic.
Don’t miss: Giorgi-Mayneri botanical park: peek through the midst of 300-year-old trees to find an oasis of fountains and beautiful flowers.
Where to stay: La Villa waterfront boutique hotel is positively stunning. Guests even have use of the newly acquired boat, which can whisk you off on numerous excursions to local islands. Rooms start at Dhs369 a night. www.lavilla.com.hr (+385 91 322 0126).
Airline to try: Fly to Dubrovnik via Vienna with Austrian Airlines from Dhs4,155 return. www.austrian.com.
Zanzibar, tanzania Why go? The sand is as white as you’ll ever see. Oh, and it’s the birthplace of Queen legend Freddie Mercury.
Don’t miss: Most people tend to head straight for the picturesque beaches, but make sure you spend a night or two among the hustle and bustle of charming Stone Town.
Where to stay: If snorkelling and fishing is your thing, Matemwe Beach Guesthouse is situated on a quiet, pristine beach near the famous Mnemba Atoll and is ideal for families, costing from Dhs500 a night for a single room. For something more lively, head north to Ras Nungwi, from Dhs470 per person per night. www.matemwebeach.com (+44 1306 880 770), www.rasnungwi.com (+255 24 223 3767).
Package/airline to try: Ethiopian Air flies to Zanzibar via Addis Ababa from Dhs2,220 return. Alternatively, try a relaxing yoga retreat, which will see you staying a Fumba Beach Lodge for five days and doing lots of yoga for Dhs6,150 per person. www.yogalatesblissindubai.com (050 328 9642).
And for something a bit different Meet the Sultan of Brunei, Brunei Why go? This nation is known for its leadership, but it’s also worth visiting thanks to grandiose Islamic architecture and lush rainforest.
Don’t miss: During the first three days of Eid al-Fitr only, guests at The Empire Hotel and Country Club will be invited to visit the Istana Nurul Iman Palace (left), which is rarely open to the public. Men will have the chance to greet the Sultan himself, and women Her Majesty Paduka, the wife of the Sultan.
Where to stay: The Empire Hotel and Country Club is offering a three-day Eid package that includes two nights’ accommodation, city tours, complimentary ‘soft’ minibar, return airport transfers, buffet dinner and a visit to the Palace (if booked in time). This experience will set you back Dhs1,375 per person. www.theempirehotel.com (+673 241 8888).
Airline to try: Fly to direct Bandar Seri Begawan with Royal Brunei from Dhs2,720 return. www.bruneiair.com.
Onam Festival, Kerala, India Why go? We guarantee you’ll fall in love with Kerala’s lush greenery, which appears at every turn, and there’s nothing like floating down the region’s tranquil backwaters aboard a houseboat.
Don’t miss: The Onam Festival, which runs from late August and culminates on September 9, signals the start of harvest season and has mythical origins linked to the legendary King Mahabeli. Expect snake boat races, traditional song and dance and delicious vegetarian food.
Where to stay: A one-bedroom deluxe houseboat starts from Dhs498 a night, rising to Dhs1,780 a night for a five-bedroom boat. www.kumarakomhouseboatholidays.com (+91 481 252 3018).
Package/airline to try: Air Arabia’s three-night Kerala package includes flights, hotel accommodation on full-board basis, a country boat ride and a houseboat cruise. Prices start from Dhs2,080 per person (valid until the end of September). www.airarabia.com (06 507 4400).