We journey to every emirate celebrate UAE's 41st birthday
Time Out staff
What better way to celebrate the UAE’s 41st birthday than by taking a trip to each of the seven emirates? The nation as we know it today was formed when six of the emirates signed an agreement on December 2 1971 to become the United Arab Emirates (Ras Al Khaimah joined a few months later, in 1972). At 41 years of age, the UAE is one of the world’s younger nations, yet it has managed to achieve a commendable amount in its formative years, and promises to continue to do so in years to come. In consultancy group FutureBrand’s recently published ‘Future Fifteen’ rankings, the UAE took first place among 15 ‘country brands’ that experts believe to be on course to ‘transform the global landscape economically, politically and culturally’ in years to come.
Though there’s an abundance of things to do day in, day out across the seven emirates, we’ve picked a few highlights for you to visit by car. We’ve provided directions, the ‘must-do’ sights and activities and top dining venues, as well as entry prices and contact details, ensuring you can get as much out of each emirate as we did. All you need to do now is belt up, refuel, start your engine and get going.
Abu Dhabi Hitting the road Abu Dhabi is approximately one and a half hours from Dubai by car. Just follow Sheikh Zayed Road (E11) or take the bus (E1) from Ibn Battuta Mall or Deira’s Al Ghubaiba bus station to Abu Dhabi bus station (Dhs25 each way). The trip itself is fairly uneventful – the road is as straight as an arrow, with nothing but desert either side.
Must do The Grand Prix may be over, but it’s still a great time to take a trip to the capital: save your road trip for Friday December 7 and you can see the likes of David Guetta and Armin van Buuren play Creamfields, or wait another ten days for the Al Dhafra Camel Festival, which takes place on Monday December 17.
In terms of sights, Abu Dhabi has a heady mix of cultural and entertainment attractions. The breathtaking Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a must-visit: free tours run Sunday to Thursday 10am, 11am and 5pm; Friday at 5pm and 7.30pm, and Sat 10am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm and 7.30pm (see www.szgmc.ae for details). We’d also recommend a trip to Ferrari World: the theme park features Formula Rossa, aka the world’s fastest rollercoaster, and race simulator Scuderia Challenge. Entry is Dhs225 for adults, or Dhs165 for those under 1.5m tall; buy tickets at tickets.ferrariworldabudhabi.com.
Must eat Splash out on dinner at Time Out Abu Dhabi’s 2012 Restaurant of the Year: Bord Eau at Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri (02 509 8888). Expect to pay Dhs500 for a meal for two with soft drinks.
Staying overnight? Treat yourself to a stay at the Eastern Mangroves Hotel and Spa by Anantara; double rooms start from Dhs760 per night (abu-dhabi.anantara.com, 02 656 1000).
Ajman Hitting the road Head north up Sheikh Zayed Road, which morphs into Sheikh Rashid Road and, finally, the Dubai-Sharjah Road (E11). Just before you reach the Ajman-Sharjah border, leave the E11 for the S134 (turning left at the Wasit Power Station on the right) towards the coast. Follow the road along the coast on your left, and enjoy the views of the expansive public beaches.
Must do Once the S134 hits the beach – also known as the Ajman Corniche – we suggest ditching the car and strolling along the sand. The beach is in good condition and, thanks to its sheer size, doesn’t usually get crowded, meaning you can take a seat and enjoy the views in peace and quiet. Once you’ve explored the city, take a trip out of town to visit the popular ‘Friday market’ near Al Dhaid (which actually takes place every day) – it features trinkets, handicrafts, carpets, abayas and other traditional items and souvenirs (free entry; open Sat-Thu 9am-1pm, 4pm-11pm; Fri 4pm-11pm). Take the E88 and the market can be found between Al Dhaid and Masafi.
Must eat Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, drop into Sabella’s at the Kempinski Hotel Ajman (06 714 5555): it’s a good bet for authentic Italian food served in faux-rustic surroundings.
Dubai Hitting the road Granted, you don’t often hear people who live in Dubai talk about the road trip they’re planning… to Dubai. However, this isn’t as daft as it sounds – our emirate is the country’s second largest after Abu Dhabi, meaning many of its top spots are a fair distance away. One example is Hatta – it’s an hour’s drive from the centre of the city, but still technically located within the emirate of Dubai. To get there, take Al Khail Road (E44) towards Hatta and Oman: follow the signs, drive for just under an hour and, hey presto, you’re there. You have to enter Omani territory en route, passing through two border checkpoints, at which you’ll need to show your passport. Note: if hiring a car, the standard Dubai insurance won’t cover you for driving in Oman – you’ll need to tell the hire company that you’ll be travelling over the border. The same applies if you own a car – check that you’re covered for taking your vehicle outside the UAE.
Must do Hatta Heritage Village, nestled in the magnificent Hajar mountains, is a 16th-century village with 30 or so buildings to explore. Entry is free, and it’s open Sat-Thu 8am-8.30pm; Fri 2.30pm-8.30pm (04 852 1284). While you’re in the area, grab your camera for a visit to the picturesque Hatta Dam, a breathtaking construction that was built to capture rainwater from the surrounding hills. Unfortunately, one of the area’s biggest attractions, Hatta Pools, is inaccessible because of roadworks. It’s not yet known when the works will be finished.
Must eat Your best bets for dining are the two restaurants at Hatta Fort Hotel (email@example.com, 04 8099 333). Café Gazebo is the hotel’s all-day-dining eatery, serving lunch and light meals with views of the swimming pool. For dinner, Jeema Restaurant serves á la carte fare and hosts live music with impressive views of the mountains.
Staying overnight? The aforementioned Hatta Fort Hotel features 50 deluxe chalet-style rooms, suites and villas, all with a private balcony overlooking the mountains or green lawns. Rooms start at Dhs750 for two adults sharing. Book at www.jaresortshotels.com (04 809 9333).
Fujairah Hitting the road Set off early to avoid the traffic in Dubai, which will also leave you plenty of time to enjoy all that Fujairah has to offer. Take Sheikh Zayed Road (E11) through Sharjah, then turn right onto the E88 to Dhaid. Pass through Dhaid until you reach the town of Masafi, at the foot of the Hajar mountains, then turn right onto the E89, which takes you all the way to Fujairah town. The journey should take between an hour and a half and two hours.
Must do Fujairah is all about diving and or snorkelling. One of the prime spots to do this is Snoopy Island, so-called because of its apparent resemblance to Charlie Brown’s canine chum lying down (although we still can’t quite spot it). Snoopy is about half an hour north of Fujairah town, and located just 20 metres off the Sandy Beach Resort’s private enclave – it’s even possible to wade out from shore to reach the island. Grab a mask and a snorkel and you’ll find yourself surrounded by all manner of colourful fish – we think it’s the best dive site on the east coast that you don’t need a boat to get to. Equipment can be hired on Sandy Beach for Dhs60 a day, as can two-man kayaks (Dhs70 for 45 minutes). For those who’d rather keep two feet firmly on land, try Fujairah’s Friday market, located on the Dubai side of Masafi, between the Hajar mountains and a nearby wadi – a great place to haggle for Iranian carpets and local pottery.
Must eat Dibba Rock Restaurant at the Royal Beach Alfaqeet Hotel & Restaurant boasts see views and decent ‘international’ fare (09 244 9444).
Staying overnight? Le Méridien Al Aqah Beach Resort is a family-oriented hotel that offers snorkelling, diving, kayaking and parasailing, as well as tours of Fujairah. Doubles from Dhs975 (www.lemeridien-alaqah.com, 09 244 9000).
Ras Al Khaimah Hitting the road If you’re travelling by car from Dubai, take the E11 (Emirates Road) towards Sharjah; Ras Al Khaimah is well signposted. Stay on the E11, which will take you straight into the centre of the city. It takes roughly an hour and a half to reach Ras Al Khaimah from Dubai airport – non-drivers can expect to pay around Dhs250 in a taxi. En route, keep an eye out for Al Hamra Village Golf Course (www.alhamravillage.com/golf.aspx), as well as the massive, surreal Ice Land Waterpark (www.icelandwaterpark.com, 07 206 7888). As the name suggests, it has an Antarctic theme, complete with (fake) penguins and plenty of icebergs.
Must do The annual Awafi festival, showcasing theatre performances and other cultural and outdoor events, takes place for three weeks, starting (usually) in late December and continuing into January (this year’s dates were yet to be announced at the time of going to press). The highlight of the event is arguably the dune-bashing races at the start of the festival. Otherwise, head to the skies at Jazirah Aviation Club, which offers a gyrocopter flying experience (Dhs220 for 20 minutes; www.jac-uae.net, 07 244 6416). To get there, travel towards RAK on the E11, taking the first right after the left turning to Bin Majid Beach Resort. Otherwise, enjoy a day at the Mediterranean-esque Cove Rotana (www.rotana.com/thecoverotanaresort, 07 206 6000) or the Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort & Spa on Al Maareedh Street (www.hilton.com, 07 228 8844).
Must eat Check out the pan-Asian fare at Passage to Asia, Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort & Spa (07 228 8844).
Staying overnight? Though we’d happily recommend either the Cove Rotana or the Hilton, the jewel in RAK’s hotel crown is the Banyan Tree Al Wadi. Al Rimal deluxe pool rooms start at Dhs1,705 (note: many weekend dates are already booked in December; call 07 206 7777 for details).
If you can hold off on your road trip to RAK until January 2015, you might be able to visit the Dhs3.6 billion Real Madrid football club-themed man-made island (yes, really). The planned development will include a marina, five-star hotels, villas, an amusement park, a Real Madrid FC museum and a 10,000-seat stadium overlooking the sea. For updates, see www.realmadrid.com.
Sharjah Hitting the road From Dubai, take Sheikh Zayed Road (E11), which turns into Sheikh Rashid Road and passes over Garhoud Bridge. To reach Sharjah Cultural Square, follow Al Wahda Street (clearly signposted). The drive can take anything between 30 minutes to an hour and a half depending on traffic. The cost in a taxi is roughly Dhs75, depending on the time of day you travel.
Must do Start your day at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Culture (Dhs5 entry; www.islamicmuseum.ae), which boasts a huge collection of more than 5,000 artefacts from across the Arab world. From here, stroll down the cosmopolitan seafront to the ‘Art Area’, home to several galleries including Sharjah Art Museum (free entry; www.sharjahmuseums.ae, 06 568 8222). From here continue south, stopping briefly at the imposing Al Hisn Fort in the centre of a roundabout, before reaching the heritage area. The informative Sharjah Heritage Museum (Dhs5 entry; www.sharjahtourism.ae) uses models and multimedia to chronicle life in the emirate through the ages.
Must eat Fish Corner is located in the city’s tourist hotspot, Al Qasba, and serves some of the emirate’s freshest seafood (www.alqasba.ae, 06 556 8884).
Staying overnight? Radisson Blu Resort on Corniche Street offers a private beach and a range of watersports, two tennis courts, bowling and billiards to keep you entertained. Free shuttle buses will take you to select shopping areas within the city and neighbouring Dubai. Standard rooms from Dhs600 (www.radissonblu.com/resort-sharjah, 06 565 7777).
Umm Al Quwain Hitting the road As with Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain can be reached by sticking to the E11 and heading north. However, what sets this road trip apart is the prospect of exploring the peninsula, which features old fishing villages – relics of a bygone era. These can be reached by turning left onto the E55 and following the road north (with the sea to your left). The journey from Dubai, traffic permitting, should take little over an hour.
Must do Other than exploring the old fishing villages, check out the Old Town at the northern point of the peninsula. Here, you’ll also find Flamingo Beach Resort – a cheap-and-cheerful place where you can hunt crabs before eating them. Couples’ packages, including a night’s stay for two and crab hunting, costs Dhs725 (www.flamingoresort.ae). Another of Umm Al Quwain’s top attractions is Dreamland Aqua Park, which predates Dubai’s Wild Wadi and Aquaventure, but its old-school charm means it’s just as fun, and it’s also licensed. Entry is Dhs135 for adults, Dhs85 for kids under 1.2 metres tall (www.dreamlanduae.com, 06 768 1888).
Must eat Aquarius at the Barracuda Beach Resort serves a wide range of international fare: there’s something to suit every palate here, and at more than reasonable prices (www.barracuda.ae, 06 768 1555).
Staying overnight? If you’re not staying at the aforementioned Flamingo Beach Resort, check into Barracuda Beach Resort, which features a pristine beach. Superior deluxe studios start at Dhs630 a night for two people, including dinner, breakfast two passes to nearby Dreamland Aqua Park (www.barracuda.ae, 06 768 1555).
Al Ain Don’t forget that the emirate of Abu Dhabi includes the city of Al Ain. The ‘Garden City’ can be reached from Dubai by taking Financial Centre Road (D71), turning left onto Al Khail Road (E44) and then onto Dubai-Al Ain Road (E66). The journey should take just under two hours. Once you’re there, we recommend trying your hand at rafting on the faux white-water rapids of Wadi Adventure: entry is Dhs100 for adults, Dhs50 for children (www.wadiadventure.ae, 03 781 8422).