Short on time or cash? Discover the region on these essential days out
No plans this weekend? That’s about to change. The mild winter weather is still holding, making it an ideal time to explore the region before summer sets in – and if vacations over the new year period already feel like a distant memory, a day-long trip will be a refreshing remedy. To whet your appetite, we’ve compiled a list of must-do day trips across Dubai, the other emirates and even Oman, many of which are accessible via public transport.
From hair-raising thrills at Abu Dhabi’s motorsports circuit to art exhibitions in Sharjah or catching your own supper in Umm Al Quwain, our trips span the gamut from freebie activities to budget-pushing indulgences, all of which can be enjoyed this weekend.
Abu Dhabi 1 Follow in the footsteps of F1 superstars at Yas Marina Circuit Best for: speed demons and car fans. Ever wondered what it’s like to be an F1 driver? At Abu Dhabi’s grand prix circuit you can either drive or be driven in a Supersport SST or an Aston Martin GT4. If you’re feeling daring, try the Yas SuperComp three-seater dragster to be catapulted from zero to 300kph in four seconds.
Distance from Dubai: about one hour 20 minutes from Dubai Marina, or get the bus from Al Ghubaiba bus station in Deira (Dhs25 each way). Passenger rides from Dhs485. www.yasmarinacircuit.com (800 927).
2 Explore the great outdoors on Yas Island Best for: a relaxed getaway. Whether you arrive by boat, seaplane or on your own two feet, Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island is home to a gaggle of watersports activities such as paddleboarding, plus golf at the Yas Links Golf Club, with nine-hole beginners’ courses and an 18-hole championship course. Afterwards, take a stroll around the gardens of the Yas Gateway Park or prepare a barbecue using the built-in facilities. Then melt your stress away in the spa at the five-star Yas Viceroy Hotel, and grab a drink at one of the many hotels located near the F1 circuit.
Distance from Dubai: about one hour 20 minutes from Dubai Marina, or get the bus from Al Ghubaiba bus station in Deira (Dhs25 each way). www.yasisland.ae (no number).
3 Go kayaking in the mangroves Best for: a family day out. Take a tour around Abu Dhabi’s mangroves with an eco-adventure company. Expect 90 minutes of paddling through beautiful lagoons under the canopy of the mangroves.
Distance from Dubai: About one hour 20 minutes from Dubai Marina. Dhs150 per person. Eastern Mangroves Resort by Anantara, www.noukhada.ae (02 650 3600).
4 Ride the world’s fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World Best for: thrill-seekers and big kids. Also located on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, this Italian supercar heaven boasts the fastest rollercoaster in the world and a number of other amusing rides and simulators, such as the G-Force plummeting tower, and more sedate carousels for kids. We’d recommend arriving as soon as the park opens at 11am to avoid long queues, which can sometimes take up to two hours. Forgo breakfast and head here on an empty stomach: the lightning-fast Formula Rossa accelerates to 240kph and soars 52 metres into the sky. Hold on tight.
5 See a unique collection of wacky record-breaking cars Best for: petrolheads. Emirates National Auto Museum houses the private car collection of HH Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan: it’s home to everything from luxury supercars to rare vintage models. There are also plenty of zany creations, including the world’s largest caravan (in the shape of a globe), and the world’s largest truck, which features four bedrooms.
Distance from Dubai: About one hour 45 minutes from Dubai Marina. Dhs50 per person. On the E65 road to Liwa, www.enam.ae (no number).
6 Splash and scream your way round 43 water rides Best for: water-borne thrills. Abu Dhabi’s newest and largest waterpark, Yas Waterworld, covers a 150,000 sq m. With 43 rides, the theme of the park follows the fictional story of Dana as she goes in search of the illusive power pearl. The standout ride is Liwa Loop, where adrenaline-seekers step into a glass enclosure and plummet through a trapdoor into a series of water tubes. Others include a five-person ride down a whirlpool and a rollercoaster with water jets. But don’t fear: there are plenty of gentle rides catering for all ages, not just thrill seekers.
Distance from Dubai: about one hour 20 minutes from Dubai Marina, or get the bus from Al Ghubaiba bus station in Deira (Dhs25 each way). Dhs225 for adults, Dhs185 for kids. www.yaswaterworld.com (02 414 2000).
7 Speed across the waves on a jet ski in Ghantoot Best for: water babies who want a change. If you head to the Golden Tulip Al Jazeera Hotel & Resort, you can spend the day indulging in two very different water-based activities. Get the adrenaline flowing with a stint of jet skiing, then take a dip in the sea and see the sun set at beach club Blue Marlin.
Distance from Dubai: 30 minutes by car from Dubai Marina. Jet skiing from Dhs250 per person (052 983 8959). Sun loungers at Blue Marlin Dhs250 per person minimum spend. Next to Golden Tulip Al Jazeera Hotel & Resort, Ghantoot (056 113 3400).
8 Tour the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Best for: a taste of local culture. It’s one of the most visited architectural sites in the UAE. Built by more than 3,000 workers, we guarantee you’ll marvel at the sheer size of the place – it can hold almost 41,000 people. It apparently contains 1,000 columns and 20,000 marble panels, many of which are inlaid with intricate semi-precious stones. Check the website for opening hours.
Distance from Dubai: about one hour 20 minutes from Dubai Marina, or get the bus from Al Ghubaiba bus station in Deira (Dhs25 each way). Free entry. Between Maqta and Mussafah bridges, Abu Dhabi, www.szgmc.ae/en (02 441 6444).
Al Ain 9 Come face to face with lions, tigers and more Best for: animal-mad kids and adults. Monkeys, chimps, tigers, crocodiles, lions and giraffes… this wildlife park is packed with 4,300 animals, including 2,500 mammals, 1,200 birds and 600 reptiles. Yet far from simply giving kids something to gawp at, the zoo leads the way in breeding critically endangered species. Stroll round the enclosures, feed the giraffes, visit the petting zoo and watch the falconry show – and don’t forget your camera.
Distance from Dubai: two hours 15 minutes from Dubai Marina, or take the bus from Al Ghubaiba bus station in Deira (www.dubai-bus.com). Park entry Dhs15 for adults, Dhs5 for kids aged three to 12, free for kids under three. Off Nahyan Al Awwal Street, Al Ain, www.awpr.ae (03 782 8188).
10 Ride the rapids and brave the waves at Wadi Adventure Best for: surfers and white water rafters. Boasting three world-class white water rafting and kayaking runs, this is the place to get your adrenaline fix. Surfers are also catered for with a surf pool that pumps out 3.3-metre waves every 90 seconds. If you’re visiting as a family, there are also adult and toddler swimming pools for anyone who prefers calmer waters.
Distance from Dubai: 1 hour 45 minutes from Dubai Marina, or take the bus from Al Ghubaiba bus station in Deira (www.dubai-bus.com). Dhs100 for adults, Dhs50 for children. South of Al Ain, near the Oman border, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
11 Rev your engine and put pedal to metal at the kart track Best for: speed demons. This high-tech kart circuit is a must for motorsport fans: it’s modern, well run and a great place to hone your race skills. All equipment is provided – don a race suit and helmet, slip on some gloves and jump into your kart for a 15-minute session on the track, during which you can attempt to clock up the fastest lap time. The circuit also offers a race school, private tuition and regular competitive races. See the website for the latest events.
Distance from Dubai: About two hours 25 minutes from Dubai Marina. From Dhs120 for 15 minutes. Near Al Ain Water factory, off Khattam al Shiklah Street, Al Ain, www.alainraceway.com (03 768 6662).
Ajman 12 Spend a day exploring the UAE’s smallest emirate Best for: inquisitive souls. Modestly sized Ajman is easily overlooked by visitors, but its unexplored nature means it has plenty to offer if you’re prepared to investigate. Enjoy a day strolling the vast unbroken sands that make up Ajman’s corniche, then stop at the quaint, 80-shop town centre, where there’s a small souk and museum (the latter has a Dhs5 entry fee and is open Sat-Thu 9am-1pm and 4pm-7pm).
Distance from Dubai: About an hour from Dubai Marina. Take Sheikh Zayed Road to Sharjah. Take the Al Dhaid Road at Sharjah Cultural Square, then turn left onto Al Wasil Street and follow the road to Ajman.
Dubai 13 See rare birds at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary Best for: wildlife lovers. Though it’s best known for its enormous flocks of bright pink flamingos, Ras Al Khor is in fact a feeding and nesting ground for a number of different species. The wildlife hide (a sort of viewing platform in a wooden shed) displays pictures and information to help you identify anything you spot through the binoculars.
Distance from Dubai: about half an hour by car from Dubai Marina. Free. Al Awir Road, www.wildlife.ae (no number).
14 Spot rays and colourful fish at Al Mamzar Beach Best for: inquisitive swimmers. If you haven’t got your PADI diver’s licence, pull on a snorkel at this sprawling beach park. There are a number of little bays with breakwaters to swim along – we recommend the one on beach three, where we’ve spotted a few rays in the past, not to mention hundreds of brightly-coloured fish and crabs. Watch out for sea urchins! Distance from Dubai: About half an hour from Dubai Marina. Park entry Dhs5 per person. Al Mamzar, towards Sharjah (04 296 6201).
15 Take a dip in Hatta’s natural lakes Best for: getting back to nature. Located on the outskirts of Dubai emirate, the Hatta rock pools – a series of crevices in the volcanic rocks – are thought to be millions of years old. Unfortunately, some of the pools suffer from litter and graffiti, but if you’re picky you can find a nice spot.
Distance from Dubai: about two hours from Dubai Marina by car (you have to enter Oman en route, so ensure you bring your passport). Free. Near the E84 Fujairah Road (no number).
16 Try a camel ride on the ship of the desert Best for: experiencing Bedouin culture. The local tour company organises desert safaris in the spirit of Bedouin life. Camel caravan excursions cost Dhs450 (or Dhs550 for an overnight stay) and the new Desert Night programme is Dhs850. Knight Tours also offer city tours, dhow cruises and trips to Oman.
Distance from Dubai: 45minutes drive from Dubai (pick-up in the city is included in the package). Knight Tours (04 343 7725/www.knighttours.co.ae).
Fujairah 17 Snorkel with sharks, turtles, fish and more Best for: adventurous types. The Méridien Al Aqah hotel boasts a well-equipped dive school, offering scuba and snorkelling trips off the coast where you can spot turtles, colourful fish and even small reef sharks. Afterwards, grab a bite at the hotel’s Gonu beach bar (Al Boom customers get 25 percent discount). If you don’t have a car, Al Boom also organises day trips from Dubai – see the website for info.
Distance from Dubai: About two and a half hours from Dubai Marina, or jump aboard Al Boom's minibus (see website). Snorkel trips from Dhs150. Le Méridien Al Aqah, Fujairah, www.alboomdiving.com (09 204 4925).
18 Watch Portuguese-style bullfighting Best for: those who don’t mind a bit of animal aggro. In one of the UAE’s more distinct cultural quirks, bulls are pitted against each other every week in Fujairah. Unlike the Spanish sport, there are no blades or matadors involved, just two bulls butting each other. Head to the corniche on Fridays at 5pm, and look for the crowds.
Distance from Dubai: About two and a half hours from Dubai Marina. Free. Next to Café Maria, Corniche Road, Fujairah (no number).
Oman 19 Dive with turtles and explore the sea in Dibba Best for: qualified divers. While it’s not guaranteed you’ll spot one of these beautiful creatures as they glide across your path, we’ve seen at least one on each of our last few dives. It’s also worth noting that whale shark season begins in April – and a dive with the chance to spot one of these incredible, enormous filter-feeding fish is an incredible treat.
Distance from Dubai: About two and a half hours from Dubai Marina. Diving trips from Dhs350 including full kit. Al Boom, Musandam, www.alboomdiving.com (04 342 2993).
20 Glide through Musandam aboard a dhow Best for: experiencing the magnificence of nature, with minimal effort. Cross the border into the Omani enclave of Musandam and head to the small ferry port: the azure sea combined with the sight of fishermen mending their nets is picturesque in itself. The dhows set off, sailing through a spectacular backdrop of sea and mountains, and dropping anchor to allow snorkelling and sunbathing stops. Some trips include activities such as fishing and banana boat rides.
Distance from Dubai: two and half hours from Dubai Marina. Dhs200 per person, including lunch. Sheesa Beach, www.sheesabeach.com (02 638 6551).
Ras Al Khaimah 21 Take to the skies at Jazira Aviation Club Best for: adventurous types. Take a joyride at 600ft in a microlight over Ras Al Khaimah’s turquoise sea – if you’re brave enough to look down, you might be able to spot wrecks, turtles, rays and even reef sharks in the waters below. Just 90 minutes by car from Dubai Marina, it’s a great way to take a look around the emirate from an entirely different perspective.
Distance from Dubai: About an hour and a half from Dubai Marina. Flights from Dhs220. www.jac-uae.net (07 244 6416).
22 Learn more about UAE wildlife on a desert nature walk Best for: Casual climbers. For something a little less extreme, pay a visit to the desert-set Banyan Tree Al Wadi, a traditional-style hotel set in the expanse of the Al Wadi Nature Reserve. The resort offers outdoor activities including horse riding, talks and presentations, as well as the opportunity to explore the nature-rich desert.
Distance from Dubai: about an hour and half from Dubai Marina. Nature experiences from Dhs350 per person. Al Mazra, www.banyantree.com (07 206 7777).
Sharjah 23 Marvel at old automobiles at Sharjah Classic Car Museum Best for: car fans. The UAE’s obsession with cars continues at this newly reopened classic car museum in Sharjah. Exhibits have been updated to show the historical phases of the automobile industry, and there are 85 cars on show: check out models made between 1915 to 1939, such as the model T Ford and Rolls Royce 25/30, and a Cadillac Fleetwood from the ’40s. The display also includes five antique bicycles.
Distance from Dubai: 45 minutes by car from Dubai Marina. Dhs15; free for kids under 12. Al Dhaid Road, Sharjah (06 531 1411).
24 Take a tour of Sharjah’s museums and galleries Best for: culture-hungry visitors. Sharjah is a hub of museums and exhibitions. Start with the Museum of Islamic Civilisation, a vast and impressive structure that houses artefacts and antiquities from several Islamic countries. Other highlights include Sharjah Art Museum, which showcases local modern art, and Sharjah Natural History Museum, which offers info about desert flora and fauna.
Distance from Dubai: An hour from Dubai Marina, or take the bus from Karama, or Satwa. Entry fees vary. www.sharjahmuseums.ae (06 556 6002).
Umm Al Quwain 25 Catch your own dinner on a crab-hunting trip Best for: wannabe fishermen. Unleash your inner hunter by wading through water looking for crabs to spear for supper. Organised by Flamingo Beach Resort, it’s the only excursion of its type in the region.
Distance from Dubai: one and a half hours from Dubai Marina. Dhs190 per person, Dhs110 for children aged five to 11. Flamingo Beach Resort, Umm Al Quwain, www.flamingoresort.ae (06 765 0000).
26 Sunbathe, swim and swirl down chutes Best for: sun worshippers. Dreamland Waterpark in Umm Al Quwain has a retro charm: there are plenty of attractions, from classic flumes and family raft rides to a wave pool, ‘bumper boats’ and the scream-inducing Kamikaze. There’s an on-site bar so you can sup drinks from the pool and, if you can’t be bothered to drive home afterwards, you can stay the night at the campsite, which features family-friendly tents and wooden cabins.
Distance from Dubai: one and a half hours from Dubai Marina. Day passes from Dhs135 for adults, Dhs85 for kids under 1.2m tall and seniors over 65. Overnight stay Dhs517.50 per person, including full board and park entrance fee. Off the E11, Umm Al Quwain, www.dreamlanduae.com (06 768 1888).
Road trip survival Heading off the beaten path? Keep these handy gadgets in your car.
Don’t get stuck If you’re bogged down in sand, use Maxtrax to dislodge your vehicle. Slide the tracks under your wheels and drive onto them to escape. Dhs1,500. Adventure HQ, Times Square Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 346 6824).
Stay warm and awake Handpresso, a camping-friendly espresso machine, works by adding hot water and applying hand pressure for instant warming drinks. Dhs811. The Change Initiative, Barsha (800 824).
Emergency accommodation Pitch this rooftop tent on top of your car, complete with a ladder to help you ascend. Dhs3,999. Ace Hardware, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 341 1906)