Ever wanted to just get up, get dressed and escape the busy city?
Ever wanted to just get up, get dressed and escape the busy city? Well, don’t wait another minute. Get out there with our guide to no-fuss, stress-free weekend breaks across the country.
In the lead up to summer, Dubai is set to be busier than ever in the rush to cram in season-closing parties and last-minute meetings, not to mention the influx of holiday-makers – hotel occupancy in the emirate already rose to 90 percent earlier this year. Sometimes, you just need to get away from it all, and with a long weekend coming up to mark the Ascension of the Prophet (PBUH) on Thursday June 6, now is the perfect time to do it. From no-planning-necessary escapes to to mini-breaks in the city itself, and even full weekends off exploring far corners of the UAE, we’ve come up with something to suit everyone.
No planning Sunbathing and fine dining Spend your day unwinding and swimming in the sea at the new Saadiyat public beach on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, one of the most unspoilt in the UAE and a nesting ground for hawksbill turtles. Later, dine at Bord Eau at the Shangri-La hotel, a contemporary French eatery voted the city’s best restaurant by Time Out Abu Dhabi. If you’re feeling flush, get a room at the hotel for the night so you don’t have to worry about the drive home. Dhs25 (use of facilities Dhs50 Sun-Thu, Dhs75 Fri-Sat), Saadiyat Island (no number). Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, www.shangri-la.com/abudhabi (02 509 8888). View pre-planning required View within Dubai
Visit a major landmark and eat ice cream Scope out the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the country’s largest. Unlike many other mosques across the country, this one is open to visitors throughout the week, except for Friday mornings, and also offers a 5pm sunset tour. Afterwards, cool down with a homemade gelato and a coffee at Dolce café in the nearby Ritz-Carlton. The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal. Free, Al Maqtaa (02 441 6444). The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand Canal, Khor Al Maqta’a (02 818 8888).
Go flying over the sea Just an hour and a half away, Ras Al Khaimah’s Jazirah Aviation Club offers a range of aerodynamic pursuits, from powered paramotors to gyrocopters to microlights. Soar across sand dunes – as you pass over the sea, you might even be able to spot a turtle or two. From Dhs150. Jazirah Aviation Club, E11, www.jac-uae.com (07 244 6416).
Snorkel around Shark Island Head to Khor Fakkan for a day of snorkelling off the UAE’s best coast for marine wildlife. Take a boat out from the corniche (remember to barter with the boat runners) and have them take you over to Shark Island and return for you at an agreed time. The water is typically crystal clear, with plenty of marine life to see. Bring a parasol, as there is no shade on the island at midday. Afterwards, drive 30 minutes to Sandy Beach hotel for a late lunch – we recommend the homemade fish goujons. Boat hire from approximately Dhs150 (no number). Sandy Beach Hotel, E99 (09 244 5555).
Check out a picturesque reservoir For keen photographers, a morning drive out to the dam at Hatta Reservoir is a great opportunity to practice your camera skills. The beautiful natural landscape of the lake and mountains is well worth a visit and has been less affected than neighbouring Hatta Pools by litter and graffiti. Get refreshed with lunch at Hatta Fort Hotel and play a round of mini golf before heading back. Free. From Hatta Heritage Village, drive to the left of the mosque and take a right at the intersection to reach the dam and viewing deck (no number). Hatta Fort Hotel, www.jaresortshotels.com (04 809 9333).
Hair-raising watersports and rides Visit the Mediterranean hillside village-like Cove Rotana Resort in Ras Al Khaimah, which boasts an impressively-lengthy private stretch of beach. Spend the morning screaming up and down the coast on banana boats and stomach-churning doughnut rides, before an infinitely-more-relaxing lunch in the shade at the sea-facing Breakers beach bar. Banana boat from Dhs80 per person. The Cove Rotana Resort, E11 (07 206 6000).
Over-the-border barbecue Hire a driver from Dubai to deliver you to a barbecue lunch at Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort and Spa’s Al Bahar, before heading over to the Dhow Beach Bar for some cold mixed drinks in the afternoon sun. There’s also a shisha bar with sea views for those who are partial. Al Maareedh Street, Ras Al Khaimah (07 228 8844).
Historical day out Take a road trip around Ajman, checking out historical sites such as The Red Fort, Al Mareer Fort and Hassa Buweid Castle, Masfut Castle and the Bin Sultan mosque, also in Masfut (see the culture website for maps). Finish with a stroll around the Ajman Museum, an old fort that previously housed the ruling family and also acted as a police headquarters. Too tired to travel back after all that? Try The Ajman Palace, which can often accommodate last-minute requests and also offers 10 percent off room rates for UAE and GCC residents. Free, www.acm.gov.ae (06 711 6666). The Ajman Palace, Sheikh Humaid Bin Rashid Al Nuaimi Street, www.theajmanpalace.com (06 701 8888).
Camp on the beach Pack your tent, sleeping bags, pillows and supplies and head out to find a spot of beach in Umm Al Quwain for the weekend. Be careful about where you pitch up though, as high tide could flood your camp – we recommend getting there mid-afternoon to avoid the highest temperatures. To pass time beforehand, check out UAQ Marine Club for watersports such as wakeboarding (see website for map and directions). Free, take the E311, turn off at signs for Dreamland Waterpark, follow signs for Al Rafaah. Dhs75 day pass, wakeboarding Dhs200 for 30 minutes, www.uaqmarineclub.com (06 766 6644).
Better your watersports skills at Al Forsan This Abu Dhabi sports resort has a cable park, which can pull you along on a wakeboard, wakeskate, kneeboard, mono ski or waterskis. With speeds of between 29kph and 38kph, Al Forsan can accommodate everyone from beginners to pros. There’s also karting, buggying and paintballing in scenarios from the Wild West to alien invasion, shooting and horse riding. Cable park Dhs125 per person per hour. Khalifa City, www.alforsan.com (02 556 8555).
Take a diving trip Al Boom Diving runs daily dives from Le Meridien Al Aqah in Fujairah, visiting dive sites such as Martini Rock, Shark Island, Dibba Rock and Sharm Rocks. Marine-life-lovers will be pleased to hear that from now until September is whale shark season in the region. From Dhs350 per person with equipment. Al Boom Diving, Le Meridien Al Aqah, Fujairah, www.alboomdiving.com (04 342 2993).
Visit Falconry Mews Learn more about one of the UAE’s most prized hunting tools at Banyan Tree Al Wadi’s Falconry Mews in Ras Al Khaimah. Home to falcons, hawks, owls and eagles, the facility educates visitors and also offers a falconry course for those who want to try handling the birds themselves. There’s also a falconry deck, where you can watch a raptor show and a bird-watching hide. Banyan Tree Al Wadi, E311, Ras Al Khaimah, www.banyantree.com (07 243 5000).
Kayak to a Bird Island Adventure company Noukhada offers a wide range of expeditions, including kayaking trips through mangroves. You can also head out on a private or group excursion with them that involves paddling out to Abu Dhabi’s Bird Island. The rock formation is home to sea eagles among others and you might even spot a nest or two. From Dhs200 per person. Noukhada, Sheikh Khalifa Highway, www.noukhada.ae (050 721 8928).
Watch the sunrise in Fujairah Rise before dawn and head over to the UAE’s east coast to watch the sun rise over the sea. We recommend finding a quiet beach spot on the coastal road between Khor Fakkan and Dibba to enjoy the moment, before heading to the Iberotel Miramar Al Aqah for breakfast. Dibba Road (E99), Fujairah, http://www.iberotel.de/en.html (09 244 9994).
Spend a day at Sharjah Desert Park A ‘Desert Park’ might not sound like it should be top of your must-do list during the heat of summer, but don’t fear, this Sharjah venue features three indoor attractions, which makes it a perfect daytime summer escape. Check out the kid-friendly Wildlife Centre, home to more than 100 species. Also included in the entry prices are the Natural History Museum and Botanical Museum, both offering a dose of culture. Dhs15 (adults). Drive 28km east from Sharjah city centre along the E88 Al Dhaid Road (06 531 1999).
Pre-planning required Action weekend in the City of Roundabouts Drive up Jebel Hafeet for a cool drink on top of the mountain, which overlooks Al Ain’s seemingly endless number of roundabouts and surprisingly dense greenery. Spend the afternoon learning to surf at Wadi Adventure before checking in to Rotana Al Ain and relaxing with mixed drinks at the hotel’s very own Trader Vic’s. Visit the large Al Ain Zoo the next morning. Surf lesson Dhs125, Wadi Adventure, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422); Dhs15, Al Ain Zoo, www.awpr.ae (800 555); Al Ain Rotana, www.rotana.com (03 754 5111).
Have an adventure on an island Remote Abu Dhabi hideaway Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara has just launched a new watersports centre, as well as horseback rides among the animals in the wildlife reserve (which include cheetahs). Also on offer is deep sea fishing, a cultural drive and the resort will soon launch pearl diving activities. Non-hotel guests are welcome, but as it’s a three-hour drive and then a boat ride away, you may want to book in at the hotel. Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, www.desertislands.anantara.com (02 801 5400).
Book a package weekend With ever-more things to do with your weekend over in Abu Dhabi, a number of the capital’s hotels have launched budget-savvy deals for travellers. These typically include a night’s stay, plus tickets to Ferrari World, or (or in addition to) Yas Waterworld. Alternatively, you can pick up golf or spa packages. Yas Island’s Radisson Blu offers all these and more. Dhs939 per person (one-night hotel stay, Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld entry), Radisson Blu Hotel, Abu Dhabi Yas Island, www.radissonblu.com (02 656 2000).
Hide away in a private chalet For a cheap, low-key getaway, book a cabana for the night at the Barracuda Beach Resort in Umm Al Quwain and watch the sunset on your own private lawn overlooking the sea. Unfortunately, this is no place for swimming, but Dreamland is just next door (with cold drinks served in the pool). Barracuda Beach Resort, Khor Al Baida, E11, www.barracuda.ae (06 768 1555). Dhs135, Dreamland Aqua Park, E11 (06 768 1888).
Have a sporty break at the Kempinski Hotel Ajman The private beach of this hotel is a great place to go jet-skiing and there are hammocks available to relax in afterwards. In the evening, get competitive in the hotel’s licensed bowling alley and if you can squeeze it in, the hotel’s brunch is good value too. Book a night at the hotel to make the most of it. From Dhs200 for 20-minutes jet-skiing, beach access Dhs120 Sun-Thu and Dhs170 Fri-Sat for non-hotel guests. Sheikh Humaid Bin Rahisd Al Nuaimi Street, www.kempinski.com (06 714 5555).
Explore the mountains Head out on a 4x4 adventure in the Hajar mountains with Absolute Adventure, experts at navigating the local terrain on the UAE’s east coast. Afterwards, treat your wearing body to a relaxing massage in a cabana on the beach at the Fujairah Rotana, before spending the night at the hotel. Rise with yoga in the hotel gardens. From Dhs350, www.adventure.ae (04 345 9900). Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa, Al Aqah Beach, www.rotana.com (04 244 9888).
Party with friends in RAK Round up your mates for a cheap weekend away at the Bin Majid Beach Resort (not to be confused with the Bin Majid Beach Hotel), and stay in one of the poolside chalets – admittedly these are more like sheds, but they’re clean and comfortable. Spend a highly relaxing afternoon enjoying super-cheap drinks at the swim-up bar. Later, do the conga around the dining hall after your buffet dinner (it’s encouraged). Bin Majid Beach Resort, E11, www.resort.binmajid.com (07 244 6644).
Retreat to the Liwa desert Drive far out of town to the secluded four-star Tilal Liwa Hotel, which sits on the very edge of the UAE’s Empty Quarter. Eat, drink and leave your smartphone switched off and in your suitcase and if you’re feeling energetic, try quad biking, sand boarding or simply book a stargazing session. There are great summer discounts available for UAE and GCC residents until August 31. From Dhs444 per night. Liwa, Abu Dhabi, www.danathotels.com (02 894 6111).
Stay on a party island Abu Dhabi’s Al Maya Island lies approximately 9km off Abu Dhabi and the Al Maya Resort can be reached only by boat. Host to regular beach parties (including, most recently, a UV paint party) this is the ideal escape for Nasimi pool party-lovers who fancy sampling a different scene. From Dhs2,500 per room per night (based on two sharing), Al Maya Island, Abu Dhabi, www.almayaislandresorts.com (056 262 1919).
Hire a caravan and hit the road Gulf Coast RVs leases luxury caravans in Dubai. At 49ft long, with two bedrooms and a sitting room as well as a kitchen, expect the most comfortable road trip ever. Dhs3,600 per day. wwwgulfcoastrvs.com (800 2221).
Oman If you fancy heading a bit further afield, Jebel Sifah, approximately 45 minutes from Muscat, is well worth a visit. The picturesque development is set against a mountain backdrop with a marina, international hotels and its own golf course. www.jebelsifah.com
Within Dubai Pop to Ghantoot Drive up to Golden Tulip Al Jazira and hire a jet-ski. Here, you can zoom around in a private channel, before spending the rest of the day at the hotel’s beach club. Jet-skiers get a discount on beach club access, including lunch at one of the restaurants. Dhs300 per person for 30 minutes, hotel access and lunch Dhs150 per person. Jet Ski Dubai, Golden Tulip Al Jazira, Ghantoot (052 983 8959).
Enjoy the Dead Sea in Dubai Book into Saray Spa at the new JW Marriot Marquis, where you can use Dubai’s only Dead Sea floatation pool. The Saray Signature Dead Sea Journey includes a full-body scrub, mask and massage and time floating in the pool. Stay overnight to make a weekend of it. Treatment from Dhs865. JW Marriott Marquis, www.jwmarrottmarquisdubai.com Sheikh Zayed Road (04 414 6754).
Get sporty in Jebel Ali Spend two whole days undertaking all manner of weird and wonderful sports at the JA Jebel Ali Beach Hotel, including petanque (similar to boules), croquet and water polo in the pool. There’s also the option to have a horse-riding lesson, or hire a paddleboard and spot rays near the marina breakwater. From Dhs90 for paddleboard hire. JA Jebel Ali Beach Hotel, Jebel Ali, www.watercooleddubai.com (04 814 5800).
Travel to Turkey and Vietnam on the Palm Book into the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray for a weekend and spend the day lounging on the beach in a private cabana, before treating yourself to the Royal Ottoman experience at the Talise Ottoman Spa. Dine at Voi, the city’s best South-East Asian restaurant as decided by Time Out Dubai. Dhs500 for Royal Ottoman treatment. Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, West Crescent, Palm Jumeirah, www.jumeirah.com (04 453 0000).
Stargaze in the desert Dubai’s Platinum Heritage tour operator has launched special summer experiences, including a night safari and stargazing, and a summer conservation drive, complete with refreshments at the exclusive Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa. From Dhs495 per person. Pick-up across Dubai, www.platinum-heritage.com (04 388 4044).
Getting around Car hire If you have a driving licence, hiring a car for two days to take you to another emirate is a great deal cheaper than taking taxis everywhere. Rates at Dubai’s Paramount Leasing & Car Rental start from Dhs175 per day for a Daihatsu Sirion. If you’re planning a trip in a larger group, you can get a 26-seater Toyota Coaster minibus for Dhs1,000 per day. www.paramountgulf.com (04 351 4440).
Buses If you want to travel on the cheap, there are daily buses running from Dubai to four different emirates: Sharjah (Dhs7), Ajman (Dhs10), Abu Dhabi (Dhs25) and Fujairah (Dhs25). Full timetables are available on the RTA’s website, though as this can often take a startling amount of time to load, it may be faster to find the information you need by making direct contact on Twitter @RTA_Dubai or calling 800 9090.