Kenya, Greece, Seychelles, Kerala, Croatia, Sri Lanka and more
Plan your Eid break now with our all-new guide to the best places to visit in 2014 – each within just six hours of Dubai.
As visitors prepare to flood into Dubai to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which is expected to begin this year on Monday July 28, the city’s residents set their sights on their own quick getaway. Indeed, the prospect of Dubai getting even busier (and last year, average hotel occupancy during the period rose to almost 90 percent) means the idea of heading out on a three-day safari in Africa, tucking into a beachside meal in Asia or exploring ancient ruins in Europe is never less appealing. Living in a global hub for travel can leave you spoilt for choice or, if you’ve been fervently exploring the region since you arrived in Dubai, a little stuck for inspiration and asking yourself, where next? Here, we’ve highlighted some of the best places to visit in 2014 – from capital cities experiencing a new swing to off-the-beaten-track hideaways you need to see before everyone else. And keeping in mind that most of us will only have two to four days to make the most of, all these fantastic destinations are less than six hours away from Dubai. Happy holidaying!
Africa Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Flight time from Dubai: Three hours, 37 minutes. The diplomatic capital of Africa, Addis, as it is often shortened to, is evolving rapidly every year and is now a thriving city with a reputation for exciting dining and fun-loving nightlife scenes. Sitting roughly 2,400m above sea level, the Ethiopian capital is barely more than 100 years old, but still boasts a rich variety of museums, some of which are the best on the continent. In particular, visit the Ethnological Museum, devoted to the country’s many cultures and Africa’s important archaeological role in pinpointing the birthplace of man. Best for: A city break for adventurous history fiends. www.tourismethiopia.org.
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Flight time from Dubai: Five hours, 24 minutes. Sitting on the edge of the Indian Ocean, Tanzania’s largest city is as culturally diverse as any major global hub, with swathes of expats living alongside African Tanzanians. Fishing is a huge part of the local industry, and you can watch daily auctions at the city’s main fish market. Alternatively, check out Mwenge Carvers’ Market, consistently thronged with artisans and a great place to pick up a memento, or check out traditional music and dance performances at the Village Museum on Saturdays and Sundays. Want to get a taste for what expat life is like in another major city? There’s even an Irish pub called O’Willies. Best for: An all-in-one beach, shopping and cultural break. www.tanzaniatouristboard.com.
Laikipia Plateau, Kenya Flight time from Dubai: Four hours, 54 minutes to Nairobi. Unexploited and unspoiled by mass tourism, this vast region stretches from the foothills of Mount Kenya to the edges of Lake Baringo, and is home to more endangered wildlife than any other part of East Africa. As such, the area is divided up into areas (or ranches) devoted to conservation of a huge number of creatures, from the Beisa oryx to elephants, lions and cheetahs. Accessible by road from Nairobi in four hours, many ranches in the region have private airstrips to facilitate speedier transfers. Stay in a luxury camp or sleep under stars by night, and by day learn about ongoing wildlife protection projects, meet local Maasai communities or embark on a walking safari of the region. Best for: A taste of wild Africa.
Laikipia Plateau, Kenya Flight time from Dubai: Four hours, 54 minutes to Nairobi. Unexploited and unspoiled by mass tourism, this vast region stretches from the foothills of Mount Kenya to the edges of Lake Baringo, and is home to more endangered wildlife than any other part of East Africa. As such, the area is divided up into areas (or ranches) devoted to conservation of a huge number of creatures, from the Beisa oryx to elephants, lions and cheetahs. Accessible by road from Nairobi in four hours, many ranches in the region have private airstrips to facilitate speedier transfers. Stay in a luxury camp or sleep under stars by night, and by day learn about ongoing wildlife protection projects, meet local Maasai communities or embark on a walking safari of the region. Best for: A taste of wild Africa. www.magicalkenya.com.
Virunga Mountains, Rwanda Flight time from Dubai: Four hours, 33 minutes to the capital city of Kigali. Running along the Rwanda-Democratic Republic of Congo border, this mountain range is a roughly three-hour drive from the capital, and features eight major volcanoes, all dormant with the exception of the Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Nyamuragira. Guided summit tours of the Nyriagongo volcano take between four to six hours depending on your fitness, but are well worth the climb. The range is also home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla, with a number of lodges in the area offering day treks to see these magnificent, protected creatures in their natural habitat (note, permits to see the gorillas need to be applied for in advance – access is very carefully restricted). Whether you’re in it for the scenery or wildlife, bring your walking shoes. Check out the Virunga Lodge (www.volcanoessafaris.com) for overnight stays – a stunning place to unwind after a day on your feet. Best for: Fit and active holidaymakers. www.visitvirunga.org.
Asia Bhutan Flight time from Dubai: Four hours, 52 minutes. One of the most remote areas in the Himalayan region, this small country, long associated with both mystery and spectacular scenery, immerses visitors in ancient Buddhist culture. Often described as Shangri La, the country is full of beautiful monasteries, breathtaking trekking trails and lush greenery. Despite its size and location, Bhutan is a progressive place and its people are educated, friendly and fun-loving. Foreign visitors pay the notorious minimum of US$250 [Dhs918] per day – but this figure includes your accommodation, food, transport and official guide. A huge range of tours of varying lengths and covering different areas of interest are available, but tourists can also arrange their own itineraries, and there’s no need to travel with other groups en masse. Best for: One-upping your most well-travelled friends. www.tourism.gov.bt.
Weligama, Sri Lanka Flight time from Dubai: Four hours, 37 minutes to Colombo. A well-known destination for Dubaians seeking a shoestring break, thanks to frequent flights, reasonable accommodation and delicious, affordable food, Sri Lanka remains a top pick. The country’s coasts are popular among surfers and those keen to relax on the beach with a book, and Weligama, just south of Galle (around four hours’ drive from Colombo) is just one of these. With its long, sandy bay and slow pace of life, this fishing town is great for a short, two or three-day break if you’re time-poor. Don’t miss the stunning Taprobane Island, home to a five-bedroom mansion with a beautiful terrace and glistening infinity pool overlooking the Indian Ocean, available for private bookings (www.taprobaneisland.com). Best for: A romantic break on a budget. www.srilanka.travel.
Kerala, India Flight time from Dubai: Four hours, ten minutes. Networked by a whopping 44 rivers, some of the most popular trips in this southern part of India involve days and nights spent drifting around on huge wooden houseboats. A deeply peaceful region, Kerala has an abundance of natural attractions, from long sandy beaches to roaring waterfalls, plus many man-made ones, including Ayurvedic therapies, festivals, monuments and deliciously spicy food. With a range of accommodation available, from guest houses to hotels, there’s a trip for every budget in this part of the world. Best for: A slice of warm, tropical India. www.keralatourism.org.
Seychelles Flight time from Dubai: Four hours, 36 minutes. Fancy a surfing or sailing holiday? From May to September the Seychelles has perfect conditions for sports that rely on a little bit of wind in the air. While the idyllic archipelago may have some of the most expensive hotels in the world, it isn’t a destination reserved for those with fat wallets – there are affordable options ranging from guest houses to self-catering apartments to quaint beach cottages. The only thing you’ll need to save up for is a new pair of board shorts. Best for: Watersports and beach relaxing. www.seychelles.travel.
Sikkim, India Flight time from Dubai: Four hours, 38 minutes. Head to this part of northern India to see a completely different side of the country. Relaxed, clean and rich with fresh mountain air, Sikkim borders Nepal and, like Bhutan, with its dramatic terrain, is considered one of the last remaining Himalayan Shangri Las. In recent years, the state has seen a sharp rise in popularity, with visitors drawn to explore the prayer flag-lined trekking routes, Buddhist gompas (monasteries) and places of pilgrimage. You can also go caving, rafting, bird-watching and relax in natural hot springs. Go now before the rest of the world gets there. Best for: Those who’ve already crossed India’s south off their list. www.sikkimtourism.gov.in.
Europe Athens, Greece Flight time from Dubai: Four hours, 35 minutes. After a difficult few years, Athens is bouncing back, with a new cultural centre – the National Museum of Contemporary Art – and a growing number of dining spots luring food-loving travellers. Few cities boast quite as much history as Athens, and even fewer have so much of it still standing. Here you can witness 3,400 years of cultural evolution (that’s just the recorded history – Athens has actually been inhabited for more than 7,000 years) in the birthplace of philosophy. While the Acropolis is currently undergoing extensive restoration and preservation works, the historic centre is well worth a visit – now car-free and regarded as one of the most magnificent pedestrian promenades in Europe, connecting the city’s major archaeological sites. Best for: Travellers who want to be immersed in history. www.visitgreece.gr.
Istanbul, Turkey Flight time from Dubai: Four hours, 13 minutes. Explore Ottoman mosques and the Grand Bazaar by day and throw yourself into the lively party scene by night in one of the world’s most happening cities, just a hop, skip and a queue for passport control from Dubai. Try a full-body hose-down in the home of the hammam, tuck into fantastic Turkish street food and bag yourself a room in one of the city’s growing number of fashionable boutique hotels. For East-meets-West weekend breaks, there’s nothing quite like this thousands of years-old city. Best for: A fashionable, action-packed weekend away. www.goturkey.com.
Istria, Croatia Flight time from Dubai: Five hours, 50 minutes. One of the most popular tourist destinations in Croatia, Istria boasts a noticeably Italian influence (and is sometimes even described as a new Tuscany), having been part of the boot-shaped country right up until the early 20th century. A large peninsula at the top of Adriatic Sea, Istria is home to beautiful, tightly-packed towns, with tall, simple buildings and tiny alleyways that wind between them. Don’t miss Pula (also the closest airport) the region’s largest city, with its ancient Roman relics and amphitheatre. Best for: Sun, sea and sightseeing. www.istria.hr.
Qeparo, Albania Flight time from Dubai: Five hours, seven minutes to Tirana. Fly into Albania’s capital city in the north, and it’s a three-hour drive down to Qeparo in the south. So why visit this small, seaside town just an hour from the Greek border? For most visitors, it’s the region’s air of seclusion – just a handful of hotels and guest houses operate in these sandy bays, backed by mountains covered in greenery. Qeparo, with its simple beachfront restaurants and slow pace of life, provides an escape from pretty much everything. Those who want the option of a night out can visit the nearby towns of Dhërmi and Jala, which offer more lively evenings. Best for: Quiet seclusion. www.albania.al.
Riga, Latvia Flight time from Dubai: Five hours, 52 minutes. Latvia’s capital city is often described as the gem of the Baltics and marries its huge collection of art nouveau architecture with an ever-growing number of glitzy new hotels. Alive with culture, numerous music festivals take place during the summer in this city, which is split by the Daugava River. Once called the Paris of the East, Riga is dotted with both fascinating museums and pumping nightclubs. During a short break, pull up a perch in one of the city’s many quaint, candlelit restaurants to enjoy the scenery and atmospheric European weather. Best for: Culture and impressive architecture. www.latvia.travel.
Rome, Italy Flight time from Dubai: Five hours, 53 minutes. Birthplace of one of the world’s greatest empires, there is much evidence still standing of Rome’s important history. From ancient buildings such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon to the mysteries of the Trevi Fountain, the huge, centuries-old churches, the cobbled squares and the modern markets, cafés and pizzerias that line them, there is much to be seen, done and eaten in Italy’s capital. There is every bit as much history, art, culture and cuisine here as you might hope for – and plenty more. Best for: Fascinating history and truly fantastic food. www.rome.info.com.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina Flight time from Dubai: Five hours, 22 minutes. The capital and largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo has a long history of cultural and religious diversity, with centuries-old mosques, churches and many more religious buildings now living alongside one another. Almost destroyed during the Bosnian War for independence between 1992 and 1996, the city has become one the best in Europe for culture, with tourism rising substantially in the past two years. As well as playing host to many impressive museums and festivals, the city also boasts cuisine that fuses Turkish, Greek, Mediterranean and central European flavours. Best for: A diverse, historic city break. www.sarajevo.ba.
Transylvania, Romania Flight time from Dubai: Four hours and 42 minutes to Bucharest. Without doubt, the best way to explore the home of Dracula is by embarking on a trekking tour. Walking through pretty much any part of the enormous region, you’ll take in magnificent rolling countryside, discover fascinating Saxon towns, horse markets and tiny villages. Transylvania is also home to some of Europe’s best-preserved Medieval towns, such as Brasov, Sibiu and Sighisoara, and no trip to the region is complete without a visit to the castles, including Bran Castle (Dracula’s, built in 1377) and stepping inside the magical Pele Castle, 20 minutes uphill of Pele town centre. There are daily trains from Bucharest to the main cities in the region. Best for: Anyone with a love of literature, the countryside and walking. www.romaniatourism.com.
Vienna, Austria Flight time from Dubai: Five hours, 46 minutes. One of Europe’s most classically beautiful and sophisticated cities, Vienna, like Paris, has a reputation for romance. With its imperial squares, medieval alleyways and majestic architecture, famous coffee houses and old-fashioned taverns, there is a huge amount of sightseeing and dessert-tasting to be done. Intrinsically linked with music, as the home of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Johann Strauss, there’s almost always a concert to see somewhere in the city – a must-do to honour Vienna’s reputation. Best for: Classical music and coffee lovers. www.wien.info.
Find great rates
Airbnb.com Fancy staying somewhere a little off-beat on your next vay-cay? Check out this site, which allows users in countries across the globe to list a marvellous and mystifying array of places to stay, including apartments, castles, trailers, trains, shipping containers, cabins, lighthouses and many more. Stay for a single night or a whole month, with more than 600,000 listings in 190 countries. As you’re renting direct from the owners, you’ll be able to cut out any middleman fees. Kayak.com When it comes to airfares, Kayak is a great place to start, comparing flight prices for hundreds of different airlines in one place. The more flexible you are on the time and stopovers of your flight, the lower your fare is likely to be. If you’re more fixed on budget than destination, the website’s Explore tool lets you view a map of all the places you can reach within your designated price range. Neat.
Lastminute.com While this site’s primary role is helping holidaymakers get the best deals on short-notice flights, accommodation, car hire and vacation packages, the most fun part is the Top Secret section. Users can save up to 35 percent on four and five-star hotels In more than 80,000 properties all around the world. The catch? While you’ll be given a few hints about the hotels available in each location, you won’t be given the names, and the full identity of your lodgings is only revealed once you’ve booked.