We’re gonna hit the highway like a battering ram on a silver-black phantom bike. Or rather, we’re picking up the hire car and firing up our Google Maps.
Dubai is perfectly placed for a road trip and whether you’re looking for a bit of downtime by the beach or a spine-tingling adrenaline rush, you’ll find it almost on your doorstep.
Below are some suggestions for routes from Dubai, with the estimated travel time from Dubai Marina. So fill up the tank, load up on snacks and hit the road.
Driving time: 1hr 50mins (155km).
The drive north to this UAE exclave is almost as stunning as the scenery that greets you upon arrival.
Over the years, Hatta has been used as a summer home by Dubaians wanting to escape the heat and, due its relatively mild climate, has become a draw for holidaymakers from the UAE as a whole.
The government has just forked out Dhs1.3 billion on a project aimed at making the area more eco-friendly and desirable for tourists, so now is a better time to visit than ever.
Things to do
Visit the rock pools
The Hatta rock pools are natural fresh water springs and waterfalls forming deep pools within the crevices of the rock, where you can glide through the clear waters to your heart’s content. The pools themselves are situated in Oman, so you’ll need a passport or Emirates ID to cross the border, but the 80-mile drive from Dubai is an experience in itself.
After tearing your way through vast stretches of desert, you will come to rocky crevices, natural water pools and palm oases.
The best time to see the pools themselves is early morning or late afternoon, when a misty light settles over the peaks, casting deep shadows between the crevices. Streams of fresh water flow between narrow openings in the rocks and as you wade further through, the crystal clear pools become incredibly deep, allowing you to see the fish swimming around your feet.
Go kayaking on Hatta Dam
The Hatta Dam looks like it could have been taken straight from a postcard. It’s surrounded by the lofty peaks of the Hajar Mountains and the blue waters are an absolute sight to behold. Get out on the water with a spot of kayaking, costing just Dhs60, or alternatively you can venture out on a pedal boat (Dhs120) or a donut boat (Dhs150) if you’re with mates.
From Dhs60. Hatta Kayak, Hatta Dam, Hatta, www.hattakayak.com.
Go mountain biking in the Hajar Mountains
Dubai might be famed for sand dunes, watersports and zip lines from skyscrapers, but head to Hatta, and the Hajar Mountains offer a whole new way to get your adrenaline fix, with mountain biking in the great outdoors.
If you don’t have your own set of wheels, stop off at Showka Bicycles on the way and hire a mountain bike. The store is open at 6am at weekends and an hour will set you back Dhs75. Two hours will cost Dhs150 and three to four hours is priced at Dhs225. Once kitted up head for the hills. The Hatta Bike Trail Mountain Centre (www.hattamt.ae) has loads of suggested routes, which are colour coded like ski slopes by ability, with green for beginners, up to black for experienced riders.
You can camp at the trail centre and parking is free, too.
Bike rental: From Dhs75 per hour. Open Su, Wed, Thu 8am-4pm; Fri-Sat 6am-4pm; closed Mon and Tue. Showka Bicycles, Hatta, www.showka.bike (050 859 1934).
Get the adrenaline pumping at Hatta Wadi Hub
The hub offers “paid and free” experiences, including mountain bike rides, kayaking along the dam, axe throwing, freefall jumping off cliffs and twin ziplining.
From Dhs30 (archery). Hajar Mountains, Dubai, www.visithatta.com (800 637227).
Explore the town
The town is home to the 16th century Hatta Fort and the Juma mosque, built in 1780, and Hatta Heritage Village is a detailed desert replica of an ancient mountain village.
Make a night of it
JA Hatta Fort Hotel is based up in the picturesque mountain landscape of Hajar. All 48 of the resort’s deluxe chalet-style rooms, as well as two additional suites and villas, have climate-controlled showers in each bathroom, alongside sun-terraces and balconies. Outside, the 80-acre garden space offers a huge array of leisure and entertainment activities. From swimming to archery, mini golf and tennis, there’s something for everyone.
If you’re in a bit more of a relaxed mood, take advantage of the hotel’s swimming pools, spa area or gymnasium; while families can enjoy strolling around the mini zoo, featuring goats, ducks and camel rides.
JA Hatta Fort Hotel, Dubai-Hatta Road, www.jaresortshotels.com (04 809 9333).
Driving time: 2hrs 7mins (192km).
Cultural tours, quality diving, relaxing weekends and the UAE’s best sunrises can all be found in Fujairah. Pack your bags and head away for a weekend break sandwiched between the Hajar Mountains and the Indian Ocean. Don’t mind if we do…
Things to do
Take a cultural tour
The Fujairah Fort outdates the formation of the UAE by centuries and has a colourful and proud history. Damaged in the early 20th century by British soldiers, it has since been restored to its former glory and the surrounding area turned into a heritage village that should sit high on your list of must-see sites. While Fujairah Fort rightly dominates photo albums, the neighbouring Fujairah Museum is worthy of exploration and Al Hayl Castle is another excellent attraction that’s worth the 15-minute drive.
If you want a deeper understanding of Emirati heritage, go on a voyage to the oldest mosque in the entire UAE, Al Bidya Mosque. Located in a small village in the emirate, the mud and stone structure is thought to have been built in the 15th century, but many experts feel its construction dates back even further than that. Apart from some minor restoration work, the mosque has stayed true to its roots, offering visitors a unique insight into the past.
Al Bidyah Mosque: Take the coastal road north out of Fujairah and past Khor Fakkan until reaching the village of Badiyah.
Go snorkelling at Snoopy Island
It’s not unusual to see turtles, sharks and rays among enormous schools of fish when you get your face wet at Snoopy Island. Most Fujairah hotels offer diving packages in the Indian Ocean. Head to Sandy Beach dive centre for equipment hire and guided dives.
From Dhs50 (snorkelling). Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort, Al Aqaa – Fujairah (051 407 54750).
Explore wadis and mountains
Drag your eyes away from the Indian Ocean and look back inland for views of the imposing Hajar Mountains backdrop. The craggy peaks and wadis offer the country’s best hiking spots and some amazing scenery.
Different to the rolling dunes and pristine beaches, this is rugged and challenging. Tour organiser Absolute Adventure has hiking and dhow cruises available.
Absolute Adventure, 606 SIT Tower, Silicon Oasis, Dubai, www.adventure.ae (04 392 6463).
Driving time: 1hrs 14mins (119km).
Head to the nation’s capital for culture by the bucket-load, as well as beautiful natural landscape and stunning infrastructure that you have to see to believe. Prepare for your eyes to bulge and your jaws to drop. Let’s hope the wind doesn’t change…
Things to do
Witness a spectacle at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
This majestic architectural marvel attracts thousands of worshippers and visitors each and every week. Voted the second favourite landmark in the world in 2017 by TripAdvisor (ranking ahead of iconic sights such as the Taj Mahal and Sydney Opera House), it should be the first stop on any trip to the capital.
Construction started in 1996, taking a staggering 11 years to complete. The epic project features 82 domes, the world’s largest hand-woven carpet and a chandelier embedded with one million crystals.
Free guided tours are held, with staff on hand to answer questions and enlighten you on all elements of Islamic culture as well as the building itself.
Free. Open Sat-Thu 9am-10pm, Fri 4.30pm-10pm. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street, Abu Dhabi (02 419 1919).
Peruse some art at Louvre Abu Dhabi
The world was waiting for a decade, but at the end of 2017, Louvre Abu Dhabi finally opened. And, yes, it was worth the wait. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the crown jewel in the capital city’s burgeoning Cultural District in Saadiyat Island, which is already attracting tourists from all over the world. The architectural marvel – which is the result of a partnership between the governments of Abu Dhabi and France – is home to more than 600 artworks, half of which will be loaned by 13 of France’s biggest cultural institutions.
The art on display includes classics from masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Henri Matisse and Édouard Manet as well as more modern greats including Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. Besides the permanent collection there are also regular visiting exhibitions, live performances and workshops.
From Dhs30. Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, www.louvreabudhabi.ae (600 565 566).
Go kayaking in the Eastern Mangroves
One thing we love about the UAE’s capital is that it’s not all about stunning skyscrapers, impressive landmarks and long stretches of golden sands (although we do love those things, too). The lush greenery and azure waters of the Eastern Mangroves are a truly breath-taking sight, so a visit should be right at the top of your Abu Dhabi bucket list. You can see them up-close by diving in for a fun-packed kayak session. Pick up a paddle and explore Abu Dhabi’s beautiful landscapes during a trip through the Gulf waters. There really isn’t a better way of taking in the vast mangrove forests.
From Dhs160 (adults). Eastern Mangroves Promenade, Al Salam Street, Abu Dhabi (02 656 1000).
Race to Yas Marina Circuit
For motor sport fans, it really doesn’t get any better than hurtling down an F1 track like your heroes. Yas Marina Circuit is fuelling the dreams of petrolheads all over the land by offering the chance for drivers to put a Formula 3000 car through its paces. There are loads of other driving experience options, too. Get on track for a high-octane experience by getting behind the wheel of a fantastic fleet of racing machines. It’s time to take the McLaren by the horns and live in the fast lane.
Marina, Abu Dhabi, www.yasmarinacircuit.com (02 659 9800).
Driving time: 1hr 40mins (149km).
Being bound on all sides by desert, the UAE is hardly well known for its greenery, but as soon as you approach this most verdant of outposts on the Dubai-Al Ain Road, you’ll soon realise how it gets its “Garden City” moniker.
Things to do
Explore Al Ain Oasis
It’s not called Al Ain Oasis for nothing, this is a lush area, filled with trees, plants and plenty of shrubbery. There are almost 150,000 date palms in this tranquil spot in the middle of Al Ain city and it uses the traditional falaj water system for irrigation and wells to store the water.
Hessa bint Mohammed Street, Al Mutawaa, Al Ain (03 712 8523)
Dive into some water sports
Navigate your way through crashing waves of an adrenaline-charged white-water rafting experience at the base of Jebel Hafeet. As well as white water rafting, Wadi Adventure offers kayaking, wakeboarding and surfing. All raft trips include a professional guide and all of the safety equipment you could need, so get ready to make an almighty splash.
From Dhs35 (adults). Open daily 11am-7pm, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, www.wadiadventure.ae (03 781 8422).
At a towering 1,240 metres, Jebel Hafeet is the highest peak in Abu Dhabi, but the mountain will make you work for those rewarding views. Forged out of craggy limestone, weathered over the course of million years, this mountainous landmark stands guard over Al Ain and borders Oman.
You can drive your way to the top (it is one of the best road trips around) or cycle to the summit via a winding highway.
Jebel Hafeet, Al Ai, www.visitabudhabi.ae.
Ras Al Khaimah
Driving time: 1hr 20mins (113km).
It might be trying to transform itself into a party destination (“the Ibiza of the UAE”, no less) but Ras Al Khaimah’s charm lies in its mellow ambience. A casual stroll along part of the 64km of white-sand coast followed by dinner overlooking Al Hamra Marina is an idyllic way to relax after making the drive up here, before you start on all of the adrenaline-inducing stuff that Ras Al Khaimah has by the absolute bucket-load.
Things to do
Longest zip line
World’s tallest building? Check. World’s tallest hotel? Tick that one off. World’s fastest roller coaster? Yes, that’s sorted. What else have you got, UAE? Well, how about the world’s longest zip line? That’s not a problem, either. Jebel Jais Flight is 2.83km-long (the same length as 28 football pitches) and can accommodate 400 people per day flying down the line at speeds of up to 150kph from 1,680m above sea level.
Dhs650. Jebel Jais, Ras Al Khaimah, www.toroverdeuae.com.
Explore a deserted town
If the hustle and bustle of daily life gets a bit much, then there is a place you are guaranteed plenty of peace and quiet. The abandoned pearling village of Jazirat Al Hamra in Ras Al Khaimah has remained almost unchanged since its inhabitants left in 1968, making it a permanent monument to a bygone era. Populated constantly from the 16th century until just 40 years ago, forts, schools, mosques and many other buildings still stand in the area. While it is completely empty, the vilage’s atmospheric, almost end-of-the-world quality ensures its gets its fair share of visits from intrigued tourists. It even has a celebrity friend in the form of Brad Pitt, who flew down by helicopter to film scenes for War Machine, which was released on Netflix in 2017.
Between Al Hamra Village and Al Jazeera Port in Ras Al Khaimah.
Head up here day or night for a view out across RAK that will take your breath away. The fort dates back to the 16th century when it was built in a strategic hilltop position facing the gulf. There’s 234 steps to the top, but persevere and you’ll be rewarded.
Al Rams (056 334 3464).
Don’t miss these
Driving time: 1hr (56km).
The UAE’s tiniest emirate just proves that the best things come in small packages. If you’re desperate to escape the hubbub of big city life, head up to Ajman for a more laid-back vibe. It’s little wonder they’re so easy-going when they have some of the nation’s best beaches to chill out on, one of the finest being at Ajman Hotel (www.hotelajman.com). The drive up takes you on the Emirates Highway, with gorgeous dunes around you. Once there, you must visit the Ajman Museum, set in an 18th century fort and offering a cultural insight into the emirate.
Driving time: 3hrs (309km).
Head about 100 miles south west of the capital and you’ll find a desert settlement of roughly 50 villages and the former home of the ruling families of both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The highpoint in the local calendar is the Liwa Date Festival, an event celebrating the various customs, traditions and heritage of the UAE, in particular the date palm tree.
The area contains a number of forts worth visiting, along with the imposing Moreeb Dune, but due to its remoteness, Liwa is ideal for just getting away from it all. If you book early enough, you can get some cracking deals at the luxury Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara (www.qasralsarab.anantara.com), where you can soak up the mystique of the Empty Quarter as you survey your unique surroundings.
Driving time: 3hrs 8mins (234km).
Arguably one of the most scenic routes out of the UAE, the drive to Musandam is worth the effort for a plethora of reasons. Not only will you be treated to the most stunning landscapes of offer in the region, once in this Omani outpost, you’ll find a hive of sporting activity – most of it based on the water. From kayaking the “fjords” to going fishing using traditional equipment, Musandam has a wealth of aquatic activities on offer.
Driving time: 11hrs 30mins (1,236km).
By far the longest trip on our list, you’ll definitely want to make a weekend of it down in Salalah. For those brave enough to tackle this trek (you might want a co-driver or two for this one), the rewards here are immense, as this coastal city is as wonderfully welcoming as it is abundant with nature. In the monsoon, or khareef, season (July to September) this green city becomes even greener, but even though you might’ve missed that particular boat this year, we suggest you climb aboard another and go dolphin-watching.
Driving time: 46mins (48km).
Rightly regarded as the UAE’s cultural capital, Sharjah really likes to go against the grain. Once you navigated the traffic (we suggest avoiding peak times) and waved hello to the so-called “Smile, you’re in Sharjah” Roundabout, what you will discover is a city well versed in its history and heritage. There are plenty of museums (www.sharjahmuseums.ae) to quench your thirst for culture in Sharjah and you want to get at one with nature then you can take a turn around Sharjah Aquarium (06 528 5288) and Sharjah Desert Park (06 531 1999) where you can pet and feed goats, camels and ducks as well as ride camels.
To experience what life was like before the skyscrapers, head out on desert sarafi. As well as bedding down in a Bedouin camp, there’s often entertainment in offer including traditional dancing, dune surfing and henna artists, as well as some Emirati grub fresh off the barbecue.
Dhs995 (overnight desert safari), Platinum Heritage, www.platinum-heritage.com (04 440 9827).
Hatta Mountain huts
The new luxury trailer and lodge accommodation on the Hajar Mountains opened last month it’s bringing a new level of camping to Dubai. From Dhs250 per night, travellers can camp along the banks of the Hatta dams in a decked out trailer, each with their own terrace with couches and chairs to lounge in. The Hatta Sedr trailers also have a kitchenette attached for home-style cooking, while guests can also use the barbecue facilities and gather round the communal fire pit when it gets a bit nippy. Also starting at Dhs250 a night are the Hatta Damani Lodges, each overlooking the Hatta Dam on three different levels on the mountain. It may look like a regular hut on the outside, but guests can expect to be treated to their own private terrace, large TV and communal bonfire and barbecue facilities.
From Dhs250 per night. Hajar Mountains, Dubai, www.visithatta.com (800 637227).
The Longbeach Campground
Camp out on the beach in Ras Al Khaimah in a deluxe tent with a buffet breakfast, a barbecue, gardens and an outdoor pool all onsite. There’s also restaurants dotted around and you’ll even get a roll-out memory foam mattress for camping luxury.
From 599 (Thu), from Dhs799 (Fri). King Faisal Street, Ras Al Khaimah, www.binmajid.com (800 5700).
Falcon hospital in Abu Dhabi
We love our falcons here in the UAE and a dedicated hospital in Al Ain looks after 11,000 of them every year. The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the first public institution in the UAE providing comprehensive veterinary health care services exclusively for falcons, and you can pop your beak in and take a guided tour.
Dhs170. Sun-Thu 10am-2pm. Next to Abu Dhabi International Airport (02 575 5155).
Go shopping at Al Ain Camel Market
Chances are you don’t actually want to buy a camel. Visit Al Ain’s famous camel market and you might have a job on your hands convincing the persuasive salesman and farmers of this. Behind Bawadi Mall is one of the UAE’s largest and best-known camel souks and, even if you’re not in the market for a dromedary, it’s fascinating to walk around and see the action.
Dhs30. Open Tues-Thu 6am-7pm; Fri 3pm-5pm; Mon closed. Zayed Bin Sultan Street, Al Ain (03 711 8311).
Sir Bani Yas Island Safari
It’ll take a few hours to drive to but once you make it to the island from the port at Jebel Dhanna, it’ll be worth the journey. There’s as much adventure as relaxation here and we recommend making the most of the trip by taking a nature and wildlife drive. There are cheetahs, giraffes, flamingos and more to see in the Arabian Wildlife Park. You can also try your hand at horse riding, archery, land sailing and mountain biking across the island terrain.
Sir Baniyas Island, Abu Dhabi, www.sirbaiyasisland.com.