The UAE's rise from a quiet strategic trading destination to a global economic powerhouse is nothing short of remarkable – and makes it one of the most exciting places to live.
The UAE has put itself well and truly on the global map over the past decade as one of the top places to visit. Its desire to build the biggest and best of everything has, as planned, caught much of the world’s attention. With its ever-growing skyline, audacious man-made islands, mega malls, seven-star service and permanently sunny weather, the UAE has an inspiring mix of old and new places to explore – but some of the attractions that you simply must see during your time here include:
This Abu Dhabi icon is a truly remarkable architectural feat, reminiscent of a sultan's palace from the Arabian Nights. Once you've marvelled at the gleaming marble exterior, 80 domes and manicured grounds, you can step inside for a 45 minute guided tour, as unlike most mosques in the UAE, it is open to non-Muslims. There are more than 1,000 columns, 24-carat gold-plated chandeliers and the world's largest hand-woven Persian carpet. It is one the largest mosques in the world and the main prayer hall can accommodate 7,000 worshippers. The dress code is strict, and non-Muslims cannot enter during prayer time.
Higher than 828 metres and 160 storeys tall, the Burj Khalifa, is not only the world’s tallest building. It has claimed several record-breaking titles, also including the tallest free-standing structure in the world, the highest number of storeys in the world and the elevator with the longest travel distance in the world, to name but a few. It initially had an observation deck on the 124th floor offering 360° views over Dubai, but went one step further and launched another, more exclusive observation deck on the 148th floor, which is now the world’s highest observation deck. As well as being such a prominent feature of the Dubai cityscape, visitors can ride up to the top observation deck, or enjoy fine-dining on the 122nd floor.
Yas Island is a natural island developed to host a range of exciting attractions. It’s where you'll find the Yas Marina F1 Circuit which as well as the Formula One circus each November, and the du Arena which pulls famous artists to play in concert. The futuristic Yas Viceroy hotel that spans the F1 track is worth a visit, as is the nearby marina, packed full with million dollar yachts, excellent restaurants, and the exceptional Yas Links golf course. One attraction making waves is Yas Waterworld, an enormous water park with some exhilarating loops, spins and drops. If that's not enough, there's also a mall and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the world's biggest indoor theme park that's home to Formula Rossa, the world's fastest rollercoaster.
Standing on its own man-made island, this dramatic Dubai icon’s unique architecture is recognised around the world as the utmost in luxury. The Burj Al Arab is one of the most photographed sights in Dubai. The billowing sail structure is a stunning piece of architecture – and inside it’s no less spectacular. Suites have two floors and are serviced by a team of butlers. From its helipad to health club, squash courts and completely private stretch of beach, it caters to the exclusive. To visit the hotel as a non-guest, you will need a restaurant reservation.
The Dubai Mall is the largest in the world by floor space and offers indoor entertainment and leisure, as well as retail heaven. It is home to an ice rink, the theme park Sega World and the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo. A shopper’s paradise it houses some 1,200 stores, including the famous New York department store Bloomingdales, French department store Galeries LaFayette, and the world-renowned toy shop Hamleys. There are also countless eateries including some great alfresco dining venues with views of the spectacular musical displays of the Dubai Fountain. You’ll find all of the haute couture designer brands along Fashion Avenue and there is a sprawling gold souk with over 220 gold and jewellery outlets.
Al Ain is Abu Dhabi emirate’s second city and of great historical significance in the UAE. Its location on ancient trading routes between Oman and the Arabian Gulf rendered the oasis strategically important. Its unique history means that Al Ain is home to interesting sights and attractions, including the Hili Archaeological Garden, landscaped greens which are home to a Bronze Age settlement (2,500-2,000BC), which was excavated and restored in 1995. Many of the artefacts found are displayed in Al Ain National Museum. Al Ain’s archaeological and historical legacy is of such significance that the city was recently placed on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Dubai’s neighbouring emirate was named the cultural capital of the Arab world by UNESCO in 1998 and the Capital of Islamic Culture for 2014 by the Organisation of Islamic Conference, due to its well-preserved heritage area, an ever-evolving arts scene, some wonderful museums and a thriving cafe culture. Regular events such as the Sharjah Light Festival and Sharjah Biennial draw visitors from all over the UAE and beyond, and that’s just the city – the emirate is home to some fantastic desert, including popular spots Big Red and Fossil Rock, and a few enclaves over on the east coast. Sharjah Museum Of Islamic Civilisation, for example, contains more than 5,000 artefacts from across the Arab world, all informatively displayed and housed in a beautiful building that was once a souk. This is one of the best places in the country to learn about Islam.
The UAE’s coastal waters are home to a variety of marine and coral life and shipwrecks. You’ll likely see some exotic species, like clownfish and seahorses, possibly even spotted eagle rays, moray eels, small sharks, turtles, dolphins, barracuda, jellyfish, sea snakes and stingrays.
Snoopy Island, named after its resemblance to the beloved comic book dog, is a popular snorkelling spot in Fujairah, as it is just a short swim from the Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort where you can access the beach for a nominal fee, train for a PADI certification and rent equipment. Here, expect to see big mouth mackerel, morays, anemones, clownfish and lionfish, as well as smaller spots, such as pipefish, shrimp, crabs and nudibranchs.
Nature lovers, take note: Ras Al Khaimah boasts the best natural scenery in the UAE. With the stunning Hajar Mountains as its backdrop and the sparkling waters of the Arabian Gulf on its shore, the northernmost emirate is the perfect destination for an outdoor break with plenty of opportunities for camping, hiking and soaking up the sun. The Hajar, or ‘rocky’, mountains stretch all the way from the Musandam Peninsula, through Ras Al Khaimah and down the east coast of Oman. Well known peaks include Jebel Jais, the highest point in the UAE, and Jebel Yibir, which previously held the title.
Liwa Oasis is one of the largest oases on the Arabian Peninsula and is the northern gate to the great desert. The Rub Al Khali – also known as the Empty Quarter – spreads south from Liwa and is the biggest sand desert on the planet. It measures a mind-boggling 650,000 square kilometres and spreads over parts of Oman, Yemen, southern UAE and almost all of southern Saudi Arabia. It was historically regarded as the edge of civilisation by people living in the region. But there is an extraordinary beauty to this landscape, despite it being so harsh and inhospitable. Even today man has been able to make little mark on it. It’s at Liwa that you’ll find the legendary sand dune known as ‘Tel Moreeb’, or the Hill of Terror, a 300m high slope which attracts only the most confident off-roaders.