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Things to Do in United Arab Emirates

When you think of the United Arab Emirates, you likely think of its blockbuster, over-the-top city: Dubai. With the world’s tallest building, man-made islands, an aquarium big enough for scuba-diving, and indoor ski slopes, there’s no shortage of experiences to check off and sights to see. But beyond the glitz and glamour of this shiny, new city, there's another side to the United Arab Emirates, which existed long before Dubai started booming. Explore the Hajar Mountains, towering over the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah; or visit the hub of culture and athletics in Abu Dhabi, the capital, with highlights including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the museums at Saadiyat Island. Explore art and heritage in Sharjah with visits to the Grand King Faisal Mosque, Souk Al Arsa, and the Heritage Village. No trip to the UAE is complete without a foray out into the desert in some capacity: whether it’s dune-bashing, riding a camel, or experiencing a cultural presentation under the protection of a luxury tent—and many of these experiences can be combined on a desert day tour. For relief from the stretches of hot, sandy, desert, travelers can head to the Gulf of Oman for swimming and other water activities, visit the Aquaventure Waterpark, or experience the indoor Ski Dubai snow park.
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Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
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288 Tours and Activities

It’s only fitting that a city as extravagant as Abu Dhabi has a theme park to match its extravagance, and in this case, that theme park is Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. The race car-themed park features 20 rides and attractions—everything from the toddler-friendly carousel of Ferrari prototype cars to cutting-edge racing simulators that will please older children and teens.

The largest indoor theme park in the world is also home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, the Formula Rossa, a hydraulic-powered thrill ride where you’re strapped into a Ferrari Formula One-like coaster car and launched at speeds up to 150 miles per hour (240 kilometers per hour).

Car enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the 1920s ode to Italian racing inside the Cinema Maranello or the Racing Legends, an exhibit featuring key moments in the history of Ferrari racing. Expect to dine on primarily Italian food if you choose to eat in the food court.

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Burj Khalifa
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431 Tours and Activities

Skyscrapers don’t get any taller than Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest structure on the planet. Soaring 828 meters (2,717 ft), with more than 160 stories, the building has a stepped design that narrows as it climbs syringe-like to the sky.

Burj Khalifa is part of the massive Downtown Dubai complex of offices, hotels, shopping malls, entertainment precincts and apartment buildings. Ride the elevator to the 124th-floor Observation Deck for astounding views over Dubai and the Arabian Gulf, or take a wander through the gardens and fountains of Burj Khalifa Park. Shop till you drop in Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall. Along with a huge variety of shops – including Galeries Lafayette, Bloomingdale's, and Marks & Spencer – the mall includes an aquarium, ice rink, Sega theme park and cinemas.

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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
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394 Tours and Activities

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest in the United Arab Emirates and eighth largest in the world, rises majestically from Abu Dhabi and serves as the central place of worship for citizens of the emirate. The massive white structure can accommodate around 40,000 people and is home to the world’s largest marble mosaic in the courtyard and the world’s largest carpet which is within the main prayer hall.

Thousands of workers from three dozen design companies worked to make the mosque a reality, resulting in the most expensive mosque on earth. White marble was imported from 28 different countries to complete the mosque, as well as chandeliers from Europe—the world’s most valuable—and carpets from Iran.

The mosque offers free admission. Visitors should wear loose-fitting clothing, including a long skirt or pants and long-sleeved shirts. Women must wear a head scarf within the mosque, so please bring your own as they are not provided at the mosque.

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Dubai Marina
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258 Tours and Activities

The self-proclaimed “most luxurious man-made marine in the world” is also the largest; the Dubai Marina is a 50-million-square-foot mega-development that began in 2003 as part of the wave of projects that transformed (and continues to transform) the desert landscape into a forest of skyscrapers.

Home to a large concentration of Western expats, the Dubai Marina also houses attractions like the Wild Wadi Water Park with its 30 different water attractions, Gravity Zone Bungee Jump, Dolphin Bay and the Dubai Marina Walk, a beachfront promenade lined with more than 300 shops and restaurants. As home to some of Dubai’s poshest hotels and hippest nightclubs, it’s a neighborhood where many a visitor comes to stay or play.
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Abu Dhabi Corniche
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The Abu Dhabi Corniche stretches along the northwestern shore of the island city, a popular spot for beachside recreation. The 5-mile (8-kilometer) stretch of attractive waterfront includes walking paths, cafes, playgrounds and bicycle rentals, and no matter what you decide to do along the coast, you’ll have an excellent view of Abu Dhabi’s skyline. In the evenings, the promenade is the perfect place for a stroll.

The Corniche’s crowning jewel is its public white sand beach. With numerous lifeguards on duty during swimming hours and floating fences keeping swimmers within 130 feet (40 meters), the Corniche Beach is great for families traveling with children. Come on a weekday, and you’ll usually find an umbrella.

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Burj Al-Arab Jumeirah
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387 Tours and Activities

Dubai’s signature landmark is the Burj Al-Arab, the famous sail-shaped hotel facing the Arabian Gulf. The world’s only seven-star hotel, it’s truly the stuff of James Bond movies and superstars.

Packed with bars and restaurants, the hotel is a world within a world, with guests enjoying every luxury service you can imagine in their opulent suites.

For most of us, catching that iconic shot of the hotel jutting out to sea is the closest we’ll get to the Burj Al-Arab. Mere mortals can visit, but before you can even reach the front door you have to make a booking in advance and a hefty fee is charged to sightsee.

A better way to visit is by making a reservation at one of the hotel’s many bars or restaurants. Al Muntaha restaurant and the adjacent Skyview Bar are the venues to choose for soaring panoramic views.

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Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum (Qasr al-Ain)
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The Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum is based in the residence of the founder and first president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The palace complex was built in 1910 on the western side of the mighty Al Ain Oasis and was home to Sheikh Zayed and his family from 1937 until 1966. It later became a museum in 1998.

The building is set around attractive courtyards and gardens where guests can wander around while learning about Sheikh Zayed and his life. Visitors have access to the meeting rooms, or majlis, where the president met with dignitaries and other visitors to the palace. There’s also the chance to take a peek at the palace’s sleeping quarters, including the canopied bed of the ruler’s wife.

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Emirates Palace
288 Tours and Activities

Not to be outdone by Dubai’s Burj Al Arab, Abu Dhabi opened its own seven-star hotel in 2005. The Emirates Palace, managed by the Kempinski Group, sits just outside the city on its own private stretch of white sand beach. The domed, sand-colored palace is dotted with verdant gardens, water fountains and sparkling pools.

The 302 rooms and 92 suites—many finished in gold and marble—feature state-of-the-art entertainment systems paired with Arabian furnishings fit for a sheik. Here’s an idea of just how extravagant the 3 billion dollar property really is: 11 pounds (5 kilograms) of pure edible gold gets incorporated into the hotel’s desserts each year—desserts made in 128 kitchens. The marble in the hotel comes from 13 different countries and 1,002 chandeliers provide the light. Visitors who don’t want to splurge on a room can experience the property with a meal at one of 10 restaurants, a drink at one of the four bars or a rejuvenating treatment at the Anantara Spa.

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Abu Dhabi Heritage Village
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223 Tours and Activities

Located on the Corniche Breakwater, the Emirates Heritage Club runs a reconstructed traditional village demonstrating the lifestyles and traditions of the cultures native to the Arabian Peninsula. If you’ve ever wondered what Abu Dhabi was like before the discovery of oil transformed it into a pocket of extreme wealth, you’ll get a glimpse here. Come in the morning before it gets too hot to explore the open-air museum. Enter a traditional goats’ hair tent and learn about the ancient falaj irrigation system that allowed desert dwellers to begin cultivating crops. Local craftsworkers conduct workshops in traditional metalwork, pottery, spinning and weaving. The traditional mosque is a far cry from the palatial white marble Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, demonstrating just how far the United Arab Emirates have come. Be sure to stop by the gift shop during your visit. You’ll be able to pick up local herbs and spices as well as items made by the local artisans working in the village.

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More Things to Do in United Arab Emirates

Palm Jumeirah

Palm Jumeirah

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Palm Jumeirah juts out from the Dubai shoreline into the Persian Gulf, resembling from above a palm tree sprouting from the beach. Construction on the manmade island began in 2001, and it remains the world’s largest artificial island, with its 1.2-mile (2-kilometer) trunk and 17 fronds, all surrounded by a crescent. It is the smallest of three planned artificial islands collectively called the Palm Islands.

Since the opening of the Palm Jumeirah’s first residences in 2006, numerous luxury hotels and resorts have opened up on the islands, including the Fairmont Palm Hotel & Resort, Kempinski Hotel, Atlantis The Palm, One & Only The Palm and a Waldorf Astoria. Designer shops line the island’s Golden Mile, while an ever-expanding array of restaurants and bars keep visitors sated. Most of the island’s visitor-centric attractions can be found in and around the Atlantis, where Aquaventure Waterpark, the Lost Chambers Aquarium, Dolphin Bay and Sea Lion Point.

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Fujairah Fort

Fujairah Fort

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Fujairah Fort, the oldest fort in the United Arab Emirates dating back to 1670, was built from mud, wood, gravel and gypsum on a rocky outcrop where it protected the old village and valuable date palm oasis from invaders. The historic structure was damaged by an attack by the British in the early 20th century, but it was recently resorted to its former state.

Surrounding the Fujairah Fort, the Fujairah Department of Archaeology and Heritage has set up a Heritage Village, where visitors can stroll through resorted historic houses filled with exhibits on the traditional lifestyle of Fujairah’s ancient residents.

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Louvre Abu Dhabi Tours

Louvre Abu Dhabi Tours

124 Tours and Activities
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Arabian Wildlife Center

Arabian Wildlife Center

2 Tours and Activities
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Al Ain Zoo

Al Ain Zoo

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Dubai Museum

Dubai Museum

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285 Tours and Activities

Dubai Museum is housed in Al Fahidi Fort, built in 1787. It’s a terrific example of a desert fort, complete with cannons and battlements. Dubai’s entertaining museum brings the city’s past and present together in a series of life-size dioramas and archaeological exhibits from desert excavations.

Meet the pearl fishers who first settled the banks of the Creek, the desert Bedouins who roamed the heartland, and the date farmers who irrigated the land. You’ll also see representations of a busy souq, a mosque and inside a traditional home, revealing life in the Emirate before the coming of oil.

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Al Badiyah Mosque

Al Badiyah Mosque

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Dubai Gold Souk

Dubai Gold Souk

242 Tours and Activities

Unlike anything you have seen in the world, Dubai’s Gold Souk is a market that showcases seemingly endless amounts of gold jewelry. With over 300 jewelers on site to accommodate all your gold related needs, the streets during the day are swarming with visitors from all around the world enjoying the spectacle of wall-to-wall gold, and course, the souk’s phenomenal prices.

Whether you are looking to buy or just peruse, the Dubai Souk is certainly worth your visit. With an average of 10 tons of gold available on the premises at any given time, you are sure to be impressed with the glimmering displays, with gold makes in virtually any style you could imagine—and even available in an array of colors including white, yellow and pink.

If you are feeling so inclined to make a purchase at the Souk, make sure you bring your haggling pants with you. It is entirely expected that you negotiate the price for any wanted goods.

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Sharjah Aquarium

Sharjah Aquarium

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The Lost Chambers Aquarium

The Lost Chambers Aquarium

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The Lost Chambers Aquarium in Atlantis, The Palm takes visitors through a series of mazes and tunnels as they explore the underwater ruins of Atlantis. This imaginative aquarium houses some 65,000 aquatic animals, including 12 species of rays and sharks.

Unlike most aquariums, The Lost Chambers has a complete backstory, adding a cinematic quality to the visit. According to the hotel’s “myth,” a series of passages and ruins were uncovered as the resort was being built -- ruins that were later determined to be the Lost City of Atlantis. As you walk through the different marine exhibits, you’ll not only read information on the marine life but on Atlantean history and culture as well.

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Khor Fakkan

Khor Fakkan

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Dubai Creek (Khor Dubai)

Dubai Creek (Khor Dubai)

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228 Tours and Activities

Cutting through the heart of Dubai, the seawater Dubai Creek winds its way from the trading port on the Gulf to the Ras al Khor bird sanctuary on the desert edge of Dubai.

Old-fashioned boats called dhows criss-cross the water from Bur Dubai on the left bank to Deira on the right. Catch a water taxi dhow, called an abra, to get from A to B, or sign up for a romantic sunset dhow cruise traveling further upstream.

A cruise reveals the glittering high-rise buildings lining the Creek, passing under several bridges to reach the Creekside gardens. Or take a stroll along the paved promenade lining the Creek on the Bur Dubai side of the waterway.

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Dhayah Fort

Dhayah Fort

4 Tours and Activities
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