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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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Jabal Al Jais
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When you think of the United Arab Emirates, it’s usually about sand dunes, towering skyscrapers, or the sparkling Arabian Sea. In the mountains of Ras al Khaimah, however, travelers can venture up the rugged slopes of rocky Jebal al Jais, which at 6,207 feet is the UAE’s tallest peak. Leave the rush of the city behind as you snake your way up the mountain, where the surrounding cliffs and rock-strewn plains make it seem like the surface of the moon. The view of the city from the top is spectacular—particularly at sunrise and sunset—and sleeping beneath the desert stars is a popular visitor activity. So, too, is renting a sports car and hugging the mountainous curves, or booking an afternoon picnic lunch enjoyed right on the mountainous slopes. The last section of the road to the summit has lately been closed for construction, but plans are to not just improve the road, but also create the world’s longest zipline that runs for 1.4 miles. There has also been talk of putting a resort and golf course up on the mountain, but for the time being it’s a desert escape that’s peaceful and undeveloped.

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Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
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The race car–themed Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi features 20 rides and attractions—everything from the toddler-friendly carousel of Ferrari prototype cars to cutting-edge racing simulators that will please older kids 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 that sees visitors strapped into a Ferrari Formula One-like coaster car and launched at speeds of up to 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour.

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Burj Khalifa
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The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building on the planet, soaring 2,717 feet (828 meters) high with more than 160 stories set in a stepped design that narrows as it climbs, syringe-like, to the sky. The design is patterned after the repetition of a single geometric shape, meant to echo Islamic art. Bringing a new meaning to the term skyscraper, the building is part of the massive downtown Dubai complex of offices, hotels, shopping malls, entertainment precincts, and apartment buildings.

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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the central place of worship for citizens of the United Arab Emirates. This massive white structure is the largest mosque in the country, accommodating roughly 40,000 people. Inside you’ll find white marble columns with mother-of-pearl engravings, expansive Iranian carpets, and intricate crystal chandeliers.

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Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum (Qasr al-Ain)
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The Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum (Qasr al-Ain) 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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Dubai Marina
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Carved along the Gulf shoreline south of Dubai’s The Palm island, Dubai Marina is a skyscraper-packed waterfront community that’s one of the city’s swishest residential and leisure hotspots. At its heart is a 2-mile (3-kilometer) waterway framed by residential blocks, hotels, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

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Burj Al-Arab Jumeirah
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The sail-like silhouette of the Burj Al-Arab Jumeirah has become a symbol of Dubai's opulence and affluence, standing at 1,053 feet (321 meters) as the third-tallest hotel and one of the most luxurious hotels in the United Arab Emirates. Opened in 1999, the landmark boasts plenty of superlatives, including its five-star status.

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Abu Dhabi Corniche
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Running along the northwest side of the city, the Corniche (also known as Corniche Road) is a stretch of land on the waterfront perfect for a stroll or bike ride. The 5-mile (8-kilometer) promenade has dedicated cycling and pedestrian areas as well as family-friendly beaches, children’s play areas, cafes, restaurants, and shopping.

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Emirates Palace
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Opened in 2005, the 5-star Emirates Palace hotel is one of Abu Dhabi’s top attractions for its sheer scale and grandeur. The multi-domed luxury hotel, part of Kempinski Hotels, sits on the beachfront in palm-sprinkled gardens and makes a lavish retreat for guests and a must-see for Abu Dhabi visitors.

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Abu Dhabi Heritage Village
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Sitting on Abu Dhabi’s Corniche Breakwater, the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village is a reconstruction of an authentic Arabian village. The site offers everything from craft workshops to a replica souk and a museum and provides a window into desert life before the 20th-century oil boom.

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More Things to Do in United Arab Emirates

Al Jahili Fort

Al Jahili Fort

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Al Jahili Fort is one of the most historic buildings in the UAE and one of the region’s largest forts. Built at the end of the 19th century, it served as a summer residence for Sheikh Zayed I, the ruler of Abu Dhabi at the time.

The fort has been well preserved and carefully restored and is now a popular cultural attraction for many visitors. It’s set in beautifully landscaped gardens and is home to exhibitions dedicated to both Sheikh Zayed and Sir Wilfred Thesiger, the British explorer, writer, and photographer who crossed the ‘Empty Quarter’ desert twice in the 1940s. There is also a visitor information center on-site.

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Palm Jumeirah

Palm Jumeirah

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Jutting into the Persian Gulf from southern Dubai, the Palm Jumeirah is an artificial island in the shape of a palm tree and ringed by a crescent-shaped breakwater. The world’s biggest artificial island, it draws visitors to its palatial hotels, theme parks, and shopping malls.

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Louvre Abu Dhabi Tours

Louvre Abu Dhabi Tours

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Opened in 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi stands on Saadiyat Island near central Abu Dhabi. A collaboration between the United Arab Emirates and France, this museum’s stunning, filigreed metal dome draws visitors in to view a collection of artworks and artifacts designed to chart the story of the world’s civilizations.

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Al Badiyah Mosque

Al Badiyah Mosque

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Located in Fujairah Emirate, Al Badiyah Mosque is the oldest existing mosque in the United Arab Emirates. Archaeologists are unsure when exactly the place of worship was built, but expert estimates date buildings anywhere from 1446 BC to 640 AD. The small, squarish mosque was constructed from local materials — stone and ruddy mud — and despite its age, it continues to function as a working mosque with regular prayer services.

While visiting Al Badiyah Mosque, leave some time for a quick trip up to the Al Bithnah Fort, notable for its beautiful vistas over the surrounding scenery. Visitors are required to wear conservative clothing (no shorts or bare shoulders) to get inside.

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Khor Fakkan

Khor Fakkan

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Perched on the Gulf of Oman on the eastern shores of the United Arab Emirates, Khor Fakkan is most famously known as a major container shipping port; there are almost always ships lining up to load, unload or refuel.

But Khor Fakkan offers appeal beyond the port. The palm tree-lined Corniche extends from the port to the Oceanic Hotel, with gardens, parks, playgrounds and kiosks scattered along the beach. A fish and produce souk gives visitors a glimpse into local life, while the Badiyah Mosque, located just outside of town, has a history dating back to the fifteenth century, making it one of the UAE’s oldest places of worship.

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Arabian Wildlife Center

Arabian Wildlife Center

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Located within Sharjah Desert Park, the Arabian Wildlife Center houses a large collection of Arabian wildlife. All of its animals—more than 100 species, including fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals—are native to the Arabian Peninsula and live in natural surroundings.

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Al Ain Zoo

Al Ain Zoo

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Al Ain Zoo is a popular stop for travelers and families who want to learn more about local wildlife and national conservation efforts. The exhibits of this well-kept zoo are stocked with more than 4,000 animals and a handful of add-ons offer visitors a chance to get up close to the wild in a truly unique way. Giraffe feedings, parrot shows and group talks with Al Ain zookeepers provide an opportunity to learn more about the interesting animals, well-kept habitats and preservation efforts taking place here. Exciting exhibits like the Mixed Asian show, which includes gazelle species like Chital, Nilgai and Blackbuck; as well as the nocturnal house and Mixed African exhibit showcase animals not just from UAE, but from across the globe as well.

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Dubai Museum

Dubai Museum

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Set inside Al Fahidi Fort, the Dubai Museum recounts the Emirates’ history up until the oil boom, which forever altered its skyline. Dioramas and artifacts convey what daily life was like for Dubai’s earliest communities, while life-sized re-creations of the city’s early souks and wharfs bring the past to life.

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Dhayah Fort

Dhayah Fort

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Crowning a hill below the Hajar Mountains in Ras Al Khaimah emirate, the 19th-century mud-brick Dhayah Fort is the United Arab Emirates’ last remaining hilltop fort. Built from the remnants of earlier fortifications, it’s famous for serving as a holdout for the local Al Qawasim peoples when they attempted—but failed—to resist British forces in 1819.

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Ras Al Khaimah National Museum

Ras Al Khaimah National Museum

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As the northernmost emirate in the UAE, Ras al Khaimah has a fascinating history that’s displayed at this national museum. Housed in an 18th century fort, the Ras Al Khaimah National Museum was the home of the emirate’s ruling family until 1964, and was opened to the public as a national museum in 1987. Once inside the historic fort, enjoy a casual, self-guided tour of artifacts detailing the early history of peoples inhabiting the desert. You’ll also find ethnological displays, as well as documents and treaties from deals with Britain in the 19th century.

The most prominent feature is the old tower, which rises above the two-story buildings and was once an important lookout point for guarding the royal family. Because the museum doesn’t offer guides, it’s good to visit the museum as part of a half-day tour of town, where the local guides who administer the tour can tell you about the artifacts. Favorites include the ancient weapons that were used to defend the fort, as well as equipment that divers used when diving for pearls offshore.

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Dubai Gold Souk

Dubai Gold Souk

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Dubai’s internationally famous Gold Souk has its roots in the 1940s, when Indian and Iranian traders began setting up stalls in the area. Today it’s one of the world’s busiest jewelry markets, with hundreds of shops and stalls selling just about everything that glitters—namely, gold. An estimated 20 percent of the world’s gold passes through the souk, with a whopping 10 tons for sale in the market at any given moment.

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Sharjah Aquarium

Sharjah Aquarium

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The Sharjah Aquarium is a vast aquarium sprawled across two levels. It’s home to a huge variety of underwater species native to the waters around the UAE. Here you can discover everything from the largest marine life to the smallest of ocean creatures, all without getting your feet wet.

With over 250 species and a number of lagoon, coral reef, and mangrove habitats recreated, there’s certainly plenty to see here. From tiny tropical fish, jellyfish, and seahorses, to the moray eels, eagle rays, and reef sharks, it’s wise to dedicate a good amount of time to wander around and take it all in.

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The Lost Chambers Aquarium

The Lost Chambers Aquarium

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Come face-to-face with 65,000 marine creatures, dive with sharks, and walk underwater at The Lost Chambers Aquarium in Dubai’s Atlantis, The Palm hotel. This state-of-the-art aquarium is themed around the mythical Lost City of Atlantis and consists of illuminated underground chambers brimming with sea life from across the world.

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Dubai Creek (Khor Dubai)

Dubai Creek (Khor Dubai)

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The seawater Dubai Creek (Khor Dubai), flowing between Deira and Bur Dubai in the historic center of the United Arab Emirates city of the same name, is the reason for Dubai's very existence. When trade with the outside world began over a century ago, this protected inlet was the obvious choice to develop a commercial seaport. The creek has been widened many times during the last century, and today, it's often busy with abra—small wooden water taxis—ferrying passengers between the souks of Deira on the northeastern bank and the historic district of Bur Dubai on the southwestern bank.

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