Don’t choose your UAE vacation on autopilot. Dubai is famously fabulous — but there’s a world beyond where you’ll find untold pleasures for less than you might imagine. Perhaps you’ll drive an hour along the coast to Ras Al Khaimah, for trekking, water parks and views of the dramatic Hajar Mountains. Maybe you’ll walk amongst the ancient forts and whitewashed mosques of Fujairah. Or find your own personal Middle East in Ajman: the pocket-sized emirate where palm-sprinkled beaches and competitive hotels offer non-millionaires a holiday less ordinary.
Keep Ajman under your hat. Just a half-hour from Dubai Airport, this relaxed and budget-conscious enclave is as close as the UAE gets to a hideaway. With 16 km of perfect shoreline, an 18th century fort and a wetland centre, it’s the emirate with intrigue and elbowroom.
Ras al Khaimah
Ras al Khaimah is the fourth largest emirate in the UAE, but without a cloud-piercing Dubai-style skyscraper in sight. Here you’ll find a traditional fishing village and 18th-century fort, plus the historic Old Town. Soak in desert springs or take in the view on a mountain trek — Ras al Khaimah is full of magical experiences like these.
The area features swathes of beautiful beaches, and is a centre for watersports. No surprise, then, that it’s now home to some wonderful resorts. And if that’s not enough to warrant your undivided attention, there are plenty of unforgettable experiences to enjoy in Ras Al Khaimah, too, such as camel racing, horse riding or falcon shows where the local mastery of these beautiful hunting birds is shown off to thrilling effect.
While not quite as internationally renowned with travellers as Dubai, Abu Dhabi easily holds its own alongside its famous neighbour. You’ve got truly awe-inspiring architecture, including the Yas Viceroy hotel — known best as the backdrop for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with its futuristic design and unique LED canopy; the majestic Emirates Palace and the amazing Capital Gate building.
There are magnificent malls, the unmissable Ferrari World theme park (boasting Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest rollercoaster), and wide, pristine beaches. Abu Dhabi has a rich past, too: Qasr Al Hosn is a stone fort dating from 1760, and the epic Sheikh Zayed Mosque is an essential visit, featuring space for some 40,000 worshippers at a time.
Beyond the desert, explore Fujairah, a stunning spot that rolls from the red rock Hajar Mountains in the west to the golden sands of the east. Fetch your flippers as Fujairah is known for some of the best diving spots in the UAE. Marvel at turtles, rays and of course an abundance of reef fish, which thrive in the Indian Ocean’s warm waters.
The spectacular desert landscapes surrounding Dubai are waiting to be explored. Take an exhilarating trip across the rolling dunes and witness dramatic sunsets as the desert changes colour from gold to pink. Enjoy traditional Middle Eastern cuisine under the stars, witness the hunting skills of falcons, or take a trek by camel.
The Musandam Peninsula on the northernmost tip of Arabia is part of Oman but is bordered by the UAE on both sides. This means it’s actually easier to fly into Dubai to access this pristine wilderness — which also happens to make for an outstanding multi-destination holiday.