United Arab Emirates Travel Guide
Time has been kind to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Just over a century ago, the country was no more than a land of sand dunes, fishing villages, and crumbling forts. Now, the UAE is easily among the most popular travel destinations in the world, topping the bucket list of many people.
The rise of the UAE is mostly powered by oil - petroleum and natural gas - with the wealth of the country evident in towering glass skyscrapers, beach resorts, impressive hotels, shopping malls, and all kinds of mind-blowing attractions. Put in the incredible scenery, diverse cultures, and all-year-round sunshine and it's easy to see why people flock to the UAE yearly.
Seven independent city-states of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al Quwain make up the UAE. While Abu Dhabi and Dubai get all the attention, each city-state is unique on its own. If you intend to visit the UAE sometime, you've come to the right place as you'll find all the information you need for your travel here.
Capital city: Abu Dhabi.
Currency: United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED) 1 USD = 3.67 AED.
Electricity: Power voltage is 230 Volts. Power socket type G.
Languages: Arabic is the official language although English is widely spoken and understood.
10 Handpicked Highlights of The United Arab Emirates
Burj Khalifa, Dubai
The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building (828 m tall) in the world. It took over 22 million man hours to complete the building and it’s no surprise why people flock to the building. In a city of skyscrapers, the Burj Khalifa reigns supreme.
Three observation levels are open to the public and the entry fee (usually around 200 AED) can change depending on the time of year. It’s usually more expensive during peak tourist season. For a unique experience, book to see the sunset in Burj Khalifa. You can also book to see the sunrise.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the biggest mosques in the world with a capacity of about 40,000. You don’t have to be Muslim to visit the mosque and take in the incredible architecture. Dress conservatively, avoid taking pictures of people praying, don’t sleep in the mosque and you are good to go.
Visiting the mosque is completely free. However, the journey from Dubai to Abu Dhabi can be quite expensive so you may consider signing up for a guided tour to the mosque in Dubai to save money.
Jebel Jais and the world’s longest zipline, Ras Al Khaimah
Jebel Jais is the highest mountain in the UAE and a visit there promises incredible scenery and several fun activities. The longest zipline in the world (verified by World’s Guinness Records) is available at the mountain. If you are a thrill seeker, adrenaline junkie, or just like to live life by the edge, you’ll experience an intense adrenaline rush traveling at a speed of 140 to 150 Km/h at 1680 m above sea level.
Trekking, hiking, ice skating, camping, and cycling are other activities available at Jebel Jais. I like that the trails come in different difficulties for beginners and experienced hikers.
Venturing into the Rub AL Khali desert, or “Empty Quarter”, Abu Dhabi
The Rub’ Al Khali (which means Empty Quarter in English) is the largest continuous sea sand in the world. It’s so big that it’s shared by four countries – Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the UAE. Explore the seemingly endless sand sea on a 4×4 or on the ship of the desert – the camel.
Camp in the sand dunes and see the beautiful night sky filled with stars thanks to the absence of pollution in the desert. Spend time with the several tribes that call the sands their home and be introduced to new ways of life.
Jubail Mangrove, Abu Dhabi
The UAE seems to be mostly made up of busy cities and mangroves. But you’ll see a completely different side of the Emirates when you visit the Jubail Mangrove in Abu Dhabi. The mangroves are magical, picturesque, and foster tranquility. You can explore the thick plants on a kayak and spot the wildlife – heron, flamingos, turtles, and so on – that live among the mangroves.
If kayaking isn’t your thing, you can take a leisurely walk among the mangroves through the boardwalks. Stand-up paddle boarding, yoga, and boating is also available at the park.
Gold Souk and Spice Souk, Dubai
The Gold Souk is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Dubai. It’s actually a marker where gold jewelry is sold. You’ll be known away by the number and size of some of the gold bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces. The gold pieces sold here are genuine as the government regulates the market but buy only from authorized sellers (those with shops) to ensure you don’t buy a fake item.
As gold is to the Gold souk, spice is to the Spice souk. You think you know all about spices? You’ll learn a lesson or two at the spice souk. You are welcome with refreshing, intense, and flavorful aromas as you enter the market. Explore the market to see all it has to offer and buy any spice that catches your fancy.
Eastern Mangrove National Park, Abu Dhabi
The Eastern Mangrove National Park is home to the largest mangrove forest in UAE. Things to do here include exploring the mangroves and sighting birds and the wildlife that lives among the mangroves. You can go on peaceful nature walks, kayak in the mangroves, or lounge over them.
Al Wathba Fossil Dunes, Abu Dhabi
The Al Wathba fossil dunes are a must-visit for any nature lover. There, you’ll see artfully molded fossil dunes that look out of this world. For those not familiar with fossil dunes, they are made of salt, crystals, sand, and other desert mineral brought/blown together by powerful winds over the years.
There are several hiking trails that allow visitors to explore and enjoy the landscape. Music and light events are also available for visitors.
Fossil Rock, Sharjah
Located in Mleiha, a town in the Sharjah Emirates is a fossil rock. Fossil rocks contain prehistoric remains or traces of plants and animals which are preserved in the rocks. Hike the trail to the popular fossil rock and immerse yourself in the surrounding wilderness. The scenery here is simply amazing. There are also other rocks and caves that you can explore in Mleiha.
Hiking in Wadi Shawka, Ras Al khaimah
Hiking enthusiasts, come out. You’ll have the time of your life exploring the several trails available at Wadi Shawaka in the Ras al Khaimah emirates. The trails come in different difficulties and some of them are even kid-friendly. You’ll be blown away by the mountain vistas, greenery, natural springs, and pool dips you’ll encounter on your hike.
If biking or cycling is your thing, there are also biking trails at Wadi Shawka. Canyoning, off-roading, and picnic are also available at the park.
The UAE's Geography & Landscapes
The UAE is one of the smaller countries in the middle east. Located in the eastern part of the region (Middle East), the UAE can be divided into the following geographic regions:
- Flat, low-lying coastal plain.
- Rolling dunes.
- A rugged mountain region.
UAE’s landscape is mostly made up of vast sand deserts, sand dunes, valleys, marshes, rock mountains, oases, salt plains, and rock mountains. Most of the oases are found in the Abu Dhabi Emirates and consist mainly of date palms.
In the south of Abu Dhabi, you can get a sense of scale of the sprawling sand dunes of the Empty Quarter.
In the east, towards the Emirate of Fujeirah, the landscape is much more mountainous.
Best Time To Go To The United Arab Emirates
The UAE has an arid, dry climate that’s experienced almost throughout the year. However, the temperature drops during the winter months which is between October and March. The majority of rainfall occurs during this period. In reality, the “winter” months aren’t really winter since the temperature rarely drops below 12°C.
The best time to visit the UAE is during the winter months when the weather isn’t too hot or too humid. The shoulder months of October and April are also good times to visit the country, but it can already get very hot.
UAE’s summer is usually between April and August and is characterized by high temperatures exceeding 43°C.
Traveling in The United Arab Emirates
Crime rate is low in the UAE and most visits there are trouble-free. Still, you should be cautious and follow these safety tips:
- Use public transportation or licensed taxis. Don’t accept lifts from strangers.
- Dress conservatively.
- Don’t leave your drinks unattended to or accept drinks from strangers.
- Pickpocketing is common in the major cities. Hold on tight to your possessions.
- Drink responsibly.
- Travel in groups at night.
- Watch yourself around ATMs.
- Buy good travel insurance.
Getting to & Around The UAE
Dubai International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport are the two major points of entry into Dubai. UAE is a small country and thus has no domestic flights.
Public transportation in UAE, especially in the Emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah is state of the art. It’s arguably better than that of the West.
Public taxis are the most preferred form of transportation. They are clean, efficient, and the fares are highly regulated. Ladies can request special taxis for women, driven by female chauffeurs. Water taxis, buses, and trams are also part of the public transportation system.
Ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft are also available in Dubai. The prices are comparable to public taxis on most occasions except during the peak periods when they skyrocket.
Renting a car can also be an option.
A rail network is currently in development in the UAE.
The UAE has several high-end hotels offering unmatched luxury. There are also budget accommodation options such as youth hostels and guesthouses. Airbnb is also available in the country.