Lying along the southern eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the UEA boasts hot climates, a rich culture and a vast multicultural society. With more than 200 nationalities living and working in the UAE, along with millions of visitors holidaying in the country each year, it has one of the most sophisticated and innovative contemporary cultures in the world.
If you are planning a visit to this remarkable destination then be sure to have a read of our top tips for making the very most of your visit.
Home to some of the very finest restaurants and eateries in the world, the UEA offers various dining opportunities, from fine dining and fast-food, to Middle Eastern and local cuisine, the country has a rather unique and innovative food culture which is most certainly worth exploring.
In recent years celebrity chefs have begun launching restaurants within the international five-star hotels that can be found in most major cities; the most notable chefs include Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White and Nobu Matsuhisa.
On the other end of the spectrum, international fast food chains dishing up burgers, chips and pizzas can be found just about everywhere. As is the case in most places around the globe.
Although food hygiene tends to be high in the more expensive restaurants and hotels, the standards of food seem to be less stringent in takeaway restaurants with food often seeming incredibly greasy – therefore it is always advisable to plan to pay more for a good meal than to skimp and eat from a greasy takeaway.
High class restaurants and greasy takeaways aside, in between these extremes are many restaurants serving authentic cuisine form every country, with Middle Eastern food also available in a variety of venues.
Of course, one of the most exciting parts of travelling is the opportunity to sample the local cuisine, in the UEA an increasing number of local restaurants and cafes serve a range of traditional Emirati foods.
Although the UEA are keen to accommodate westerners, it is important to remember that the country is an Islamic one and has its own expectations and laws as of what is and isn’t acceptable, such as alcohol.
Non-Muslims are allowed to drink alcohol if they are on licensed premises, some local restaurants and larger international hotels and restaurants hold licenses to serve alcohol, however if you are caught drunk on the street, in a taxi or in another public place you could end up in a police station. Keeping the mojitos inside the hotel is your best bet.
Accommodation in the UEA tends to be of a very high standard, with many of the world’s top hotel chains running five star hotels throughout the country.
For the traveler with a love of architecture, several of the UEA’s hotels offer exquisite examples of modern architecture, with exceptional design and facilities throughout. Most waterfront hotels have excellent private beaches with extensive watersport facilities.
However, if your budget won’t stretch to a five star hotel, there are many alternative hotels, most of which will be to a high standard. Although slightly cheaper hotels may not have their own private beaches, beach passes to luxury hotels can be obtained from reception.
For many travelers, shopping is one of the major attractions for visiting the UEA. With elegant, state-of-the-art malls in every major city, shopping in the UEA is pretty much as good as it gets anywhere in the world. However, despite the fact that shopping malls are a major part of life in the UEA, they have not replaced the more traditional souks (markets), instead the result is an exciting mixture of old and new, where contemporary retail co-exists with markets and ancient family-run businesses.
Traditionally souks were local meeting places as much as they were trading centres, throughout the UEA they have been carefully preserved. Today, it is possible to buy anything from a bag of frankincense to a camel, with a visit to the souk one of the very best ways to immerse yourself in the country’s cultural heritage. It’s doubtful you will be allowed to get a camel in the holding bay though.
With modern shopping malls offering an incredible array of international brands, the shopping capital of the UEA or even the Middle East, is undoubtedly Dubai. Most malls in Dubai and the rest of the UEA include numerous other facilities, such as multi-screen cinema complexes, numerous restaurants and coffee shops, child-friendly entertainment, and childcare facilities, making shopping malls a very social place, just as souks were in previous times.
Of all the malls in the UEA, Global Village Dubailand in Dubai, is the world’s largest tourism, leisure and entertainment location. It is the regions first cultural, entertainment, family and shopping destination. Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates are two other popular shopping locations within the city.
Travel & Safety
The UEA is one of the safest places in the world to visit, in fact, it has won the award for the world’s safest travel destination on two occasions.
With high standards of cleanliness, food hygiene and clean drinking water in hotels and restaurants, you are virtually guaranteed an illness free visit, and although tap water is safe to drink, you will most probably prefer the taste of bottled water.
Although on the face of it, the UEA is Americanized and incredibly western friendly, it is still important to ensure you fully respect local culture and customs; bikinis, swimsuits, shorts and revealing tops can only be worn on beach resorts. Men should not leave beach resorts bare-chested, while women are not advised to wear short skirts and to always keep their shoulders covered. You should also note that in Sharjah women are prohibited from wearing swimsuits on public beaches.
Top Ten Sights and Attractions
Depending on the length of your stay, the hardest part of many holidays can be choosing what sights and attractions to visit, especially when the list is endless.
To make the most of your visit to the UEA, be sure to visit at least some of our top 10, as mentioned below.
- Ensure you attend a Camel Race. In Abu Dhabi, the Al Wathba race track uses robot jockeys who wear little uniforms and whose wiping motions are controlled by the camel’s owner.
- Visit Sharjah, the “Cultural Capital of the Arab World”. The cosmopolitan city of Sharjah is not only the cultural capital of the UEA, but in 1998 was named as the Cultural Capital of the Arab World.
- Be sure to visit the mountains and the Gulf of Oman in Fujairah. A more traditional part of the UEA, Fujairah is a cultural place where local people still partake in traditional sea-based activities, such as fishing. Although the eastern coast of the UEA is not anywhere near as rich or contemporary as the areas around Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it is worth seeing for its more traditional culture, mountains, beaches and traditional crafts, such as the creation of palm frond canoes.
- Visit an archeological dig site. Of the many sites to visit, the most convenient is the Jumeirah Archeological Site – it has yielded numerous archeological treasures.
- If you’re a sports fan ensure you attend a cricket match. The UEA has many workers from India and Pakistan, two countries that love cricket and so cricket games are played in one of the large stadiums in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai.
- Go indoor Skiing. If you’re into sports you can now go skiing in Dubai’s indoor facility, complete with real snow and has one of the world’s very first indoor black runs – for very advanced skiers only. Clothing and equipment can be rented from the facility, there is also a quarter pipe so snowboarders can practice their tricks.
- Go to a waterpark. Of all the waterparks in the UEA, Dreamland Water Park is the largest, as well as being one of the largest waterparks in the world. Complete with amazing views, this water park has everything, from a salt water pool that you can float in, numerous slides, a Jacuzzi, a lazy river and family rafts, to a Go-Karting track and numerous restaurants and fast-food outlets.
- Go on a desert safari. This is an absolute must for any traveler. With four different safari tour options to choose from, ranging from a morning in the desert to an overnight campout, there is a trip for every taste and budget. The safari includes a range of activities, including photo stops, dune driving, camel riding, watch the sunset, sand boarding, complete with belly dancing and a BBQ.
- Visit Atlantis, The Palm. Regardless of whether you are staying in the resort, a trip to Atlantis is a must. Built on top of the artificial island of Palm Jumeira, the Atlantis resort is themed on the myth of the lost city of Atlantis with distinct Arabian elements.
- Go to see the Dubai Creek. This saltwater creek separates the city from Deira to the north and Bur Dubai to the south, ending at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctury. Spend an afternoon relaxing by the creek or take a boat or abra out on the river – not recommended on a very hot day.