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United Arab Emirates

United Arab Emirates travel guide

Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the smaller emirates may be best-known for jaw-dropping glitz, but traditional culture and serene desert landscapes beckon too

Formerly known as the Trucial States, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an exclusive, oil-rich club with seven members: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain.

Of these, Dubai grabs the headlines (and most of the visitors) with its extravagant landscape of seven-star hotels, km-high skyscrapers and reclaimed, artfully arranged leisure islands. The building boom may have been stalled for now, but Dubai remains the brash but scintillating hub of the Gulf – a stopover that’s become an iconic sun-and-fun destination in its own right.

Beyond Dubai, though, the UAE is quieter and perhaps more interesting. Abu Dhabi has its fair share of luxury hotels (and now an F1 Grand Prix to gawp at), but also stunning mosques and a lush, kayak-friendly shoreline.

Inland, the desert city of Al-Ain and the oasis villages of Liwa are reminders of more traditional Arab life. And further north in the smaller emirates, the landscape becomes mountainous and you enter a world of sawtooth crags and wadis dense with mango trees.

Distances are not great in the UAE, making it easy to turn a layover into a mini adventure. So get out of Dubai’s mega-mall airport and explore…

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Explore Liwa Oasis, a string of romantic desert villages deep in the Empty Quarter
  2. Book a kayak tour to Abu Dhabi’s mangroves to discover the Emirates’ green side
  3. Take a drive in the desert. Roads can be spectacular: this is car ad territory.
  4. Have coffee with an Emirati at Dubai’s Sheik Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
  5. Hone your haggling skills – Dubai’s Gold Souk is one of the best places to buy the shiny stuff

Wanderlust tips

If you’ve only got a short visit to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, book a desert excursion rather than trying to self-drive a 4WD. Arabian Adventures  - part of the Emirates group – come recommended.

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