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…
The UAE’s climate is sub-tropical. Temperatures reach mid-40 degrees in summer, with a humidity of up to 90 per cent. The best time to visit is from November to March, when it is warm and sunny.
Sports fans could time their visit around a fixture: the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix is in November, the prestigious Dubai World Cup horse race is in March, the UAE Desert Challenge in October and the Dubai Rugby Sevens in November.
Abu Dhabi (AUH) 35km from the city, Dubai (DXB) 5km from the city, Ras Al-Khaimah (RKT) 15km from the city, Sharjah (SHJ) 10km from the city
By metro The Emirates’ first metro was opened in Dubai in 2009. The driverless, fully automated trains connect the airport with the city.
By road Buses run from Dubai-Abu Dhabi every 15 minutes, also serving Liwa, Al-Ain and Sharjah. For info visit the Dubai Road and Transport Authority, or Abu Dhabi Department of Transport. Metered taxis are plentiful, or you could ask the driver to turn off the
meter and act as chauffeur for a set period (approx Dh300/£50 for six
Luxurious and extravagant hotels compete with each other all over the Emirates, particularly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Book online in advance to get discount rates – sometimes up to 50 per cent. You might also get a good deal when you book your hotel together with your flight. Budget accommodation is difficult to find, but the YHA runs three hostels in Dubai, one in Sharjah, one in Fujairah and one in Khor Fakkan.
Emirati cuisine uses a lot of fish, meat and rice for its main dishes. Kebab kashkash, meat and spices in a tomato sauce, is a favourite in the UAE. A delicious side dish is tabouleh, a light couscous salad with tomatoes, lemon juice, parsley, mint, onion and cucumber. Shawarma is a typical snack bought from street vendors: lamb or chicken meat is carved from a kebab spit and served in flat Arabian bread, often with lettuce and sauces. Falafel, deep-fried chickpea balls, are lovely with spicy aubergines, bread and hummus. For dessert, try fresh dates and Umm Ali (literally ‘Ali’s Mother’), a type of bread pudding. Cardamom coffee is often served for free as a symbol of hospitality. Alcohol is usually only available in hotel bars.
Healthcare facilities in the UAE are generally comparable with those of the UK. The UAE currently requires expatriates to be tested for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and Hepatitis B.
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