United Arab Emirates Holiday Planning Guide
Though most people associate United Arab Emirates only with Dubai, nicknamed the "City of Gold," the federation of seven emirates boats a surprisingly rich historical and cultural heritage and provides a good starting point for visitors interested in discovering the Middle East. A trip to United Arab Emirates reveals a modern nation with a dynamic atmosphere and a landscape that quickly changes from futuristic cities to remote deserts, mysteriously silent places where only the shifting sand dunes mark the passage of time. Add the eastern coastline to your United Arab Emirates itinerary to find a string of outstanding beaches and some of the finest diving and snorkeling opportunities in the region.
Places to Visit in UAE
Regions of UAEEmirate of Dubai
: Combining coastal attractions with sophisticated urban delights, this progressive desert region offers a plethora of remarkable culinary and shopping experiences for a rewarding United Arab Emirates trip.Emirate of Abu Dhabi
: The biggest of the federation's seven emirates impresses with its innovative architecture, vibrant markets, groundbreaking malls, sophisticated museums, and developed coastal resorts.Emirate of Sharjah
: Built around a range of museums, Emirate of Sharjah invites tourists to explore the history, art, and culture of the Islamic world.Emirate of Fujairah
: Stretching along the east coast of the country, Emirate of Fujairah is an ideal destination for a sun-kissed United Arab Emirates holiday with its white-sand beaches and luxury resorts.Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah
: "The Rising Emirate" attracts wealthy business expats and tourists with its chic resorts and retail districts; outdoor enthusiasts on tour of United Arab Emirates stop here to experience vast oases, jagged mountain ranges, and white sandy beaches.
Cities in UAEDubai
: No United Arab Emirates vacation is complete without a tour of the "City of Gold" and its ultramodern developments, staggering skyscrapers, colossal malls, entertainment venues, and pristine beaches.Abu Dhabi
: A technological, commercial, and cultural center of the region, this modern metropolis amazes with its colossal architecture, immaculate malls, internationally renowned museums, and family-friendly theme and water parks.Al Ain
: Serving as a window into authentic Arabic culture, this 4,000-year-old oasis offers a pleasant alternative to the country's two mega-cities.Al Badiyah
: One of the earliest settlements in the Persian Gulf, this small fishing village with a centuries-old mosque invites you to learn about the local way of life during your vacation in United Arab Emirates.
Popular UAE Tourist AttractionsBurj Khalifa
: Incorporating patterns from Islamic art and architecture, this futuristic skyscraper--among the world's tallest structures--offers a true bird's-eye perspective on Dubai.Dubai Fountains
: This spectacle of jetting water, light , and music will linger in your memory long after you've finished your tour of United Arab Emirates.Sheikh Zayed Mosque
: A major place of worship, this mosque complex houses an enormous library and a prayer hall adorned with the world's biggest carpet.The Dubai Mall
: Dubai Mall is not only a shopper's paradise that evokes the atmosphere of a traditional Middle Eastern souk, but also a large entertainment center with an ice rink, indoor theme park, and aquarium.Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
: Paying homage to the world of motorsports and its Italian heritage, this indoor theme park fulfills every motorhead's lifetime ambition of sitting behind the wheel of a Ferrari.Aquaventure Waterpark
: This sprawling beachfront theme park--with a record-breaking water slide and numerous areas where you get to swim with marine animals--allows you to add a day of relaxation and fun to your United Arab Emirates itinerary.Wild Wadi Waterpark
: One of the top outdoor attractions in United Arab Emirates, Wild Wadi Water Park is a must when traveling with kids.Ski Dubai
: This huge indoor ski park features an 85 m (279 ft) indoor mountain, sled and toboggan courses, climbing towers, and an ice cave.Burj Al Arab
: This iconic luxury hotel and resort constructed on an artificial island remains a symbol of Dubai's modern affluence and opulence.Emirates Palace
: Emirates Palace is a place where you can admire Arabian architecture and design while taking advantage of the onsite spa, private beach, and other recreation/relaxation facilities.
Planning a UAE Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in UAE with Kids
With new beach resorts, theme parks, and shopping malls opening every month across the country, United Arab Emirates remain one of the world's leading destinations for a family vacation. Dubai
boasts the biggest share of entertaining and family-friendly attractions in United Arab Emirates, including Ski Dubai
and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
With the lowest crime rate in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi
is a great choice if safety is your major concern.
You can enrich your United Arab Emirates holiday by adding local traditions and a slice of history to your itinerary--great places to visit include Al Ain
and Al Badiyah
offers a diverse choice of informative museums kids will find interesting enough, including Maritime Museum
and Sharjah Classic Car Museum
Things to Do in UAE with Kids
You may look no farther than Dubai
when searching for family entertainment suitable for your United Arab Emirates trip.
Apart from shopping and dining options, the city offers attractions like Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
, where kids can dive into the waters and view sharks from a safe cage. Creekside Park
, with its themed garden areas and a waterfront promenade, offers opportunities for strolling, bike riding, and go-karting.
Alternatively, Aquaventure Waterpark
and Wild Wadi Waterpark
are good options for families with toddlers or teens. Abu Dhabi
is subtler and quieter than Dubai, characteristics that make it ideal for families visiting with young kids in tow.
To experience the desert and introduce the family to the local culture and traditions during your United Arab Emirates trip, join Emirates Adventures
, offering guided experiences from Abu Dhabi.
Tips for a Family Vacation in UAE
To optimize your United Arab Emirates vacation, stay at one of the numerous all-inclusive hotels located in Dubai
or Abu Dhabi
Don't let a perfectly air-conditioned hotel room make you forget this is a desert country--make sure your kids are wearing sunscreen and getting enough fluids while outdoors.
Keep in mind that malls usually open around 10 in the morning, while some attractions stay closed until early afternoon. At most attractions, kid-oriented activities commence in the evening.
Getting about with strollers is quite easy, except in some of the older parts of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
You won't have difficulty finding food and diapers for toddlers, but daddies won't have access to changing tables inside female restrooms.
Although adults are expected to dress respectfully, children can basically wear whatever they please. Smaller children are even excused from Ramadan fasting customs and can eat wherever they are.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in UAE
Cuisine of UAE
As a cosmopolitan country, UAE offers a vast array of foods and cuisines from all around the world.
Restaurants serving Indian and Pakistani dishes abound. Other popular choices include Lebanese, Syrian, and Jordanian cuisines.
Sashimi, Italian, and French restaurants are easy to find, especially in Dubai
and Abu Dhabi
. Levantine specialties, including shawarma, hummus, falafel, and mixed grill, are also widely spread and quite affordable in both cities.
The closest you're likely to come to a traditional Emirati dish during your holiday in United Arab Emirates is a portion of aromatic rice topped with slow-roasted lamb, chicken, or fish--historically the staples of Emirati cuisine.
You will not find pork on any Arab menu due to the restrictions in the Muslim diet, but camel meat is much prized and reserved for special occasions, such as weddings.
Don't refuse a cup of red tea with mint served at the end of the meal; it will help you digest all those succulent dishes you consume during a vacation in United Arab Emirates.
Shopping in UAE
For many, shopping is the main reason to take a trip to United Arab Emirates. Dubai
has been nicknamed the "shopping capital of the Middle East." The largest of its 70 malls, The Dubai Mall
is also the one with the biggest in the world.
Ultra-modern shopping centers like it and Marina Mall
host some of the leading names in fashion and technology, but the souks still offer the best bargains.
Do some shopping Arab style at atmospheric and colorful Textile Souk
. You can also visit Dubai's annual shopping festival, which treats visitors to exclusive offers and takes place during January--so time your United Arab Emirates holiday accordingly.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to UAE
Interesting Facts About UAE
● Arabs are actually a minority in United Arab Emirates--half of the country's population falls into South Asian ethnic groups
● The country's leading families are descendants of the pirates that used to raid Indian trade ships in the Persian Gulf until the mid-19th century
● On the streets of Dubai
, only women can hail a pink-roofed cab with female drivers behind the wheel
● Licensed hotels can serve alcohol to non-Muslims only, but you'll need a "liquor license" to drink at home
● From some ATMs in Dubai you can withdraw gold bars
● A true eco-city that will rely solely on renewable energy sources has been emerging 17 km (11 mi) from Abu Dhabi
Things You Should NOT Do in UAE
When planning a United Arab Emirates vacation, keep in mind that you're about to visit a Muslim country that strictly observes the Islamic law.
Forget about public displays of affections--especially kissing in the streets--or you might get deported. Restrain yourself from dancing and drinking outside licensed nightclubs. Don't wear transparent clothes and cover up at least your shoulders and knees, as well as any tattoos.
Make sure you have enough money on your credit cards, or you might be prevented from leaving the country before settling all your bills.
Holidays & Festivals in UAE
In addition to official state holidays, United Arab Emirates observe Ramadan. This is the time when the rhythm of life alters dramatically--it's also one of the best times of the year for an authentic United Arab Emirates holiday experience.
Since the Islamic calendar is lunar, Ramadan can fall into any month of the Gregorian calendar (in 2017, that will be May/June). Although this is a great time to observe local customs, you may feel constrained more than usual since you'll need to follow a few basic rules.
During Ramadan, shops usually close in the afternoon, restaurants outside hotels open after sunset, only tourist hotels serve alcohol after sundown, and smoking, dancing, and playing loud music is punishable by law. The end of Ramadan is celebrated with parties and feasts that last for several days.Dubai
is the country's capital for non-religious festivals--it hosts a shopping festival, an international film festival, a marathon, and a World Series Horse Race.
Alternatively, Abu Dhabi
hosts an international jazz festival in May, and has provided the setting for the world's largest short film festival, called "Tropfest."
Useful UAE Travel Tips
Common Greetings in UAE
English is widely spoken throughout the country, so you won't have problems communicating with the locals on your United Arab Emirates trip.
Learning the Arabic greeting "assalamu alaikum" (peace be with you) and the common reply "wa alaikum assalam" will help you break the ice in most situations.
If an Arab woman offers you a hand, accept it politely, but don't engage in physical contact otherwise. If you get invited to an Arab home--which can easily happen since Emirati are friendly, hospitable people--take of your shoes upon entering.
Climate of UAE
It is almost always sunny in United Arab Emirates. One could even say that Emiratis are unprepared for those few rainy days between November and February, since the rain nearly always messes up road traffic.
Despite of the country's dry climate, Emiratis have more than enough water for maintaining lush public parks and open green areas.
The best time to take a trip to United Arab Emirates is between late October and mid-March, when the average daily temperature reaches the pleasant 27 C (85 F). What makes the country's summers very unpleasant are not only extremely high temperatures--around 50 C (122 F)--but also the unbearable humidity.
Transportation in UAE
Thanks to the low price of gas in United Arab Emirates, cars and taxis are the main means of transportation between and within the cities.
The coast has an extensive and well developed road network, while the desert roads are quite bumpy given the nature of the terrain. Be sure to follow all driving regulations during your tour of United Arab Emirates to avoid traffic violations and penalties.
Public transport alternatives to driving a private or rented car, buses and minibuses in big cities provide a quick way to get around and experience the area without the stress of driving. Dubai
is the only city with a metro service.
Tipping in UAE
In a country of expats from all over the world, tipping habits vary greatly between cities and regions.
In general, tipping is not compulsory but always appreciated. You will not go wrong during your United Arab Emirates holiday if you conform to the tipping etiquette of the Western world--10 to 15 percent in restaurants and spas, and rounding up a fare when it comes to taxi drivers.