Before the dawn of Google Maps, getting around certain cities was done with the help of an A-Z. While nowadays you’re running the gauntlet of being stumbled into by a bumbling tourist desperately trying to align themselves to a blue dot, in the olden times people used, well, actual maps.
Hopefully, our own A-Z of the best bits of the UAE is easy to navigate. Plus, having a copy of Time Out with you guarantees kudos wherever you end up.
The Garden City is the most picturesque place in the country and has loads of history. Bordering Oman, it’s the birth place of the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. There’s shopping (Al Jimi Mall is probably the most complete experience in the city), Abu Dhabi’s highest peak Jebel Hafeet, Al Qattara cultural centre, UNESCO site Al Ain Oasis and loads more. Book a hotel (there’s everything from the Radisson Blu – Queen Elizabeth II stayed there in the ’70s – to Aloft Al Ain – overlooking Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium) and explore.
Al Ain, Abu Dhabi.
They don’t do things by halves in Dubai, and the towering Burj Khalifa is testament to the emirate’s lofty ambitions. This megastructure dominates the Downtown Dubai skyline and its enormity is simply dizzying. We love to impress visiting guests with some top-notch nosh at the brilliant At.mosphere restaurant before taking them up to the SKY observation deck on the 148th floor. Tom Cruise famously scaled the Burj’s exterior for a scene from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. But unlike the diminutive movie star, we’ve definitely never tried to climb up it freestyle.
From Dhs149 (At The Top). Open daily 8.30am-11pm. Downtown Dubai (04 888 8124).
The UAE is blessed with mile after mile of shoreline and one of our favourite spots to feel the cooling sea breeze whistling through our hair is on Abu Dhabi’s Corniche. This 8km stretch of waterfront wonder houses a myriad cafés and restaurants, as well as a beach that boasts a Blue Flag. Should a seaside stroll seem to leisurely for you, hire a bike and enjoy the scenery on two wheels or shell out a mere Dhs10 for some sedentary bliss on the prime sandy spot that’s kept spotlessly clean.
Dhs30 per hour for bike hire. Open daily 24 hours. Abu Dhabi (055 353 9350).
Given the abundance of attractions with the ‘Dubai’ prefix (e.g. the Fountain/Frame/Mall/Miracle Garden/Media City) we decided democratically to eschew them altogether and go for this superb slab of stone. A haven for snorkellers and divers determined to find Nemo (clown fish are in their element here, along with turtles and reef sharks), this little island attracts an array of aquatic adventurers of all abilities. We call first Dibbas on the freshly washed wetsuits…
From Dhs250 for a dive with Nemo Diving Centre. Times vary. Dibba-Khorfakkan Road, Fujairah (056 704 4472).
We’re partial to a bit of opulence here in the UAE, and few venues show off the nation’s glitzy side better than the gold and marble-hewn halls of the Emirates Palace. The princely sum of Dhs11 billion was spent on this majestic marvel’s construction, but we feel it was money well spent as not only is it home to some of the capital’s best restaurants (we’re looking, nay salivating, at the thought of you BBQ Al Qasr, Martabaan and Hakkasan) but also some 85 hectares of marvellously manicured grounds. You can indulge in a gold dusted cappucino, too, should you feel like getting the true tourist experience. You can visit or free but should you have a few extra dirhams saved up, we say stay here a night or two. If the crown fits, wear it, right?
Rooms from Dhs1,200 per night. West Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi (02 690 9000).
This exciting eastern emirate might seem a little out on a limb but the locals somehow like it that way. Anyway, once the Hyperloop is built and hordes of Dubaians head here en masse they’ll be glad they enjoyed such a peaceful existence for so long. Fujairah is famed for its watersports, with deep-sea diving and snorkelling trips to the wonderfully named Snoopy Island high on the list of must-dos while here. Head in land a little and you’ll be able to hike the Hajar Mountains that dominate the scenery, offering a craggy challenge to even the most rugged of you. There’s also a fort, the UAE’s oldest working mosque and a castle to discover. Sometimes referred to as the ‘lungs of the UAE’, Fujairah is a breath of fresh air.
From Dhs50 (snorkelling). Sandy Beach Hotel & Resort, Al Aqaa, Fujairah (051 407 54750).
Multiculturalism is a cornerstone of what makes the UAE so amazing, and rarely is the diversity of the country celebrated so fervently at the Global Village. Over the best part of six months a year, this leisure, shopping and entertainment hub attracts more than five million visitors, bringing them a taste of what makes 75 of our closest national allies great. Culinary flavours from around the world are a major draw, along with a massive funfair and regualr headline acts such as Jay Sean and Jason Derulo providing the musical entertainment. It was extended for a week this year by popular demand and we struggle not to shed a tear whenever it shuts for the off-season.
Dhs15. Opens again on October 29, Sat-Wed 4pm-midnight, Thu-Fri 4pm-1am. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road, Dubai (04 362 4114).
We won’t lie, summertime in the UAE can be a little on the toasty side. Hence why the smart folk of Dubai head north to consummately chilled Hatta during the hotter months, and you’d be equally wise to follow suit. Once here, we always make a beeline for the Hatta Dam, hire a kayak (for only Dhs60) and marvel at our picturesque environs. A trip to the 16th century Hatta Fort should also be in your itinerary, while at the Hatta Wadi Hub you can put a certain Newton theory to the test with some freefall cliff jumping before retiring to JA Hatta Fort Hotel for the night. How do you like them apples, Sir Isaac?
From Dhs455 per room, per night. JA Hatta Fort Hotel, Hatta-Oman Road (04 809 9333).
IMG Worlds of Adventure
We’re excitable folk here at Time Out Towers, and when this behemoth of an indoor them park opened in 2016, we were first in the queue (and even willing to give up our day jobs to be an entertainer). Split into five epic zones (including Marvel, Cartoon Network and Lost Valley), make sure you wear your comfiest shoes as you skittishly survey the 1.5 m sq ft of sheer pleasure here. We’re not ashamed to admit that our inner child thrives here, nor do we think twice about ‘borrowing’ our friends’ kids just as an excuse to become a superhero for the day. Don’t be fooled by the supposedly innocent looking PowerPuff Girls ride – it’s unexpectedly white knuckle.
Dhs257 (general admission), Dhs236 (kids under 1.2m in height), Dhs158 (ages 60 and over), free (kids under 1.05m in height). Open Sun-Wed 11am-11pm, Thu-Sat 11am-11pm. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road, Dubai (600 500 962).
Granted, not all of our faithful readers are up for amazing acts of derring-do but for those of you who are, Jebel Jais is a destination not to be missed. The UAE’s highest peak offers the thrillseekers among you the world’s longest zipline, propelling you at up to 150kph at a height of 1,680m above sea level. With climbing now an Olympic sport, you can show the pros how it’s done by tackling the via ferrata. Or you could just take a picnic up to the top and enjoy the incredible vistas. Either way, we hope these pursuits will (ahem) peak your interest.
From Dhs341. Reopens in October. Jebel Jais, Ras Al Khaimah (050 265 6224).
Khatt Hot Springs
There can be few pleasures greater in life than running a hot bath and having a long soak with just your favourite chill-out playlist, some scented candles and your rubber ducky for company. If you’d like to recreate such zen alfresco, Khatt Hot Springs will offer you the chance to bathe in their 40C glow. Whether or not the warming waters have healing powers is uncertain but we’re not averse to believing the odd old wives’ tale.
Ras Al Khaimah.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
The best things come to those who paint (or something like that) and after a decade of eager anticipation, in 2017 art fans finally got to scratch their Matisse-esque beards in wonder at some of the world’s finest works. An artistic adventure through the ages, pieces are ordered by era rather than national origin here. And few collections in the world can offer aficionados such a heady mix of styles, with Manets and da Vincis mere metres away from Warhols and Pollocks. The structure itself is a true masterpiece, while the regular workshops will let you show off your creative prowess (or, in most of our cases, lack thereof). You can even kayak around it if you’re the more active type.
From Dhs31.50. Open Sat-Sun & Tue-Wed 10am-8pm, Thu-Fri 10am-10pm. Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi (600 565 566).
Mangrove National Park
Unobjective outsiders are often too quick to dismiss the UAE as an oil-rich, man-made mass of ultra-modernity. But we say send them out on a kayak in Abu Dhabi’s mangroves and they’ll soon be changing their tune (and perhaps surreptitiously singing a refrain of Row, Row, Row Your Boat). The natural beauty of this network of water-purifying, indigenous trees will take your breath away (and, helpfully, plenty of carbon dioxide with it). Wildlife thrives here, with everything from flamingos to foxes and dolphins to dugongs calling it home. Among the mangroves, life is but a dream…
From Dhs150 for a kayak tour with Noukhada. Abu Dhabi (050 721 8928).
Who wants to stroll around a golf course during the day anyway? If you’ve always felt like the way to improve a round is to play under floodlights, we have good news for you, as most of the course in the UAE offer the option to play at night. During the summer it’s especially handy, as it’s pretty much unbearable out there in soaring temperatures and humidity. But it also means that those of us with nine to five jobs can get out on the course during the week without a ludicrously early start or taking the day off. It kind of feels more acceptable to head to the 19th hole at 8pm as well.
Various locations including Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Sas Al Nakhl (02 885 3555) and Emirates Golf Club, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai (04 417 9842).
The beating heart of this most thriving of cities, Old Dubai has been given a new lease of life in recent years, but thankfully without detracting from its old-fashioned charm. The Al Seef development in Bur Dubai fabulously fuses the modern with the passé, its range of licensed restaurants providing great views of the Creek. For just Dhs1 you can ride the famous waterway on an abra, hopping off to do some bartering with stallholders at the souks dotted on either bank. The Dubai Frame, meanwhile, offers a stunning perch from which to survey the architectural juxtaposition of the old and new parts of the city. And you really can’t beat the Al Fahidi Historical District for a culture fix (and a food one at prices seemingly set last century).
Dubai Frame entry is Dhs50 for adults or Dhs20 for children. Open daily 9am-9pm. Zabeel Park, Dubai (800 900).
An epic example of engineering ingenuity, this artificial archipelago is truly a modern wonder to behold. Whether you drive, cycle or take the monorail on to it, Palm Jumeirah offers a seemingly endless list of ways to revel in a perfectly executed pipedream. With luxurious resorts aplenty, plus the consummately chilled Club Vista Mare and bounteous Boardwalk, it’s hard to believe no-one thought of doing this before. Head over to the Aquaventure waterpark and you’ll see why this Leap of Faith is well worth taking. Plus with hot new bars and restaurants (hello, W The Palm) it’s also fast-becoming a party destination. In short, we’re very frond of The Palm (ahem).
From Dhs320 for an Aquaventure day pass. Open daily 10am-sunset. Palm Jumeirah, Dubai (04 426 1169).
Qasr Al Hosn
History boys and girls hankering for an insight into the capital’s past will be right at home at Qasr Al Hosn, Abu Dhabi’s oldest structure. Thanks to a painstaking project to redevelop this former base of the royal family to its former glories, this memorial to the city’s humble beginnings is now open to the public, its museum boasting artefacts dating from way back in 6,000BCE. The events calendar here is vast, with traditional performing arts alongside workshops and demonstrations that will show you how Abu Dhabi’s rich tapestry was formed. Watching the guards marching makes us wonder how they keep their uniforms so spick and span in the desert. Don’t worry, entry isn’t conditional on your boot-buffing skills.
Dhs 30 (adults), Dhs15 (children). Open Sat-Thu 9am-7pm, Fri noon-10pm. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum Street, Abu Dhabi (02 697 6400).
Ras Al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah is living proof that you don’t have to pave the streets with gold to get people to come. Just offer some quality hotels, exciting outdoor pursuits and plenty of cultural activities and you’ll see how tourism can boom. That’s not to say this place doesn’t have a touch of glamour – a night out at Al Hamra Marina will soon dispel any feelings of having to ‘slum it’. While here, we suggest revving up at RAK Track, a quite brilliant go-karting venue that even you slowcoaches will enjoy. They might have built this city partly on its cement production but RAK has the foundations of a great holiday whatever your pleasure…
From Dhs75 (RAK Track arrive and drive). Open daily 4pm-midnight. Sheikh Mohammad Bin Salem Road, Ras Al Khaimah (07 222 2128).
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
This massive marble monument to one of the UAE’s most revered leaders is simply unmissable. Yes, the sheer scale of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque makes it visible from miles around but once you step foot inside, we defy not to be moved by its splendour. Taking a tour with one of the hugely knowledgeable and extremely affable guides is the best the way to discover the mosque in our opinion, especially as they’re willing to answer all your questions about this superb structure. Respect is key, obviously, so just make sure you don’t strike some dumb Rihanna-style poses in snaps for your handful of Instagram followers.
Free. Open Sat-Thu 9am-10pm, Fri 4.30pm-10pm. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street, Abu Dhabi (02 419 1919).
The Irish Village
No matter where you trot across the globe, the allure of a warm Gaelic welcome is never far from your reach. The UAE is no different, but this homage to the Emerald Isle stands out thicker than an English accent in Temple Bar – thankfully in a good way. If you’re after a pint of the Black Stuff and a bowl of cockle-warming Irish stew, The IV is the place to go. Live music underpins all that is wonderful about this vast venue. Born out of a tennis tournament, it’s game, set and match above its rivals.
Open Sat-Wed 7am-1am, Thu-Fri 7am-2am. 31 A Street, Garhoud, Dubai (04 282 4750).
Well, not literally, but it’s as close as you’ll get. There are two high-end restaurants in Dubai offering the chance to dine with fishes. Al Mahara in the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah and Ossiano at Atlantis the Palm both have huge aquariums so you can watch hundreds of fishies swimming around while you chow down on some pretty special, erm, seafood. Now we’ve written it down it seems a little odd, but we promise you it’s not. Most of us will need to set aside visits for a special occasion, as they’re at the top of the price scale, but you should try them at least once.
Al Mahara, Burj Al Arab Jumeirah, Umm Suqieum (04 301 7600). Ossiano, Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).
As much as we love meandering the narrow streets of the real Venice (and don’t even complain when being ripped off by the greedy gondoliers there), you won’t have to get stuck in a scrum of overenthusiastic tourists at this idyllic recreation of the world-famous Italian city. Good food and great views are the order of the day here, with international flavours served up by the super six restaurants, and vistas of the Grand Canal and Grand Mosque there for your ocular delectation. The Venetian Village is perfect for when you want to really push the boat (or should we say gondola?) out. All together.. “when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie...”
Open daily 12.30pm-midnight. The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal (056 996 8845).
While Al Ain is most famous for its oasis, a Unesco World Heritage Site no less, ancient irrigation doesn’t float everyone’s boat. So that’s where Wadi Adventure steps or, more accurately, splashes in. There are few things more oar-some than hurtling down the world’s longest manmade white water rafting courses, weirdly enjoying the sensation of feeling like you’ll go overboard at any minute. Wakeboarding, waterskiing and surfing are also popular pursuits here and if you don’t want to ruin your perfectly coiffed mane, you could just sit and watch from one of the on-site restaurants. Although that’s vanity verging on insanity, we say.
From Dhs195. Open daily 11am-6pm. Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain (03 781 8422).
If all you’ve ever done on a trampoline is bounce up and down a bit then you’re really missing out. The good people at BOUNCE (which has branches in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Dubai) have created fun spaces filled with trampolines where you can have fun and work out. X-Park can be found in the Abu Dhabi and Dubai centres and is an obstacle course combining elements of parkour, cardio workouts and loads more. It’s good fun but it’s also tough, so don’t underestimate it.
Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi. Al Quoz, Dubai (04 321 1400).
Of all Abu Dhabi’s plethora of islands, Yas is by far the most fun. With just the three theme parks (just?) to choose from, your inner child will be screaming ‘again, again, again!’ as you hit the world’s fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, take on the seriously high-intensity slides at Yas Waterworld or explore the six unique and equally exhilarating worlds of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi. Yas Marina boasts some of the capital’s best eateries, while petrolheads won’t want to miss the fantastic F1 circuit, especially when Lewis Hamilton and co are in town. Plus, some of the world’s greatest music acts can be found gigging at du Arena. Yes, Yas is truly an isle
Prices and times vary. Yas Island, Abu Dhabi (600 511 115).
Just how many awards can one restaurant win (well, two, given there are branches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai)? More than we can count on two hands, that’s for sure. This Japanese restaurant, part of a chain set up by German chef Rainer Becker, offers exquisitely prepared plates of food (from sushi and sashimi to robata and main courses such as miso black cod), unbelievably good service and a super cool atmosphere. It’s been succesful in both cities at our awards in categories such as Best Brunch, Best Restaurant Bar, Best Japanese Restaurant and Restaurant of the Year. In short, if the restaurant does it, it’s won an award for it. They’re both must-try venues and the perfect way to round off this feature.
Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi (02 401 5900). Gate Village, DIFC, Dubai (02 425 5660).