Widely known as one of the most, if not the most progressive state in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates have developed their state using their oil reserves, but have adjusted their plans in the last few decades to become a regional financial centre, diversifying their economy away from the petroleum industry.
The result of this has been an inflow of people and capital from all over the world, building a cosmopolitan society that stands in stark contrast to some of its neighbours (like Saudi Arabia), where tolerance and moderate social standards (if still a bit conservative by Western measures) are the name of the game.
While a few historical and cultural draws remain untouched by the furious pace of development here, the big attraction here is this nation’s ambition to be the biggest, best and most unique corner of the world. With the world’s tallest skyscraper, obscenely decadent luxury experiences, and man-made islands made to look like works of art from many miles up, the UAE is busy fulfilling that promise.
While this destination certainly won’t be the cheapest place you visit on your round the world adventure, the United Arab Emirates certainly makes a compelling case to be one of the spots where a good week of splurging is definitely in order.
With a combination of legendary Arabic hospitality guiding them and a drive to provide the best visitor experiences in the world, we have a feeling that opening your wallet here may be an excellent decision.
Currency: Emirati Dirham
Languages: Arabic, Persian, English, Hindi, Urdu
United Arab Emirates Travel Guide
What to do in the UAE
After clearing customs and settling into your hotel in Dubai, the first major attraction on your Emirati journey should be a no-brainer. Measuring up at a vertigo-inducing 828 metres high, Burj Khalifa stabs skyward like the blade of a scrimtar, eliciting gasps before even steps inside the building.
While the observation deck, situated at the 124th floor of 160 floors in total is only the 2nd highest in the world (there’s one in Shanghai that’s even higher), the views will either be the impetus behind dozens of pictures and many moments of awe – or sheer terror at being up so high. Either way, it’s an experience that you are unlikely to soon forget!
Moving on to the 2nd largest city in the country and the capital Abu Dhabi, one should make time in their schedule to see one of the more beautiful mosques in the world. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has designed with artistic inspiration from Persian, Mughal and Moorish styles, and materials were sourced from Iran (carpet), Macedonia and China (marble), reflecting the desire of the constructors to match the UAE ethos of seeking the best of the best for their creations.
While you may get excited and begin clicking away with your camera here, keep modesty in mind first and foremost, as Rihanna of all people got kicked off the grounds for posing in a manner offensive to Islam. Be sure to show respect for the religion of your hosts!
For more on the modern delights awaiting you in the previous two cities, watch the city guides section for articles going more in-depth on what is worth seeing in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
If you’re ready to discover the UAE’s natural charms though, start by heading inland to Jebel Hafeet, one of this nation’s highest peaks. Here, one of the world’s most scenic driving roads snakes its way up the 1,200 metres of vertical elevation, ending at a luxury hotel and a palace at the top, the latter which is used by the rulers of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. At the base of the mountain are natural hot springs, which has been developed into a modern tourist attraction called Green Mubazarrah, which also contains a zoo.
If you’re for an opportunity to scale a desert dune at dawn/dusk, lead to Liwa Oasis in the United Arab Emirate’s portion of the Empty Quarter, where the road in is desolately empty of anything resembling a life form (except for the occasional camel). At this outpost of civilization in the middle of this punishing natural environment, one can watch 4×4 trucks duke it out during regular dune-climbing competitions, have picnics during the cooler times of year (December-February), or just luxuriate by the poolside on a 40+ degree day in the shade, leisurely eating dates and jumping in the water when you need to cool off.
With a healthy coastline that has abundant white sand beaches and a desert climate that practically guarantees good weather, a relaxation break at one of the UAE’s beach resorts should be taken at some point during your trip here. Whether you require a full suite of urban services at your beck and call (Dubai has many places for you), or whether you crave isolation (countless beaches are along the coast outsider Abu Dhabi or Dubai … Ghantoot is one excellent example), the United Arab Emirates have multiple beaches that are just waiting to be discovered by intrepid explorers just like you!
What to eat in the UAE
Being a multicultural society via the liberalization of its economy over the past generation, a wide variety of international cuisine, much of it top-shelf in quality, is available here. Additionally, Emiratis commonly indulge in many pan Arabian foods like Machbous, Falafel and Tabbouleh, which are also enjoyed by many people in other Middle Eastern nations.
Though they can be very difficult to find these days, there are dishes that are unique to the United Arab Emirates. Among them, it is said that Al-Saloona is one of the more popular dishes.
Al-Saloona is a stew that is prepared by boiling chicken or beef with onions for a spell, with additional vegetables like zucchini and eggplant and spices added later in the cooking cycle.
Margooga is another stew that many Emiratis frequently consume. It can be made with or without meat, but the primary differentiator with this dish is that is it soaked by with an Ethiopian-style bread called injera, which is said to bring out the flavours of the stew more effectively than rice can.
When the time comes for dessert, Luqaimat is a pastry that many native to the UAE eat with enthusiasm, especially considering that it is beloved as an iftar treat (a food eaten during the breaking of the Ramadan fast once the sun sets). Made with potato starch to give a crisp feel, with is often sprinkled with honey or date syrup to make it more delectable to grazers.