Dubai is one of the world’s most spectacular destinations, but it’s not the only place in the UAE worth exploring. The other lesser-known cities and emirates may lack the opulence of the City of Gold, but some of them are every bit as alluring, combining adventure and local culture into an experience you won’t soon forget.
Home to beautiful beaches, dramatic rocky landscapes, and the oldest mosque in the UAE, Fujairah provides a refreshing change of scene from the sand dunes and skyscrapers of Dubai. The easternmost of the emirates is mostly made up of mountains and is the only one with access to the Gulf of Oman.
Its white sandy shores are lapped by crystal clear blue waters, attracting water sports enthusiasts from all over the world, while the craggy Hajar Mountains, with its deep scenic wadis (canyons), create the perfect backdrop for outdoor adventures.
While here, visit the 17th century Fujairah Fort and the adjacent Village Museum, or take a day trip to the historic Al-Bidyah Mosque, located about 35 kilometers north of the city. Additionally, the lively Masafi Friday Market on the road between Dubai and Fujairah is an excellent place to immerse yourself in the local culture and stock up on some authentic souvenirs such as rugs, ceramics, and antiques.
Thanks to the modern Sheikh Khalifa Highway, it takes only 40 minutes to travel from downtown Fujairah to Dubai.
Filled with wonderful museums, monuments, and art galleries, Sharjah is the cultural capital of the UAE. It is also the third largest and most populous city in the Emirates, offering great shopping, world-class restaurants, beautiful festivals, as well as a chance to experience authentic Arab life.
Art and history lovers will enjoy visiting the exquisite Sharjah Art Museum or the fascinating Sharjah Heritage Museum, but there are also lots of family-friendly attractions to keep the little ones occupied.
With a colorful mix of cafes, restaurants, and kids’ activities, Al Majaz Waterfront is the city’s premier leisure destination. Moreover, the canal-side Al Qasba development is home to the Eye of the Emirates Ferris wheel, a small musical fountain, and a state-of-the-art theater overflowing with events.
Nature enthusiasts should not miss the Arabian Wildlife Center in the Sharjah Desert Park, the only zoo in the Emirates exhibiting all the country’s animal species, both living and extinct. Alternatively, Khor Fakkan, an enclave of Sharjah located along the Gulf of Oman, boasts some of the best diving and snorkeling in the area.
Ras al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah has all the ingredients for a memorable UAE vacation, from dazzling white-sand beaches and spectacular mountains to exciting desert adventures, world-class golf, and a cosmopolitan dining scene. There are interesting ancient ruins for history buffs, traditional souqs and atmospheric malls for shopping aficionados, as well as a lovely Arctic themed water park for children.
For a true Arabian experience, the Bedouin Oasis Camp is a must. As well as glamping under the stars and candle-lit dinners, this secluded spot in the middle of the desert offers camel rides, belly dancing, and sheesha, among other traditional experiences.
If you’re feeling adventurous, take the 470-metre-long Via Ferrata route – an adrenaline-pumping mix of walking, climbing, and zip lining on the highest mountain in the UAE, Jebel Jais.
Al Ain, Abu Dhabi
Located near the border with Oman, about two hours east from Abu Dhabi, Al Ain is unlike any other city in the United Arab Emirates – a lush, green oasis in the middle of the blistering desert. Instead of glistening high-rise buildings, you’ll find beautiful authentic forts, shady tree-lined avenues, and a wealth of parks to explore.
As one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements, Abu Dhabi’s second city delights visitors with prehistoric tombs and Bronze Age ruins dating from the 3rd millennium BCE. These can be seen by visiting Hili Archaeological Park or Al Ain National Museum, which also features beautiful Bedouin jewellery, traditional costumes, and other curious objects illustrating various aspects of the region’s life during the pre-oil area.
Also worth stopping by is Al Jahili Fort – a picturesque sandcastle-like structure housing interesting permanent and temporary exhibitions, and the Al Ain Central Market, where the last traditional camel market in the UAE allows you to soak up the local life and see the animals up close.