The United Arab Emirates is one of the world’s most captivating travel destinations, a place of abundant architectural wonders, unparalleled luxury, modern marvels, and surreal desert landscapes. Not to mention the world’s tallest building…
There is so much to see here. It can all seem a little overwhelming — but discovering the most famous landmarks in The United Arab Emirates is an excellent place to start…
Amidst all the glistening skyscrapers and ostentatious displays of wealth here it is easy to forget that nouveau riche United Arab Emirates (UAE) also has its only historical history and rich culture, with each of the six emirates offering something slightly different.
There is so much to places to visit in the United Arab Emirates; and a stopover holiday will only allow you to scratch the surface. This is why we have developed this cheat sheet to help you with your travels.
But first – what is a landmark?
A landmark is a recognizable natural or artificial feature that typically stands out from its environment and has become a local or national symbol. For modern tourists, a landmark is useful for navigation – in terms of both being a physical waypoint and in trying to help you organize your itinerary.
Getting the off-the-beaten-track is all well and good, but at the end of the day – there are some spots you just have to see when you visit a country. Think about the Great Wall of China or Neuschwanstein Castle. Instantly recognizable places you couldn’t miss if you tried. And The United Arab Emirates has more than its fair share…
When approaching a trip this land of shifting sands and palatial beach resorts, you will want to tick off as many famous UAE landmarks as you can – and the best way is to do that is often by taking a tour, or hiring a car to get around. The good news is that many of the best top landmarks here are actually the best hotels in the UAE, so you can do some great sightseeing just by checking in!
There is a lot to explore in The United Arab Emirates — and no list of iconic UAE landmarks could ever be exhaustive. But, we have tried to get the top highlights by putting a call out to our favorite travel bloggers and asking them to regale us with stories and helpful tips about their best-loved.
This way, you have a reasonable frame of reference to inspire your United Arab Emirates travels from which you could choose a few landmarks that you absolutely cannot miss… or cram as many as possible into one trip.
If you plan it right — and have enough time—, you might just hit them all. And discover plenty more of your own highlights of the United Arab Emirates while you’re at it!
Al-Ain Zoo, also called the “Al Ain Wildlife Park,” is a 400-hectare (990-acre) zoo situated in the hills of Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain, near Abu Dhabi in the UAE. It predominantly comprises ungulates and herbivores species such as Arabian antelopes and oryx, eland, gazelle, lechwe, which can be seen in tree-shaded paddocks providing opportunities for breeding, a large focus of this famous landmark of the UAE.
The Al Ain Zoo is famous not only for its design and park-layout, but also for housing the rare white lion and unique Nubian giraffe. Established in 1985 by the late Sheik Zayed (the founding father and the principal driving force behind the formation of the United Arab Emirates), the Al Ain Zoo is a fun family attraction offering entertainment and educational experiences in a wonderful natural outdoor setting. Being concerned all his life with the biodiversity and ecology of his homeland, the late Sheik Zayed founded this unusual Middle East zoo with the aim of providing natural environments for animals to live peacefully.
Since its establishment, Al Ain Zoo has been a hub for the management and conservation, especially the productive breeding of desert antelopes and gazelles, such as the endangered Arabian Oryx. Currently, guests of all ages can explore the wildlife of the zoo and enjoy a perfect day out filled with fun and excitement, enjoying more than 4000 species.
The zoo is currently expanding with works on its boundaries to create new sites such as the conservation and breeding center, the African Safari, the World Desert Zoo, and the Sheik Zayed Desert Learning Centre. This will ensure it remains up there with the Sydney Taronga Zoo and the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Springs as one of the world’s most incredible zoos. So, make sure you add it to your list of places to see in the United Arab Emirates.
One of my favorite things to do in Dubai was visiting the desert. The Al Qudra Desert is one of the closest and best spots to visit from Dubai, and can be reached within an hour’s drive. If you drive about 60 km south, you’ll find a vast sea of gorgeous sand dunes that finally merge with the Empty Quarter Desert, which is the world’s largest sand desert.
The best way to explore the Al Qudra Desert is to go on an organized jeep safari. You will ride the dunes with a professional driver that will go up and down the dunes with incredible speed and skill! Just hold on tight to your seat and enjoy the exhilarating experience!
There are various human-made oases built in the desert and even a lake. Visitors can sample traditional food, and get entertained with belly dance, learn about Bedouin culture and can purchase interesting hand-made souvenirs. Other activities that you can enjoy at the Dubai desert include quad biking or sandboarding, where you can test your skills and get even more adrenaline rush into your veins!
And the best part of visiting the desert is experiencing the breath-taking sunset skimming the dunes and reflecting into each tiny particles of sand, turning it into gold.
If you’re a sucker for a bit more luxury, you can spend a night in the desert, see the famous Arabian starry sky from the comfort of a luxury glamping site. Some of them even come with a pool and all the amenities of a five-star hotel.
Atlantis The Palm, Dubai is a luxury hotel resort hotel situated on the Palm Jumeirah. It was the first resort to be built on the famous Palm Island in Dubai, and has since become a landmark of Dubai, with a design based on the Atlantis mythology but comprising distinct Arabian components.
The Palm Jumeirah is an artificial Dubai archipelago, that used intensive land reclamation techniques to extend into the heart of the Persian Gulf. This would be part of a bigger set of projects called the Palm Islands, comprising Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira, that together would expand Dubai’s shoreline by a range of 520 kilometers (320 mi) once finished. The process started in 2001, and the Atlantis resort launched on September 24, 2008.
The Palm Jumeirah Monorail is a 5.4-kilometer (3.4 mi) monorail that links the Atlantis Hotel to the Gateway Towers at the archipelago’s foot. The monorail links the Palm Jumeirah to the mainland, with a proposed additional extension to the Dubai Metro planned. This was even the first monorail in the Middle East.
The nautically-themed 1,548 room Atlantis complex has dual accommodation wings, comprising of the East and the West Tower, joined by the Royal Bridge Suite. This is enhanced by the famous Aquaventure water park and the incredible Lost Chambers Aquarium, home to more than 65,000 aquatic animals.
The Atlantis resort is renowned for its masterfully designed suites and spacious room sizes, each exceptionally furnished with the finest facilities for a comfortable and relaxing stay. That explains why it is one of the most famous hotels in the world. Room prices are not cheap, but the experience of staying here is one of the top highlights of the UAE.
The Burj Al Arab is a luxury five-star hotel in Dubai, and one of the most recognizable landmarks of the United Arab Emirates. It is the 7th highest hotel in the world, although around 39 percent of its actual height is taken up by non-occupiable space.
The awe-inspiring Burj Al Arab rises 280 m (920 ft) from Jumeirah Beach on an artificial island and is linked to the Dubai mainland by a unique curving bridge. The structural form was developed to imitate a ship’s sail, but the Burj al Arab also looks like the world’s largest Christian cross when viewed from the ocean. A design oversight or conspiracy, you will never see a photo used by the hotel in marketing directly face on from the ocean for this very reason. The Burg Al Arab, opened in 1999, also has a helipad near the roof, Rolls-Royces shuttle service, and a private beach at 210 m (689 ft) above ground level.
If you get the chance, there is a panoramic, cantilevers restaurant with “the ultimate” views of Dubai along with an aquarium restaurant accessed via a simulated submarine journey. The Burj Al Arab is an officially a five-star hotel, the highest-ranking possible but the hotel is sometimes mistakenly described as “the only ‘seven-star’ hotel in the world,” it is claimed that the hotel marketing team never did that themselves.
The concept emerged because a British journalist who had attended the hotel on a trip before the formal opening of the hotel said it was” more than anything she has ever seen” and then referred to it as a seven-star hotel. Notably, the hotel never uses the term itself, but the reputation for excess luxury is definitely well earned.
The Burj Al Arab is frequently physically contrasted with the Vasco da Gama Tower in Lisbon or the W Barcelona, a landmark of Spain, but in terms of facilities or ostentatious displays of riches neither come anywhere close.
Burj Khalifa is one of the top landmarks in Dubai – in fact, it would be hard to miss it! The world-famous ultra-tall skyscraper was built as part of a large mixed-use complex that includes some of Dubai’s major landmarks as well as cultural buildings, green spaces, shopping malls and avenues, hotels, but also more than 30.000 homes. Inaugurated in 2010, Burj Khalifa is today the world’s tallest structure and building, with a total height of 820 m.
The idea behind the construction of Burj Khalifa and the surrounding complex was to attract international tourism and diversify the country’s economy, mainly based on Oil & Gas production and export. In this sense, the inauguration of Burj Khalifa was a success because it is one of the most visited sites in Dubai to the point that some travelers take advantage of long layovers at Dubai airport to head to the city for a few hours only to visit the world’s tallest building.
What’s in Burj Khalifa? The skyscraper has a mixed-use with a bit of everything. Some floors are occupied by one of the Armani Hotels, but there are also apartments, offices, and even swimming pools. On the 124th floor and 148th floor, there are two observation decks for tourists with incredible views of the surrounding gardens and a big part of Dubai.
Burj Khalifa is located on Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, and you cannot miss it! If you are interested in climbing up to Burj Khalifa, book your tickets in advance. These tickets are dated and for a specific time slot, and they are a very interesting option as you can get up to a 75% discount on tickets purchased on the spot.
Dhayah Fort may not be one of the country’s most spectacular landmarks of the 21st Century, but it holds huge historical significance. Settlement in the Northern Emirate of Ras al Khaimah can be dated as far back as the 3rd century BC, making it one of the longest continuously settled areas in the world.
Constructed in the 18th Century – far outdating the country itself – Dhayah Fort was built as an outpost to protect the fertile valley beneath. It remains the highest hilltop fort in the UAE, albeit the fort you see today is a reconstruction of the original and serves touristic purposes, rather than defensive.
British Forces invaded and easily took this outpost in 1819, which lead to the General Maritime Treaty of 1820 – the first of many treaties between the British and the ruling Sheikhs of what would become known as the Trucial States, and later the UAE.
Today, the fort can be visited for free after a steep climb of over 300 stairs near the small village of Al Rams to take in the spectacular coastal views and the lush little oasis that still exists beneath.
There are many forts scattered throughout the Emirate of RAK; however, this remains one of the most dramatically positioned. One of the country’s more humble and underrated landmarks, it is still worthy of a visit when exploring the northern corner of the UAE, Ras al Khaimah, along with Al Jazirah Al Hamra Fort, a much larger structure that has recently been completely renovated. It is an easy day trip either by hire car or with a driver on a day tour from Dubai.
Explored by Keri from Family Travel in the Middle East
Dubai Creek Harbour is a beautiful waterfront located only a 10-15-minute drive away from Dubai Downtown. The project is still on-going, which means you will still find construction sites around the area, but it’s still worth visiting for the views!
If you’re into photography and you’re looking for the best photography spots in Dubai, don’t miss out on Dubai Creek Harbour! You can see the best view of the Dubai skyline from the waterfront, and it will definitely leave you speechless. Although you can visit Dubai Creek Harbour basically any time of the day, the best time for visiting is during sunset as the sun sets right behind the skyline. It’s such a magical thing to witness!
Since it’s still a developing area, it’s not possible to visit it with public transportation (however, it might change once they finish the construction). The best option to visit is to take a taxi from Downtown Dubai. It’s important to know that there are no taxis around Dubai Creek Harbour, so it’s better to ask your taxi driver to wait for you or make an appointment with him for your return trip in advance.
You need around one hour to walk around and soak in the views, but since there are several restaurants, bars, and even some playgrounds in the area for kids, you can easily spend a couple of hours there too. Since it’s not so well-known among tourists yet, it’s not at all crowded, which makes it the perfect place to escape the crowds and still see an amazing sunset.
Explored by Krisztina from She Wanders Abroad
Dubai Marina is one of the famous landmarks of Dubai. This area is mostly pictured as towering skyscrapers next to the beach. Apart from the popular destination for shop goers and diners at The Beach at JBR, it is also a residential neighborhood that provides close proximity to many sights in Dubai like Burj Al Arab, Palm Jumeirah, and Bluewaters Island.
If you’ relooking to spend an adventurous two days in Dubai, then look no further! Dubai Marina should be the place you should be staying as there are lots of fun things to do here! Zipline through Dubai’s famous landmarks and enjoy a thrilling video capture of your ride a souvenir near Dubai Marina Mall. After this, you can grab a snack at one of the restaurants inside the mall.
There is also a marina housing yachts that cruise the waters. Here you can do some thrill-seeking activities like jet skiing or parasailing, or if you aren’t that adventurous, you could have a 5-star cruise dinner in the sea! The options are pretty endless.
Getting to the Dubai Marina area is quite convenient as the metro line and tram run through this area and the stop, you’ll mostly find yourself heading to are DAMAC for the metro line. The tram runs through small areas and has dedicated stops for Dubai Marina Mall, Marina Towers, and JBR 1 and 2.
Explored by Sarah from Hungryoungwoman
The famous Dubai Spice Souk, otherwise known as the Old Souk, is a traditional market (or Souk) and famous landmark of the UAE. The Spice Souk is situated at Deira, in eastern Dubai, next to the equally famous Gold Souk in Dubai.
The Spice Souk contains many small streets lined with open and closed-roof shops and is a must-visit if you want to get a taste of Old Dubai. Shops in the Spice souk sell the various herbs that are popular Arabic and South Asian food along with an incredible range of fragrance and spice from frankincense and shisha and everything in between. Other popular goods are also sold in the market, such as textiles, tea, candles, rugs, and artifacts. Much of the exchange takes place through negotiation, so come ready to haggle.
Trade in the Souk has declined dramatically in recent years; sadly, as a lot of retailers dealing with spices became uneconomic due to competition from large stores and supermarkets. This is sad, and while the Souk is still far better than the very bland-and-fake souq on offer in Doha, it is nothing like the incredible spice traders of Tehran and various cities of Iran.
Savor the aroma of the past as you are exposed at every stage to the piles of aromatic herbs and spices which overflow from enormous baskets. Some may be very intense, while others might be soft, earthy, and pleasant. While the future is unclear for this unique place, you should visit it while you still can.
Meshing Arab tradition and stunning modernity in equal quantities, Abu Dhabi offers endless sunshine, world-class facilities, and a certain level of prestige as the default cultural center of the Emirates. While it has several famous landmarks, one of the most expensive and opulent is the Emirates Palace, a luxurious five-star hotel now managed by Mandarin Oriental.
The hotel project began in 2001 and was formally opened in November 2005, but it just recently reopened after a two-year renovation. That is how luxe and cutting edge this hotel is. The hotel’s architecture is a playful mixture of beloved Islamic design structures such as balance, symmetry, ratios, rhythm, and centralized influence to construct a cohesive whole. Around 114 smaller domes are spread over the building, but an inspired grand dome with intricate geometrical patterns prevails at the heart of it all. The property’s color is intended to represent various shades of sands present in the Arab Desert.
The building cost was roughly USD 3 billion (AED 11.02 billion), rendering it the third most expensive hotel ever established. It is only exceeded in Las Vegas by The Cosmopolitan and in Singapore by the Marina Bay Sands. The Emirates Palace comprises of 394 apartments, of which 92 are suites, and 22 are private. The residences are spaced out over two wings and also a central primary structure. Most suites are decorated in marble and gold. The central primary building boasts an impressive marble floor and above, a large patterned dome decked out in gold.
The penthouse floor has six Rulers’ Suites that are strictly set aside for dignitaries, such as royalty — so, don’t plan on staying in this. Other rooms are bookable by us mere mortals but don’t come cheap. The amenities on offer include two spa facilities, more than 40 meeting rooms, a 1.3 km long beach, a marina, not one but two helicopter landing pads, a ballroom that can fit up to 2500 guests, numerous luxury shops and international restaurants. You will not be bored, that is for sure.
Positioned in a stunning natural bay, the Emirates Palace is the ideal spot for a sublime location with a private beach, beautiful Arabian interiors, and iconic 5-star service. You can book a room, or just go for dinner, cocktails or a drink. Though even the cappuccino here comes with real gold leaf topping, so it might not be a great option for those on a budget…
One of the most prominent features of the Abu Dhabi skyline is the Etihad Towers – a group of five skyscrapers that stand proudly at the southern end of the Abu Dhabi Corniche, opposite the Emirates Palace Hotel. The towers were constructed in 2011 and are home to several offices, apartments, 11 amazing restaurants, and a luxury hotel – the Jumeriah at Etihad Towers.
Located on the 74th floor of Tower 2 is one of the best vantage points in Abu Dhabi – the Observation Deck at 300. Located 300 meters above the city (hence the name), the Observation Deck offers a spectacular panoramic view over the Abu Dhabi cityscape, Corniche, and the Arabian Gulf. The Observation Deck at 300 is a must-do attraction on any Abu Dhabi stopover.
While the views alone are a good enough reason to visit, at the Observation Deck at 300, you can also experience dining at Abu Dhabi’s highest restaurant. They offer a selection of light meals throughout the day, but their signature afternoon tea is not to be missed. The Observation Deck offers a happy hour between 5 and 7 pm, which is perfect for watching the gorgeous pink desert sunset while sipping a glass of bubbly. Be sure to reserve a table in advance!
The Observation Deck at 300 is open Monday to Saturday, from Midday to 8 pm. There is a minimum spend of AED 55 per person (excluding children under 12). For a uniquely Abu Dhabi experience, the signature afternoon tea costs AED 220 per person.
Explored by Amanda from Fly Stay Luxe
Located about 1.7 km away from Fujairah city center in the old Fujairah region is one of the most popular forts in the UAE called the Fujairah Fort. What makes this attraction iconic is that it is a sign of resistance against colonialism. It’s believed that the Sheikh with his troops had fought against the British from this fort.
It’s construction dates back to the 16th Century, making it the oldest historical landmark not just in Fujairah but in the UAE. Visiting this fort as part of a UAE east coast day trip is one of the best things to do in Dubai. It is roughly a 1.5-hour drive from Dubai and a 2.5-hour drive from Abu Dhabi.
Situated on an uneven piece of rock, the fort can seem a bit odd when looking from the outside. A slightly steep walkway gets you to the entrance of the fort. Inside, you’ll notice that the fort is made of local building materials like rocks, mud, and gravel. You’ll see an interesting architectural design of three round watch towers and one square watchtower guarding the central open courtyard of the fort.
Concrete staircases get you to the top floor of the fort. You get an idea of the lifestyles of people in those times by exploring the interiors of the rooms. The views from the windows in the fort are majestic as you get an unobstructed view of the glorious mountain range. Because the fort is located on the outskirts, there is a general sense of peace and quiet in the area.
The Fujairah fort reflects the culture, history, and heritage of Fujairah. There’s a Fujairah museum and a Heritage Village nearby in case you want to explore the region further. Entry to the fort is free, and a toilet facility is provided for the visitors.
Explored by Vaibhav Mehta from The Wandering Vegetable
When we think about Dubai, the big shiny city comes to mind, but there are many other areas of the Emirate that are worth visiting. The town of Hatta is about 90 minutes from the Dubai International Airport, right near the border of Oman.
One of the biggest attractions in Hatta is the Hatta Dam. Located in the Pajar Mountains and part of the Hatta Mountain Conservation Reserve, the dam was built in the 1990s to provide water and electricity to this otherwise barren area. As a spin-off, it has become a popular place for both locals and visitors alike to gather and relax around the water in the middle of the desert.
There are some great viewpoints over Hatta Dam as visitors’ approach from the road. Don’t miss the mural on the outside of the dam wall portraying two of the United Arab Emirate’s past leaders.
There are many options to spend some time out on the water, from basic kayaks to a floating donut boat or a bike-boat! If you want to learn a little about the dam and surrounding area, book a boat with a driver who will tell you all you want to know while showing you around the dam.
Once the water sports are over, take a hike in the area enjoy the stark mountainous terrain. Keep an eye out for some of the unique wildlife, such as the endangered, goat-like, Arabian Tahr.
Return and refuel at the food stalls set up alongside of Hatta Dam, or bring a picnic to enjoy as the sunset brings even more colors to this stunning landscape.
While in Hatta, you can also visit the Hatta Heritage Village, a restored traditional town, or do some more adventure activities at Hatta Wadi Hub.
Sharjah, UAE, is a lesser-known of the seven United Arab Emirates, just minutes northeast of Dubai. Glitzy and glamorous like its famous neighboring Emirate, Sharjah has a rich history that is currently being unearthed.
Alongside Sharjah Creek, a strip of water lined with tall buildings and filled with feluccas, stands the historic area of Sharjah. This piece of land is the original Sharjah, where some of the Emirate’s very first families lived, and the first businesses were launched in the mid 20th Century. Proud of its fascinating history, Sharjah is digging out and renovating these historical beginnings to place this section of the city in the spotlight of the Arabian Gulf.
The archaeological renovation of this Emirate’s cultural heritage project began the month I arrived in Sharjah in September of 2010. This project has now been officially named The Heart of Sharjah, and renovations are slated to be completed in 2025.
Although I was living just down the street, I had no way of knowing this little quiet and unassuming area tucked away from Sharjah’s many museums and towering glass buildings was in its very first days of an important historic renovation and would one day be the heart of the city.
It was not much back then, as far as I could tell, just narrow alleyways and a couple of small, quiet souqs. Now the Heart of Sharjah is becoming one of the most important areas of the city and is the largest heritage site in the Persian Gulf, home to multiple museums and souqs, a discovery center, and a five-star hotel called Al Bait (the house.)
The United Arab Emirates was not always skyscrapers and tourists, and the Heart of Sharjah is the perfect reminder of the true beginnings of this region.
The United Arab Emirates’ only UNESCO World Heritage site is a collection of historical places in the city of Al Ayn, sometimes written as Al Ain. These sites are important landmarks in human history because they show the transition from nomadic hunting and gathering to staying in one place and using agriculture. Particularly in a desert environment, this was an important step.
Al Ayn has seven oases, and that’s why people settled here. A thousand years ago, they developed an irrigation system called aflaj for their crops. You can see how the aflaj system works in the date palm plantations in Al Ayn that still use the ancient system today. You’ll find them a restful, cool, and quiet respite from the noise and dust of the UAE’s big cities. The most tourist-friendly of the oases is Al Ain Oasis, where you can learn about how aflaj irrigation works.
The UNESCO site has other elements worth visiting, particularly the Hili Assemblage, an archeological park with elements – tombs and ruins – that go back 3000 years. Jebel Hafeet, a mountain outside the city, has a number of 5000-year-old tombs. The mountain is worth seeing just for the glorious view from the top.
If you want a more organized understanding of the history of Al Ayn, visit the Al Ain National Museum, where you can also see the best finds from the various archeological sites.
Two other places in Al Ayn, not part of the UNESCO collection, are worth seeing as well, which are Al Ain Palace Museum, the home of the UAE’s first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and Al Jahili Fort — a grand-looking mud-brick fortress castle.
Al Ayn is part of the Abu Dhabi emirate, and it’s about 1.5 hours east of Abu Dhabi. Driving or taking an organized tour are the easiest options, or take a bus and then taxis once you’re in town. You can also reach the Al Ayn UNESCO site on a day trip from Dubai.
Explored by Rachel Heller of Rachel’s Ruminations
Are you looking to escape the glitz and glamour of Dubai to discover some of the more down to earth aspects of Emirati culture? Then heading up to Jebel Jais is your best bet! Jebel Jais is at 1934 m the highest mountain in the UAE, and it forms a border with the Omani Musandam Governorate.
You might have heard from Jebel Jais in the past as it is also the mountain where you can scream your lungs out on the world’s fastest and longest zipline. This mountain is located in Ras al Kaimah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE, and probably one of the most down to earth ones.
One of the reasons why Jebel Jais has always been one of my favorite places in the UAE is because Ferrari and Nissan Sunny driver alike will head out to the mountain on Saturdays (the equivalent of Sunday in the UAE) to have a nice picnic.
One of the reasons why Jebel Jais is so beloved by the locals is because it’s a lot cooler in the mountains than it is by the ocean. It can get quite cold on Jebel Jais, and you should not be surprised to hear about snow falling on Jebel Jais in winter. Even during the height of summer, it can be a cool 27 to 28 degrees while people in Dubai have to suffer through a whopping 45. This does mean, however, that it’s always a nice and comfortable temperature to hike Jebel Jais and the Hajar mountains!
One of the reasons why Jebel Jais is so iconic in the UAE is because – well, let’s be honest: most people don’t even know there are mountains in the United Arab Emirates.
Getting to Jebel Jais by car is pretty easy as the roads are great and new – even when heading up the mountain! You don’t have to be scared of scratching up your car on goat paths and poorly maintained asphalt. I would, however, recommend you rent a car to go up Jebel Jais or take a tour as taking a taxi up the mountain is next to impossible.
Liwa Oasis in the United Arab Emirates is one of the most incredible and breath-taking places on earth. I love it so much, in fact, that I’ve returned to this spot many times over the past five years, and plan to again as well! Situated near the Saudi border, Liwa is absolutely worth the few hours it will take to reach the heart of the desert from Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
The desert is vast, covering 650,000 kilometers, so you will likely need an expert driver who knows how to navigate the area safely. Driving over the sand dunes can be dangerous. Not only will a trained guide get you across the desert safely, but he will also ensure that you enjoy everything there is to see on a Liwa Desert safari (and there is a lot).
Get ready for some wild dune bashing, speeding over the giant dunes like a rollercoaster. Watch for camels covering the vast orange emptiness.
Climb the tallest dune in the UAE.
Liwa is nicknamed “The Empty Quarter, and though it may feel empty, actually, it is anything but. If you are lucky, you may spot gazelle running through the dunes. Liwa Oasis is the largest palm tree oasis in the entire Middle East, where date palms are able to survive in the desert due to freshwater resources located underground. Liwa Oasis is one of the leading producers of dates in the entire United Arab Emirates because of this hidden life-force. It creates a beautiful environment to enjoy a picnic lunch under the palms or just relax, forgetting the heat of the day.
Liwa is absolutely beautiful, and no trip to the UAE is complete without spending several days here, in my opinion.
Explored by Monica from This Rare Earth
Breathtakingly beautiful, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is situated in the Saadiyat Island Cultural District. The first major international museum to open its doors in the UAE (several more are due to follow), it is now considered one of the Urban Wonders of the World — yes, that is a thing!
The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s permanent display takes visitors on a journey through humanity. Starting from ancient civilizations, you are beautifully weaved through different periods of human history, from great empires to religion, trading routes, arts, and culturally significant artifacts. The collection is not huge, but stunningly displayed and complemented with temporary exhibits and a children’s museum.
The building itself is as much a masterpiece as the collection it houses. The distinctive metallic dome roof appears to float above the museum weightlessly, whilst waterways give the impression of floating on the sea. Whether by design or default, as the wind blows through the structure, it creates its own eerily beautiful musical sympathy.
It has distinctly marked itself on the UAE map as one of the country’s premier cultural attractions and impressive landmarks not to be missed.
Masdar City is located about 30 minutes from central Abu Dhabi and near to the International Airport. The city is a huge, on-going project that is a landmark of its kind in the UAE. It demonstrates how a city can exist with a much lower carbon impact than the average city.
Compared to other buildings in Abu Dhabi, the demand for water and energy in Masdar City is 40% lower due to using renewable sources and innovative technology. The renewable energy is sourced from an on-site solar PV plant and an impressive wind tower that cools the public square and walkways. The buildings are a mix of traditional-looking and modern, futuristic structures that have been built out of low carbon cement and 90% recycled aluminum. Eventually, Abu Dhabi’s metro and Light Rail Transit will pass through the city, but for now, you will need to reach the city by car or bus.
Once you are in the city, it is easy to walk around and much cooler than the rest of Abu Dhabi due to the clever design of the buildings and layout. You can also try out the driverless Personal Rapid Transit, the larger Navya Autonom Shuttle, and Circ e-scooters. The Visitor Information Centre was a fascinating place to learn more about renewable energy and international projects Masdar is involved in. You will also be able to envision the whole master plan for Masdar City.
If you’re hungry during your visit, you will find a few cafes and restaurants, with some homed inside recycled shipping containers located in Masdar Park. The park has a children’s playground, art installations, a music wall, and solar-powered benches where you can charge up your electronic devices.
Although Masdar City is open to the public every day, it is best to visit Sunday to Thursday so you can visit the Siemens Ingenuity for life center and experience the Personal Rapid Transit. Masdar City is a fascinating place to venture to on a visit to Abu Dhabi so you can see what a fully sustainable city looks like and to learn more about the advancing green technologies.
Explored By Sarah & Andy from Hotels & Hand Luggage
Qasr al-Hosn, or the Al Hosn Fort, is one of the most famous landmarks in Abu Dhabi. Built in 1761, it is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi and holds the Emirate’s first permanent structure, a watchtower designed to protect the only freshwater well on the island. Historic photos of the city often show Qasr al-Hosn as one of the only buildings amidst the vast desert.
In 1793 the watchtower was expanded, and a fort was built on the grounds to house the then Sheik, Shakhbut bin Dhiyab Al Nahyan, and his family. Further additions were also added in the 1930s and 1940s. Qasr al-Hosn remained the residence of the ruling family until 1996 when it became open to the public. However, despite its cultural significance, very few tourists visit the fort or know it is open to visitors.
The space now includes a museum and national archive that share and preserve the history of Abu Dhabi. It is also possible to participate in a traditionally Emirati coffee ceremony. Behind the Al Hosn Fort is the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, which hosts cultural events and exhibitions and houses a children’s library.
Qasr al-Hosn is centrally located on the corner of Al Hosn Street and Hamdan Bin Mohammed 5th St. Nearby is the Landmark Building and Baynunah Towers.
One of the UAE’s newest and most elaborate modern landmarks is the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi, Qasr Al Watan. Home to governance and culture in the UAE, the palace is not a residential home but the working offices of the President, the Vice-President & Prime Minister, and the Crown Prince. The functional offices are off-limits; however, the main palace was opened to visitors in 2019.
Sitting at the west end of the Abu Dhabi Corniche, it is arguably even more spectacular and opulent than the Grand Mosque. From both inside and out, the building is draped with marble and gold, geometric precision, and some of the finest craftsmanship of the modern Islamic era.
Your tour begins in the utterly breath-taking Great Hall, before you are led through various wings. The House of Knowledge contains exhibits from ancient to modern Islamic culture, through to the banquet hall where state guests are received, the Presidential gifts room for diplomatic offerings, before culminating in “the Spirit of Collaboration” – home to the UAE Cabinet and Federal Supreme Council (and the most incredible 350,000 crystal chandelier).
You can self-tour the inside of the building and the library, followed by the grounds, though it is best to join one of the guided tours (additional cost) to get the most out of the experience. For those on a budget, you can get a grounds pass only for 20 AED (albeit the gardens still need a little more time to mature, best visited in the cooler winter months). Qasr al Watan is easily reached by taxi and is a stop on the Abu Dhabi Big Bus route.
Explored by Keri from Abu Dhabi Travel Planner
Saadiyat Island is located in Abu Dhabi. You can get there by Uber or Taxi. The name comes from the Arabic words, ‘Manarat Al Saadiyat’ translating to ‘place of enlightenment.’
Saadiyat Island is known for pristine, white-sand beaches. Currently, there are very limited hotel properties on the island. So far, they’re all 5-star luxury beach resorts, but this is a rapidly developing space.
Saadiyat Island is sometimes called the ‘Caribbean of the Middle East’ because of its beautiful beaches, tranquil turquoise waters and vacation vibes. It’s one of the top tourist attractions in glamorous Abu Dhabi.
If you prefer not to stay on Saadiyat Island, there is a public beach that is accessible to everyone. Although, entry into the beach does cost a small fee. The fee is worth it, however, because the facilities are top-notch. You can expect to find especially clean, changing rooms, restrooms, and lockers. Chairs, towels, and umbrellas are also available to rent.
Saadiyat Island is the perfect place to relax, swim, or enjoy a wide assortment of water sports. It’s also a unique ecological area. The island is known to host Hawksbill Sea Turtles. These turtles are endangered with populations sharply in decline. You’ll be extremely lucky to catch a nest of hatchlings on Saadiyat Island.
Another wonderful attraction on Saadiyat Island is the Louvre Abu Dhabi (this is just the start of a museum campus construction project, so you can expect more museums in the future!). The museum’s unique design is a modern architectural marvel. It was made possible through a partnership with France. The Louvre is a sprawling building with vast, impressive collections from antiquity to the modern era.
Explored by Valentina from Valentina’s Destinations
The beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the most famous and photogenic landmarks in the United Arab Emirates. It was built between 1997 and 2007 by the late president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was buried in a mausoleum in the mosque.
The mosque was designed by a Syrian architect, and it was inspired by the architecture of numerous Islamic countries, including Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, and Morocco. It’s the biggest mosque in the UAE, and in order to build it, 15 different types of marble and huge amounts of gold leaf have been used, making it the most expensive mosque ever built.
The mosque is a true work of art with stunning mosaics, flower-patterned walls, and seven colossal chandeliers, including the third largest chandelier in the world. It’s also home to the largest hand-made carpet in the world. On top of that, the mosque is completely free to visit, and there are free guided tours as well!
The easiest way to access the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is either by taxi or by bus. It’s also easily accessible from Dubai, and all buses are air-conditioned. It’s good to know that the mosque is closed on Friday mornings and that you will have to wear conservative clothing (including a headscarf for women) in order to visit it. However, abayas are available (for free) if needed.
Bringing a pair of sunglasses is a good idea too, as the reflection of all the white can be quite blinding.
This surprising location will make you feel like you’ve left the UAE and entered an entirely different country where you’ll find yourself surrounded by wild roaming animals. This luxury wild animal reserve on an Island called Sir Baniyas, which is home to a 5-star hotel and has even been frequented by the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan. So, if it’s good enough for a prince, for sure, you’ll be impressed with this exotic location.
Although it comes under the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, it’s actually two and a half hours drive away from central Abu Dhabi and then a boat ride to get to the Island. The island itself boasts over 10,000 wild animals who roam freely, including cheetahs and giraffes. Both private companies and the local hotel offer safari rides for a truly remarkable experience.
There’s also plenty of outdoor activities, including hiking and exploring archaeological sites. Sir Baniyas Island has the best of both worlds, with nice beaches to relax on or water-based activities such as kayaking available. These are best enjoyed from October till March due to the desert climate of UAE.
It is also possible to take a tour and visit there for the day, if you prefer, but if its within budget. It’s definitely worth staying there for a night or a couple of nights. There are three locations to choose from to stay, which are all part of the same hotel chain. Two locations on the actual island itself surrounded by animals or on the mainland close to where you catch the boat. Due to its remote location with private hotel villas available, it’s also ideal as a romantic getaway.
Explored by Danielle from Danni In The Desert
The sand dunes are the nearest you’ll get to natural slopes here, but one of the most famous attractions of the UAE has to be Ski Dubai, an enormous indoor ski resort with a total ski area of 22,500 square meters.
Yes, a ski resort – in Dubai, in the Middle East.
The Emirati are nothing if not ambitious and inside it much more Austria than Arabia. Throughout the year, Ski Dubai maintains a temperature of between -1 degrees to 2 °C inside, no matter what is happening outside. Located inside the Mall of the Emirates, one of the country’s leading shopping centers, the indoor resort opened in 2005. It features an 85-meter-high indoor peak (comparable to a 25-story building) with five slopes of differing steepness and complexity, such as a 400-meter long climb, the world’s first indoor black diamond ride, and numerous features (boxes, rails, kickers) that are periodically altered to keep it interesting. Not that we think skiing in the desert could ever get boring!
A quad lift and a tow lift bring mountain skiers and snowboarders up the slopes, and an entry ticket includes equipment hire such as skis and jackets, in case you didn’t bring your own — you certainly won’t need it to admire the famous Dubai Architecture or Old Dubai. A 3,000 square meter Snow Park play area is adjacent to the slopes, featuring sled and toboggan tracks, a frozen body slide, climbing towers, colossal snowballs, and an ice bunker.
Ski Dubai also hosts a variety of penguins, which are released many times a day from their enclosures. Penguin experiences can be booked, which gives you the chance to get up close and personal with them. Something that needs to be seen to be believed, avid skiers, or those just wanting to feel the cold on their faces, shouldn’t miss visiting this famous landmark of the UAE while on a trip here.
In the heart of Downtown Dubai, next door to the Burj Khalifa, you’ll find Dubai Mall, one of the world’s largest shopping malls. With 1,200 shops, it’s a shoppers’ paradise and has every major retailer and luxury brand you can think of.
Dubai Mall opened in 2008 and was made even bigger in 2018. The site is over 13 million square feet in size (that’s more than 50 soccer fields) with 120 restaurants and cafes and 14,000 parking spaces. Eighty-four million people visited Dubai Mall in 2019.
What really sets Dubai Mall apart are the attractions you’ll find inside, making Dubai Mall one of the top places to visit in Dubai and a must-do if you’re visiting Dubai on a budget.
Things to see and do in Dubai Mall include the Dubai Aquarium, a virtual reality theme park, an A380 aircraft simulator, an Olympic-sized ice rink, and a huge genuine fossil dinosaur skeleton (nicknamed the “Dubai Dino.” There’s also a 22-screen multiplex cinema, one of the biggest in the UAE.
One of the most eye-catching attractions is the waterfall, a huge water feature that’s three stories high and features sculptures of people diving into the water – a reference to Dubai’s historic pearl-diving industry. The cafes at the bottom of the waterfall are a particularly nice place to relax after a few hours of shopping and sightseeing.
Getting to Dubai Mall is really easy. There’s a Metro station that serves both the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall; it’s connected to the mall by an 820m long, air-conditioned link bridge.
Explored by Helen from Helen on her Holidays
Dubai loves to have the labels that claim ‘the biggest,” the tallest,” the most stunning,” the most magnificent’ and the ‘most outrageous’ for their buildings, surroundings, and tourist attractions but to have the world’s largest flower garden growing in the middle of an arid, dry and barren desert is quite bizarre and an unbelievable achievement!
Dubai Miracle Garden in Dubailand, Dubai, is the world’s largest natural flower garden. It’s a massive extravaganza of color, and it covers an area of over 72,000 square meters. It has over 50 million flowers and 250 million plants showcased in stunning displays and sculptures in a fairyland type park.
It opened on Valentine’s Day (of course!) in 2013 and has since won several Guinness World Records. In 2013 it laid claim to the world’s largest vertical garden. In 2016 it won an award for an Emirates Airbus A380 flower sculpture as the biggest flower structure in the world, and it really is an amazing sight. Another award was given for an 18-meter topiary of Mickey Mouse, which weighs almost 35 tons, is made up of over 100,000 plants and flowers, and is supported on a 7-ton steel structure. It is the tallest topiary supported sculpture in the world.
Dubai Miracle Garden is open in the UAE winter from mid- November to mid-May. In the summer, when the temperatures average in the mid-40s, the garden is closed, and each year it is redesigned with new concepts and designs.
To get to the Dubai Miracle Gardens, you can take the Metro to Mall of the Emirates on the red line, and the RTA bus 105 (15 to 20 minutes) goes directly to the gardens. There is plenty of car parking if you are traveling by car. Visit mid-week if you can, as it always busy during the weekend (Friday and Saturday).
The wealthy Emirate of Abu Dhabi does not do things in half-measures. When it announced its bid to host a Formula One Grand Prix back in 2007, it didn’t just build a race track – they literally built an island, willing it to arise from the sea.
Yas Island is a sprawling tourism development with hotels, golf courses, and the like, but the crown jewel is the Yas Marina, and specifically the Yas Marina circuit. Located some 35 kilometers from downtown Abu Dhabi, Yas Marina is accessible from the city center, the airport, and even Dubai by taxi, car, and the Yas Express shuttle, which connects to Saadiyat Island. Yas Island is served by a number of luxury hotels, both on the island and nearby – the St Regis Saadiyat Island comes highly recommended!
The raison d’etre of the Yas Marina circuit, the F1 Grand Prix, has been held here since 2008 under floodlights to escape the unforgiving desert heat, and now hosts the coveted season finale in December. The circuit does not disappoint, snaking between the massive yachts and the distinctive Viceroy hotel, which serves as a backdrop to the race.
If racing is not your thing, a number of events take place to mark the occasion, such as concerts with international headliners like Depeche Mode and Jay-Z. Nearby, Ferrari World, Yas Marina Mall, Yas Waterworld, and the recently opened Clymb Abu Dhabi, the world’s largest indoor wall climbing and sky-diving center, will keep everyone busy.
When visiting the circuit, make sure to catch one of the many racing events, or have a go around the circuit in a racing car. If you want to splurge, try a helicopter tour or book yourself onto one of the magnificent yachts around the harbor for a spot of sea, sun, and racing, and top it off with dinner at one of the many local hotels or the mall.
Explored by Sarah Barthet from Dukes Avenue