With six emirates as its neighbours, Dubai is the perfect base from which to strike out for a taste of adventure, an afternoon of culture, or just a scenic tour taking in coast, mountain and desert attractions
Capital of the UAE and its largest emirate, Abu Dhabi is just 90 minutes’ drive down the highway. With a wealth of new building including Louvre and Guggenheim museums and a Formula 1 race track opening this year, the city offering a contrasting view of urban development from its extensive corniche right in the heart of the business district to the magnificent new Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan grand mosque with its 150 domes and the world’s largest carpet.
Other attractions include the Qasr Al Hosn or White Fort, home of the ruling family dating back to 1793; the Heritage Village with its traditional souk, located on the breakwater; the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital; Cultural Foundation; the US$3bn Emirates Palace hotel with its 1,000 Swarovski crystal chandeliers, and the Women’s Handicraft Centre where local artists keep Bedouin traditions alive ... and visitors can also try their hand at henna-painting
Second city of Abu Dhabi is the green oasis of Al Ain, rising from the sands near the Omani border and dominated by Jebel Hafeet, a 1,200-metre mountainous outcrop with access via a snake-back road – visitors are rewarded with a panorama of the desert reaching over to Saudi Arabia and glorious sunsets.
Natural springs gave rise to the original settlement in Al Ain and today, among its attractions, are the date palms of Buraimi oasis and the hot springs of Al Fayda – other sites include the revamped zoo; the National Museum and adjacent Sultan Fort; the palace of the former ruler of the UAE, and the Al Ain Camel Souk, an authentic market for camel traders and one of the few remaining in Arabia.
Farther up the coast, the northern emirates again provide contrasting views of the UAE – Sharjah with its extensive range of museums and stunning souk architecture; the dhow building yards of quiet Ajman; the lagoons and mangroves of Umm Al Quwain, and the archaeological sites, coastal dunes, beaches, mountains and fjords of Ras Al Khaimah.
Across the mountains, Fujairah surprises again with its coastal peaks, fringe of beaches and oddities such as the peninsula’s smallest mosque at Bidayah, as well as its quirky roundabouts and network of forts and watchtowers.
Back to Dubai territory, the emirate’s mountain hideaway is Hatta, bordering Oman again and a cool(ish) retreat from the scorching desert sands. Gateway to the wadis, it offers an oasis setting and boasts a compact heritage village to highlight the human face of the stark scenery.