Futuristic Dubai and neighbouring Abu Dhabi (the capital) are two destinations everyone’s heard of and probably visited once or twice for some sun and the chance to experience some of the world’s biggest and best of everything. But few of even the savviest travellers will know the names of the other five emirates which make up the seven United Arab Emirates: Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain, all of which warrant a visit for some added adventure.
The statement ‘build it and they will come’ never held truer than here in the UAE, in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi specifically, home to all things extreme, bold, fantastic and downright awe-inspiring. The tallest building in the world, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, is well worth the US $40 ticket price to get to the top (although those with even the slightest touch of vertigo should stay away). The city’s Burj Al Arab has been welcoming the rich and famous for twenty years and continues to boast the most awesome experience in town, especially with the recent addition of its 10,000 sq m “terrace”, which combines swimming pools, cabanas, a bar and restaurant into one fantastic facility. The 5,000-ton wooden structure was constructed in Finland and brought over by ship in eight pieces. Yes, wow.
About an hour’s drive from Dubai (traffic’s an issue) is Abu Dhabi, where culture is king. The Louvre boasts an outstanding collection of art and civilisation housed within a building by Jean Nouvel resembling a giant silver spacecraft. The Frank Ghery designed Guggenheim has yet to open, but a visit to the Ferrari-owned indoor theme park in Abu Dhabi should get your adrenalin pumping. The rollercoaster, the Rosso, is the world’s fastest, reaching 150mph in 5 seconds. Of course, there are many fine places to stay in town, but a night or two at the Mandarin Oriental’s Emirates Palace Hotel is something you’ll never forget.
There are opportunities to dip into the heritage of the land, although you won’t see much unless you make it your business to do so. There are museums and a few restaurants that offer a glimpse into life before oil. A drive to Fujairah, for example, will take you through glorious mountain ranges and some little towns and villages. There are some decent hotels on the beach here, but Ras Al-Khaimah, on the other side of the peninsula, has more posh options when it comes to places to stay. Wherever you head in the UAE, watersports and beaches are a focus, as is shopping, desert adventure and some of the best dining options the world has to offer. Beware, however, that while you’ll be able to get a drink everywhere you go (except in Sharjah), alcohol is only served in 5-star hotels and is, to boot, eye-wateringly expensive.