If you’ve already hit up Dubai’s theme parks, wandered around the Al Fahidi district and checked out the view from the Burj Khalifa, how about exploring some of the neighbouring emirates? You’ll find everything from mosques and museums to mountain bike trails and ziplines, all within easy reach of Dubai. Here are the best places to discover in a day.
Art and architecture in Abu Dhabi
With its onion-shaped domes and glowing white marble, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a must-see. Located 90 minutes from Downtown Dubai, the mosque runs free tours that take place daily (except during Friday prayers). Over on Saadiyat Island, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is an essential stop for art and architecture aficionados. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the building is as much of a draw as the 600 artworks on display.
Hiking and biking in Hatta
Backed by the craggy Hajar Mountains, the picturesque Dubai enclave of Hatta is made for outdoor adventure. The Hatta Mountain Bike Trail Centre has 50km of graded single-track trails, and you can rent bikes from Adventure HQ for Dhs100 for three hours. For walkers, a 9km trail sets off from near the camping area, continuing past Hatta Heritage Village to the man-made Hatta Dam. Here, you can hire kayaks and pedalos to cruise the turquoise waters.
Ancient history in Mleiha
Located in Sharjah’s central region, Mleiha is one of the UAE’s most important archaeological sites. The Mleiha Archaeological Centre details the history of the region from the Palaeolithic era and offers guided tours of the Bronze Age tombs and pre-Islamic forts. Feeling adventurous? Explore the wild beauty of the desert during a guided trek, 4WD tour or fat biking tour, or go paragliding from one of Mleiha’s tallest peaks.
Adrenaline-fuelled fun in Jebel Jais
The starkly beautiful Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah is the UAE’s tallest peak at just under 2000m. To enjoy the area’s craggy charms, take a scenic drive up the wickedly winding mountain road. There are lay-bys along the route, plus a soon-to-open observation deck at 1227m promises even more phenomenal views. You could also tackle the kilometer-long via ferrata, a four-hour experience that includes three thrilling ziplines. Meanwhile, the world’s longest zipline was opened here in early 2018.
Forts and oases in Al Ain
Filled with more than 147,000 date palms, the World Heritage-listed Al Ain Oasis was once a vital stop on the caravan route crisscrossing the Arabian Peninsula. You can stroll the shaded walkways, see how the ancient falaj (irrigation) network carries water to the palms and visit the hi-tech eco-center. Stop by Al Ain Palace Museum, where Sheikh Zayed once held court, and the photogenic Al Jahili Fort, built in 1891 to defend the city’s precious plantations.
Museum-hopping in Sharjah
Just 30km from Downtown Dubai, Sharjah city is known as the cultural capital of the UAE and for good reason, with more than 20 museums and galleries. Start at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, which displays more than 5000 artifacts from the Muslim world, and then wander down to the Sharjah Heritage Museum for an insight into Emirati culture. A 10-minute stroll away, Sharjah Art Museum is a must for fans of contemporary Arab art.
Underwater adventure in Fujairah
Stretching along the Gulf of Oman, Fujairah has better visibility and more diverse marine life than the waters off Dubai. Roughly 100m offshore at Al Aqah, Snoopy Island is popular with snorkellers, thanks to schools of clownfish and regular turtle sightings. The Sandy Beach Hotel has a full-day beach pass and gear hire for Dhs150. The Dive Centre offers shore dives and boat trips to popular sites such as Dibba Rock, Coral Gardens and various wrecks (Dhs380 including two dives).
Arabian wildlife in Kalba
This east coast enclave of Sharjah is a great place to see some of Arabia’s elusive wildlife. Keen birdwatchers should bring their binoculars, as Khor Kalba’s mangroves are an important habitat for the beautiful white-collared kingfisher. On the outskirts of the city, Al Hefaiyah Mountain Conservation Centre is home to critically endangered Arabian leopard, along with Arabian wolf, tahr and desert lynx. At the nearby Kalba Bird of Prey Centre, free-flying demonstrations take place twice a day in the outdoor amphitheater (except Mondays).
Sailing the Musandam Peninsula
Dubbed ‘the Norway of Arabia’, the Omani enclave of Musandam is famous for its fjord-like inlets and aquamarine waters. Numerous companies offer cruises aboard traditional wooden dhows, with dolphin sightings all but guaranteed. Tours typically include round-trip transport and a buffet lunch, with plenty of time for swimming and snorkeling. Boats depart from Dibba on the east coast or Khasab at the northern tip of the peninsula, with the latter offering more spectacular scenery.