United Arab Emirates

Think of the United Arab Emirates and you visualise luxurious modern cities, high class hotels and fantastic shopping.

There are seven emirates in this desert nation which provide a fascinating mix of modern and ancient lifestyles.

Travellers revel in the luxurious, glamorous seaside hotels. They marvel at the gleaming skyscrapers while indulging in a spot of Duty Free shopping. For the more energetic visitor there are numerous water sports to keep you entertained.

Away from the bustle of the cities is the desert area (or ‘Empty Quarter’) where you can get a taste of the traditional Bedouin lifestyle amongst the sand dunes. Or you can watch the national sport of camel racing.

Probably the best known of the UAE destinations is Dubai. Here the new millennium meets the age old Bedouin tradition. This incredible tourism hotspot is world renowned for its superb shopping-rich cultural life.  

The UAE’s capital is Abu Dhabi. It is a modern, sleek city located on an island and connected to the mainland by two bridges.  Of the other emirates Sharjah is the most strictly Muslim. It is an atmospheric region whose capital is a vibrant centre packed with fascinating museums and shopping in its souks. Its Eastern Coast is great for snorkelling and diving. In contrast Ras al-Khaimah, on the Northern Coast, is a green and mountainous emirate, whose capital has retained the feel of an old fishing port.

The currency in the UAE is the UAE Dirham. Most hotels will exchange foreign currency plus banks and commercial money changers. American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted as are traveller’s cheques. However to avoid additional exchange rate charges you are advised to take  traveller’s cheques in US Dollars for Sterling.

ATMs are available to withdraw local currency but you will be charged by your bank for using them per transaction. 

Abu Dhabi

Introduction

Abu Dhabi is a relatively young city. It was first settled by nomadic tribesmen in the mid 18th century and remained a fishing village until the 1950s. It was at this time that oil was discovered leading to a financial and trading boom.

The city is practically an island, jutting into the Persian Gulf, with land having been reclaimed from the sea to make way for a long seafront lined with lush gardens and gushing fountains.  

It is the federal capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the capital of the Abu Dhabi emirate.

Since the discovery of oil, Abu Dhabi has been transformed into a modern city displaying high-rise buildings, broad boulevards and luxury hotels. Remnants of the old city still remain in the souks and craft centres but they are surrounded by a modern, affluent urban landscape. 

Abu Dhabi is increasingly asserting itself as a luxury travel, business destination and cultural centre. It has several attractions such as the Petroleum Exhibition and the Heritage Village, the beautiful Corniche (beach), the Al Hisn Fort, the old souk (market), the Breakwater Island and Sheikh Zayed's palace.

Of course, another huge draw to the city is its duty-free shopping zone and luxury hotels. Travellers are spoiled for choice being able to indulge their need for retail therapy whilst experiencing the fascinating culture of the Abu Dhabi emirate with its miles of desert and intriguing oases.

See & Do

Abu Dhabi is normally the playground of the businessman. Many travellers see it as the gateway to the Emirates and spend little time in the city itself. This is reflected in the fact that there are very few attractions within the city. However below are a few suggestions of sights you can see during your stay.

 

  • White Fort
  • The Corniche & breakwater
  • Bedouin Heritage Village
  • Boat Building Yard
  • Petroleum Exhibition
  • The Old Souk


 

Shopping

Shopping is definitely the main attraction in Abu Dhabi. It is a city in which you will be able to find practically anything starting from when you arrive at the airport.

Shops range from traditional stores to top end international outlets. You can shop in the modern air conditioned malls such as Al Wahda Mall, The Marina Mall or the Madinat Zayed Shopping & Gold Centre (which is home to over 500 stores). To buy the merchandise of a traditional Arabian market but in the comfort of an air condition mall, try the Abu Dhabi Mall. However if you want to experience the excitement and bustle of a real market, head for the Old Souk (at the southern end of the Corniche) where you’ll find rugs, gold and spices amongst other things.

Food & Drink

Abu Dhabi’s restaurants reflect the growing richness and modernity of the city. You will find that authentic cuisine has been marginalised in favour of anything westernised. The best and cleanest (but not the cheapest) restaurants are located within or near the 5 star hotels such as the Inter-Continental, the Abu Dhabi Hilton and Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi. A few examples are:

  • BiCE Restaurant, Hilton International
  • Istanbul, Le Meridien
  • Rodeo Grill, Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi Hotel
  • Sayad, Emirates Palace

 

The most representative cuisine of the area can be found at the Shwarma Stalls around the souk and the older part of the city. Here you will find traditional skewers of chicken and pressed lamb wrapped in pitta. As a guide, the busiest stalls will be the best ones.

But if you don’t fancy queuing for your lunch and you want to get away from the big hotels, you could try one of the fish restaurants such as As Sofon on the breakwater (western end of the Corniche).

If you want an alcoholic drink you are limited to the hotels, many of which have ‘pubs’ to cater for the expat community such as:

  • Harvester Pub, Sands Hotel
  • Captain’s Bar, Le Royal Meridien
  • The Tavern, Sheraton Resort
  • PJ O’Reilly’s, Le Royal Meridien

For a more traditional, non-alcoholic tipple try one of the teashops at the souks. Here you’ll be able to sample the traditional cardamom flavoured Arabian Tea or a thick coffee.

 

Entertainment

If you are looking for nightlife in the form of clubs and bars you will be restricted to the large 5 star hotels. Le Royal Meridien leads the way for the upmarket clubber with Le Galouises Club. Other clubs include the Tequilana Club (Hilton International) and the Zenith (Sheraton Abu Dhabi Resort & Towers).

Live music venues include the Sax Restaurant Club (Le Royal Meridien Hotel) and The Jazz Bar (Hilton). For larger music concerts featuring international stars head for the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation.

Another option is the Cinestar Cinema, Marina Mall on the breakwater or the 10 screen cinema in the Abu Dhabi Mall.

There are also several events that take place throughout the year:

  • February – Al Ain Music Festival
  • March – Abu Dhabi Shopping Festival
  • March/April – Abu Dhabi International Book Fair
  • April/May – Abu Dhabi Salsa & Jazz Festival
  • August – Accession Day, Abu Dhabi Chess Festival
  • November – UAE Desert Challenge
  • December – National Day Festival

 

Excursions

Your hotel will be able to provide you with details of possible excursions however a few highlights are the Liwa Oasis with its spectacular sand dunes and camel racing and the oasis city of Al Ain. Here you will find Bronze Age tombs, the Al Ain Museum, Al Ain Zoo and Aquarium plus the Hili Fun City Amusement Park.

 

Health & Safety

Tap water is safe to drink in the main city but you are advised to stick with bottled water in out lying areas. There are no vaccinations required and medical care is excellent and consequently very expensive. Therefore you are strongly advised to have full medical insurance in place before travelling.

Crime is not a problem in the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dubai

Introduction

 

Upon arriving in Dubai it is hard to believe that less than a century ago it was little more than a desert-strewn wilderness where Bedouin tribes roamed.  

In the 1960s, as it began to step away from British colonial rule oil was struck and Dubai has never looked back. Since then its population has exploded to almost 1.5 million and now an ever-growing number of hotels welcome the temporary expat workers and tourists who help propel the economy.
 

Situated in the middle of the desert Dubai is a 21st-century city set against a beautiful prehistoric backdrop. Its sky scrapers rise from the endless sand-scape that typifies the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai, like everywhere in the Emirates, is surprisingly cosmopolitan and you'll find international languages, cuisines and merchandise available almost everywhere.  It is a city of surprises where first time visitors marvel at the lush championship golf courses in the desert, massive manmade islands in the shape of the world (the three Palm Islands of the World) and ski slopes in one of the most arid corners of the planet.

Dubai has a personality like no other city. Its contrast between the ultra modern and the enchantingly traditional give visitors a variety of experiences to choose from. From desert oases and unspoiled beaches, camel races and old wind towers, to top-class shopping opportunities, breath-taking architecture and the finest international cuisine.

 
One of Dubai’s top attractions has to be shopping. Shoppers are overwhelmed by its incredible range of top brand names at cheaper prices due to the tax-free environment. Wallets and purses are drawn from around the world to experience this paradise of malls, souks, boutiques and modern department stores. The annual Shopping Festival attracts millions of tourists to the city for a shop-till-you-drop holiday.

See & Do

Dubai offers a huge amount for travellers of all ages and interests. Below is just a selection of things to see and do during your visit – it’s not all about beaches and shopping.

  • Jumeirah Mosque
  • The Souks
  • Bastakiya (oldest part of the city)
  • Dubai Museum
  • Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum’s House
  • Grand Mosque
  • Jumeirah Hotel & Burj Al Arab (Arab Tower)
  • Heritage & Diving Centre
  • Dhow Wharf
  • Jumeirah Beach
  • Windsurfing
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Snorkelling
  • Palm Islands of the World
  • Children’s City
  • Majlis Ghorfat Um-Al-Sheef
  • Dubai Creek
  • Wild Wadi (water theme park)
  • Ski Dubai
  • Camel Racing
  • Bateaux Dubai Dinner Cruise
  • Dubai Mall (world’s largest shopping mall)
  • Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
  • Al Nasr Leisure-land
  • Wonderland (theme & water park in Dubai Creek Park)
  • Dubai Dolphinarium
  • Creekside Park
  • Dubai Wildlife & Waterbird Sanctuary

 

Shopping

For many Dubai is the shopping capital of the Middle East. It is certainly one of Dubai’s greatest attractions. Due to reduced import duties and no sales tax, prices are low and therefore irresistible.

Dubai also has its own shopping festival held annually in February/March when all the large stores and malls slash their prices.

The central business district offers plenty of shopping in large modern malls. The best areas are around Beniyas Square, Al-Rigga and Al-Hiyafa Road.

Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping Mall. With 12 million square feet of retail space at the foot of Burj Al Arab Hotel, it contains over 1200 stores including international names such as Bloomingdales, Gallery Lafayette and Marks & Spencer.

Al Bustan in Al Ghusais is one of the city’s most popular malls. Many of the large hotels also comprise international stores. Prices may be slightly higher here but they are still worth a browse.

Shopping opportunities begin as soon as you arrive with Dubai’s International airport offering world renowned shopping opportunities to weary travellers.

If you prefer to experience a more atmospheric form of shopping, you can always try the old Souks of Diera and Dubai Souk in Bur Bubai. They are divided by the merchandise they sell such as the Gold Souk (Sikkat al-khali Street), Carpet Souk (Bani Yas Square), Spice Souk (Al-Sabkha Road), Fish Souk (Deira) or Electronics Souk (Beniyas Square). Don’t forget that unlike the modern malls, haggling is the order of the day to grab a bargain.

Food & Drink

Being a cosmopolitan destination, Dubai offers a wide variety of cuisines. Many of the best restaurants are found in the hotels but you can sample excellent Arabic food in the many cafés and teashops around the souks of the old town. Quality can vary considerably but they are a fun place for lunch.

Below is a selection of some of the restaurants you can try during your stay.

 

  • Al Dawaar (Hyatt Regency Hotel)
  • Awafi (JW Marriott Hotel, Deira)
  • Al Iwan (Burj al Arab)
  • More (Lefco Supermarket, Garhoud)
  • Spice Island (Renaissance Hotel)
  • Chili’s (Salah Bin Lahej Building, Al Garhoud)
  • Bombay Brasserie (Marco Polo Hotel)
  • Kamat (Al Karama)
  • Blue Elephant (Al Bustan Rotana, Al Garhoud)
  • La Baie (Ritz Carlton Hotel)
  • Signatures (Jebel Ali Beach & Golf Resort)
  • Al Mahara (Burj Al Arab Hotel)
  • Al Muntaha (Burj Al Arab Hotel)
  • Verre (Hilton Dubai Creek)

 

Despite what you might think, alcohol isn’t banned completely in Dubai. It is consumed and sold freely in the bars of the major tourist hotels and some selected bars in the city. Below are a few names to look out for.

  • Rooftop Terrace (One & Only Royal Mirage)
  • Harry’s Place (renaissance Hotel, Salah Al Din Street)
  • Sho Cho (Dubai Marine & Beach Spa Resort)
  • Up on the Tenth (Dubai Intercontinental Hotel)
  • Barasti Bar (Le Meridien, Al Sufouh Road)
  • Aussie Legends Bar (Rydges Plaza, Satwa)

 

Entertainment

The best way to find out what’s going on where and when is to look out for the monthly edition of Timeout.

A lot of the evening entertainment can be found in the large hotels. Many hotels have their own facilities to stage theatre shows and music acts that can vary from international stars to tourist orientated Arabian shows.

If you want to catch a film while in Dubai there are several multiplex cinemas to chose from all showing Hollywood blockbusters.

With regards to sport, Dubai is famous for horse racing. The only place to watch this sport of kings is at the Dubai Racing Club situated 5km south east of Dubai. Tennis is also another favourite sport and the Dubai Tennis Stadium hosts the Dubai Tennis Open towards the end of February.

With regards to nightlife and clubs in particular, your best bet is once again in the large hotels in the area. Below are a just a few names to look out for.

  • Zinc Bar & Club (the basement of the Crown Plaza)
  • Ginseng (Wafi Pyramids)
  • Oxygen (Al-Bustan Hotel)
  • Tangerine (Fairmont Dubai)
  • Charlie Parrot’s (Oasis Beach Hotel)

There are also several events that take place throughout the year, below is a selection:

  • February – Dubai Tennis Open, Dubai Shopping Festival & Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival
  • March – Dubai Desert Classic, The Dubai World Cup Horse Race
  • May – Formula 4 Powerboat Challenge, Middle East International Boat Show
  • June – September – Dubai Summer Surprises
  • November – Dubai Air Show, Dubai Rugby Sevens

Excursions

Dubai is a wonderful area to visit as it is full of contrasts. You can easily make the transition from bustling modern city to desert within a few miles. Your hotel will be able to provide you with details of excursions through local tour operators but here are a few suggestions to get you started.

 

  • Hatta mountain village
  • Dhow Cruise
  • Abu Dhabi
  • Dune Safari
  • Camel Rides & Sand Surfing
  • Haja Mountains
  • Sharjah
  • Desert Safari

 

Health & Safety

In Dubai the tap water is safe to drink, however when venturing outside the city you should stick with bottled water.

Medical care in the city is excellent and consequently very expensive. Therefore it is vital you have full healthcare insurance in place before travelling. With regards to crime, Dubai is a very safe city however you should still exercise the usual precautions with your valuables when out and about.

 

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