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Tucked into a corner of the traditional, conservative Middle East lies the unique, progressive United Arab Emirates. Like most countries on the peninsula, the UAE made its wealth from oil and gas. Unlike its more traditional neighbours, it then expanded into tourism. Today it is a modern, trend-setting conglomeration of high-rise cities with state-of-the-art tourist infrastructure, magnificent beaches and a paradise of duty free shopping.
The majority of people in the UAE are expatriates and most of them are there to live and work in Dubai. The city is a playground of palm-shaped islands, colossal skyscrapers, malls the size of small towns, seven star hotels, supercars, Michelin-star restaurants and luxury beach resorts. To the west of Dubai lies Abu Dhabi, the capital, where visitors can enjoy large gardens and parks, green boulevards, sophisticated high-rise buildings, modern communication services and transport, international luxury hotels, rich shopping malls and cultural centres.
Alongside the two famous emirates sits Sharjah, the world capital of Islamic Culture. This conservative emirate plays host to the best museums and art galleries in the country. Surrounded by mountains and desert oases, Ras Al Khaimah is fast becoming a destination for adventurous travelers. Visitors can also relax on the beaches in Ajman, visit the fort of Fujairah at the foothills of the Hajar Mountains, or take a break from the glitz and glammer in low-key Umm Al Quwain.
The modern cities on the Persian Gulf give way to a desert interior, home to magnificent dunes on the edge of the Empty Quarter, stunning desert oases such as the Liwa Oasis, and rugged archaeological sites in the Hajar Mountains. The UAE presents an astonishing mix of outlandish luxury and remote adventure, which will fascinate visitors to this unique land.
Most tourists start their UAE adventures in Dubai. Visitors can scale the heights of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, visit the narrow lanes and preserved Arabian architecture of the Bastakia Quarter, take a sunset cruise on the traditional Dhow boats in Dubai Creek, or get lost in the storied shopping malls or the traditional souks in the Deira district. Sport fanatics will be entertained with events such as rugby sevens and horse racing.
The colossal Sheikh Zayeh Mosque in Abu Dhabi is a crown jewel in the capital city. Visitors can take a day trip out to Jebel Hafeet, the second highest peak in the UAE, offering stunning panoramic views out over the desert. The rugged, twisted Hajar Mountains are also prime territory for road trips, with fantastic hiking, trekking and bird watching opportunities.
Sharjah is the cultural capital of the Arab world. The city is home to the Sharjah Arts Museum, a diverse collection of works featuring many local artists, and the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, which traces Islamic history and culture back to its earliest years.
With 400 miles (650km) of coastline along the Persian Gulf, the UAE is a renowned beach destination. There are numerous beach resorts in Ajman and Raj Al Khaimah. Luxury Hotels in the big cities often have their own private beaches, which non-residents can pay to use. Watersports are hugely popular, with many visitors enjoying jet-skiing, diving and snorkeling holidays.
For the more adventurous traveller, the desert beckons. Intrepid explorers can experience 4x4 safari's, dune buggy rides, camel rides, sand-boarding and even traditional Bedouin-style dinners. Ancient cities and forgotten civilisations lie hidden in the desert sands, such as the spectacular city of Musandam. Here, the bright lights of Dubai and Abu Dhabi will feel centuries away.
Ferrari World opened at Abu Dhabi's Yas Island in November 2010 and, at over 2 million sq feet (200,000 sq m), is one of the largest indoor amusement parks in the world. The park's many attractions include the largest Ferrari gallery outside of the brand's headquarters in Marinello, Italy; the Speed of Magic immersive 4-D film experience; the G-Force space shot tower; Bell'Italia, which reproduces Italy's main attractions in miniature; and various state of the art racing simulators. An enormous red-domed roof encloses the facility, creating a futuristic and unique structure that has been nominated for several architectural awards.
The oldest building in young Abu Dhabi is the Al Hosn Palace, known colloquially as the White Fort. It was constructed in the early 1790s as the official residence of the former ruling family, also serving as a fort to command nearby shipping routes, and was extensively renovated between 1976 and 1983. Today it houses the Cultural Foundation, featuring a museum of traditional artefacts and historical photographs. The Palace is renowned for the magnificent tile work over its main gate.
The natural seawater inlet that cuts through the centre of the city is the historical part of Dubai where visitors can take an abra (small water taxi) and view the old trading port and the dhows from the water. A cruise to Al-Maktoum Bridge will pass many of the city's historic, as well as modern landmarks. A stroll around the wharf offers a picturesque glimpse of Dubai's trading heritage, where dhows bound for distant places dock to unload their goods.
The Al Fahidi Historic District (formerly known as the Bastakiya Quarter) allows visitors to step back in time to the days before electricity and air-conditioning, when traditional, courtyard houses were cooled by wind towers. Indeed, Old Dubai was famous for the wind towers that lined the Creek on both sides and, today, the narrow lanes festooned with the distinctively Arabian architecture are a popular historical attraction. The charming neighbourhood is home to the popular café, the Arabian Tea House, and has several art galleries.
The souks, or traditional markets, are popular with bargain hunters as well as sightseers and photographers. The most famous is the Gold Souk, where the narrow streets are lined with shops selling everything golden, from 24-carat bars to rings and elaborate necklaces, and all at low prices. The tiny lanes of the traditional spice souk are scented with sacks of cinnamon, incense, spices, and dried fruit, while the modern fish souk bustles with activity and is redolent with smells of a more unpleasant nature. Other streets sell everything from materials and carpets to traditional coffee pots, loaves of unleavened bread and hubble-bubble pipes.
Boasting the city's tallest minaret at 230 feet (70m), the Grand Mosque is a notable landmark with its multi-domed style and impressive size. It is an important place of worship and can accommodate up to 1,200 worshippers inside. Non-Muslims are not permitted inside the Mosque but can enter the minaret to admire the building's architecture. Visitors should dress conservatively when entering the premises, keeping their heads and knees covered. Women should wear loose clothing with long sleeves.
One of the most advanced water theme parks ever designed, the five-hectare (12-acre) water park at Wild Wadi offers families and thrill seekers hours of fun, relaxation and adrenalin-pumping action. Designed like an Arabian wadi (oasis), the park has an Arabian folklore theme and features some of the highest and fastest water rides outside of North America with 24 state of the art, high-adrenaline rides and slides. Rides for thrill seekers include Jumeirah Sceirah, a 108ft (33m) free-fall at 50 miles per hour (80km/hr), Master Blaster slides that are water roller coasters propelled uphill by high-powered jets, the white-knuckle ride at Rushdown Ravine or the high waves at Breakers Bay.
Designed as a living museum depicting traditional Bedouin life, the Heritage Village over the Abu Dhabi Corniche features tents, courtyard houses, an ancient irrigation system, a museum, an old-world souk, and a mosque. The traditional oasis village is also home to public workshops, where craftsmen demonstrate the region's most famous skills, such as metal and glasswork, pottery, weaving and spinning yarn. Travellers should also check out the village's spice shop for its range of dried herbs, handmade soaps and souvenirs.
Numerous local tour operators in Abu Dhabi offer trips from the city to the famed Liwa Oasis, about three hours drive away along a modern highway. This green, agricultural strip at the edge of the Rub Al Khali ('Empty Quarter') is surrounded by desolate desert with farms abutting towering sand dunes. Visitors enjoy overnight camel trips to camp in the desert. The oasis, made up of a string of small towns and villages, is resplendent with pools of fresh water and date plantations, and is the ancestral home of the Bani Yas tribe from whence sprang Abu Dhabi's ruling family.
The Jumeirah Mosque is one of the most photographed sights in Dubai. A fine example of modern Islamic architecture, this beautiful mosque is also one of the city's largest, with a majestic dome and twin minarets, and, as its motto, 'Open doors, open minds', suggests, is one of the few mosques open to non-Muslims for tours. Non-Muslims may only enter the Jumeirah Mosque on an organised tour. Modest dress is preferred, and traditional attire can be borrowed from the Mosque.
The imposing 18th-century Al Fahidi Fort houses the Dubai Museum, which has an impressive collection of military and cultural artefacts, as well as working models and life-size displays depicting various aspects of Dubai life such as the markets, an Islamic school, the desert, Arab houses and Gulf marine life. One of the most interesting exhibits shows the underwater world of pearl diving. The fort was built in 1787 to guard Dubai from landward approaches, and was once the residence of the city's rulers as well as the seat of government until 1971.
Sharjah is the third largest of the UAE's cities, and is the capital of the wealthy Sharjah emirate. Many of the headline attractions are within the Heritage Area near the main cornice. Here visitors can explore the Al Hisn Fort and the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, both worth experiencing to counterbalance the Emirate's more modern, consumer culture face. Nearby Khalid Lagoon has a water fountain that spouts 160 feet (100m) into the air, making it one of the largest fountains in the world. The Eye of the Emirates on the edge of the city is a giant wheel that offers spectacular views over the downtown and cornice attractions.
One of the city's newest and most interesting attractions is the region's first indoor ski resort, with real snow and five runs catering to both beginner and expert skiers and snowboarders. The monumental indoor snowdome can host up to 1,500 people. The longest run is 1,312 feet (400m), dropping 197 feet (60m), while a freestyle zone and quarter pipe cater specifically for snowboarders. Ski lifts, snow patrols and professional instructors help to create an authentic environment. A Snow Park at the bottom is ideal for children to play in the snow. Slope passes include all equipment and ski clothing except hats and gloves. Guests need to pass a minimum skills test to access the main slopes, and those who don't pass can take lessons.
Sheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum's house dates back to the 19th century, and was built for Dubai's ruler with commanding views over the sea. It is one of the oldest residences in the city and has been restored as a museum exhibiting historical photographs and artefacts showcasing Dubai's history and development. Its architecture is also a fine example of the regional style with its wind towers and central courtyard, teak wood doors and windows and wooden lattice screens.
No visit to Dubai would be complete without a trip to the camel races. This is a traditional sport in the UAE and hugely popular among local Emiratis, who head to the race tracks early in the morning to watch these magnificent animals. The racing season runs from October to April and racetracks can be found in various locations around the Emirate and on the way to Abu Dhabi.
One of the main reasons holidaymakers flock to Dubai is to take advantage of the stunning beaches. If visitors aren't staying somewhere with access to the sand and sea, and don't want to pay AED 100 or more to use a hotel's facilities, then Jumeirah Beach Park is a brilliant alternative. The beaches are clean and safe, and unlike some of the other public areas in Dubai, are not populated with 'gawkers'. There are even designated 'women only' sessions. The park section of the beach is equipped with barbecue facilities and seating areas. There are also showers and toilets on the beach, and lifeguards on duty at all times.
The Bateaux Dubai Dinner Cruise provides visitors to the Emirate with a unique and memorable way in which to view the older part of Dubai. The two and a half hour cruise departs from just beyond the Al Maktoum Bridge and makes its way along the Creek past many of the city's most famous landmarks. Guests can take advantage of unobstructed views thanks to the non-reflective glass surround and extensive outside deck area. A four-course a-la-carte meal is served during the cruise (diners with specific dietary requirements are requested to arrange at the time of booking) and alcohol is available to purchase on board.
Opened in November 2008, the Dubai Mall is the world's largest shopping centre and is home to around twelve hundred retailers. It is the size of more than fifty football pitches and features an ice rink, movie theatres, playground, aquarium, hotel, and is the gateway to the Burj Dubai: the tallest building in the world. The mall has some of the best-known stores under its roof, and there are a number of restaurants, ranging from fast food to fine dining.
Located in the enormous Dubai Mall, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo is fast becoming one of the Emirates' most popular attractions. Featuring the largest viewing panel and one of the biggest tanks in the world, visitors have the opportunity to experience the incredible underwater domain of thousands of creatures of the deep. Highlights include feeding time for the enormous Sand Tiger Sharks and the majestic Stingrays. The aquarium and zoo is home to over thirty thousand types of sea life and, with the help of its conservation team, looks to bring about positive change through active participation in environmental initiatives.
Its name stemming from the Arabic word for 'victory', Al Nasr Leisureland lies on a 48-acre site and offers facilities that cater to just about every sport under the sun. An Olympic-sized ice rink, tennis courts, a bowling alley and a list of swimming pools that includes the largest in the country (it has a wave function), an aqua pool with slides and a baby pool are some of the options on the menu. Children will have a great time trying their hand at everything. There is even an amusement park with bumper cars, rollercoasters, go-karting and much more.
This 82,890-square-foot (7,700 sq-metre) education park is located in Dubai Creek Park and offers a wide range of activities geared towards kids of all ages, making the educational process fun. Among other things, children can learn all about nature, human body sciences, earth sciences, space exploration, and local and international culture. The park also presents daily educational programs throughout the year, and features a theatre, café, souvenir shop, different galleries and purpose-built halls. Visitors can enjoy wonderful views of the creek as well.
Wonderland Theme and Water Park in Dubai Creek Park is a must for children struggling with the heat in this scorching city. The Caribbean-themed park offers thrilling rides and slides such as the Red Baron, the spinning-coaster, the Action Arm, Lazy River and Surf Hill. The attached water park is low-tech, but provides cool entertainment for the whole family. Wonderland is a great way to spend the day with the family and a must for children of all ages.
The merging of ancient and modern Arabic culture is no more evident than in the fascinating city of Al Ain, about 100 miles (160km) east of Abu Dhabi. Known as the 'Garden city of the Gulf' because of its tree-lined boulevards and green public spaces, this historic, scenic oasis is surrounded by red sand dunes and dominated by a vast mountain range in the eastern UAE. Al Ain's heritage is still evident in the bustling camel market, located near the Meyzad border crossing. Hundreds of camels are bought and sold each day, and traders are very friendly to tourists. The Al Ain Museum and Fort is another historical attraction worth visiting.
The Dubai Dolphinarium offers guests the chance to interact with these gentle aquatic mammals and watch them perform tricks with their trainers. The Dolphinarium is home to four Black Sea Bottlenose dolphins as well as four Northern Fur Seals. The dolphinarium allows visitors to swim with the dolphins in a pre-arranged session, and also features a restaurant and gift shop.
With its marvellous green scenery and cool sea breezes, Creekside Park is a great place for families and kids to enjoy while on holiday in Dubai. Boasting botanical gardens, an 18-hole mini golf course, an amphitheatre, picnic locations with barbecue equipment and a mini train and children's play areas, this seemingly endless lawn is the perfect place to spend the day. Kids will be beside themselves with the endless amount of activities to enjoy here.
The Fun City at Marina Mall is a great place for kids, offering an exciting range of arcade games and rides to enjoy. On the gaming front, kids can look forward to the latest universal releases as well as classic titles. Favourite rides at the amusement centre include the thrashing shark rollercoaster, the whizzy little bumper cars and the 'Extreme Shock' machine, which is actually very safe! There are also play areas with climbing frames, crawl tunnels and giant slides, and parents can plan their visits around dress-up events, with dates appearing on the Fun City website.
Kids in Abu Dhabi will love honing their skills in the bowling alley at the Armed Forces Officers' Club, or perhaps playing a game of paintball or table tennis. There is also a large playground and an Olympic-size swimming pool at the club for kids to cool off in after all that action. The Armed Forces Officers' Club also has a Ladies recreation area with massage tables, a swimming pool, steam bath, sauna and gym.
A great attraction for children and often called the 'Disneyland of the Middle East', Hili Fun City is the largest theme park in the Gulf. Completely refurbished and modernised in 2009, the park offers a number of rides and amusements, including a mini train tour, an ice skating rink, a rollercoaster and sky-flyer, and the Dynamic Motion Theatre. There are also beautifully landscaped gardens and various picnic spots to enjoy at the park.
The heart of cosmopolitan Dubai is the slick and modern Dubai Marina, a development that continues to add new attractions each year. World-class hotels and shopping malls dominate the distinctive skyline, while the waterline is taken over by luxury yachts. Some of the best restaurants in Dubai are also located here. Dubai Marina has two walkways (The Walk and Marina Walk) that make pleasant places to stroll in the evening, and there are open markets on weekends between October and May. Although it is known as a beacon of over-the-top consumerism, the Dubai Marina transforms during Ramadan, when locals celebrate in song and dance in Heritage Village.
Belonging to the Hilton Abu Dhabi Hotel, the Hiltonia Beach Club is an exclusive beach with excellent facilities. Open to non-guests on weekdays for a fee, the beach offers lounge chairs and umbrellas in the sand, and sports such as sailing, snorkeling, fishing, windsurfing, water skiing, kayaking, jet-skiing right off the beach and bicycling the Corniche. Visitors can also enjoy the café and cocktail bar, sumptuous international cuisine, three swimming pools with water slides, live music and camaraderie.
Sharjah's Heritage District is set in the old city, and much effort has been put into showcasing the city's culture and history. Situated near the Corniche, the area is full of museums and restored houses that will fascinate visitors. Highlights of the Heritage District include the Al Hisn Fort, Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation, Sharjah Calligraphy Museum, and the Souq al-Arash (thought to be the oldest souq in the country). The Al Naboodah and Al Midfaa family homes offer a glimpse into traditional Arabian life. Many museums have special opening times set aside for women only.
Sharjah Desert Park encompasses three attractions: the Sharjah Natural History and Botanical Museum, the Children's Farm, and the Arabian Wildlife Centre. The Wildlife Centre is the most popular attraction, with a zoo, aviary, and breeding centre that houses several endangered species. The Children's Farm is a fun petting zoo for children on holiday in Sharjah. The Natural History Museum has five main exhibition halls: A Journey through Sharjah, Man and the Environment, A Journey through Time, The Living Desert and The Living Sea. Sharjah Desert Park is also home to the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife, however this is not open to the public.
Straddling the Tropic of Cancer, the UAE has a sub-tropical arid climate and is warm and sunny in winter, but hot and humid during the summer months. The humidity is particularly high in the coastal areas. Rainfall is virtually non-existent, with occasional short showers occurring mainly in winter (December to March). Localised thunderstorms sometimes occur in summer.
Located within the Le Méridien complex, Casa Mia is thought by many to be the best Italian restaurant in the city, known for its home-cooked Italian cuisine. The menu also includes delicious wood-fired pizzas, and in 2007 the restaurant was also honoured with an 'Award of Excellence' for its unique and extensive wine list. Open for lunch and dinner daily.
This laid-back venue offers delicious, contemporary South East Asian fare at surprisingly affordable prices. Diners sit at long communal tables and don't need to wait very long for the region's usual favourites to appear, such as spring rolls, noodle soup, or vegetable, chicken and meat dishes served with noodles or rice. The open show kitchen allows diners to watch the food being prepared. Reservations are not accepted, and the place is busy, but the turnover of diners is high so the wait shouldn't be long. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
The signature restaurant of the Burj Al Arab, one of the top 10 hotel restaurants in the world, gives diners a unique experience. A mock submarine ride takes guests to the dining area, where tables are situated around a huge floor-to-ceiling aquarium full of fish. Al Mahara specialises in unforgettable first impressions and fresh seafood and was voted one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. Dinner guests will also be serenaded by harpists, adding to the underwater atmosphere. Jackets are required for men, and reservations essential. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Situated on the 25th floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, Al Dawaar Revolving Restaurant boasts the best views in the city while guests dine. The restaurant revolves giving diners spectacular views of the Arabian Gulf, the Creek and the city of Dubai while enjoying a variety of international cuisines. The buffet is the most popular option, including Chinese stir-fries, spring rolls, sushi and local dishes. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
The Meat Co. at the Madinat Jumeirah is the place to go for top quality steak in Dubai. So far this South-African chain has just the one restaurant in the Emirate but it's never short of patrons and booking is essential on Friday and Saturday evenings. The restaurant prides itself on delivering A Grade Angus beef, 'wet-aged to perfection' and basted to create succulent melt in the mouth steak. The menu doesn't cater solely for meat lovers, with other highlights including the skewered grilled salmon and flame-grilled king prawns. In winter the best tables are outside alongside the Madinat's man-made canals, where diners can watch the boats transporting guests along the water.
The Friday Brunch has become synonymous with the expat lifestyle in Dubai in the last few years. Endless platters of seafood, meat, salads and deserts are offered at restaurants across the Emirate but, for really exclusive dining, foodies can't beat the famous Burj Al Arab Hotel. On Friday 10.00 to 14.30, guests can dine two hundred metres above sea level in the Al Muntaha restaurant whilst taking in the stunning view of the coastline. With spectacular views over the new Palm Islands and a plethora of mouth-watering dishes 'Brunch at the Burj' is fast becoming the most sought after venue. The dress code in the restaurant is smart casual. Gentlemen are requested to wear a shirt with collar, long trousers or smart jeans and closed shoes (no trainers). UAE national dress is welcomed. Guests are advised to book well in advance.
For shisha and cocktails QD's (Quarterdeck's) at Dubai Golf & Yacht Club is the place to be seen. This super chilled out, funky venue is hugely popular, particularly with young Emiratis who flock here on Friday and Saturday night to enjoy the vibe. Guests can choose to sit on the raised deck by the waters edge or to occupy their own personal shisha tent, complete with couches and beanbags, and order their favourite flavoured 'hubbly bubbly' from the menu. Flavours include apple, grape, strawberry and mint. Shisha waiters are constantly on hand with more hot coals to keep the pipes bubbling and the air filled with the sweet smoky smell that has become synonymous with Dubai at night. Guests can also buy shisha pipes and tobaccos to take home as a memento.
Trader Vic's has become something of an institution among expats in Dubai. The vibrant atmosphere, exotic menu and interesting cocktails remain popular with diners, making 'TV's' one of the Emirates best-loved eateries. Guests can feast on a wide variety of dishes including the famous Trader Vic's fish and chips, succulent duck wantons and delicious platters. The potent TV Mai Tai is also something of a legend in Dubai. There are currently two Trader Vic's outlets in Dubai the original branch at the Crowne Plaza and the immensely popular Souk Madinat Jumeriah location.
One of the best-loved restaurants at the Wafi Mall, Carters offers diners great food in a relaxed cosmopolitan atmosphere with fantastic, friendly service. The decor is classic and stylish, reminiscent of a smoking lounge, and in winter months the ambience extends out onto the large terrace. The menu features old standards such as Chicken Caesar salad, Chargrilled US Angus Rib Eye steak and hand cut fries, alongside alternatives to traditional dishes; marinated duck satay with honey glaze. The mouth watering Mars bar cheesecake is a firm favourite. Carters also offers a good selection of wines.
For Asian tapas with a twist the popular choice in Dubai is Ginseng at Wafi City Mall. Nasi Goreng, Pandan Leaf Chicken and Duck Satay are firm favourites, as are the platters, which are perfect to share. The speciality cocktails are hugely popular at this funky hangout thanks to the fantastic deals on offer most nights; firm favourites are the Lychee Martini, Envy Champagne Cocktail and the Gingseng Summer Punch.
This popular Pakistani restaurant in Dubai is famous for its good food and relaxed atmosphere. This cheap and cheerful takeaway with outdoor tables attracts both locals and tourists, rich and poor for its excellent slow-cooked beef nihari, lamb haleem, and fresh, buttery naan bread. There's also a family room and cafeteria. Ravi is open daily from 5am to 3am.
The currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham (AED), which is divided into 100 fils. There are no currency regulations in the UAE and all major currencies are readily exchanged at banks and large hotels. The Dirham is fixed against the US Dollar. The best exchange rates are found at private moneychangers who operate throughout the territory, particularly in the more popular souks (markets) and shopping centres. Most major credit cards are accepted. ATMs are common throughout the UAE. Banking hours are generally Saturday to Thursday from 8am to 3pm, but some are also open until 8.30pm, after a midday break.
Arabic is the official language of the Emirates, but English is widely spoken.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. The most frequently used plugs are the flat, three-pin type.
US nationals: United States citizens require a passport valid for 6 months after date of arrival. No visa is required for tourist stays under 30 days.
UK nationals: Passports must be valid for 6 months after date of entry. British passport holders can get a visitor's visas on arrival for a maximum of 30 days.
CA nationals: Canadian passports must be valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of entry. Canadians entering the UAE as tourists must obtain an entry stamp at the port of entry. This entry stamp is free and valid for 30 days. It's renewable for a further 30 days.
AU nationals: Passports must be valid for at least six months from the departure date. Australians are eligible for a free 30-day visitor visa-on-arrival.
ZA nationals: South African nationals require a passport valid for six months from the departure date. A visa is required.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a passport valid for six months from the departure date, and can obtain a visa on arrival for a maximum of 30 days.
NZ nationals: Passports must be valid for at least six months from the departure date. New Zealand nationals are eligible for a free 30-day visitor visa-on-arrival.
All visitors to the United Arab Emirates must hold a passport that is valid for six months. Visitors must hold documents and confirmed tickets for their next destination and have a sponsor in the UAE to cover their stay. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
No vaccinations are required for entry to the UAE, though a certificate is required for yellow fever if visitors are arriving from an affected area. Tap water in the major cities is safe to drink but sticking to bottled water may be preferable elsewhere. Medical care is excellent in the main cities, but extremely expensive, while medicines and medical care are not always available in the outlying areas. Health insurance is essential as visitors may be prevented from using healthcare facilities without travel insurance or without the means to settle any medical fees.
Tipping practices are similar to most parts of the world. Where no service charge is included, 10 percent is adequate and many hotels and restaurants add a service charge, so it is best to check the bill.
Most visits to the UAE are trouble free. Crime is not a problem, but there is deemed to be a threat of terrorism against Western interests and gathering points, particularly entertainment venues. It is therefore wise to be vigilant when frequenting these. It is also wise to avoid political gatherings and demonstrations. Terrorists continue to issue statements threatening to carry out attacks in the Gulf region, including references to attack Western interests, such as residential compounds, military, oil, transport and aviation interests.
The Emirates states are all Muslim, therefore alcohol is not served except in hotels. It is an offence to drink or be drunk in public and penalties are severe. Some prescribed and over the counter medicines from outside the country may be considered to be a controlled substance within the UAE and will not be allowed into the UAE without prior permission from the UAE Ministry of Health Drug Control Department (DCD). A passenger arriving with such medication without permission may be subject to prosecution. Dress and behaviour should be modest, particularly during the month of Ramadan when it is disrespectful to smoke, drink or eat in public between sunrise and sunset. Women's clothes should cover the tops of the arms and legs. Cohabiting, adultery and homosexual behaviour are illegal in the UAE, and it is an offence to swear or make rude gestures, or show a public display of affection. In general, the country has a tolerant approach to Western visitors, but local laws and sensitivities should be respected.
The United Arab Emirates, although a very warm country, requires formal business attire from both men and women. Women should dress conservatively, being careful to cover up as much as possible. It is unlikely that visitors will come into contact with local women in business, as it is an overwhelmingly male-dominated society. Punctuality is considered a sign of respect and is essential, even though it is not uncommon to be kept waiting on occasion. With interruptions in meetings quite prevalent, patience is expected.
The Arabic greeting of 'Salaam Aleikum' is advisable instead of 'Hello' and politeness helps to build strong relationships. Shaking hands is common, but men should only shake the hand of a woman after she offers it, otherwise a simple bow of the head will suffice. Often agreements are verbal and will be acted upon. Dates in documents should be detailed in both Gregorian dates and the Hijrah date. Gifts are appreciated but not necessary, though foreigners should be sure to avoid anything involving alcohol or pig-related products, as the UAE is a Muslim country. Friday is the day of rest and most likely very little business will occur on this day. General business hours are 9am to 5pm Sunday to Thursday. During the holy month of Ramadan businesses may halt in the middle of the day and only continue after the fast has been broken in the evening.
The international code for the United Arab Emirates is +971. Travellers can purchase local SIM cards for unlocked phones at the airports or city shops. WiFi is widespread, but the internet is censored to filter out any material and websites deemed undesirable by the authorities.
Visitors to the UAE do not need to pay customs duty on 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars and 500g tobacco; and goods to the value of AED 3,000. Alcohol allowances vary. Dubai: 24 cans of beer or 4 litres of any other alcohol; Abu Dhabi and Fujairah: 4 litres of alcohol provided traveller is not Muslim; Sharjah: 2 litres of alcohol and 1 case beer. Fruit and vegetables from cholera-infected areas are strictly prohibited.
Dubai Department of Tourism: +971 4 223 0000 or www.emirates.org
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 243 2400.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 (0)20 7581 1281.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 565 7272.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6286 8802.
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 7736.
United States Embassy, Dubai: +971 (0)4 309 4000.
British Embassy, Dubai: +971 4 309 4444.
Canadian Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 694 0300.
Australian Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 401 7500.
South African Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 447 3446.
Irish Embassy, Abu Dhabi: +971 2 495 8200.
New Zealand Embassy, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (also responsible for the United Arab Emirates): +966 1 488 7988.
While Musandam is technically part of Oman, the tiny peninsula is all but surrounded by the United Arab Emirates. The barren mountains that make up most of Musandam are home to a few isolated villages; Khasab is the largest and has a few cultural attractions such as prehistoric rock paintings and a 17th-century castle. Tourists visit the area for the spectacular views and quiet beauty of nature. The coastline of the peninsula is made up of stunning fjord-like inlets, with dhow and boat trips along the coast being a popular activity in Musandam.
For a real taste of Arabia, visitors can take a trip into the desert with any number of tour operators into the rolling sand dunes surrounding Dubai. Tours usually include a thrilling 4x4 drive over the dunes, camel riding, a visit to a local Bedouin village, and end with a traditional Arabian barbeque under the stars with a show of belly dancing.
An ancient village positioned in the foothills of the Hajjar Mountains, Hatta is located about 71 miles (115km) east of Dubai. A popular weekend getaway for residents of the city, Hatta has a mild climate that makes it ideal for escaping the heat of Dubai. The 16th-century fort is a must-see and Hatta also makes a good base for exploring the surrounding region. Off-road 4x4 adventures are a popular way to take in the scenery, including the Wadi Hatta gorge with its magnificent waterfall and picturesque rock pools.
The beautiful island of Kish is located in the Persian Gulf, off the southern shore of mainland Iran. Sometimes referred to as the 'Pearl of the Persian Gulf', Kish is home to a resort with both modern and ancient attractions. The resort takes advantage of Kish's stunning islands to offer water sports such as snorkeling and scuba diving, yachting, fishing, parasailing and water-skiing. Unfortunately, women are not allowed in some of the best snorkelling areas, though women-only beaches available. Kish also has a number of historical attractions, including the underground town of Cariz and the ancient city of Harireh.
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