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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 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 traveler, 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.
Strap yourself in for the ride of a lifetime at Ferrari World, which opened at Abu Dhabi's Yas Island in November 2010. At over 2 million sq feet (200,000 sq m) this is the largest indoor amusement park in the world. The headline attraction is the Formula Rossa rollercoaster, by some margin the world's fastest, attaining speeds of up to 160 miles p/h (240km) and an acceleration of 4.8 G, which is what a Formula One racing driver experiences at full throttle. 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. Ferrari World includes six restaurants, featuring four Michelin-starred chefs.
The oldest building in young Abu Dhabi is the Al Hosn Palace, known colloquially as the White Fort. It was constructed in 1793 as the official residence of the former ruling family, and was extensively renovated in 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 old Bastakiya district is a step back in time to the days before electricity and air-conditioning, where traditional courtyard houses were cooled by wind towers. Old Dubai was famous for its 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 marked for tourist development.
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. At the heart of the Bur Dubai souk lies Al Fahidi Street, selling the latest electronics, photographic equipment and home appliances at competitive prices. 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 to enter the Mosque.
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, workshops where craftsmen ply their trades, a museum and much more.
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 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, however traditional attire can be borrowed from the Mosque.
The imposing 19th-century Al Faheidi 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 1799 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.
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 races - 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 September to March and race tracks 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. Musical entertainment is provided care of the Bateaux Dubai musicians and DJ. Booking is required in advance through the reservation line.
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 is home to a number of the world's best known stores including Bloomingdales, Marks and Spencer and Montblanc. Designers such as Stella McCartney also have outlets in the complex and world famous jewellers Tiffany & Co. have a branch located there. The mall also has a number of restaurants ranging from fast food to fine dining. No trip to Dubai would be complete without an outing to Dubai's latest shopping spectacular.
Located in the enormous Dubai Mall, the recently-opened 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 provides an exciting, educational day out for adults and children alike.
With a variety of sports to choose from, Al Nasr Leisureland offers facilities to cater to just about every sport under the sun. From an ice rink to swimming pools, tennis courts and a bowling alley, 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, making the educational process fun. Children can learn all about the human body, science and space and the park also features a theatre, café, souvenir shop and wonderful views of the creek.
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 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 what seems like an endless lawn, 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, 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. Favourite rides at the amusement centre include the thrashing shark rollercoaster, the whizzy little bumper cars and the 'Extreme Shock' machine - actually very safe!
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 water sports like snorkeling, fishing, windsurfing, water skiing, kayaking and sailing. There is also a café and cocktail bar, and three swimming pools with water slides.
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.
Voted Best Thai Restaurant by Time Out Dubai, The Lemongrass in Oud Metha serves up traditional Thai food in a relaxed, modern setting. Decor is subtle and calming and seems designed to keep the chi flowing while visitors savour delicious Thai fare. Seafood features heavily on the menu and the grilled Red Snapper in red curry sauce is an alternative to the traditional Thai Green Curry. Also worth sampling is the interesting take on the Pad Thai Noodles. The Lemongrass is a 'dry' venue; however try the freshly squeezed juices and smoothies instead. The peppermint smoothie is popular among return visitors. The Lemongrass offers affordable, appetizing, authentic Asian food. Visitors arriving by taxi, should direct the driver to Lamcy Plaza.
Friday brunch is an institution in Abu Dhabi and this five star hotel sets the bar very high with an epic brunch spread, combining the food selection of a number of its restaurants to provide customers with a dazzling array of culinary choice. Beach Rotana's relatively high prices are offset by the exceptional food and complimentary champagne.
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 you 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 award-winning steakhouse is the finest in Dubai with steaks that 'cut like butter' and the freshest Maine lobsters, Dungeness crabs and oysters in town. It is popular for business entertaining as well as for romantic dinners. Begin with lobster bisque or seafood chowder, enjoy steaks, chops or seafood as a main, and finish with New York cheesecake or apple pie. Décor is New York style with lots of wood and leather, and the service is excellent.
The Meat Co. at the Madinat Jumeirah is 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, other highlights include 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 ex-pat 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 you can't beat the famous Burj Al Arab Hotel. On Friday 10.00 to 14.30, (Please be informed that the buffet is open until 16:00 hrs) 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 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 whilst enjoying fantastic, friendly service. 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.
Al Mina is a relaxed restaurant on the harbour serving traditional Iranian cuisine, with a special focus on local seafood like lobster and squid. Try one of the starter platters, overflowing with hummus, tabbouleh, and dolmades. The restaurant has both an Arabian-style indoor section and an outdoor patio with waterfront views. Open daily from 4-11pm.
These restaurant chains offer a good local variety of fast food at a low price. They do shawarmas (roast meat rapped in pita bread), hummus, falafels and roast chicken. The mouth-watering fare and local cultural inspiration makes them a must try.
This popular Pakistani restaurant in Dubai is famous for its good food and relaxed atmosphere. A 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.
Considered the best place to eat Persian food in Abu Dhabi, Pars Palace is tucked away in a small backstreet behind Corniche Towers, near the marina. A wide selection of authentic Middle Eastern dishes, including saffron chicken and spicy kebabs, is accompanied by complementary fresh loaves of flat bread with sheeps-milk cheese. One of the best-value restaurants in Abu Dhabi, Pars Palace is busy for lunch and dinner. Open 11am to 3:30pm and 6pm to midnight.
This elegant French patisserie is popular over lunch for its excellent people-watching and relaxed environment. Linger over a cup of coffee and a petit four, or indulge in a leisurely meal of French fusion cuisine. Located in the Marin Mall, Hediard is open daily from 9am to midnight.
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 used.
Electrical current is 220-240 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. Holders of passports containing an Israeli visa or stamps need to obtain a clearance issued by the C.I.D. (Crime Investigation Department) before arrival. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your 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, however a certificate is required for cholera and yellow fever if arriving from an affected area. Tap water in the major cities is safe to drink, but elsewhere only bottled water should be drunk. 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; in Abu Dhabi particularly a health insurance law has been implemented that makes it mandatory for all travellers to Abu Dhabi to have health insurance. Dubai has just recently taken on the same approach making it mandatory to have health insurance. In general, travellers who require medical treatment will have to cover the cost of any medical fees incurred.
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. Al Qaeda continues 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 not always observed and 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, however 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. Local mobile phone networks provide wide coverage throughout the country. Guest starter packs, including a SIM card and credit, can be bought on arrival at the airport, providing three months of cellular access. Internet cafes are widely available, and most hotels have high speed internet access. 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 3,000 dirhams. 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, with a few cultural attractions like prehistoric rock paintings and a 17th-century castle.
But tourists don't come to Musandam for nightlife, they come for the spectacular views and quiet beauty of nature. The coastline of the peninsula is made up of stunning fjord-like inlets, and dhow and boat trips along the coast are a popular activity in Musandam (and a good way to spot dolphis frolicking in the sea). Scuba diving is also popular, especially from the dive centre at the Golden Tulip Hotel, the only major hotel in the region.
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 town itself is basic, with an ATM and roadside market being the main tourist infrastructure, which gives it an unspoiled atmosphere that makes it interesting to explore; the 16th-century fort is a must-see.
Hatta also makes a good base for exploring the surrounding region. 4x4 trips and off-road adventures are a popular way to take in the scenery, including the Wadi Hatta gorge with its magnificent waterfall, and a few picturesque rock pools.
Travellers driving to Hatta should keep in mind that the road from Dubai passes through Oman; although there are no border stations, most rental car agreements from the UAE will not cover incidents that happen in Oman.
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 luxury resort of Kish offers many family attractions, including the Kish Dolphin and Crocodile Park, Mysteries of the World Zoo, and a giant bird interactive sculpture. The resort takes advantage of Kish's stunning islands to offer water sports like snorkeling and scuba diving, yachting, fishing, parasailing and water-skiing. Unfortunately, women are not allowed in some of the best snorkelling areas, however there are women-only beaches available.
Kish also has a number of historical attractions, including the underground town of Cariz, the ancient city of Harireh, and the remains of a Greek ship wrecked on the shore (a popular picnic site).
Kish is a free trade zone, meaning there are good bargains to be had in the numerous shopping malls on the island. Shoppers should be aware however, that much of the merchandise is fake.
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