By Briana Seftel
Nestled along the Persian Gulf at the end of the Arabian Peninsula, the United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven emirates and a relatively new country established in 1971. With its natural oil reserves, the UAE has become one of the richest countries in the world. With flashy Dubai being the centerpiece, there's still so much to explore in this diverse nation that's extremely welcoming to tourists.
The man made Dubai marina is one of the most exclusive areas in Dubai with sleek skyscrapers lining the water and multimillion-dollar yachts gliding past chic hotels and restaurants. With its miles of walkways, the marina is perfect for an afternoon stroll or a moonlight walk after dinner.
At over 2,716.5 feet tall and more than 160 stories, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest building in the world. A stunning work of art and astonishing feat of engineering, the building has become an iconic symbol of Dubai since its opening in 2010. Visitors can ascend 148 floors to the observation deck to enjoy panoramic views over the city, then descend to Dubai Fountain, the world’s tallest performing fountain!
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
The opulent Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi is one of the largest mosques in the world, with a capacity for 40,000 worshippers. Named after UAE founder Sheikh Zayed who is buried here, the all white mosque features 82 marble domes, over 1,000 columns, 24-karat-gold gilded chandeliers and the world's largest hand knotted carpet. As one of few mosques open to non-Muslims, visitors can take one of the free guided tours offered throughout the day.
Like something out of a mirage, Al Alin is an oasis city located approximately two hours from Abu Dhabi. With its shady palm trees and natural springs in the middle of the Arabian desert, the city has been dubbed the "Garden City." Once a vital stop on the caravan route between Oman and the Gulf, Al Ain is one of the oldest permanently inhabited settlements in the world. Most visitors to Al Ain come to see Al Jahili Fort, built in 1891 to protect the city.
For a truly unique experience in Dubai, spend a day on Palm Jumeirah. The artificial island, made from reclaimed land mass, is aptly shaped like a palm tree and consists of a trunk and 17 fronds. Head for Atlantis, The Palm to enjoy Aquaventure Waterpark and Lost Chambers Aquarium, or just find a beach to relax and dip your toes into the warm waters of the Gulf.
Encompassing most of the UAE, the Arabian Desert is the fourth largest desert in the world. Bringing to mind Middle Eastern folk tales like Arabian Nights, the vast swaths of golden sand dunes is an unmissable part of your travels to the UAE. In this desert landscape, go dune bashing on a 4x4 vehicle, ride a camel or enjoy a barbecue feast under the stars.
Al Noor Mosque
In Sharjah, widely regarded as the cultural capital of the UAE, you will find Al Noor Mosque overlooking Khalid Lagoon. The only mosque in Sharjah open to non-Muslims, Al Noor is designed in a classic Ottoman style and resembles the Blue Mosque in Turkey. Admire its 24 cascading domes and soaring minarets before taking a guided tour of the interior.
A few helpful tips for traveling to the UAE:
- The UAE is a Muslim country, so it is advised to dress conservatively to respect the culture.
- PDA is not encouraged beyond holding hands, and it it is against the law to share the same hotel room with someone of the opposite sex unless you're married or closely related.
- Emiratis eat late! Dinner is usually from 10pm onwards.
- The UAE has strict, zero-tolerance anti-drug laws. If you plan on bringing any medication, check the UAE consulate or embassy before traveling.
- Temperatures can rise to 106F in the summer, so plan accordingly!