Things to do in the United Arab Emirates

Things to do in  United Arab Emirates

Sand dunes and skyscrapers

When you think of the United Arab Emirates, you likely think of its blockbuster, over-the-top city: Dubai. With the world's tallest building, man-made islands, an aquarium big enough for scuba-diving, and indoor ski slopes, there's no shortage of experiences to check off and sights to see. But beyond the glitz and glamor of this shiny, new city, there's another side to the United Arab Emirates, which existed long before Dubai started booming. Explore the Hajar Mountains, towering over the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah; or visit the hub of culture and athletics in Abu Dhabi, the capital, with highlights including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the museums at Saadiyat Island. Get to grips with art and heritage in Sharjah via visits to the Grand King Faisal Mosque, Souk Al Arsa, and the Heritage Village. No trip to the UAE is complete without a foray out into the desert, whether it's dune-bashing, riding a camel, or experiencing a cultural presentation under the protection of a luxury tent. Luckily, many of these experiences can be combined on a desert day tour. Finally, for relief from the hot, sandy desert, travelers can head to the Gulf of Oman for swimming and other water activities, visit the Aquaventure Waterpark, or experience the indoor Ski Dubai snow park.

Top 15 attractions in United Arab Emirates

Burj Khalifa

Towering over downtown Dubai, Burj Khalifa boasts the accolade of the world’s tallest building—it stands at a whopping 2,717 feet (828 meters) high. Admire its elaborate exterior, inspired by Islamic art, on a Dubai sightseeing tour or take a high-speed elevator to the 124th floor, where you’ll find At The Top, the world’s tallest observation deck. Opt for a skip-the-line ticket to beat the crowds and glide straight to the summit. Some admission ticket packages also include entry to Ski Dubai and a trip to the Burj Al-Arab desertMore

Dubai Marina

Carved along the Gulf shoreline south of Dubai’s The Palm island, Dubai Marina is a skyscraper-packed waterfront community that’s one of the city’s swishest residential and leisure hotspots. At its heart is a 2-mile (3-kilometer) waterway framed by residential blocks, hotels, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues.More

Burj Al-Arab Jumeirah

The sail-like silhouette of the Burj Al-Arab Jumeirah has become a symbol of Dubai's opulence and affluence, standing at 1,053 feet (321 meters) as the third-tallest hotel and one of the most luxurious hotels in the United Arab Emirates. Opened in 1999, the landmark boasts plenty of superlatives, including its five-star status.More

Palm Jumeirah

Jutting into the Persian Gulf from southern Dubai, the Palm Jumeirah is an artificial island in the shape of a palm tree and ringed by a crescent-shaped breakwater. The world’s biggest artificial island, it draws visitors to its palatial hotels, theme parks, and shopping malls.More

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The massive, white Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the central place of worship for citizens of the United Arab Emirates, accommodating roughly 40,000 people. Highlights inside include white marble columns with mother-of-pearl engravings, expansive Iranian carpets, and intricate crystal chandeliers.More

Dubai Gold Souk

Dubai’s internationally famous Gold Souk has its roots in the 1940s, when Indian and Iranian traders began setting up stalls in the area. Today, it’s one of the world’s busiest jewelry markets, with hundreds of shops and stalls selling just about everything that glitters—namely, gold. An estimated 20 percent of the world’s gold passes through the souk, with a whopping 10 tons (9,072 kilograms) for sale in the market at any given moment.More

Abu Dhabi Corniche

Running along the northwest side of the city, the Corniche (also known as Corniche Road) is a stretch of land on the waterfront perfect for a stroll or bike ride. The 5-mile (8-kilometer) promenade has dedicated cycling and pedestrian areas as well as family-friendly beaches, children’s play areas, cafes, restaurants, and shopping.More

Bur Dubai Village

Located south of Dubai Creek, Bur Dubai is one of Dubai’s oldest districts, with a traditional atmosphere to match. Extending from Al Raffa in the west to Al Jaddaf in the east, it’s home to an array of sights, from the Bastakia Quarter—also called the Al Fahidi Historic District—to souks, parks, and several top museums.More

Dubai Creek (Khor Dubai)

The seawater Dubai Creek (Khor Dubai)—which flows between Deira and Bur Dubai in the historic center of the United Arab Emirates city—is the reason for Dubai's very existence. It’s been widened many times during the last century and, today, it's often full of abra (wooden water taxis) ferrying passengers between the souks of Deira on the northeastern bank and the historic district of Bur Dubai on the southwestern bank.More

Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo

Within the Dubai Mall, the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo is no stranger to superlatives, including the world’s largest collection of sand sharks and one of the world’s largest acrylic panel viewing platforms. Numerous marine habitats, including an underwater tunnel, house 33,000 marine animals, from crocodiles to tropical fish.More

The Dubai Mall

The world’s largest shopping mall by area, The Dubai Mall boasts a huge range of attractions—making it a full-blown UAE entertainment destination. At the heart of Downtown Dubai, this 4-level colossus houses around 1,300 stores, plus restaurants, cinemas, Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, and the Burj Khalifa.More

Dubai Museum

Set inside Al Fahidi Fort, the Dubai Museum recounts the Emirates’ history up until the oil boom, which forever altered its skyline. Dioramas and artifacts convey what daily life was like for Dubai’s earliest communities, while life-sized re-creations of the city’s early souks and wharfs bring the past to life.More

Dubai Spice Souk

Tucked into Dubai’s Deira district just north of Dubai Creek, the Dubai Spice Souk offers some of the city’s most rewarding shopping. Here, covered alleyways brim with stalls that sell all manner of Arabian and Asian spices, herbs, and delicacies, making the souk ideal for souvenir hunters and anyone hoping to get a sense of old Dubai.More

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi

Set on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, the race car–themed Ferrari World features 20 rides and attractions—everything from the toddler-friendly carousel of Ferrari prototype cars to cutting-edge racing simulators that will please older kids and teens. The largest indoor theme park in the world is also home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, the Formula Rossa, a hydraulic-powered thrill ride that sees visitors strapped into a Ferrari Formula One-like coaster car and launched at speeds of up to 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour.More

Emirates Palace

Opened in 2005, the 5-star Emirates Palace hotel is one of Abu Dhabi’s top attractions for its sheer scale and grandeur. The multi-domed luxury hotel, part of Kempinski Hotels, sits on the beachfront in palm-sprinkled gardens and makes a lavish retreat for guests and a must-see for Abu Dhabi visitors.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in United Arab Emirates

Dubai: Red Dunes Desert Safari, Sandsurf, Camels & Quad Bike Option
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Dubai Helicopter Tour

Dubai Helicopter Tour

Dubai full day tour with Entry ticket to Burj Khalifa at the Top
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Hot Air Balloon Ride, Vintage Land Rover Ride & Breakfast from Dubai
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Abu Dhabi Day Tour From Dubai

Abu Dhabi Day Tour From Dubai

Dubai Luxury Canal Dinner Cruise

Dubai Luxury Canal Dinner Cruise

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All about United Arab Emirates

When to visit

The UAE’s peak season is from November through March, when the average temperature is approximately 77°F (25°C). This balmy, dry winter weather also brings many tourist-friendly events, including the Dubai Shopping Festival, the Jazz Festival, and racing World Cup. This said, if you fancy the UAE at its quietest, and you can brave 100°F (37°C) temperatures (or higher), try visiting in July and August. Whatever your plans, check the calendar for Ramadan, when many places close and alcohol sales are restricted.

Getting around

Unless you’re renting a car or taking a tour that includes transportation, the easiest way to travel around and between the UAE’s cities is to take a cab or use ride hailing apps like Uber and Careem. Most traditional taxis are licensed, metered, and air conditioned. Public transportation is fairly thin on the ground and varies between emirates; Dubai has the most options with its metro and trams (though coverage of the city is patchy). Public buses, which run between cities, are inexpensive but slow.

Traveler tips

If you’re going to take photos or videos (including selfies) in public places where locals are around—especially women and families—be sure to ask the people around you if it’s okay to do so. Taking photos of people without consent is illegal across the UAE and is punishable by law. Also, avoid photographing government buildings, courts; and military bases; double-check the structures in the background of your tourist shots to be extra safe.


People Also Ask

What is the United Arab Emirates famous for?

Comprising seven emirates, the UAE is best known for the skyscrapers, hotels, and beaches of cosmopolitan Dubai—and, increasingly, the futuristic architecture and leisure attractions of its capital, Abu Dhabi. Both, along with emirates like Sharjah, Fujairah, and Ajman, are famed for their deserts and dunes, drawing adventure lovers and sports-and-safari tours.

What is the most visited place in the UAE?

Dubai tops the UAE destination list, with an annual average of more than 16 million visitors. People flock to the shimmering, rocket-shaped Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, making it the city’s most-visited sight. Also popular are the Dubai Fountain, the gigantic Dubai Mall, and the sail-like Burj Al Arab.

How many days should you spend in the UAE?

Many allow a week for Dubai, but longer is better to relax and explore further. Ten days is ideal for enjoying Dubai’s sights, theme parks, beaches, and desert. However, make it two weeks if you also fancy visiting Abu Dhabi and other emirates and adding adventure sports and desert expeditions.

What are the most popular activities to do in the UAE?

Checking out Dubai’s attractions is a favorite with UAE tourists. Admiring the views from the soaring Burj Khalifa, seeing the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab, and experiencing the city’s water parks, beaches, and family-friendly attractions are must-dos. Desert trips—many involving dune bashes, camel rides, all-terrain vehicles, and starlit barbecues—are also popular.

Which Emirate is known for cultural activities?

While Dubai’s old souks and restored Al Fahidi quarter reflect traditional Arabia, Abu Dhabi emirate is arguably stronger culture-wise. Attractions include its Louvre art gallery, Heritage Village, and activities showcasing falconry—a time-honored Bedouin sport. The emirate also boasts the garden city of Al Ain, with a UNESCO-protected oasis, fort, and museums.

Is Dubai or Abu Dhabi better?

While both have appeal, Dubai hosts more sightseeing and family attractions. Dubai also has numerous standouts, like the Burj Khalifa, and offers more beaches, theme parks, malls, and desert trips. Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, combines a smaller crop of attractions, like its Grand Mosque and Ferrari World, with a quieter atmosphere.

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