The United Arab Emirates consists up of seven unique Emirates.
While the UAE is popularly for cities like Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, the country also has other notable cities like Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah.
The Emirates welcome tourists of all tastes and from walks of life. From must-see cultural and heritage sites to the world’s tallest buildings, lavish resorts, modern tourist attractions, and good food await you in the UAE.
The United Arab Emirates can be as expensive or budget friendly a country to visit as you want it to be.
So relax, sit back and read my insider guide on the best of what to do and where to go in the UAE.
Insider Guide: The best of the United Arab Emirates
We in the UAE have no such word as ‘impossible’ it does not exist in our lexicon. – HH Sheikh Mohammed @HHShkMohd
The cost of staying in the UAE depends on which Emirate you are visiting, as well as the type of accommodation you are looking for. A single night for one person at the world famous 7-star Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai costs AED 4490 ($1227) before taxes and fees.
A single night at the Ajman Saray, Ajman, on the other hand, costs just AED 677 ($185). However, if you are travelling on a budget, you can find hotel apartments for as little as $29 a night in downtown Dubai.
There is an amazing range of places to eat when you are visiting the UAE and the amount you pay varies just as much.
Western style restaurants generally charge the same as they do in the US or Europe, while street vendors are much cheaper and hotel restaurants and exclusive dining options are far more expensive.
A three-course meal in Dubai could cost AED 500 ($136) and above, including wine. However, at budget restaurants in Dubai or the other Emirates, you can have a taste of the many cultures that make up the UAE for under AED 150 ($40).
Remember the UAE is an Islamic country and alcohol laws are strict; if it is not offered, then it is not served. Also, don’t forget that the larger establishments will add service charges. The budget independent restaurants don’t, but tipping around 10% is a welcome and accepted practice.
This is another area where you are spoilt for choice with a wide range of ways you can see this amazing country. Dubai is a city built for the car, but it also has an impressive metro and bus service.
A single ticket on Dubai metro for 24 hours of travel costs just AED 14 ($4), while bus rides costs AED 3 on average. Taxis, however, can be an expensive option, particularly if you are new to the city, and they take you the long way around.
Car hire is available, but it is best to check for driving restrictions, terms and conditions. To really take in the culture and history, many of the northern Emirates like Fujairah are best seen on foot.
There are many activities that are free, from visits to Mosques and historical talks to nature walks and beach visits.
The towns of Kalba and Dibba provide historical experiences for just the cost of travel. A half day sightseeing tour of Dubai costs around AED 80 ($22). A private 4X4 tour of the Arabian Desert for the day can set you back AED 150 ($41), but will be well worth it.
UAE Money Saving Tips
Eat Like the Locals
Look for small independent restaurants patronised by the residents to enjoy food from every culture at an affordable price.
Try Ravi in Al Satwa, which serves huge bowls of Pakistani curry, complete with tea-tray size naan breads for just AED 30.
Alternatively, for something completely different, try the traditional Levant street food, such as chicken wrap with tahini (also called shawarma) from Zaroob or Zaatar Z Weit. There are also restaurants that serve only the best of the United Arab Emirates traditional food.
Avoid Alcohol in the UAE
You cannot public consume alcohol in the UAE except in specially licensed clubs, hotels or bar. If you really want to enjoy a drink, then go along on a weekly ladies’ or gents’ night. On these occasions, specially selected drinks are free.
Always go for the metro or buses over a taxi, or get involved in the bike hire scheme that is taking route in Dubai at least. If you do need to get a taxi, try to arrange the price, and the route, upfront.
If travelling to the other Emirates, try joining an arranged tour. Once there, the only way to do them justice is by walking.
Haggle in the Market
When you are out shopping, never settle for the first price you are offered. Haggling is a tradition, and it would almost be rude not to take part.
Top Things to See and Do in the United Arab Emirates
All the Emirates have long histories and individual stories to be told.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
This is a must-see if you are visiting the UAE. This beautiful building is full of culture and history, as well as being an important place for prayer.
Groups of less than eight people are welcomed into the mosque to look around on their own. Larger groups are requested to be part of a public tour. These do not need to be pre-booked. You do need to remember that it is a holy place and dress modestly. Don’t forget about restricted hours on Friday and during Ramadan.
Ferrari World Theme Park, Abu Dhabi
If you like big rides, or just want to learn more about the world of Ferrari racing, don’t miss this opportunity; it is certainly one for the whole family.
Visit Fujairah Museum
An intimate experience that brings to life the history of the local area. A visit here, and to the fort in Fujairah, along with the town itself for some authentic shopping creates the perfect day out.
Don’t forget to visit the old forts in the town of Kalba in Sharjah, and the Ajman Museum in Ajman.
Umm Al Quwain
Explore the history and archeology in Umm Al Quwain. The Umm Al Quwain Fort is a must see while you are there.
Sharjah Car Museum of Classic Cars
Whether you have always had an affinity for classic automobiles, or you are simply curious about how the art and science of automobile design and manufacturing have transformed since the early-to-mid 20th century, you will want to visit the Sharjah Car Museum of Classic Cars.
Explore the Arabian Desert
You will get to see sand dunes, local villages, ancient rock formations, and camel market from the safety and comfort of a 4X4 on a private or group tour. The tour includes your own guide, a picnic lunch or dinner, and an air-conditioned 4X4 vehicle.
Off Road Driving and Hiking Adventure
If this sounds like your type of fun, visit the Al Hajar Mountains in Northeastern Oman. The mountains have a unique climate, creating a special environment and habitat with plants and flowers that are not found elsewhere in the region.
The islands of Sharjah also provide opportunities for hiking in marshes and forest environments.
Visit and Explore Dubai
Of course, no visit to the UAE will be complete without visiting the world-famous modern architectural wonders of Dubai. These include the Burj Khalifa, Mall of the Emirates, complete with ski slope, and the sail-shaped 7 Star Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel.
But, there is another side of Dubai. Hidden behind the modernity is the Al Safa Park. It costs just AED 3 and includes free barbecue pits, a weekly flea market, and a community center and café.
Useful Arabic Phrase
While in the UAE the chances are that you will not find any local who cannot speak English, in fact, English is like a second language in most major UAE cities. However, it is always a sign of respect and a courtesy to the locals in any country you are visiting to know at least a few basic words in their language
Hello – Salam Alaykoom and in reply you would answer Wa alaykoom salam
Yes – Ay-wa
No – La
Thank-you – Shu’Kran
No thanks – La shu’kran
Please – Min fadlak (min fadliki for females)
Sorry – Af-wan or Muta’assif
Good Morning – Sabah el-kheer and in response you would answer Sabah in-nuwr
Good Evening – Masssa el kheer and in response you would answer Massa’ in-nuwr
Welcome – Ah-hlan was ah-hlan and in response you would answer Ahh-lan beek
Health Check and UAE Visa
No health certificate or special immunisations are required to enter the UAE. However, it is recommended that you check before departure if you are travelling from a health-risk area.
Adequate sun protection including quality sunglasses, hats and sun creams are advised during the winter months. Medical facilities are up-to-date, and hospitals in UAE are well-equipped. Some pharmacies are open 24-hours a day. Adequate medical insurance to cover all eventualities is highly recommended.
Citizens of the following 33 countries are issued with a free 30-day visit visa upon entry: UK, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Finland, Malta, Spain, Monaco, Vatican, Iceland, Andorra, San Marino, Liechtenstein, United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.
Visa processing time is approximately five days when arranged through a sponsor. However, allowances should be made for possible delays in the approval procedure. It is strongly advised to apply well in advance of your departure date. Visa regulations are subject to change from time to time.
Life in the whole of UAE continues to change and develop while still safeguarding its heritage, culture and tradition. It is the embrace of the tradition and modernity that makes the UAE one of the unique places to visit on the planet.
Which Emirate would you visit if you had the chance to explore the United Arab Emirates? Please let me know your thoughts in the comment box below and if you found my insider guide: the best of the United Arab Emirates useful, do me a favour by sharing it on social media or send it to one person you know who is planning to visit the UAE soon.