In pictures: the UAE's best cultural escapes
If you need an antedote to the fast-paced corporate lifestyle, the UAE has plenty of places - some little more than an hour from the city - where the weary businessperson can fold up their suit and get a breath of fresh air and historic surroundings. Here are our top 10 picks of the UAE's cultural escapes.
Hatta Heritage Village
This traditional Emirati village dates back more than 2,000 years and was restored in 2011. Nestled in the Hajar Mountains, Hatta is a monument to the UAE’s heritage, with homes, shops, farms, a freshwater canal and cemetery. If you have time, drive north to Fujairah and visit the lively Friday Market in Masafi and Al Baadiya Mosque, thought to be the oldest extant mosque in the UAE.
At 1,934 metres, Jebel Jais is the UAE’s tallest peak and every bit as rugged and wild as you would expect. The Ras Al Khaimah government wants to attract more visitors and plans to open a mountain viewing deck in October and new hiking paths. There is also a nearby health resort and adventure sports facilities including the Middle East’s longest zip-line, the 470-metre Via Ferrata.
Qasr Al Muwaiji
The century-old fortress in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Al Ain was home to generations of the ruling Al Nahyan family, and the birthplace of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE. In 2015, the fort was opened to the public for the first time as a museum, featuring a permanent exhibition exploring the history of Al Ain.
Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve
The emirate is well known for its mega-developments, but less so for its conservation work. Spanning 225 square kilometres, Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve is the biggest parcel of land dedicated to a single project in Dubai. The national park protects an abundance of flora and fauna and endangered species such as the Arabian oryx, Houbara bustard and spiny-tailed lizard.
Al Jazirat Al Hamra
Also known as the ‘Ghost Town of Ras Al Khaimah’, Al Jazirat Al Hamra is a deserted 14th century coastal village whose name translates as ‘The Red Island’. It was the ancestral home of the pearl-diving Za’ab tribe who left Ras Al Khaimah following a dispute with the ruler and were given housing in Abu Dhabi. It is said the village – a collection of abandoned coral and adobe cottages – is haunted with jinns (spirits).
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is a nature reserve located in the heart of Dubai, surrounded by skyscrapers. It is famous for the hundreds of pink flamingos that occupy the mangrove lagoon at the sanctury’s western edges, but keen birdwatchers can spot more than 170 other species that make the six square kilometre mud flats their home.
The museums of Sharjah
Before the discovery of oil, Sharjah had one of the most important ports in the region and accumulated wealth from trade, seafaring and pearls. It houses a cluster of 20 museums showcasing its 6,000-year-old heritage, including Sharjah Maritime Museum, Shajah Calligraphy Museum, Sharjah Art Museum and the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, among others.
Liwa Oasis is on the edge of Rub Al Khali, known as the ‘Empty Quarter’ – the largest sand desert in the world spanning 650,000 square kilometres. In the past, Liwa Oasis was occupied by the ancient Bu Fallah tribe. Today, the isolated settlement is part of the Al Gharbia Western Area of Abu Dhabi and home to a cluster of villages and the famous Liwa Date Festival.
Mangrove National Park, Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi’s coastal areas are richly lined with mangrove forests. The Mangrove National Park seeks to conserve 19 square kilometres of forest and mangrove lagoon and is open for exploring with an accredited tour operator. As well as seeing hundreds of bird, plant and reptile species, visitors can do marine sports including kayaking and diving.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (previously the Bastakiya Quarter)
The old heart of Dubai dates back to the 1890s, when residents made their living from pearl diving. It was originally called Bastakiya after the Iranian town of Bastak – many of the original traders were from Iran – but was renamed in 2012. A walk around the neighbourhood provides a glimpse into a bygone era with traditional homes, courtyards, alleyways and wind towers. It also houses the Al Fahidi Fort, Dubai Museum, Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, and several cafes and art galleries.