Country Guide: United Arab Emirates
If you’re looking for a place with larger than life malls, palm-shaped man-made beaches and iconic skycrapers the first city that comes to mind is Dubai. If you want to visit The Louvre, but you’ve already been to the one in Paris there is only one place to go: and that’s Abu Dhabi. But both cities have more to offer. This city is like Disneyworld for adults and will amaze kids just as much.
Even when you’ve seen more than a few skylines in your lifetime, Dubai’s skyline will still impress you. It’s next level. And it will definitely make you feel small. When you arrive in Dubai you have one goal. You look around searching for the largest one of all. The building that put this city on the map and the one that is already on its way to be replaced by an even bigger one: Burj Khalifa! Believe me, you won’t be disappointed. Your jaw will drop and for the rest of your trip you keep looking around for a glimpse of this marvelous man-made wonder. But Dubai is more than the Burj Khalifa. It seizes to amaze you on more levels than one. And while you’re there, don’t skip the opportunity of visiting Abu Dhabi. Not just to visit the Louvre, but also the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It’s just an hour drive from Dubai. Read up on what to do while in the United Arab Emirates for four full days.
Two of the most famous attractions of Dubai are in near vicinity of each other: The Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa. Both are very much worth a visit. When entering the Dubai Mall it feels like you enter DisneyWorld. It is an amazing and overwhelming experience. So many colors, noises, scents and people. Every floor is different from the other. No one needs to tell you that this is the biggest mall in the world. The higher the escalator goes the clearer it is. While walking through it you don’t know where to look. The shops are huge and beautifully decorated, but that’s not the most interesting part of this mall.
There’s a huge aquarium in the mall, full with beautiful fish and even sharks. It won’t be easy pulling your kids away from this larger than life fish tank. If you can fork up the dough you can even dive in there and swim with them. If you’re looking for a family friendly restaurant, then go eat at the Rainforest Café. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s loud, there’s entertainment everywhere you look and the carbs in every meal on the menu are abundant. The extra you get when eating here is that you can still view the aquarium.
If you’re done shopping, eating and diving you can hit the slopes right in this mall. It all sounds so unreal, but believe me, you can do all those things here and more. There’s no way you will get bored when visiting the Dubai Mall.
The Burj Khalifa is actually attached to the mall. We choose to buy the At the Top SKY ticket to the 148th floor and it was a great experience. You feel so small while out on the terrace. I would definitely recommend buying the At The Top SKY ticket. We made sure we got a timeslot that enabled us to see the sun go down and that made it even more special. We loved it and it is worth the money!
After spending the whole day in the mall and in the Burj Khalifa go outside and watch the fountain in the dark. If you want to get a picture of the fountain in action, including a full view on the Burj Khalifa, I will give you a tip. Walk through the Souk Al Bahar and take a right at the end of the Souk. Walk outside through the exit and you will see a few restaurants. Walk towards the first one and then turn around. You will have your million dollar view right there.
Buying a ticket
There are a few tickets you can choose from. There’s the regular ticket that will get you to the 125th floor, there’s the At The Top SKY ticket that will get you as high as the 148th floor and onto the observation deck with outdoor terrace and a VIP ticket that will get you to the lounge on the 154th floor. The higher you go, the more expensive the ticket. If you’re planning on visiting the Burj Khalifa make sure that you’ve pre-booked your tickets before you left the comfort of your home. Getting a ticket while standing in line for the register is almost impossible. No matter when you visit. And even when you’ve pre-booked you still have to stand in line for at least 30 minutes. So make sure you are in time for your pre-booked timeslot.
Dubai’s Old Quarter
it’s hard to find the true Arab vibe in Dubai. The closest you get to it is at the old centre of Dubai along the Dubai Creek. Take an abra from Burj Dubai to Old Deira Souq Station and get lost in de the different Souks. You will see the Spice Souk first. It’s touristy and you should watch out for the usual scams, but the scents are amazing and the way the spices are piled up in baskets is really beautiful. When you’re done hunting for spices it is time for the Gold Souk. Gold everywhere you look. From small delicate rings to huge necklaces you can picture Cleopatra wearing. There’s little security for a place that offers so much of such great value. That feels weird, but Dubai is extremely safe, maybe because of the high penalties to crime in this country.
After roaming the souks have a lunch and taste the real Dubai by ordering dishes like shawarma and hummus. And have some sweet tea to go along with it.
After lunch take the Dubai Ferry from the Old Town to Dubai Marina. It’s a two hour-long trip that will cost you 50 dirham (about 12 euros). You can’t buy tickets for this ferry ride online in advance. So walk over to Al Ghubaiba Station, wait in line, get your ticket and wait until the ferry is filled with a minimum of 10 passengers. It takes off three times a day and once on the ferry you are treated too great views of the cities skyline, the Burj Al Arab and Palm Jumeirah. It is worth your time and money.
Once you get off the ferry in the Dubai Marina your jaw will drop from seeing all these huge yachts docked up there. Take a nice stroll and depending on your budget either have a drink and a meal in one of the many restaurants along the Marina. The skyline is even more impressive in the dark when all the buildings are lit.
Madinat Jumeirah & Souk Madinat
After all the sight-seeing you’ve done the first few days you have a few options: jump in a pool somewhere and have some cocktails or hang at the private beach of your hotel in the sun. There’s is a third option and that is to go to one of the public beaches.
Start at the Madinat Jumeirah and walk through the Souk and admire the beautiful sail shaped Burj Al Arab and have breakfast there. After that take a bus or a taxi and let the driver drop you off at La Mer Beach. It’s a beautiful public beach and not too crowded, probably because it lacks a view of the Burj Al Arab. But I think it’s a good thing. A little bit of piece and quiet is highly recommended after all the scents, noises and colours this city has dropped on you the first two days. So lay back and relax for a few hours before partaking in your next activity: a desert safari.
Go on a desert safari
Most hotels can arrange activities for you and as touristy as it sounds (and is), a desert safari really is a great experience. You start with a dune safari which is really fun. The jeep drives through the desert really fast and that gives you that butterfly feeling in your stomach as if you’re riding Space Mountain. After duning the jeep drives you too a desert camp. Here’s where the touristy experience really starts, but for some reason that won’t bother you at all, believe me. And best of all, the loud laughter of your kids will make this day even better. Be sure to find out what the age limits are. They might differ, depending on where you book the tour. The one we did was from age 10 and up and not allowed for pregnant woman.
While you wait for dinner you can try your hand at desert snowboarding and rolling through the sand. It will make you feel like a kid again. With a group of about 40-50 people you enjoy a nice dinner. Mostly traditional food, but also fries and bbq for the kids (who will love this activity). After dinner it gets cold, so bring a sweater to really enjoy the shows that follow. You will be entertained by belly dancers, tanoura dancers and a fire show. After enjoying yourself in the Dubai desert for about 6 hours you will be driven back to your hotel.
Drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi
Time to rent a car and drive to Abu Dhabi. If you avoid driving during rush hours it will take you about 75 minutes and it’s easy to navigate from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. There are two things you can’t miss when you only have a day in Abu Dhabi: The Louvre and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
The architecture of the Louvre is stunning. It is a huge dome with many holes in it so rays of light can shine through these holes. When you follow the walkway down to the end it will give you a glimpse of the sea. We visited this museum a month after opening and saw lots of pieces that were lend by different French museums including The Louvre. Other pieces were bought by the museum during the last ten years. From my experience you can easily spend 4 to 5 hours there. Unless your children aren’t museum lovers. In that case they will love the building and the fact that indoors also brings you outdoors for a bit and near the sea. And they will probably also love the rooms with Egyptian artifacts. Lunch is expensive, but will give you the chance to sit on a beautiful outside terrace overlooking the sea.
About the Louvre
The Louvre opened in november 2017 and it is the largest museum in the Arabian peninsula. It can use the name Louvre because of the branding agreement with the original Louvre in France. The architect of this beautiful building is Jean Nouvel.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
After this cultural visit it is time to drive to your second destination in this magnificent city: the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The reason you should visit the mosque after the museum is that you can experience a sunset that makes the mosque even more beautiful and impressive than it already is in bright daylight. Never in my life have I seen a place of worship this gorgeous. It will definitely take your breath away. Women should be aware that if your clothes are too tight, seethrough, show your knees and elbows and/or uncovers your hair that you are obliged to wear one of the abaya’s that you can loan during your visit. Everyone must also leave their shoes outside the mosque. Which is a real treat on warm days when you walk barefoot on the cool marbled floors.
After you’ve watched the sun go down and the place gets dark, I can assure you that you walk back to your rental car fully satisfied with everything you have experienced during your daytrip to Abu Dhabi. In our case we barely spoke during the drive back to Dubai. We all took a moment to ourselves to think about all the beauty we had seen that day.
That’s it, a very full, yet fullfilling itinerary for a four day trip through a part of the United Arab Emirates. It’s a crazy and beautiful country that you need to see to believe.
Have you ever been to the UAE? What was your highlight?