Once known for its fishing-based economy, today, this country is much more than glowing deserts and decaying forts. Immersed in its rich Emirati culture, the UAE is one of the most popular tourist destinations offering touches of modernity with its ever-expanding infrastructure. From its traditional souks to palm-shaped islands, glittering huge malls, luxurious hotels, grand architecture and theme parks, the country offers you a complete package to relax, rejuvenate and be adventurous - all at the same time.
The UAE, or simply Emirates, is a federation that comprises of seven emirates namely: Abu Dhabi (also the capital of the UAE), Ajman, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain, each adorned with a unique quality of its own. Apart from being an oil-based economy, the country invites its visitors to the glittering skylines and palm shaped islands of Dubai; immersed in culture and oil-rich Abu Dhabi, the mystical charm of heritage and art at Sharjah and to glimpse at the pure Emirati culture at Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Quwain. A visit to Fujairah will take you to the most beautiful beaches and rising Hajar Mountains.
October - April (Winters) is the best time to visit United Arab Emirates
The best time to beat the scorching heat is to visit between the months of October and February. Temperature at this time of the year is cool, requiring a light jacket or a sweater. However, if you want to visit beaches, then plan your visit in October, March or April when the weather is hot but in a pleasant way. Months from June to September experience hot and humid weather conditions, which is the time for summer sales and the best time to go diving.
Great shopping places including traditional markets and modern malls. Rich Emirati culture. Theme and adventure parks. Grand architecture.
Extremely hot summers. Terrible traffic during peak time.
Shopping lovers. People who relish architecture. Adventure enthusiasts. Heritage and culture buffs.
The UAE offers a variety of luxury accommodations with glamorous decorations and over-the-top facilities and class. There are many other hotels where one can get the true essence of Emirati and Arab culture and spend their holiday feeling like an Arab royalty. If you are looking for some economical accommodation options then there are several such international hotel chains too. In general, hotel tariffs tend to be lower during the summer season, which are sweltering hot. One can find few hostels around the country run by the United Arab Emirates Youth Hostel Association at places including Sharjah, Kourfakkan, Dubai (two hostels) and Fujairah.
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The UAE is a religious country but other religions are well tolerated and respected there. Islam is the official religion. Arabs are very particular about their dress code, which is followed almost similarly throughout United Arab Emirates. Arabic is the official language of UAE whereas English is also widely spoken being the business language. One will find road signs, menus and shop signs both in Arabic and English, however, as you move out of major cities and towns, Arabic becomes more commonly used both in written and in speaking. Commonly used phrases, which can be useful while travelling in UAE, are: Hello: Salam Good Morning: Sabah el kheer Welcome: Marhaba Thank you: shukran Good night: Tosbeho ala khair Goodbye: Ma�a salama
Rice, fish and meat has always been the traditional food of Emirates with seafood being their staple diet for centuries. However, lamb and mutton are the more favoured protein as compared to pork or beef. Baklava is a sweet flaky dessert that is a must try. One can find special Arabic coffee (black coffee) throughout UAE along with another regional drink - Ayran (an energizing yogurt drink).
1. Make sure to carry essentials such as Sunglasses, sandals, sunscreen lotion as summers are extreme and temperature in winter barely drops below 20 deg C. 2. In case of taxis, which are not metered, fix the rate before beginning the trip. 3. Taxi drivers tend to drive a little rash, so be prepared for a risky ride. 4. Make sure you dress appropriately and not expose too much of skin, which is not acceptable in their culture. 5. Drinking and driving is not at all accepted here and is a punishable offence. 6. Some commonly used painkillers in many countries such as codeine are illegal narcotics in the UAE. Make sure you have a prescription in case you are carrying any such medicines or else you might land in jail. 7. Drinking alcohol in public places (streets) and buying it from a UAE citizen is illegal.
Arab Emirate Dirham (AED)
Dirham is the only currency that is accepted in the UAE. One can get the currency exchanged on reaching the Dubai airport. UAE Dirham notes are in denominations of AED 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000. Almost all the hotels, restaurants and shops in Dubai accept several major cards such as MasterCard, Visa and American Express, Diners Club. But if you are planning to shop in the souks or markets, cash is the perfect option.
UAE is dotted with offices and banks where currency exchange can be done. Almost all the major banks and hotels handle the currency exchange. Several huge shopping malls and shopping districts houses licensed ´Bureau de Change�. The rate offered by these exchange offices is often better than banks. Bureaux de change located at Dubai Mall and Marina Mall, both in Dubai, or Hamdan Street, Abu Dhabi are the recommended ones. One can easily locate ATMs throughout UAE at all shopping complexes, most of the petrol pumps, major supermarkets and the airport.
Except Sharjah, every other emirate in UAE has a different flavour of nightlife to offer. Where Dubai offer one of the most diverse and lively nightlife in the entire country, Abu Dhabi is just next in line. Each emirate is lined with some of the fancy brand names with large number of pubs, bars, discos and clubs to choose from. However, most of these places are located inside the hotels where alcohol is allowed to serve. Most of the nightclubs close down between 1:00 AM to 2:00 AM whereas there are few late night nightclubs that close down by maximum 3:00 AM. 25 years is the minimum age to enjoy the rocking nightlife in Dubai whereas 18 years for Abu Dhabi.
Shopping is considered as the favourite pastime of the people of the UAE. Dubai serves as the top destination for the activity, especially with its city sized shopping malls along with the traditional souks or markets, followed by Abu Dhabi. Dubai Shopping Festival is the star attraction of UAE when it comes to shopping. Leather goods, gold, silver, clothing like silk pashminas, spices, coffee, old maps of the local area and trinkets are the popular items to look out for.
Festivals of UAE are all about highlighting their culture all around. A great effort has been made by the UAE government in last 10 years towards elaborating their festivals to give a boost to their tourism. Abu Dhabi International Jazz Festival, Dubai Shopping Festival, Dubai Desert Classic, Emirates World Series of Horse Race, International Film Festival Dubai and National Day Festival are some of the major ones one should not miss.
The history of UAE goes back to the Middle Ages when it served as a major part of the Kingdom of Hormuz that controlled the trade in the Gulf. Things began to change as Portuguese levied tax on the trade of Gulf with India and other far-east countries during the 16th century. By the mid-18th century, the Qawasim and the Bani Yas, two powerful tribal confederations took charge along the coast of the lower Gulf. Amid the regular fight for the control of power over the region, between the British and these tribal confederations, the British established a protectorate over the Trucial Coast in 1892. Soon after granting for oil concessions to foreign companies by Shaikh Shakhbut of Abu Dhabi in 1939, oil was discovered in 1958 in Abu Dhabi followed by the discovery of oil in Dubai in 1966 making them the region's busiest trading centre. The United Arab Emirates, a new federation of six Arab states was formed in December 1971 Ras al-Khaimah joining it in February 1972.
Read more about the History of UAE
It is advisable to take vaccinations against polio, measles, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, diphtheria and tuberculosis when planning a visit to this region. Although big cities and towns have high hygiene standards, take care while travelling smaller desert towns as no strict hygiene restrictions are enforced there. Be careful while indulging in the meat dishes; particularly spit cooked shawarma (kebab) meat that is usually sitting in the hot summer sun for hours.
As a tourist, one is expected to respect the general culture and etiquettes. Foreigners are free to practice their religion and dress in liberal manner. If you are a lone female traveller, try not to be too forward with your approach. Public display of affection or noisy behaviour in public is not accepted according to the culture. Arabs are very particular about their dress code, which is followed almost similarly throughout United Arab Emirates. Men usually wear dishdasha or kandura, a white full-length shirtdress, which is worn with a white or red checked headdress, known as a ghutrah. For women, there is black abaya, a loose long robe to cover their usual clothes along with a headscarf known as sheyla. Tipping is also widely practiced in UAE but it is not obligator. In general, 10 - 15 % of the bill is given as tip at bars or restaurants depending on how you like the service. AED 5 - 10 for valet parking and bellboy is also usual.