28 places to visit throughout every emirate to learn more about the UAE: from museums to wildlife centres
Take some time to enjoy and learn more about different parts of the emirates
As the temperatures cool, it's the perfect opportunity to enjoy the best the UAE has to offer. However, rather than visiting the same old tourist attractions, why not discover and learn more about the country you live in? From museums to beaches and archaeological sites to wildlife and animal rescue centres, here's a look at things to do around the seven emirates:
Learn more about the emirate’s past through archaeology, manuscripts, folk costumes, wooden dhows and more at the Ajman Museum in Al Bustan area. Housed in an old fortress built from coral stone and gypsum, displays in the museum are annotated in both Arabic and English and are arranged chronologically.
Ajman Dhow Building Yard
Visit one of the world’s largest dhow-building centres on the north side of Ajman Creek. Wooden dhows played an important role in fishing, pearling and trading across the region. These days, if you visit, you can still catch craftsmen at work, using tools and techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation. There are also fibreglass dhows, powered by diesel engines, used for racing events across the UAE.
Al Murabaa Watchtower
Al Murabaa Watchtower has served as a guardian of Ajman for over 80 years. It was commissioned by the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi and adorns the Ajman corniche as a key landmark.
Al Zorah Nature Reserve
Spread over one million square metres, Al Zorah Nature Reserve is a vibrant ecosystem made up of mangroves, lagoons and beaches. It’s also home to nearly 60 species of birds including pink flamingos, egrets and herons. There are plenty of ways to explore the area, and by kayak is one of them. There’s also a nearby 18-hole championship golf course at Al Zorah Golf Club if you like to tee off.
Umm Al Quwain
Ed-Dur archaeological site
One of the largest archaeological sites in the UAE, the Ed-Dur area spans five square kilometres and overlooks Al Beidha Lake. Surrounded by high sand dunes, it was once called “one of the most significant lost cities of Arabia”. The unique pre-Islamic temple on site is currently a candidate for Unesco World Heritage status.
Stray Dogs Centre
Home to more than 450 rescue animals (with almost all needing forever homes), the Stray Dogs Centre is a licensed private animal shelter that was formed in 2013 after Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla, the Ruler of Umm Al Quwain, gifted them the land. They host volunteer dog walking opportunities four times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays afternoon as well as dog socialisation events.
The abandoned airplane
It’s an unusual site but there’s an abandoned Ilyushin IL 76, a Soviet-era aircraft, that can be seen while driving along the E11, in Umm Al Quwain. Sat besides Barracuda Beach Resort, the abandoned aircraft is thought to have landed in 1999 or early 2000. With the mystery as to why it was abandoned in the emirate remaining unknown, it attracts plenty of curious visitors and photographers.
Al Sinniyah Island
Explore Al Sinniyah Island and its dense mangroves and sandy beaches. The island is a great spot for those who enjoy bird watching as well as nature enthusiasts, as it boasts a wide variety of flora and fauna.
Al Bidya Mosque
Dating back to 1448, Al Bidya Mosque is one of the oldest in the UAE. The charming and historic mosque is constructed from mud bricks and stone and surrounded by two neighbouring watch towers. Situated at the foot of two rocky hills, each topped with Portuguese forts built in the 1800s, the mosque has a unique, almost cave-like appearance.
The historical landmark is one of the oldest forts in the UAE and is perched high on a hill in the old Fujairah region. The sand-coloured fort overlooks the remains of at least 40 mud brick houses. Behind it, far in the distance, are the tall buildings of modern-day Fujairah. It has housed a prison and a room devoted to fermenting date syrup, and withstood attack by British naval forces and occupation by Wahabbists.
Al Aqah Beach
Located about 45 kilometres north of the city centre of Fujairah city and sitting on the Gulf of Oman is Al Aqah beach. Offering views of the Hajjar Mountains, it’s a popular destination for those who enjoy snorkelling or scuba diving. Visitors can also take a stroll over to nearby Snoopy Island.
Al Hayl Castle
Tucked away in Wadi Al Hayl in the Hajjar Mountains, Al Hayl Castle was built around 1830 and belonged to the ruling family of Fujairah. Made of mud brick and plaster, the heritage site offers an example of traditional Arabian architecture of the time.
Ras Al Khaimah
Al Qasimi Palace
Built by the late Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Humaid Al Qasimi in 1985 for a reported Dh500 million, the four-storey Al Qasimi Palace has since fallen into disrepair from being unoccupied for years. There’s a rumour that the palace has been abandoned because it’s haunted, with some claiming to have seen the faces of children peeping out of its windows.
The two-storey Pearl Museum allows visitors to learn more about the history of pearl diving, the major traditional occupation of the UAE since its early days. The museum exhibits several types of equipment along with information that narrates the story of pearl diving and the role it played in the economy of the emirate. There’s also a 40-minute dhow boat cruise for guests.
National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah
The National Museum is situated inside a former fort, which served as the residence of the ruling Qawasim family until 1964. Interestingly, it later became the police headquarters and a prison before finally being turned into the National Museum in 1987. These days, the museum exhibits historical, ethnographic and archaeological material relating to the emirate, offering interesting insight into the history and traditions of the area.
Jazirah Al Hamra
Jazirah Al Hamra, renowned for its pearling fleets and merchant ships, was once home to a population of 4,100 by the early 1830s. These days, it's an abandoned fishing village situated to the south of the city centre. Popularly known as the Ghost Town of Ras Al Khaimah, it’s one of the most well preserved and oldest coastal villages in the UAE with roots dating back to the 16th-century. It’s remained unchanged since its inhabitants left in 1968.
Heart of Sharjah
Go back in time with the Heart of Sharjah. The cultural heritage project aims to preserve and restore the old town of Sharjah and return it to its 1950s state. The five-phase project is scheduled for completion in 2025 but it is already open to visitors. The space includes several museums for visitors to learn more about the emirate’s history, including the Sharjah Calligraphy Museum, Bait Al Naboodah Museum, Al Hisn Fort Museum, and Sharjah Heritage Museum.
Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation
The Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation exhibits more than 5,000 exquisite Islamic artifacts from all over the Islamic world including calligraphy, carvings, ceramics, coins, manuscripts, metalwork, scientific instruments and more. The two-storeyed museum comprises seven spacious galleries and display areas.
Al Qasba neighbourhood
Take a stroll through the Al Qasba neighbourhood, which took the lead in celebrations and activities when Sharjah was named World Book Capital in 2019. The canal-side area complex offers plenty of leisure and tourist attractions, It’s also home to the Maraya Art Centre, the Masrah Al Qasba Theatre and a charming musical fountain.
Arabia’s Wildlife Centre
Located in Sharjah Desert Park, Arabia’s Wildlife Centre is home to several animals including the Arabian Oryx (the UAE’s national animal) and the Arabian leopard as well as fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals that are all native to the area. The centre provides an opportunity to discover and learn more about the diversity of the indigenous fauna on the Arabian Peninsula.
The Founder's Memorial
This peaceful spot on the Abu Dhabi corniche features a Sanctuary Garden with a traditional falaj or water channel, as well as a variety of desert plants. Make sure you visit after sunset, though, to appreciate The Constellation, a three-dimensional portrait of Sheikh Zayed made up of 1,327 suspended geometric shapes that light up in the dark. The attraction also includes a visitors' centre that celebrates the life of Sheikh Zayed, which is open to the public from 9am to 10pm daily.
Qasr Al Watan
Qasr Al Watan houses the formal offices of the UAE's President and Vice President and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Visitors will be able to see examples of Arabian craftsmanship and art and try their hand at creating traditional calligraphy on interactive screens, as well as explore centuries of knowledge in books focusing on the UAE, in the Qasr Al Watan library. But the palace's main draw are the opulent interiors, featuring ornate tile-work and grand carpeted floors topped off by majestic arches, domes and grand chandeliers in dazzling patterns and craftsmanship.
Jubail Mangrove National Park
The 1 million-square-metre area is dotted with mangroves that spread out on either side of winding boardwalks. The park and walk aims to provide cultural and ecological information on the trees which have been in the region “since the early days of the emirates”, while focusing on the protection and preservation of the natural environment and all the wildlife connected to it. The walk also has six educational sections, a viewing tower and a beach platform where you can get your feet wet.
Qasr Al Hosn
Abu Dhabi’s oldest heritage site, parts of which date back to the 1760s, has established itself as one of the must-see destinations for visitors to the capital. Qasr Al Hosn is made up of an Inner Fort – or 'Hosn' – that was built with coral and sea stone by Sheikh Shakhbut bin Dhiyab in 1795 and an Outer Palace – or 'Qasr' – added by Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1939. It now functions as a museum celebrating Emirati culture and history. Here, in the heart of this ever-changing city, is a physical timeline of the story of Abu Dhabi. The adjacent Cultural Foundation hosts a variety of exhibitions and theatre events
Abra on Dubai Creek
Visitors can pay Dh1 to ride an abra, a traditional wood-hulled boat with covered tops, to shuttle around the Dubai Creek. From 5am to midnight, it’s a relaxing and light way to experience Old Dubai's sights from a different perspective while enjoying sailing along the shores of the creek.
Al Shindagha neighbourhood
The Shindagha neighbourhood is known today for its coral-clad houses, traditional wind towers, and attractions such as the Heritage and Diving Village museum, and the Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum House. This was the residence of the Al Maktoum family until as recently as 1958, and was the home of the Dubai monarch at the time, Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, the grandfather of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood
Al Fahidi neighbourhood in Dubai also shows off the emirate’s rich history by taking visitors back to life in the late-19th to mid-20th century. Visitors can explore traditional homes with high air towers which were built from stone, teak, gypsum, palm wood and sandalwood. These houses have been converted into quaint museums, art galleries and cafes for visitors to enjoy. Plenty of cultural activities and special events also happen in the area throughout the year.
Located in Al Khawaneej, this is the world's first Quran-inspired park. It boasts more than 60 hectares of green space, including an Islamic Garden, an array of plants mentioned in the Quran, two children's play areas, solar power harvesting "trees" featuring calligraphy, and a "cave of miracles", which uses technology to educate people about the seven miracles revealed in the Islamic text. It is free to enter.
Updated: December 4, 2020 11:56 AM