The ultimate UAE bucket list: 30 things to do in the Emirates

From skiing in the desert to the world's fastest rollercoasters – how many must-try activities have you done?

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The UAE’s star attractions are endless.

From skydiving over the Palm Jumeirah to dune bashing in the Arabian Desert, there are plenty of once-in-a-lifetime activities to make your UAE experience unforgettable.

These 30 experiences should be on every bucket list.

1. Marvel at Burj Khalifa

At 828 metres, Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world and one of the UAE’s top attractions. Soak in sweeping views of the city from At.mosphere restaurant on level 122 or simply take it all in from ground level, steps away from the tallest performing fountain in the world.

2. Take the leap at Skydive Dubai

Feeling brave? See the city from another angle while plummeting from a plane at 4,000 metres with Skydive Dubai. Tandem jumps take place daily over the Palm Jumeirah and the Dubai desert and are supervised by trained professionals who will film the entire journey from take-off to landing. Just don’t look down.

3. Live like royalty at Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental

With its golden exterior, lofty arches and fountain-lined walkways, Emirates Palace is a sight to behold. Take a guided tour to wander the grand halls adorned with intricate carvings and lit by extravagant chandeliers or stay for the night for the full Arabian prince/princess experience. The property even has vegan rooms.

4. Sip afternoon tea at Burj Al Arab

To many around the globe, the sail-shaped structure of Burj Al Arab is still known as "the world’s only seven-star hotel" – a moniker given in a superfluous travel review shortly after it opened that has stuck. Even though hotel rankings are capped at five, its services are known to leave other luxury resorts in its shadow. Inside, you’ll find a range of fine-dining restaurants, pristine beaches and an expansive terrace. Stop by for a guided tour or pop in for a sophisticated afternoon tea at Sahn Eddar.

5. Play with snow in the desert at Ski Dubai or Snow Abu Dhabi

Meet the penguins, build a snowman, ride the frozen zipline or simply hit the slopes at Ski Dubai, a fully-fledged indoor ski resort. Located inside the Mall of the Emirates, Ski Dubai is covered in a blanket of real snow, ideal for those toasty summer days. If you’re in Abu Dhabi, head to Snow Abu Dhabi in Reem Mall for slides, rides and a Polar Express Train.

6. Dive into Khor Fakkan

The seaside town of Khor Fakkan is part of Sharjah and sits on the UAE’s east coast. In recent years, the sleepy nook has undergone something of a transformation, with new hotels open and a water park due to launch soon. Whilst you wait, try the Al Rabi Tower hike, visit the waterfalls or go diving off the beach.

7. Take a history lesson at Qasr Al Watan

Abu Dhabi’s working presidential palace invites visitors to discover the rich legacy of the UAE. Visitors to Qasr Al Watan can admire traditional architecture and gain a deeper understanding of the UAE’s culture and values surrounded by a vast collection of historical artefacts and manuscripts.

8. Discover the dunes in the Arabian Desert

From adrenalin-fuelled dune bashing to feasting on local cuisine under the stars, few places compare to the mystical rolling dunes of the Arabian Desert. Book a safari with trusted tour operators Arabian Adventures or Platinum Heritage or treat yourself to something unforgettable at one of the UAE’s luxury desert resorts.

9. Get arty at Louvre Abu Dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi, the sister museum of the Parisian landmark, sits at the heart of Saadiyat Cultural District, displaying works of historical, cultural and sociological significance from ancient times to the contemporary era. Don’t miss the neighbouring Abrahamic Family House, an interfaith complex housing a mosque, a church and a synagogue.

10. Discover a new chapter at House of Wisdom

Book lovers can expect way more than the written word at Sharjah’s futuristic public library. The vibrant, multifaceted space spreads across 1.2 hectares and features art exhibitions, as well as 3D printers and vinyl-cutting machines. Stop by the Blue Souk while you’re in the area for cut-price gold, carpets and souvenirs.

11. Eat seafood curbside at Mina Zayed Fish Market

Abu Dhabi’s recently revamped fish market sits alongside the original in Mina Zayed, featuring 104 fresh fish stalls and eight dry fish stalls brimming with the catch of the day. For the full experience, select a seafood medley and present it at one of the on-site restaurants to be cooked to perfection while enjoying a freshly squeezed juice.

12. Sample Emirati cuisine

Emirati cuisine is a lesson in not only flavour but also culture, history and humanity. From hearty machboos and smoky shawarmas to silky tahini-laced hummus scooped up with pillowy Arabic bead, there’s something for every palate. Head to Local House in Dubai to try a camel burger or Al Fanar Restaurant & Cafe in Abu Dhabi for more traditional recipes.

13. Rev up for Abu Dhabi Formula One

The capital's grand prix isn’t just for the petrol heads. Across three days of racing, the city comes alive with after-race concerts, parties and events. Outside of the racing season, few places compare to Yas Marina Circuit for cycling, with free entry at selected times. If you want to burn some rubber yourself, supercars are available to hire.

14. Watch the camel racing

Witness dozens of humped beasts stampede at breakneck speed during a heart-pumping race to the finish line. The camel racing season runs between October and April with competitions taking place on Friday and Saturday mornings. The heritage sport is popular with both locals and tourists, with several tracks around the Emirates including Al Marmoom Camel Racetrack, Dubai.

15. Enjoy dinner and a show at Dubai Opera

Get your glad rags on for a night at the opera. The world-class performance venue has hosted everyone and everything from Andrea Botelli and Swan Lake to Thriller and Matilda The Musical. Head to the rooftop for fine Italian fare at Belcanto and soak up the full dinner-and-a-show experience.

16. Expand your mind at Mohammed bin Rashid Library

Designed in the shape of a traditional Islamic lantern, the Mohammed bin Rashid Library is a cultural hotspot on Dubai Creek. The library is the largest in the region, spanning 5.4 hectares across nine levels, housing exhibitions, a cafe, a courtyard and an indoor-outdoor theatre.

17. Zip through the peaks of Jebel Jais

Make for the mountains in the UAE’s most adventurous emirate, Ras Al Khaimah, for hiking, mountain biking and a ride along the world’s longest zipline. Spanning 2.8km in length at 1,680 metres above sea level, Toroverde reaches speeds of 120kph as it catapults daredevils headfirst across the Hajar mountains.

18. Swim with sharks at The National Aquarium

The National Aquarium Abu Dhabi in Al Qana is the largest aquarium in the Middle East, spanning 9,000 square metres and housing more than 46,000 creatures. Other attractions in Al Qana, the newly opened dining and entertainment hub, include Cinemacity, Al Qana Marina and The Bridge Lifestyle Hub.

19. Go back in time at Al Jahili Fort

One of the largest and oldest forts in the UAE, Al Jahili sits in the heart of the Garden City of Al Ain. Constructed out of mud brick, straw and palm tree fibres, it dates back to the early 19th century when it was believed to have been built to protect the adjacent oasis and its date palms. Today, the building has been carefully restored as a museum.

20. Set sail on an abra

Hop on a traditional ferry boat at Dubai Creek for one of the UAE’s most authentic and cheapest experiences (a snip at Dh2 per passenger). Expect to squeeze elbow-to-elbow on a wooden bench and feel the wind in your hair as you cruise from Bur Dubai to Deira or vice versa. For a more upmarket voyage, board a dhow cruise for dinner and entertainment on board.

21. Shop at Dubai’s old souqs

For a truly local experience, you need to shop like a local. Follow your nose to Dubai’s old souqs where every twisting alley tells a story of times gone by. The Gold Souk, the Spice Souk and the Textile Souk are all worth a visit, while the neighbouring Al Fahidi Historical District speaks of a fascinating bygone era.

22. Eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant

For more than a year the Michelin Guide has recognised Abu Dhabi and Dubai as world gastronomic destinations, awarding creativity across a tantalising variety of cuisines. Head to Dubai's Tresind Studio for an Indian take on molecular gastronomy or pull up a stool at 99 Sushi Bar, Abu Dhabi, to meet the masters of Japanese haute cuisine.

23. Wander through Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

One of the world’s biggest mosques, the edifice was commissioned by UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and fits 40,000 worshippers. Inside, Swarovski-encrusted chandeliers dazzle against 1,096 amethyst and jasper-embedded columns, while 82 white marble domes tower overhead.

24. Make a splash at Kite Beach

Try wakeboarding, kitesurfing, stand-up paddleboarding or simply stretching out on the sands at Dubai’s Kite Beach. Sitting in the Jumeirah neighbourhood, this free beach offers high-quality equipment hire, with food trucks, shops, a 14km running track and a padel court located along the golden stretch of sand.

25. Take the little ones to Global Village

Every winter, crowds flock in their millions to Global Village, an open-air destination where more than 90 cultures showcase their traditional food, customs and entertainment. Don’t miss Ripley’s Believe It or Not! odditorium for a treasure trove of interesting artefacts or stop by House of Fear to be spooked out of your wits.

26. Join a tour of Jumeirah Mosque

Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai, welcomes visitors of all faiths to learn about Islam and local culture. Large enough to hold 1,200 worshippers, the mosque is made entirely from white stone in the medieval Fatimid tradition and its twin minarets are a sight to behold. Guided tours are held six days a week at 10am and last 75 minutes.

27. Step into the Museum of the Future

Enter a world of next-generation science, technology and innovation at Dubai’s Museum of the Future. Designed as an asymmetric torus clad in steel and glass, this is a “living museum” that incorporates traditional exhibitions, immersive theatre and themed attractions to give a glimpse into the possibilities of the future.

28. Feast on a weekend brunch

Brunch isn’t just a meal in the UAE – it’s a rite of passage. Whether you’re in the market for a buffet blowout or something more sophisticated, you’ll find something that suits. Two of the most popular and longest-running brunches are Sim Sim in Abu Dhabi and Saffron in Dubai.

29. Tee off at a world-class golf course

The UAE has several top golf courses and plays host to some of the world’s best tournaments. Serious golfers may want to book onto Jumeirah Golf Estates' Earth Course, which is the setting for the annual DP World Tour and is considered to be one of the toughest in the Emirates. For a bit of fun, head to Top Golf’s lively driving range.

30. Ride the world's fastest rollercoasters

The Storm Coaster, in Dubai Hills Mall, earned a Guinness World Record last year, becoming the world’s fastest vertical launch rollercoaster. It reaches top speeds of up to 77 kph and costs Dh65. Meanwhile, Formula Rossa at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi was crowned the world's fastest rollercoaster in 2010 after clocking 240kph in 4.9 seconds.

For those looking for a slightly slower pace but no less fun on a rollercoaster, the UAE offers plenty of options. Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi is great for little visitors while IMG Worlds of Adventure is the largest indoor theme park in Dubai.

Updated: August 25, 2023, 5:06 AM