Our guide to the best staycations in the UAE

With perfect weather and so many travel experiences on our doorstep, there’s no reason to venture far over the upcoming long weekend

The UAE government has declared the public holidays for National Day. Courtesy Jumeirah

A world-class holiday doesn’t have to involve a plane ticket, at least not when you live in the UAE. With new luxury hotels, numerous museums and an array of leisure options across the country, a staycation is the ideal solution for a weekend away. Whether you want to remain in Dubai or Abu Dhabi or are keen to venture further afield, exploring some of the lesser-populated emirates, we take a look at the finest short-haul offerings that the country has to offer. From all-out luxury in a palatial resort, to endless sand dunes and thriving nature reserves, there’s an endless list of things to do, destinations to visit and places to stay. And now is a good time for a final staycation before the additional 5 per cent VAT that starts in January.

A capital escape

The Majestic Suite private pool at the St Regis Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi. Courtesy St Regis Saadiyat

Made up of more than 200 islands, Abu Dhabi combines old world culture with unspoiled natural beauty and an ever-growing number of world-class hotels and attractions. Iconic must-do's include Ferrari World Abu Dhabi; Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque; and Emirates Palace, but if you've already checked those off your list then you might want to head for Saadiyat Island and visit the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi. Combining otherworldly architecture – the roof hovers over the Arabian Gulf like a flying saucer – with an expertly-curated collection of masterpieces and kid-friendly exhibits, this long-awaited treasure is entirely worth making a weekend out of. Check in at the nearby St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi which makes the most of its island locale with Mediterranean architecture, three huge swimming pools and a beach that plays host to the occasional passing hawksbill turtle. Foodies will love the Epicurean Friday brunch which offers guests the chance to try some of the resorts's signature dishes accompanied by a live band, ocean views and holiday vibes.

Rooms start from Dh1,800 per room per night, including taxes and breakfast for two. The same rates are valid over National Day weekend when the property will be decorated in red, white, green and black

Hideaway in Ajman

Aquario seafood restaurant at the new Oberoi Ajman Al Zohrah. Courtesy Oberoi Hotels & Resorts

Tiny Ajman, the smallest of the seven emirates, has sandy beaches and amazing wildlife and is less than an hour's drive from Dubai. Head down the E311 where it's worth making a pit stop at the Ajman Museum, in the charming chaos of the city centre. This former ruler's residence and 18th-century fort was constructed from fossilised coral, mud brick and stone, and is a good spot to learn more about Ajman's seafaring history. Culture fix sorted, make for the sprawling development of Al Zorah, set in 5.4 million square metres of coastal land and lagoons. Escape big city life as you venture in to Al Zorah Nature Reserve, home to up to 60 species of birds and a variety of marine life. The best way to explore is by renting a kayak and navigating through the mangrove forests and lagoons; you may even get close to the resident flamboyant pink flamingoes. Recently opened, The Oberoi Beach Resort, Al Zorah is set on Ajman's first five-star private beach and boasts sleek architecture, Scandi-style interiors and a pared-back aesthetic that's a world away from the country's often-grandiose hotel offerings. Book a private villa where you'll have plenty of space to unwind and your own infinity pool that's just steps from the beach. Ideal for those looking to de-stress, the hotel spa, yoga and meditation classes complement the tranquil surrounds. If you want to get active, swim in the 80-metre temperature-controlled lap pool, go for a run on the beach jogging track or make use of the resort's bicycles. Nearby, an 18-hole golf course designed by 18-time Major Champion Jack Nicklaus is bound to impress anyone with even a passing interest in the sport.

Room rates start from Dh1,430 per room per night, including taxes and breakfast. The rate is valid over the National Day holidays

Head east to Fujairah

A room at the Fairmont Fujairah. Courtesy Fairmont

The mountainous east coast area of Fujairah is one of the country's most-loved staycation spots, not least because temperatures here tend to be cooler than the rest of the country thanks to higher altitudes and increased rainfall. Home to the UAE's oldest house of worship – the 400-year-old Al Bidya mosque – the emirate is also famed for it's fantastic marine life. Snoopy Island (named after the cartoon dog it semi-resembles), is an easy swim from the coastline and is a favourite with snorkellers and divers, thanks to its easily accessibility. The brand new InterContinental Fujairah on Al Aqah Beach is a great staycation choice for dive enthusiasts, being just a few minutes from Snoopy Island's access point. Drive a little further south to Kalba. Fringed by a network of waterways and surrounded by mangroves, this spot is great for exploring by canoe. Multiple companies can supply guides and equipment; try Desert Rangers. Spot crabs, white-collared kingfishers, herons and turtles, and soak in the sun at one of the area's secluded coves. Elsewhere, the Fairmont Fujairah Beach Resort opened last year and is putting the final touches to its Lava Beach Club. With hydro-jets in submerged Jacuzzis, a sunken bar and amphitheatre-style loungers, Fujairah's first luxury beach club will be worth a visit. Inside, the hotel is an art-inspired haven where you can happily spend a weekend, with the Hajar Mountains as an impressive backdrop. A handful of good-quality eateries will ensure you're well-fed – Arteasan Lounge makes for a good pause for thought venue, while Copper Lobster's locally-sourced seafood is of high quality. Unwind by the pool as the waves crash onto the rocks or visit Willow Stream Spa for a wellness treatment. There's also hiking excursions and water sports, and all rooms offer sundowner-perfect balconies with sea, marina or mountain views.

Over National Day weekend, room-only rates at the Fairmont Fujairah from Dh2,160 per night, including taxes. Across the rest of December, the hotel’s winter promotion has room rates from Dh624, including taxes and Dh100 dining credit per room per night

Spoiled for choice in Dubai

The adults-only pool at Jumeirah Al Naseem in Dubai. Courtesy Jumeirah

With so many luxury hotels in Dubai, the hardest part of a good staycation in the UAE's most-visited city is choosing where to go. Downtown Dubai has undergone a huge transformation in the past two years with the creation of the Dubai Water Canal. This 3.2km waterway winds from the Creek through Business Bay and across Sheikh Zayed Road before heading into Jumeirah and the Arabian Gulf. A whole new waterfront community has sprung up around the canal including Al Habtoor City – a hotel and leisure complex consisting of three luxury hotels. Take your pick from the family-friendly Westin Dubai, the offbeat W Dubai Al Habtoor City, or ultra-luxe The St Regis Dubai. Enjoy a cruise down the new canal or book tickets to La Perle, Dubai's newest theatre experience. If escaping city life is more what you want, then Madinat Jumeirah's latest addition is a good choice. Jumeirah Al Naseem is set among landscaped gardens and an endless stretch of coast, and the resort exudes effortless Mediterranean style. Spend the day at Summersalt Beach Club with views of the Burj Al Arab and relax poolside. With its open terraces and alfresco dining, this is a good choice for anyone craving a slice of a European summer.

Rates at Jumeirah Al Naseem start at Dh1,800 per room per night including taxes (excl Dh20 tourism fee). To celebrate National Day, UAE residents can save 10 per cent on a stay in December and enjoy complimentary breakfast, dinner, Kids’ Club and Wild Wadi Waterpark access, plus a one-day cabana experience at Burj Al Arab Terrace when booking a suite

Extreme Ras Al Khaimah

An entrance at the Waldorf Astoria in Ras Al Khaimah. Courtesy Waldorf Astoria

Ras Al Khaimah is quickly becoming a popular hotspot with tourists and weekend visitors. Home to Jebel Jais, the country's tallest mountain, the rugged terrain is great for anyone seeking extreme climbing, hiking, biking or trekking adventures. Do you dare to tackle the 470-metre-long Via Ferrata or whizz along the UAE's longest zip-line? For the less adventurous, a soon-to-open observation deck will be the perfect spot to make the most of Jebel Jais's towering viewpoint. The emirate boasts 64 kilometres of pristine coastline, so there's no shortage of water sports. Head to Al Hamra Marina and Yacht Club to try your hand at sailing, wakeboarding or scuba diving. When it comes to luxury resorts, there's plenty to chose from. Opened earlier this month, after an extensive renovation, the Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert offers an all pool-villa resort in the heart of a 500-hectare nature reserve. Spot Arabian oryx, sand gazelles and camels, saddle-up for an early morning horse ride through the dunes or try an introductory stargazing session guided by astronomy experts. The rainforest experience at the spa is a must-do. Towards the coastline, the towering Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah is your best bet for a staycation with a hint of indulgence. Set on a 350-metre private beach, the lavish interior and high ceilings in this ornate palace exude elegance. Luxurious touches like a master-fragrance maker, sleep-master and your own butler ensure you'll want for nothing. Suites boast some of the biggest balconies in the country, overlooking the Arabian Gulf, and there are some great children's facilities plus an adult-only infinity pool for those really looking to unwind.

National Day weekend rates at the Ritz-Carlton start from Dh3,319 per villa per night, half-board for a family of four

Sharjah’s cultural haven

A terrace at the Sheraton Sharjah. Courtesy Sheraton

Unesco didn't crown Sharjah the Capital of Islamic Culture for nothing. The city's historic old town is a thriving hub of museums, galleries, heritage and tradition that's perfect for exploring on foot now that the weather is cooling down. Top of the cultural treasure trail has to be the Sharjah Art Museum. Its sprawling collection of internationally-diverse artists is well worth a visit and admission is free. The Blue Souk is one of Sharjah's most photographed buildings – the exterior makes for some good Instagram shots, but don't forget to venture inside and practice your haggling skills on anything from electronic goods to gemstones. If you have little ones, Sharjah is a great choice for a staycation. Right next to Dubai, you don't have to worry about lengthy car journeys, and there's a host of family-friendly resorts to choose from. One of the most popular is the Sheraton Sharjah Beach Resort and Spa, located on one of the city's best beaches. Handily placed for sightseeing – it's 10-minutes from the Sharjah Aquarium and Maritime Museum – the hotel has spacious rooms, a great kids' club and a family games room.

Regular room rates at the Sheraton Sharjah start from Dh690 per night, including taxes. Until December 3, the National Day promotion costs from Dh1,971 for a 2-night stay for two people in a Club Room including taxes, breakfast, a dinner for two people, access to Club Lounge and 46 per cent discount at Arjwan

Wide open Umm Al Quwain

The coast of Umm Al Quwain.

Small and somewhat sleepy without a luxury hotel in sight, Umm Al Quwain is perhaps the antithesis of Dubai’s towering skyscrapers and Abu Dhabi’s gilded palaces, which perhaps makes it all the more worthy of a visit when a change of pace is needed. If an under-the-stars staycation is what you want, this is the right place to do it thanks to very little light pollution. The beaches north and south of Al Rafaah are ideal spots for setting up camp; just be sure to pitch your tent far enough back from the river outlet to avoid flooding. The east of Umm Al Quwain’s mainland peninsula consists of eight sandy islands surrounded by a dense mangrove forest where you can watch fishermen navigate their way along Madaar Creek (running between the islands) looking for the day’s catch. Afterwards, visit the Old Harbour where craftsmen still partake in dhow building, and check out the coral stone houses for a great example of the emirate’s original architecture. The other main attraction in Umm Al Quwain is Dreamland Aqua Park (www.dreamlanduae.com). Opened in 1997, this was the UAE’s first waterpark and while it may not be on-par with the likes of Yas Waterworld or Atlantis Aquaventure in luxury, it has a rustic charm, licensed pool bar and more than 30 rides and slides. Pack an overnight bag and you can camp in the park grounds or in one of 35 simple wooden chalets, with all camping equipment and BBQ meals provided.

At Dreamland, cabana camping rates start from Dh700 per night (weekdays) to Dh900 per night weekends and public holidays, for two adults sharing, including waterpark entrance fees, breakfast, lunch and a BBQ dinner


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