Dubai is a vision to behold – a dazzling, futuristic metropolis that has inexplicably surged up out of the desert with skyscrapers that not only defy gravity, but anyone who ever said “it can’t be done”. While there are countless world-class experiences to be had in this global hotspot of the UAE, there are also some jewels lying in wait outside the city. Take a wander through this round-up of Dubai’s best day tours, desert activities and alternative things to do for inspiration.
While Dubai is not short on theme parks and amusement rides, the ultimate UAE rush can be found away from the city, out amongst that endless sea of sand dunes. A Dubai desert safari is a must-do on any Dubai itinerary, whether you have a five-night stay or one, because out here is where you have the chance to understand more about Bedouin life. Of course, the Bedouins didn’t ride the desert dunes in 4WDs and turn the sand into their very own rollercoaster, but this is only a small part of your Dubai desert safari experience.
Dubai desert safaris are one of the most popular things to do on a visit to Dubai and, as such, you’ll find that travellers are well-catered for with a range of safari options. If you only have a morning to spare – no problem, jump on a 3-hour trip out into the desert that includes 4WD dune bashing, a camel ride and sand boarding.
If you fancy the adrenalin rush as well as sampling the exceptional Bedouin hospitality, you may like to go for the full overnight experience which includes sunset photography opportunities, a buffet dinner and barbecue, traditional entertainment including belly dancing, a fire show and Tanura show, henna painting, Arabic coffee, overnight accommodation at the camp site, as well as breakfast. (Note: The Belly Dancing show and alcohol are not available during the month of Ramadan.)
Just an hour south-east of the bright lights of Dubai city, you’ll find the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. This seemingly unhospitable landscape is in fact home to Dubai’s protected and exotic wildlife such as the Arabian oryx and gazelle and is dedicated to conserving the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Arabian Desert. While nothing in Dubai is done in halves, Desert Conservation Reserve is the largest piece of land Dubai has ever devoted to a single project. Travellers and tourists can take a guided tour through the DDCR with an approved – and highly knowledgable – tour operator.
One of the classic things to do in Dubai is to head out into the desert for a showcase of traditional falconry. An intrinsic part of Dubai’s cultural heritage, falconry has always been a vital part of desert life. What was once an ancient way of hunting hares and the houbara bird has evolved into a regal sport.
Imagine yourself rising higher and higher over the pink-hued desert at dawn, then floating through Arabian skies as you cruise over the desert at 1,200 metres above the ground. From a distance you’ll be able to see the glittering city of Dubai, and gaze down upon emerald-green oases and camels, wandering through the ochre sands.
The cheapest and most thrilling way to cross Dubai Creek is on an abra, a traditional wooden boat that sports a motor and single bench seat in the middle. Granted, this is a city-based experience but it’s notable for its authenticity. The abra water taxis give you a taste of old Dubai; Al Khor (The Creek) is a wide, saltwater inlet which divides the city in two, separating the districts of Bur Dubai and Deira.
From your vantage point on the water, you’re offered some of the most interesting views in Dubai, where the clean lines of new architectural structures stand in contrast to traditional coral-and-gypsum houses, wind towers and minarets. A five-minute ride in an abra across Dubai Creek is one of the best –and easiest – things to do in Dubai.
More city-fringe than outright day trip, the Dubai Miracle Garden is, nevertheless, a true escape from the city. Located at Al Barsha South, the park is home to the region’s biggest flower garden with more than 45 million blooming flowers across a colourful 72,000 square metres. With the flowering plants arranged and tweaked to form immense sculptures and designs, that’s a whole lot of floral pyramids, stars, igloos and hearts to take in. An Instagrammer’s delight, this mega garden in the middle of the desert is definitely a must-see on your list of things to do in Dubai.
While not within the United Arab Emirates, who could deny the appeal of a Middle Eastern region known as the Arabian Fiords? The Musandam Peninsula is only 194 kilometres north of Dubai and is a welcome antidote to the hustle and bustle of the big, shimmering city.
The region is said to resemble the fiords of Norway – hence the nickname – although these jagged mountains which plunge sharply into the Arabian Gulf were carved by the movement of tectonic plates, not glaciers. Experience the full beauty of the region with a cruise from the Omani town of Khasab. If you’re lucky, you may even see dolphins.
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