When you live in Dubai, the city can become quite small and the options for things to do are soon over, so as an expat you always look for day trips from Dubai as an alternative activity for the weekends.
As one of the seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, there is plenty to see outside the city on easy day trips from Dubai to the rest of the country. You can even get to neighbouring Oman for the day.
If you are visiting Dubai for longer than a couple of days, one of the best things to do is to rent a car and go on a day trip to either the nearby Emirates or to the natural formations and desert. These are some great suggestions.
- Hatta Fort and heritage village
- Visit a real oasis
- Explore the UAE’s dry Emirate
- Mleiha Archeological Center
- The Louvre Museum Abu Dhabi
- Abu Dhabi day trip
- A day dolphin watching in Musandam
- A day of diving in Fujairah
- The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
- A day exploring Ras Al Khaimah heritage
- Day trip to the ghost village of Al Jazirah Al Hamra
- The world’s longest zipline
Hatta Fort and heritage village
Before true tourism development came to Dubai and the UAE, the one and only weekend escape for locals and residents of Dubai was Hatta.
This traditional enclave is part of the Dubai Emirates but about 130km inland and the only day trip from Dubai that stays within the Emirates. Hatta is surrounded by the Hajar Mountains and borders Oman and the other Emirates.
Because of its elevated location, the area has always had more temperate weather and drier conditions than the steaming hot city, so it was always a favorite place to visit near Dubai. I can’t remember how many times I have been to Hatta but it’s fair to say it is many.
Hatta has also developed with tourism growth in Dubai and now has a restored traditional village, several tourism hot spots and even luxury hotels.
A day trip to Hatta should include a visit to the Fort, the Mosque, the Al Sharia Site date plantations where you can see the traditional falaj water irrigation system (which I also saw in real life, still being used in Oman around the Alila Hotel) and the Hatta Heritage Village, which opened in 2001 as a reconstruction of what a traditional Emirati village would look like in the past.
The Fort itself is historical and was built in 1896 as a defensive structure and a house so you can see both a watch tower and a nice residential area including a courtyard. The fort was restored in 1995 which is why it has been a popular getaway for years. Today, you can even stay at the hotel.
You can also get active by cycling the many tracks available or by hiring kayaks at the manmade Hatta Dam. For a complete day, explore Hatta, Fujairah and Kalba, on a day trip from Dubai to the east coast of the UAE.
Before, you used to be able to go to the Hatta Pools, natural pools created in the wadis, but this changed in 2016 when the government closed the border to non-Emiratis, and the only way to get there is now via the longer Omani route.
Visit a real oasis
Al Ain is located in the Abu Dhabi Emirate and contains one of the two UNESCO sites in the UAE.
The UNESCO listing includes four places: the oasis, Hili’s archeological remains, Jebel Hafeet tombs, and the settlement at Bidaa Bint Saud.
The Al Ain Oasis is a sprawling slice of greenery and a real desert oasis, including almost 150,000 date palm trees, subterranean water channelled by the ancient irrigation system of the falaj and plenty of greenery, right in the middle of the desert landscape.
The Hili site contains remains dating back to 2,500 BC including several tombs and Bronze Age forts. You can also visit the Al Ain Museum where the artefacts are housed.
Jebel Hafeet is the highest peak in the UAE and the location of 500 ancient tombs and the drive to the top is stunning.
In Al Ain you can also visit the Qasr Al Muwaiji which is the historical home of the Al Nahyan family, the Abu Dhabi ruling family. You can visit the home of the current Sheikh which is open to the public.
You can visit Al Ain independently, renting a car or taking Uber taxis, but you can also book a tour to all the main sites in Al Ain including the oasis, the fort, the museum where a lot of the objects from the 6th century are on display and get back to Dubai on time for the evening. This is a great tour option.
Explore the UAE’s dry Emirate
Sharjah is perhaps one of the least exciting of the Emirates to visit. When I was living in Dubai it was the one I would not visit because women could not be alone in a taxi with a man. There wasn’t much to see there either.
But on account of the lack of pure entertainment options, Sharjah has been steadily focusing on art instead opening several museums and galleries devoted to Arabic and Islamic art. This is a good half day tour that takes you to the main sights in Sharjah.
Mleiha Archeological Center
This is one of the most impressive, interesting and unique of the heritage sites in the UAE.
Located in the Emirate of Sharjah and dating back to the bronze Age, Mleiha is a combination of archeological sites and a visitor’s center which uncovers the ancient past of the UAE and is one of the most interesting of the day trips of Dubai.
This site has been excavated since the 70s by various groups but did not exist when I was living in Dubai and only opened recently, adding to the list of places near Dubai worth an escape.
Start at the visitor center where you can have an overview and a more global perspective on the site and its evolution. Here you can also see what the UAE was like millennia ago. Then explore a few of the sites.
Start with the Umm an-Nar tomb, near the center, which is large and quite unique and continue with the tombs at Jebel Faya. Umm an-Nar is the name of a Bronze Age culture which existed in the area in 2,500 BC and received its name from a nearby island.
Jebel Faya was thought to contain the oldest human remains at the time but that has since been disputed by a find in Israel. You can enter these tombs and see them inside.
Near the tombs you can also see the remains of a settlement that is seven millennia old and which can be viewed from platforms. The rest of the sites also provide important information about homo sapiens and the movement from Africa and into Arabia as the oldest stone tools found outside Africa were excavated here.
Follow the visit with the 2nd century AC Mleiha Fort which is believed to have belonged to a sort of ruler from the time, the residential area nearby and the last set of tombs from the period. There are also larger village style excavations, more tombs and even a palace.
The archeological site and area around it also offers horse riding adventures, lessons, tours on horseback and several other activities. There are also star gazing sessions and overnight camping options, with desert safaris, comfortable camping tents and a BBQ dinner. This has to be one of the most complete day trips from Dubai and perhaps one of the best weekend escapes too.
The Louvre Museum Abu Dhabi
Ten years in the making, the Louvre’s first international outpost is an incredible building by Jean Nouvel housing a stunning universal collection held in loan from the Louvre as well as other institutions. This is a must day trip from Dubai, especially if you are an art lover, but even if you are not, the building is worth it on its own.
The Museum is impressive as it large and truly one of a kind. You can find items from the time of the Egyptians and the Romans all the way to Leonardo’s or contemporary times.
You should allow for at least half a day to make the most of it and can perhaps end with lunch at the museum’s cafe which has stunning views. If you go in the evening, the sunset over the main area of the museum, the water and the domed area is absolutely magical.
The audio guide helps a lot and you need to download it on your phone and bring your own headsets (they do not have any to borrow). I would suggest to download it before you get there because, although there is free WiFi, it is not very fast.
I went to the Louvre by Uber from Dubai, the journey takes about an hour and it is easy to get another taxi back. Or you can make it a day and explore the rest of Abu Dhabi, well worth combining it if you have never been to that side of the UAE.
Abu Dhabi day trip
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and, although it historically trailed Dubai in terms of openness and entertainment, it has recently been catching up with plenty of new developments, museums, amusement parks, and beaches.
I even wrote a guide to Abu Dhabi where you can find the best things to see. You could go explore on your own with an Uber and following my guide.
Today, Abu Dhabi makes for one of the most fun day trips from Dubai, not least because you can spend your day at one of the many fun rides at Ferrari World, Yas Island, or Warner Bros. Some of the tours to Abu Dhabi focus on the amusement park part of the city, and Abu Dhabi has the best ones, the most renowned names.
On a trip to Abu Dhabi make sure to stroll along the Corniche, visit The Emirates Palace Hotel which is an incredible palace taken out of a fairy tale, and maybe even go up the Emirates Tower.
The best way to explore Abu Dhabi is on a day tour (this one is a small group tour) which includes some of the key sights. This is also the most efficient. There are also tours which simply combine the two main sites, the Louvre and the grand Mosque, but that would be a pity as the city has more to offer.
If you want to completely splurge, book this seaplane trip to Abu Dhabi with sightseeing of the city and back, super amazing.
A day dolphin watching in Musandam
When we wanted to escape Dubai’s heat and looked for a bit of respite, one of the favorite day trips from Dubai was to leave the city and head for the mountains and sea of Musandam.
You would think that we could have as well gone to the beach in Dubai, after all the city is sea facing, but in the summer months, the sea reaches bath temperatures and when the water is 36-37 degrees Celsius and the temperature soars to 45 degrees it is not pleasant to go to the beach.
Private pools in apartment buildings are refrigerated to make them cooler and the sea in Musandam was always a few degrees lower and much more crystalline too.
Musandam Peninsula is part of Oman and is located at the Strait of Hormuz, surrounded by the UAE. It is the closest point between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran and the narrowest point in the Gulf Sea.
Because this is technically Oman, you will need to cross the border and make sure that your car has the right insurance and that you bring your passports and have a visa if you need one. When you rent a car in Dubai you can specify that you want to take your car to Oman to make sure they give you the paperwork.
When you get to Musandam, you can drive around the rugged mountains, visit the 17th century Portuguese Khasab Fort in the Musandam capital of Dibba, or more commonly, go on a dolphin watching dhow cruise. This is the main reason why people come all the way here, especially families.
If you want to stay longer and make this a weekend trip, you would be hard pressed to find a more spectacular place than the Six Senses Zighy Bay, a fantastic Arabian village resort on the bay of the same name that is a luxury oasis in the desert and from where you can explore Musandam and the rest of the peninsula. You can read my review here, I have stayed there twice.
And if you want to make things easy, I always prefer to be driven so I can watch the world go by (or nod off in the car) there are day trips to Musandam too like a tour to the east of the UAE including Musandam’s Dibba as well as Fujairah main heritage sites instead.
A day of diving in Fujairah
If you like diving you can do so at the Dubai Mall where you can jump into the tank and spend some time with the fishes as the rest of the mall goers walk past. Or you can do the real thing and head to Fujairah’s many dive sites while making it a whole day trip from Dubai.
Diving in Fujairah is a long running activity and one of the best day excursions when you live in Dubai. Fujairah is technically another of the seven Emirates that make the UAE and its location towards the eastern coast of the country, in the Strait of Hormuz, make it a privileged position for diving.
There are several dive operators who will take you out to the few sites which are all near the coast. Diving consists of mostly reef dives, several of which were created by sinking various ships, cars and trucks to give corals a place to thrive.
Although the wreck diving here is not technically made of wrecks, you can still explore some ships and other underwater structures.
If you like to get wet and swim but don’t want to dive, there are also snorkeling trips to Fujairah with a BBQ lunch.
The Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and the city’s most recognizable landmark, it is also one of the most popular day trips from Dubai because the mosque is before the city, closer to Dubai.
The mosque was commissioned by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former president of the UAE, and opened in 2007. It was designed by an Iranian architect taking inspiration from several other buildings among which Lahore’s Badshahi Mosque or the mosque of Alexandria.
The most impressive part of the mosque is the internal courtyard, made in pure white marble and with mother of pearl inlay floral motifs, similar to the Taj Mahal or the Golden temple in Amritsar.
It is incredibly beautiful, especially when the sun is setting and the warmer hues reflect on the building’s facade. But the building has several other first, largest, biggest, longest, as would be expected of the UAE.
Look out for the massive chandelier, made with thousands of Swarovski crystals, and which is considered the third largest in the world. The carpet is also the largest carpet ever made and weighs 35 tons.
The best way to visit the mosque is on a half day tour. There are several options available, including the simple half day tour of the mosque, the full day tour which combines the Louvre Museum (a must visit when in Dubai) or the best of all, a tour of the mosque with a professional photographer, trust me, you can get absolutely stunning photos here as the backdrop is beautiful.
And for the ultimate in opulence, majestic architecture and a truly luxurious experience, combine the visit to the mosque with a coffee or tea at The Emirates Palace hotel in the city, this is one of the most elegant and grand hotels you will ever see. The hotel looks like a fairytale palace and you may find yourself waiting for the princess to appear.
If you visit the mosque on your own, you should allow for a half day visit as it takes about an hour to get there from Dubai and you will probably need another hour to visit it. Women will have to borrow a long tunic that covers you from head to toe. More information here.
A day exploring Ras Al Khaimah heritage
This small 16th century fort on top of a hill that was the last defensive structure against the 19th century British attack of the area.
The local tribes were responsible for lots of the pirate attacks on the British ships sailing the area on their way to India so the British decided to send their troops from Mumbai in the hopes of squashing them and putting an end to these attacks in a proactive manner.
The attacks started from the sea and then moved into the land. The local Sheikh had built this fort on top of the hill and a few other defensive structures in the area, but while these were fit for facing the attacks by other tribes, they were not strong enough against British bombs.
The attacks were not only against Dhayah Fort but also destroyed other fortifications in the area as far as Sharjah. The defeat resulted in the first British treaty with the local Sheikhs.
What makes this fort interesting is its location on top of a hill, as opposed to on the ground and surrounded by watchtowers as was traditional.
You can easily visit the remains of the fort from the ground, it looks quite picturesque on top of the pointy hill, or climb the rocky stairs and have a 360 degree view.
Another great site in Ras Al Khaimah which is the Al Kush site, considered the oldest Islamic site in the UAE and the place where Islam arrived in the area. The fort was built in the 6th century AD and has thick 2,5m width walls that have stood there till today.
You should also visit the The National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah housed in Al Hisn Fort, an 18th century Persian fort, which was the house of the ruling Al Qasimi family until the 60s.
Day trip to the ghost village of Al Jazirah Al Hamra
Al Jazira Al Hamra was once a tidal island connected to the mainland at low tide but surrounded by water at high tide. It is now connected to the rest of Ras Al Khaimah thanks to landfill. This is perhaps the only haunted spot in the UAE and believed to host ghosts and other spirits and paranormal activity at night.
The village was abandoned in a rush in 1968 and nobody has lived there since, although locals can sometimes be seen walking through the village with nostalgia.
Al Jazira became famous among the locals thanks to the movie Djinn which was produced by the local media company Image Nation which is part of the group that also owns The National newspaper and was directed by Poltergeist’s Tobe Hooper. Paranormal activity is on the cards obviously, which is why the village was the perfect backdrop.
Al Hamra was a buzzing town with pearl divers and traders in the 19th century but when the industry collapsed with the arrival of artificial pearls and the Great Depression, the local Sheikh tried to revive the village with agricultural development.
But that was not enough to appeal to the locals to stay and when oil was discovered at the end of the 60s, the men emigrated to other countries in the Gulf or to Abu Dhabi in search of work opportunities.
As wealth swiped across the UAE and the Gulf, the village was abandoned and has remained pretty much as it was in 1968, giving a glimpse into how people lived before success and money came to the UAE.
Many think the abandonment was caused by the spirits and not the better opportunities, and brave their fears by visiting the village at night.
The world’s longest zipline
One of the latest additions to the UAE’s adventure and thrill-seekers itinerary is the world’s longest zipline, located in Ras Al Khaimah. When you go down the zipline you can reach 150km per hour in speed and half way down, the zipline stops on a see through the platform suspended in the air. At the top, at the starting point, the mountain is almost 1,700m above sea level.
I could go on, but you get the gist, this is an insane feat.
You can find more info here.