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Dubai Off the Beaten Path

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Despite its high-rise image and increasing encroachment on the desert wilderness, it’s remarkably easy to escape the intensity of inner-city Dubai. Right on the emirate’s doorstep are desert wilderness, craggy mountains, heritage towns, and protected wildlife sanctuaries. Here’s how to find them.

Good for
  • History Buff
  • Thrill Seeker
  • Shopping Fanatic
  • Art and Architecture Lover
  • Nature Lover
  • Peace and Quiet Seeker
  • Luxury Traveller
  • Like a Local

8 Places

4 City Tips

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8 Places

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary

Nature & Wildlife Areas

Meydan Racecourse

Horse Tracks

Hatta Heritage Village

History Museums

Hatta Rock Pools

Waterfalls

Camel Souk

Farms

Jebel Hafeet Mountain

Observation Decks & Towers, Lookouts, Mountains, Scenic Drives

The Karama Market

Flea & Street Markets

Empty Quarter

Deserts

Sasha H's City Tips

  • It’s best to drive when heading out of Dubai city center; some of the places recommended here are best explored by four-wheel drive.
  • Most international car-hire companies operate in Dubai, from the airport and major hotels.
  • Tipping: round up to the nearest note for taxi drivers and leave 10% in restaurants if service was good (and has not already been charged to the bill).
  • Dubai is a Muslim country and asks that visitors dress conservatively when appropriate. Swimwear is fine for the beach but not for sightseeing.
  • Save
    Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
    Nature & Wildlife Areas
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    Sasha H Says:

    Hidden away at the head of Dubai Creek, this wetlands reserve is a respite for many thousands of migrating birds. Ras al-Khor has been a wildlife sanctuary since 1998, and a series of hides (binoculars provided) allow visitors to see the birds up close without scaring them. Visit between November and April to see a wave of bright pink spread over the swamps as countless flamingos go about their daily feeding; other birds among the 270 species that have over-wintered here include rare ospreys, egrets, terns, and sandpipers.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Admission is free.
    • Ras al-Khor Wildlife Sanctuary is not easy to find; it is off Oud Metha & Ras al-Khor roads in Bur Dubai.
    • Open Saturday through Thursday, 9am-4pm.
    • Only 10 people allowed per hide.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #56 of 284 things to do in Dubai
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Great Bird Site Spot in Dubai 20/06/2015
    • Disappointing during summers, worthwhile only during winters ! 13/06/2015
    • Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary
    Address:
    Oud Metha Road
    Dubai
    United Arab Emirates
    Phone:
    +9714 6066822
    Other:
  • Save
    Meydan Racecourse
    Horse Tracks
    See more photos
    Sasha H Says:

    Opened in 2010, the architecturally stunning home of Dubai racing has facilities enough for 120,000 people, with all-weather and turf tracks. Around 20 evening race meetings are held here each season, which stretches from November through to March, and winds up with the Dubai World Cup — the highlight of the Dubai social calendar and the richest horse race in the world, with a reported $25 million in prize money. Stable tours are held throughout the racing season and a visit to one of the meetings gives a chance to see the monied classes of Dubai at play. Also at Meydan are an IMAX cinema, a five-star hotel, and several restaurants overlooking the racecourse; these are open all year round.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Luxury Traveller
    • Like a Local
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Family
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Race meetings at Meydan are usually on Thursday or Sunday evenings.
    • Meydan Racecourse is south of Dubai Creek, about 15 minutes drive from the city center.
    Plan to stay:
    More than 3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #15 of 284 things to do in Dubai
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Amazing Venue, Amazing experience 01/07/2015
    • Night golf in Dubai at Meydan 30/06/2015
    • Meydan Racecourse
    Address:
    Suite 206
    Nad Al Sheba
    Dubai
    United Arab Emirates
    Phone:
    (0) 4 327 2110
    Other:
  • Save
    Hatta Heritage Village
    History Museums
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    Sasha H Says:

    Hatta is an oasis town close to the border with Oman in the foothills of the craggy Hajar Mountains. Its sandstone fort and defense tower, traditional barasti houses — made of palm leaves and mud — mosque, courtyards and traditional falaj irrigation systems now form a heritage village recreating the Dubai of long ago. Kids can dress up in flowing traditional robes to have their photos taken and there are displays of ancient crafts, from textile dying to making utensils from palm fronds.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Hidden Gems
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • History Buff
    • Couples
    • Senior
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Hatta Heritage Village is 60 minutes southeast from Dubai city center; the easy drive is clearly signposted along the E44.
    • Take your passport with you when traveling to Hatta as the route runs across the border with Oman.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #2 of 4 things to do in Hatta
    • Nice Village that recall UAE life style 30/06/2015
    • Going back in the past 14/06/2015
    • Hatta Heritage Village
    Phone:
    971-4-852-1374
  • Save
    Hatta Rock Pools
    Waterfalls
    See more photos
    Sasha H Says:

    Around 20km past Hatta are the elusive Hatta Rock Pools; getting there is something of an adventure along the rough tracks into the Hajar Moutains, which are best suited to four-wheel drives. However, the clear blue waters of the wadi rock pools provide a refreshing respite from the intense heat of the city. If there is enough water, waterfalls splash into the pools, which are popular picnic and camping spots with Dubai residents.

    Good for
    • Trendsetter
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Take the E44 to Hatta from Dubai, then turn left on to the gravel track Mahdah 64 at the Sumaini signpost. Best take a good map — it’s easy to get lost.
    • Visit Hatta Pools during the week (Saturday–Wednesday in the UAE) as they get crowded (and be-spoiled with picnic detritus) on Thursday and Friday.
    • Take your passport with you when traveling to Hatta Pools as the route runs across the border with Oman.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #4 of 4 things to do in Hatta
    • Too much Garbage... 28/06/2015
    • Access denied 07/06/2015
    • Hatta Rock Pools
    Address:
    Hajar Mountains
    Hatta
    United Arab Emirates
  • Save
    Camel Souk
    Farms
    See more photos
    Sasha H Says:

    The dustiest, most chaotic, and largest camel market in the UAE is located in Al Ain, conjuring up a United Arab Emirates seemingly lost centuries ago, when Bedouin nomads relied on their camels for transport, milk, and meat. Thousands of camels of many different breeds are on display, some with their cute youngsters here, and although the market is a spectacle increasingly popular with tourists, this is a real, live glimpse into contemporary UAE life. Trading of the camels takes place in the morning amid much shouting and haggling, but it’s all very good-natured.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Always ask first if you want to take photographs.
    • Recent reports have been heard of traders fleecing tourists during photo opportunities with their camels, so be on guard.
    • Al Ain Camel Market is an hour’s drive from Dubai into Abu Dhabi, south along the E66.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #15 of 36 things to do in Al Ain
    • Best camel market around 01/07/2015
    • Take time to visit camel market . . . 01/07/2015
    • Camel Souk
    Address:
    Al-Ain behind Bawadi Mall
    Direction of Meyzad
    Al Ain
    United Arab Emirates
  • Save
    Jebel Hafeet Mountain
    Observation Decks & Towers, Lookouts, Mountains, Scenic Drives
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    Sasha H Says:

    At 1,240m, Jebel Hafeet is the second-highest peak in the UAE; an arid, limestone crag with panoramas that stretch across the lush desert oasis of Al Ain and into Oman. Once isolated, Jebel Hafeet has now been tamed and one of the world’s most exhilarating drives twists to its summit through a series of 21 breathtaking hairpin bends. The Green Mubazzarah hot springs are found at the base of the mountain, and along the 12-km route up lie several viewing points, a hotel, restaurants, and food stalls selling water and ice creams.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Like a Local
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Jebel Hafeet is in Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s UAE neighbor.
    • The drive from Dubai to Al Ain takes 1.5 hours; the mountain route is clearly signposted in blue from Al Ain oasis.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #1 of 36 things to do in Al Ain
    Certificate of Excellence 2014Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Great View and Very nice Weather at night 02/07/2015
    • Amazing unspoilt views 01/07/2015
    • Jebel Hafeet Mountain
  • Save
    The Karama Market
    Flea & Street Markets
    See more photos
    Sasha H Says:

    Al Karama in Bur Dubai is where Dubai residents in the know head to for cut-price accessories — some of dubious provenance — sold at a fraction of the cost of those in the sleek mega-malls. Rows of minuscule stores line the enticing, undercover alleyways where haggling with pushy shopkeepers is all part of the fun. Karama is the place to pick up typical souvenirs such as Burj Khalifa snow domes and shisha pipes, as well as fake handbags, belts, and excessively logo-ed polo shirts.

    Good for
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Like a Local
    • Solo
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Shopping Fanatic
    Tips
    • You may get better prices by telling the sellers that you are resident in Dubai.
    • If gold jewelry seems too cheap to be true here, then it’s probably fake.
    Plan to stay:
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #76 of 284 things to do in Dubai
    • BAGS BAGS BAGS 30/06/2015
    • Bags galore !!! 27/06/2015
    • The Karama Market
    Address:
    Street No. 18b , Dubai Uae
    Timming 10 Am to 10:30 Pm Fridays 3 Pm to 10:30 Pm
    Dubai
    United Arab Emirates
    Other:
  • Save
    Empty Quarter
    Deserts
    See more photos
    Sasha H Says:

    The Empty Quarter (Rub al Khali in Arabic) is a vast swathe of orange and red sand dunes that appear to be advancing in great waves across an area of 655,000 sq kms that touches on the southern edge of Abu Dhabi. However it’s not really empty at all; the desert still supports a nomadic community as well as palms, cacti, and hardy lizards; and wandering herds of gazelles, camels, and rare oryx. Many Dubai tour companies run four-wheel drive trips into the region via Liwa Oasis for dune bashing on Tal Mireb — the UAE’s highest dune at 300m — wildlife spotting, falconry, hot-air ballooning, or overnight camping in the wilderness.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • Friends
    • Couples
    • Thrill Seeker
    • Family
    • Nature Lover
    Tips
    • Never go off-roading or dune bashing in the Empty Quarter alone. Drive in a convoy of at least three vehicles in case of accidents, and always carry spare water and fuel.
    Plan to stay:
    More than 3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #0 of 0 things to do in Oman
    • Unbelievable 16/04/2015
    • Lost City of Ubar 21/01/2015
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