If the new year’s already got you aching for a quick getaway, you’re in luck. With falling temperatures, pretty blue skies, and pleasant days around the UAE, it’s easy to take a mini vacation without the hassle of planning an international trip.
Here are the UAE’s best hidden gems worth exploring – there’s really no excuse not to go!
THE ADVENTUROUS WEEKEND IN HATTA
Bring your adventurous travel buddies and do the two-hour drive from Dubai to get to the mountain town of Hatta, an exclave of Dubai that straddles the border between the UAE and Oman. This laidback town, surrounded by the spectacular landscape of the craggy Hajar mountains, is one of the most exciting adventure destinations in the UAE.
Whatever your adventure of choice, there’s something for everyone here. Kayaking on the calm, turquoise waters of Hatta Dam is an excellent way to spend a morning while being active. There are kayaks, pedal boats, and water bikes available for hire.
If you love the mountains, then you’ll enjoy hiking in the wadis and foothills of the Hatta Mountain Conservation Area. There are 32.6km of trails to be explored on five routes. No less than 50km of marked mountain biking trails (color-coded by difficulty level) wind through the rugged terrain and natural lakes for those who’d rather explore the area on two wheels. Sunrise and sunset horseback rides around Hatta are also available, regardless of whether you’re a novice or expert rider.
The Hatta Wadi Hub is a one-stop destination for fun, active adventures for all ages. For stomach-lurching thrills, try zorbing, where you roll down a hill in a giant plastic ball. Or try your hand at archery or axe throwing. Race with your friends on a three-wheeled mountain cart or bounce around on a trampoline for adults.
Stay at the charming JA Hatta Fort Hotel (discounted rates on Agoda) that offers luxurious, modern, and homey rooms and suites with balconies offering fantastic views. Other facilities include temperature-controlled pools, a spa, an indoor recreation center, mini-golf, wall climbing, ziplining, and five dining venues.
FAMILY FRIENDLY GETAWAY ON SAADIYAT ISLAND
While part of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island, with its white sand beaches along the azure blue water of the Arabian Sea, nesting hawksbill turtles, indigenous gazelles, and interesting museums and art galleries, feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
The star attraction on what is the largest natural island in Abu Dhabi is the Louvre Abu Dhabi. It’s easy to spend half a day in the museum, visiting the exhibition spaces, attending events and workshops, and admiring the work of international artists. If you love art, the Manarat Al Saadiyat, a cultural hub hosting interactive exhibitions, community events, and film screenings is also worth a visit.
If you’re after a bit of sunshine and sand in your toes, the Saadiyat Beach Club offers beautiful poolside cabanas and sunbeds on the 9km long natural beach, and a trendy pool bar. They’ve also got a family-friendly Friday brunch with BBQ grills, live cooking, seafood spread, and cheese bar. Golfers will appreciate the 18-hole beachfront golf course at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.
Book a stay at the beachfront Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas (Agoda offers the best rate), a five-star Arabian-inspired modern resort with tons of activities for families and children. The spacious rooms and suites offer incredible sea views, seven restaurants offer a range of cuisines from Italian to British pub fare, and leisure facilities include an outdoor pool, spa, two tennis courts, mini golf, and a kids club with a cinema, water slide and more.
BUDGET ESCAPE IN AL AIN
Al Ain is Abu Dhabi’s second city and with low-rise houses, lush date palm farms, ancient sites, palaces and forts, this quiet city, just a 90-minute drive from Dubai, makes for a relaxing escape, especially if you’re on a budget.
What you might not know is that Al Ain is the birthplace of His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the country’s founding father, who wanted to preserve the area’s culture, heritage, and nature. That explains why Al Ain is so green – it’s also referred to as the Garden City. You’ll find parks and date palms everywhere you look. In fact, the lush Al Ain Oasis, home to around 147 000 date palms, is the first Unesco World Heritage Site in the UAE and is worth a visit. Explore the Hili Archeological Gardens to see monuments and relics dating back to 2500BC.
One of the must-do things to do in Al Ain is to drive on what is one of the UAE’s most impressive roads to get to Jebel Hafeet, which, at 1 240m above sea level, is the country’s second-highest peak. Surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Hajar mountains, you’ll find several viewpoints along the way until you get to the furthest point that you can go to. It’s a good idea to bring a picnic basket and enjoy the sublime orange-red sunset here.
If you’re visiting Al Ain with friends or family, a fun thing to do here is to go whitewater rafting at Wadi Adventure. The rapids gush over manmade wadis and the facilities here are so good that many professional teams come here to practice. But don’t worry if you’re not an expert – there are rapids here for every level.
The Radisson Blu Resort Al Ain offers a budget-friendly stay that’s perfect for a weekend away. The modern rooms offer breathtaking views of the mountains and resort gardens, six in-house restaurants offer plenty of dining options, and leisure offerings include swimming pools, tennis courts, and gym.
LUXURY MINI-BREAK ON ZAYA NURAI ISLAND
For a staycation fit for a celebrity, head to one of the UAE’s most luxurious private island resorts at Zaya Nurai Island Resort in Abu Dhabi. You’ll arrive by a 15-minute speedboat ride from Saadiyat Island to find yourself on an island paradise that feels like it could be in the Indian Ocean.
Here you’ll find all the ingredients of a picture-perfect beach holiday: white sandy beaches, gorgeous blue water, palm-fringed gardens, and beach villas that come with private infinity pools overlooking the ocean, outdoor showers, and private dining terraces.
Spend your day on the beach or sign up for a bit of adventure with activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, jet ski, stand up paddle boarding, windsurfing, and wakeboarding. The resort also arranges fishing trips that end with the chef preparing your catch the way you like.
Otherwise enjoy a game of badminton, basketball, or tennis in the outdoor tennis court. Young kids will love the resort’s waterpark with slides and a splash pool.
The resort’s Nurai Spa offers therapeutic massages and treatments in beautiful treatment suites that also offer ocean views. When it comes to dining, choose from five in-house restaurants – from Asian-inspired seafood poolside to Mexican favorites in a vibrant setting.