Standing at a geographical crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa, the UAE has a world of travel opportunities on its doorstep. Swap the suburbs for cultural discovery, the boardroom for beaches, and the commute for adrenaline-fuelled adventure in less than five hours with our top 10 essential destination guide. Most of the UAE’s airlines serve these locations, but we’ve picked a selection of the flight options available. All prices include taxes.
The first Gulf state to discover oil, Bahrain was the original expat hub. Wander among the Qal’at Al Bahrain ruins, a Unesco World Heritage Site dating back to 2,300 BC, mosey through the striking postmodernist Bahrain National Museum, or pop into the 19th-century former home of Sheikh Isa bin Al Ali Khalifa for some local culture. Family pursuits come in the form of the Lost Paradise of Dilmun Water Park, while Al Areen Wildlife Park & Reserve is home to more than 500 animals including oryx and zebra.
Top tip: Spend some quality time with Arabia’s most iconic animal at the Royal Camel Farm, which is open to the public.
When to go: November to March; Bahrain Grand Prix, April 3.
Getting there:FlyDubai has daily flights from Dubai from Dh500 return.
Modern-day Beirut blends hedonism and history with an addictive vibe. From the high-end boutiques of downtown to the authentically local flavour of the Hamra neighbourhood and scenic Corniche promenade, it’s a mixed bag of experiences. Rent a bicycle or tour the city by foot from Pigeon Rocks down to Martyrs’ Square, pick up some goodies at the weekend Souk El Tayeb farmers’ market, check out the Beirut Art Center, and soak up the after-dark party scene in and around Rue Gouraud.
Top tip:Drive out to Baalbek with its impressive Roman ruins, or visit the ancient Phoenician port of Byblos for a seafood lunch.
When to go: April to mid-June, and September/October.
Getting there:Etihad flies daily from Abu Dhabi to Beirut, from Dh1,200 return, including taxes.
India in slow motion, Goa offers a gentler alternative to other tourist hotspots, with scenic beaches backed by lush tropical vegetation, mountain waterfalls and fragrant spice plantations. R&R is usually the order of the day, but active travellers can kayak through meandering backwaters, putter across the state by motorbike or haggle with vendors at Anjuna Flea Market. Sundowners and a fish supper on the beach is a must-do, or take a cooking class to learn about Goa’s distinctive cuisine.
Top tip: The three-day Goa Carnival takes place every February, with colourful parades and celebrations across the state.
When to go: Mid-November to mid-February.
Getting there:Jet Airways flies daily from Abu Dhabi to Goa, from Dh1,199 return.
At the crossroads of East and West, Istanbul is a visual medley of architectural gems and jaw-dropping vistas. The Hagia Sophia, the Byzantine church-turned-mosque (and now museum), vies for top attraction status with Topkapi Palace, which was home to a procession of sultans and their harems; closely followed by the famed 17th-century Blue Mosque, with its sextet of minarets. Children and adults will be intrigued by the underground Basilica Cistern, and an afternoon spent trawling the 3,000 shops in the Grand Bazaar is an adventure in itself. Keep an eye on travel advisories in light of recent terror attacks.
Top tip: Head to the Galata Tower or Taksim areas for the best sunset views over the Bosphorus.
When to go:April to mid-June and mid-September to end October.
Getting there:Etihad flies daily from Abu Dhabi to Istanbul, from Dh1,335 return.
The Hashemite kingdom deserves more than a brief weekend sojourn. Leading the charge is the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. Hidden from sight for centuries, and rediscovered in the 1800s, a walk through its gorges and rock formations will give you goosebumps. North of the capital, Amman, a walk through Jerash’s colonnaded streets is a stroll through Greco-Roman history. Add an overnight camp experience in Wadi Rum to rub shoulders with local nomadic Bedouins, or slather yourself in mineral-rich mud and bob around at the Dead Sea.
Top tip: For a glimpse of rural life, take a trip along the King’s Highway, which follows an ancient north-south trade route.
When to go:Jordan enjoys a full four seasons, but March to May is glorious.
Getting there:Air Arabia flies from Sharjah to Amman, from Dh1,010 return.
If you have ever had a castaway complex, but can’t envision a week in a beach hut, the Maldives’ 1,192 coral atolls are the perfect upscale alternative, with picture-postcard beaches, azure waters, world-class snorkelling and diving, and even surfing. A honeymoon bucket-list destination, the islands are geared for romantic rendezvous, but solo travellers and families are also catered for. Trips to meet local communities and cooking lessons are one option, while Padi scuba diving courses and watersports activities are standard at most resorts.
Top tip: Witness nature at its best in the north, where luminous sparkling blue waves, the result of bioluminescence, can be seen at night.
When to go: November to April.
Getting there: Emirates flies from Dubai to Malé, from Dh3,305 return.
A trip to the Musandam Peninsula is a great way to decompress. Start in the market town of Khasab, and step aboard a traditional dhow for a cruise into Arabia’s equivalent of Norway’s grand fjords. The imposing geography features dramatic fissures and sheer striated rock faces reflected in crystal-clear waters. There are more than 25 official dive sites, and a teeming marine community with whale sharks, manta rays, turtles and tropical fish as well as dolphins.
Top tip: Keep an eye out for pods of playful humpback dolphins.
When to go:November to March.
Getting there:Oman Air flies to Khasab daily from Abu Dhabi, via Muscat, with prices starting from Dh1,100 return. Driving from Dubai takes around 2.5 to 3 hours and includes a border crossing in Ras Al Khaimah, so don’t forget your passport.
Whether climbing to Everest Base Camp, trekking in the Himalayan foothills or immersing yourself in the country’s spiritual heartland, Nepal is a sensory assault. Kathmandu and nearby Bhaktapur, Unesco World Heritage sites, were severely damaged in last year’s earthquake, but visitors can still wander through the central squares, ancient temples and narrow streets. Farther afield, Chitwan National Park is a haven for wildlife, including elephants, while Langtang National Park is a popular hiking destination.
Top tip:Join thousands of pilgrims at Boudhanath Stupa, one of the largest of its kind in the world, dating from about AD 600.
When to go: October to April.
Getting there: Etihad flies daily from Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu, from Dh1,555 return.
A summer sojourn in Salalah is like a cool flannel on a fevered brow thanks to the south-west monsoon winds, which bring a drop in temperature and persistent, cooling drizzle. The khareef season, as it’s known, helps sustain a verdant landscape dotted with banana, papaya and sugar cane plantations, and primed for outdoor exploration from coconut palm-fringed beaches to a 2,000-year-old baobab forest and the hanging valley of Wadi Darbat, with its waterfalls, caves and wildlife.
Top tip:The home of the frankincense tree, a museum dedicated to this important trading commodity forms part of the Al Baleed historical district.
When to go: Early June until mid-September.
Getting there:FlyDubai has four weekly flights from Dubai to Salalah, from Dh950 return.
From tip to toe, Sri Lanka is awash with scenic highlights, ancient sites, abundant wildlife and a lingering whiff of colonial influence. Brave the 180-metre climb (about 1,200 steps) to the top of the old ruined capital of Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock), near Dambulla, before exploring Kandy’s hill country, with its tea plantations and busy street markets. Just below Kandy is Nuwara Eliya, also known as Little England thanks to the residential architectural style favoured by British tea planters. Wrap up your visit in another time-warp town, Galle, with its Dutch-era villas and churches.
Top tip: Sri Lanka’s stunning coastline offers some fantastic beaches, from Bentota to Tangalle.
When to go: December to March, although expect monsoon conditions in some parts of the country during that time.
Getting there: Etihad flies daily from Abu Dhabi to Colombo, from Dh1,305 return.
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Updated: January 21, 2016 04:00 AM
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