Day Trips in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (I)
Day Trips in Dubai: Abu Dhabi – The UAE’s cultured capital
Some two hours’ drive down the coast from Dubai lies Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE. Even more than Dubai, Abu Dhabi is a product of the age of petroleum, having been built up in the last fifty years virtually from scratch using profits from the emirate’s vast oil reserves. Like Dubai, it’s a modern, multi-cultural city, with a large expat community ranging from European and American professionals through to Indian and Pakistani laborers.
The similarities between the two cities are plain to see, although nearly as obvious are the differences. Abu Dhabi remains a smaller and much more sedate place than its freewheeling neighbor, having largely eschewed the vast landmark mega-projects which are such a feature of the Dubai landscape and skyline.
Culturally, the city has clung more firmly to its traditional roots. There are plenty of bars, and a decent smattering of nightlife, although none of Dubai’s huge party scene and general sense of free-for-all. Fittingly enough, whereas Dubai’s most iconic landmark is a luxurious “seven-star” hotel, Abu Dhabi’s is a mosque.
For visitors, the city’s leading attractions are the vast Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the sprawling Emirates Palace hotel. More low-key attractions include the attractive Emirates Heritage Village, the old Qasr al Hosn fort and adjacent Cultural Foundation, and the nearby Etihad Square, strewn with enormous sculptures.
Day Trips in Dubai: Al Ain – Oasis city at the heart of the UAE
The fourth largest city in the UAE (and the country's only major inland settlement), Al Ain makes for a pleasant day-trip from Dubai, offering the chance to escape the full-on pace of life on the coast and experience a more laid-back and traditional version of local life.
Al Ain grew up around the large string of oases, which dot the desert here. The sprawling main oasis, right in the heart of the city, survives amidst the modern development and offers a beautiful retreat from the modern world, with dozens of little roads twisting between the dense forest of palms.
Elsewhere, the most notable reminders of Al Ain's past are the string of mud-brick forts, which dot the city. These include the fine Al Jahili fort and the Al Ain Palace, both recently reopened as low-key museums, and the quaint Eastern Fort. The interesting Al Ain National Museum, next door to the Eastern Fort, is also worth a look, as are the colorful livestock and food markets nearby.
Buses for Al Ain leave hourly from Al Ghubaiba station in Bur Dubai (just behind the Shindagha Tower). The journey takes around 90 minutes to 2hr, depending on traffic.