Top events in United Arab Emirates

October
24

Celebrated throughout the Muslim World, the Islamic New Year or 'Al-Hijra' occurs on the first day of the month of Muharram which begins on Hijra...

January
01

All the big stores and almost every shop in Dubai slashes prices in this month-long retail extravaganza.

December
02

Commemorates the foundation of the United Arab Emirates and features international sporting events, trade shows, exhibitions and cultural displays...

Burj Al Arab hotel, Dubai
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Burj Al Arab hotel, Dubai

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United Arab Emirates Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

83,600 sq km (32,278 sq miles).

Population

5.5 million (2013).

Population density

65.5 per sq km.

Capital

Abu Dhabi.

Government

Federation of seven autonomous emirates. The highest federal authority is the Supreme Council of Rulers comprising the absolute rulers of the seven emirates. Decisions reached by the council must have the agreement of at least five members, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, the two largest members. The council appoints a president to act as head of state. There are no political parties.

Head of state

President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan since 2004.

Head of government

Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum since 2006.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz. Square three-pin plugs are widespread.

With its man-made islands, opulent hotels and iconic buildings, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has always been a show-stopping, headline-grabbing destination, offering an intriguing blend of Islamic culture and modernity.

The world watched spellbound as billionaire Emiratis built megastructure after megastructure, seducing slack-jawed tourists and expats with everything from the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab to bustling souks, sprawling tax-free shopping malls and decadent hotel brunches.

For a while, it seemed as though nothing could halt the rise of this burgeoning Arabian Gulf country, until the global financial crisis took hold and saw residents ditching their million dollar Ferraris at the airport, and years of construction plans came to a halt overnight. With billions of dollars invested in property projects, Dubai suffered a major economic blow. However, the oil rich capital of Abu Dhabi managed to escape relatively unscathed and its ruler agreed to bail out the neighbouring Emirate. As a result the name of the world’s tallest building (Burj Dubai) changed to mirror its late investor’s moniker; Burj Khalifa. The UAE capital now looks set to become the country's cultural heart, with the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, the Louvre and the Guggenheim galleries scheduled to open in the next five years.

While the crisis may have crippled markets around the world, the UAE as a whole remains a billionaires playground, the Bentleys, Louis Vuitton handbags and mega yachts are still ten a penny, yet some hotel rates remain lower than they were pre-crash, meaning there has never been a better time to visit the country. You'll also find that many of the hotels and restaurants are now offering meal deals and freebies aplenty, in order to increase customer numbers, encouraging visitors to forget there's a depression happening, and party like it's 2007.

Explore the country’s luxurious side and be pampered at the reams of five star abodes and spas, flex your credit card with world-class designer shopping or dine at gourmet restaurants. Alternatively, visit the nation’s less showy attractions including the buzzing Creek with traditional abra boats, and a vista dotted with mosques and markets, or the Falcon Hospital where tours teach visitors how to care for the UAE’s royal birds. Meanwhile, the vast natural desert offers endless discoveries via exciting modes of transport from hot air balloon and quad bike to helicopter or sandboard.

Don’t be dazzled by Abu Dhabi and Dubai alone – the other emirates are also worthy of exploration. Coastal Fujairah offers nature walks and a host of outdoor adventures, including off road mountian biking, wakeboarding, plus snorkelling and scuba diving with sea turtles and reef sharks. Ras al-Khamiah has excellent off-road driving and hiking in the rugged Hajar Mountains, Al Ain, part of Abu Dhabi, boasts natural cave systems and hot water springs, as well as sports car driving on the world class Jebel Hafeet mountain road, which draws car fanatics from across the globe. Plus, this normally sleepy town recently opened the Middle East’s first manmade whitewater rafting, kayaking and surfing centre, Wadi Adventure. If that lot won’t get your heart racing, nothing will.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 16 September 2014

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

Around 1 million British nationals visit the UAE every year. Most visits are trouble-free.

There is a general threat from terrorism.

The UAE is a Muslim country. Laws and customs are very different to those in the UK. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times. There may be serious penalties for doing something that might not be illegal in the UK.

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