Last Updated January, 2022
It took me a while to come up with a topic for my first post about the United Arab Emirates. But after spending some time brainstorming the ideas, I finally decided why not to start with the introduction to the 7 emirates of UAE.
Although not that type of introduction where I get to talk about the country’s history and political system. I wanted to cover details about what to expect from each emirate in terms of activities, development, hotels, beaches, and life overall.
All of the emirates of the UAE are interesting, fascinating states that offer various vacation styles and leisure options for every taste. And knowing about them will give you an idea of what to expect from the country beyond Dubai.
In fact, when I was coming to the Emirates for the first time to spend winter, everything I knew about was Dubai. At that time, I wasn’t even sure if Dubai was a city, country, or state (shh, too embarrassing to admit). But for some reason, I thought it was the only destination with activities and landmarks and anything outside it was just a desert. Oh, how wrong I was.
The UAE turned out to be much more than just Dubai. However, Dubai on its own is so rich and diverse, that it needs its own introduction. But let’s talk now briefly about all seven emirates to get you started before a trip:
7 Emirates of UAE – Quick Introduction to Each of Them
Abu Dhabi Emirate
Abu Dhabi is the largest Emirate of the UAE which is rich, modern, and prosperous. It has high skyscrapers, chic shopping centers, comfortable and beautiful hotels, and clean beaches. Abu Dhabi city, the largest city of the emirate, is also the capital of the UAE. The Ruler of Abu Dhabi is also the President of the United Arab Emirates.
Abu Dhabi until this day continues to invest a lot of money in tourism development, in business hotels and luxury resorts. You’ll find there quite a few museums, beautiful parks, world-class sports venues, and even one of the most luxurious hotels such as Emirates Palace Hotel 5* which interiors are often taken as a real Sheikh’s palace.
Overall, Abu Dhabi has hotels of almost all world brands.
If you plan to spend your holiday in this emirate, you’ll find yourself in a fairy tale, a very rich fairy tale. Do not expect the same number of skyscrapers or buildings on the water as there are in Dubai. But you’ll be definitely able to stay in luxury and have an atmosphere of nobility and elegance.
Unlike Dubai, Abu Dhabi has no fuss, noise and endless traffic jams. It is also very green – with many nature reserves, surrounded by many miraculous islands. And there are also many Blue Flag beaches.
Beach Holiday in Abu Dhabi
Beaches of Abu Dhabi are distinguished by their cleanliness and livability and deserve special attention.
They have fine soft sand, a very clean sea, and shallow entrance into the water. The sea space is enclosed by small artificial islands which block the waves what makes them perfect for families with children.
Beaches of Saadiyat Island are considered one of the best in the UAE and people often compare them to the beaches of the Maldives. Saadiyat Island is also home to a five-star luxury resort with the highest level of service Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort.
Must-Visit Places in Abu Dhabi
Besides multiple shopping and entertainment centers, amusement parks, gorgeous white beaches, and hotels of any category for every taste, Abu Dhabi is also famous for many cultural attractions. Just some of them are architectural delights as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Louvre Museum on Saadiyat Island.
Here you can also admire twin towers with movable facades and the famous Capital Gate – the leaning tower.
On Yas Island, don’t miss visiting the world’s first Ferrari amusement park, as well as the circuit for the annual stages of Formula 1. Among other cities in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, pay a visit to Al Ain, a lush oasis with flowers and trees.
Among all seven emirates of UAE Dubai is the most luxurious, bright and futuristic emirate with various wonders and endless world records. The splendor of buildings there is striking and the amount of entertainment together with luxury hotels simply amazes.
For the first acquaintance with the UAE, Dubai is the best destination. However, many people keep returning here again and again on their other trips. Even those who visited the emirate only 7-10 years ago no longer have the full right to say “I saw Dubai” because this city prepares new surprises for its residents and guests every day.
What makes Dubai unique is an array of activities for all tastes. You can literally plan any type of holiday there – from a beach holiday in one of Dubai’s hotels with private beaches, a romantic getaway for two, a comfortable family stay, or a party trip for a group of friends. And you can be sure that this city (and emirate at the same time) has the most developed tourist infrastructure and an incredibly high level of service.
Dubai is ideal for those seeking entertainment and those who prefer to pack their days with activities and lots of action. It is an ideal destination for lovers of luxury, latest technologies, sophistication, delicacies, mind-boggling views, and unimaginable attractions.
The most famous water parks in the world, the most unique artificial islands in the form of palm trees, the tallest building and Ferris wheel, the fastest elevator… Dubai aims to be the first one in everything and it does it so well!
Beach Holiday in Dubai
Although Dubai stretches for many kilometers along the coastline, not all of it is covered with beaches. And not every part of the beach area is accessible to everyone.
The best parts of the coastline are occupied by hotels and beach clubs. Entrance to such a club usually costs 150-300 AED per day, but it can go up to 500-750 AED for especially prestigious places.
Of course, there are also beach areas with a more democratic approach to prices where the entrance will cost 5-10 AED or be even free. Such places will be more crowded and less comfortable, but the difference in price is noticeable.
Those who are interested in living by the sea should look into Jumeirah (one of the most expensive areas in Dubai) – it is here that there are great long beaches and world-class hotels. Another beach area is JBR, behind it is Dubai Marina (Dubai Manhattan), La Mer, Madinat Jumeirah, and Umm Suqeim.
Must-Visit Places in Dubai
The list of places to visit in Dubai is endless and it is constantly getting longer. Almost every month something new opens up and gives another reason to visit this magnificent city. I am working on my extensive guide to all things to do in Dubai, so make sure to return soon to check it out!
Meanwhile, go read my article about the best places to visit in Dubai by car.
Sharjah is the most budget-friendly emirate of the three most developing emirates (including Dubai and Abu Dhabi). However, it also has more strict conservative rules which not everyone likes (like alcohol ban, more strict dress code, no wild parties for example).
But most families with children like it because a vacation in Sharjah is always quiet, calm, and culture-oriented. There are many museums and attractions, dancing fountains, an aquarium, amusement and water parks, beaches and a beautiful walking area.
This emirate is also in demand for beach holidays in the UAE mostly because of lower hotel prices and a few nice beaches with white like powder sand. And if you want entertainment or admire the architecture – Dubai is near with many tours and activities.
The only disadvantage of this emirate is a low number of hotels, particularly those by the sea.
What type of travelers Sharjah will work best for? It is an excellent emirate for people on a lower budget, families with children, and anyone who prefers beach vacation while not spending all their money.
Beach Holiday in Sharjah
You won’t find noisy entertainment in Sharjah like in Dubai, but there is a lot of greenery and excellent beaches.
The beaches are clean and beautiful and the entrance to the sea is smooth. The bottom is sandy and has a gentle entrance. I was really surprised to find white sand beaches that reminded beaches in the Gulf of Thailand.
And the best part – you can choose Sharjah for winter travel as Al Mamzar beach, for example, is located in the bay which protects the area from winds.
Must-Visit Places in Sharjah
This is the oldest emirate, so you’ll find many museums there – archaeological, ethnographic, historical museums for different tastes and preferences. For children – Al Majaz Green Park with dancing fountains, Desert Park, Adventureland indoor theme park, Oceanarium and Water Park.
Among other places are the famous Al Noor Mosque, the Automobile Museum, Wasit Wetland Center, and the Wildlife Center.
And here is an emirate that became a home for me for the entire winter. Some people say that it is one of the poorest emirates since it is the cheapest. But I didn’t experience it that way. Yes, some streets look dirtier than others and have more budget accommodation, yet overall Ajman reminds of Sharjah in some ways with that difference that beaches are wider and nicer and there are more beautiful beach hotels.
Ajman is the smallest emirate in the UAE which is also called the capital of pearls and white sand. Due to its long coastline with white sand beaches and a high number of residents from India, it creates an impression that this part is Goa.
You’ll be able to enjoy here luxurious beaches, Arabian architecture, a cute old city, inexpensive seafood restaurants, and numerous museums.
Ajman is an alternative to beachfront Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah. Yes, there are no striking skyscrapers, grandiose mosques, and amusement parks.
However, if you just want a quiet and relatively inexpensive vacation by the sea – this emirate is for you. And if you rent a car for the length of your vacation, then exploring all 7 emirates of UAE, including Dubai, will be easy and enjoyable.
Beach Holiday in Ajman
While beaches in Ajman are wide with white sand, they are not equally comfortable for an international traveler. Best beaches are those that are private and belong to hotels. They are very clean with excellent infrastructure. But public beaches are more on a wilder side, without showers and any shade.
I loved coming to Ajman public beach to watch the sunset or just sit and relax at the end of the working day. But I never enjoyed swimming there. For swimming, Mark and I went to hotels that offered day passes for outside guests.
Must-Visit Places in Ajman
The list of activities in Ajman is rather meager. There is really not much to do besides visiting the historical museum, old fort, a few mosques, the shipyard, and Ajman marina with restaurants and mini amusement park.
Ajman is not really about a long list of entertainment. This emirate is more about a measured, slow-paced vacation with beach days and evening walks along the promenade and beautiful embankment. Hotels there are mainly of the 4-5* level with good service, operating on the “All-inclusive” or B&B system.
If you get bored, you can always go to Dubai or Sharjah since they are close by or visit camel races and mineral springs.
Of all the emirates of the UAE, Ajman has the best preserved historical monuments, traditional architecture, and authentic way of life.
Ras Al Khaimah Emirate
Ras al-Khaimah is the northernmost emirate in the UAE, nestled between the picturesque Hajar Mountains to the east and the Persian Gulf to the west.
For a long time, it wasn’t receiving a lot of attention but this has changed. This emirate is now actively developing the tourism industry with the goal to attract tourists. With each new year, it’s just becoming an increasingly popular destination among foreigners. And the main reason for that is the number of nice hotels and beaches.
However, besides beaches, this emirate has a few more interesting things to offer.
There are no Dubai skyscrapers, nor are there any extravagant experiences. But holidays in Ras Al Khaimah are a combination of relaxing and tranquil time near the blue sea and clean white beaches, desert dunes, and the majestic Hajar Mountains.
Tour packages are among the cheapest in Ras Al Khaimah and the selection of 4 to 5-star hotels is great. Most of them are along the coast and a new manmade island Marjan island to the south of the emirate closer to the border with Umm Al Quwain offers even more hotels with an all-inclusive concept and complete seclusion.
You will not be bored on vacation in Ras Al Khaimah for sure. The city has an interesting old town, site with archaeological excavations, local National Museum, and unique oriental bazaars. The Hajar Mountains with the highest peak at 1,934 m above sea level hide many exciting excursions, hiking trails, sightseeing, and beautiful wildlife sanctuaries.
This emirate will work best for people who look to go on a packaged tour to the beach and combine it with cultural immersion.
Beach Holiday in Ras Al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah has long white sand beaches similar to those in Ajman, although here some of them are manmade. Besides beaches, another popular destination is a beautiful canyon of the Hajar Mountains, sand dunes, desert villages, ancient valleys (wadis) with oases and archaeological excavations, mangroves and picturesque hills.
The infrastructure is well developed. There are hotels, shops, cafes, and everything else that one needs for a comfortable holiday. You can stay both in a resort on the first line, in a more budget-friendly hotel in the city, or in non-standard unique accommodation like the Al Wadi reserve or in a Bedouin tent in the middle of the desert.
Must-Visit Places in Ras Al Khaimah
The healing thermal springs of Khatt remain one of the main symbols of the emirate. With a first-class wellness center around the thermal springs, picturesque landscapes and tranquil environment, this resort area is in demand among older people and tourists who prefer a relaxing atmosphere other than by the beach.
A mandatory part of the excursion should be a visit to the National Museum of Ras al-Khaimah. It occupies a beautiful old fort from the 18th century that for centuries remained the main residence of local rulers. Nowadays within the walls of the fort, there is a large museum with collections of ethnographic, archaeological, and historical exhibits.
Those who love interesting water activities should visit Ice Land Water Park. Over the years, it has turned into a multifunctional entertainment center. Additionally to swimming pools and water attractions, its visitors have access to a large selection of restaurants and cafes, as well as a large shopping center. The water park has 36 meters high waterfall and a beautiful artificial reservoir with live coral reefs.
Umm Al Quwain
Quiet provincial emirate 34 km north of Ajman, on a very picturesque coastline, has many lagoons and bays. Its old town has preserved many valuable architectural monuments, although they occupy a small territory and their condition is not as good as those in Ajman or Dubai’s Deira.
Umm Al-Quwain is probably the quietest and less developed emirate. It doesn’t offer much to a traveler besides a few 4 and 5-star hotels, green mangroves for exploration, and a nice beach club.
The main things it is famous for are the large fishing port and huge Dreamland water park. However here you can find the original traditions of Arab people and their way of life.
Among all seven UAE emirates, for me personally, this one is the least favorite one. Mainly because of poor infrastructure and some type of poverty feel.
Should you visit Umm Al-Quwain? If you have never been to the UAE before and look only for a beach holiday on the Persian Gulf, I’d recommend you look into other emirates.
Umm Al-Quwain is good only if you are really on a tight budget. With not many hotels to choose from and not many things to do, it is not the best emirate for a first trip to the United Arab Emirates.
Beaches in Umm Al Quwain
The beaches of Umm Al-Quwain are sandy, wide and gently sloping. There are umbrellas, sun loungers, bars and restaurants on the beaches near the hotels. Public beaches don’t have any infrastructure and are rather dirty.
You can go sunbathing on the islands that are in close proximity and are visible from the Old City and then take a boat ride through the mangroves.
Must-Visit Places in Umm Al Quwain
Umm Al Quwain emirate has a beautiful Mangrove Nature Preserve and an incredibly cool Kite Beach Center. The Center is perfect for chilling away from the city in a setting that reminds either of Bali or Zanzibar. If you rent a car, don’t miss an opportunity to come here for a day. The left photo was taken there.
Fujairah is the greenest and coolest (temperature-wise) emirate, located on the coast of the Indian Ocean and washed by the Gulf of Oman. For many tourists and visitors, Fujairah is a bastion of tranquility after the hustle and bustle of Dubai. For UAE citizens, this is a place for a favorite weekend getaway.
The only one of all emirates, it boasts a relatively large amount of precipitation by local standards and nature atypical for the UAE. Fujairah is full of green valleys, majestic mountains, picturesque gorges, wide beaches with golden sand, and multiple mineral springs. All other emirates except beaches don’t have any of that.
In fact, mountains are what differs Fujairah from all other UAE emirates. Rocky mountains here meet the sea and create all conditions for a calm and secluded holiday.
The weather is almost always comfortable – in summer it is not so hot and in winter it is warmer than in the rest of the country. The seawater is cooler than in the Persian Gulf what attracts many people during the hottest months of July and August.
To sum up, I can say that Fujairah is a wonderful emirate for families with children, lovers of privacy, and everyone who prefers a calm and quiet vacation in a good hotel surrounded by fantastic nature. There is no mass tourism or noisy entertainment. But you’ll find many resorts and nice hotels, including those with an all-inclusive concept.
Beaches in Fujairah
The emirate of Fujairah has the longest coastline (about 90 km) and really wide and clean sandy beaches.
All beaches belong to hotels where the entrance is free for in-house guests. All outside visitors can come to the “foreign” beach for a small fee – 35-40 AED per person. This amount includes the use of sun loungers, umbrellas, toilets, and other beach infrastructure.
Fujairah’s beaches are ideal for diving, snorkeling, or just relaxing family holidays. Tourists prefer the beaches of Al Aqah, Dibba Al Fujairah, and Shark Island and consider the best beaches to be in the north or the emirate.
Must-Visit Places in Fujairah
Fujairah will appeal to lovers of history and ancient cultural monuments. The hallmark of Fujairah city is the fort in the Old City built back in 1670 and the Archaeological Museum with exhibitions showing the history of the emirate since ancient times.