Dubai is best known for its glistening modern skyscrapers, high-end shopping, and resort-style living. While the city itself is filled with exciting urban attractions and unique adventure opportunities, it is just one of seven gorgeous emirates in the compact nation known as the United Arab Emirates.
If you’re looking to escape the city or you’re just interested in getting to know more of the region, the city of Dubai is the perfect launchpad. We’ve created the following list of the best day trips from Dubai for tourists and residents interested in exploring the nature-filled outskirts and the rich culture of neighboring emirates.
How to Get Around
Although many of these day trips can be undertaken with public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. Your own four wheels allow you to be in control of your time and schedule, and depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the cheapest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can be sure of getting the best possible car for your budget.
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries, we’ve listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
Drive Up to Jebel Jais
The tallest mountain in the UAE, Jebel Jais is in the neighboring emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and is certainly one of the best places to visit from Dubai. The base can be reached by a two-hour car ride from the city, and the best way to head up the mountain is to rent a car and drive up, although you can also take the bus from Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah and then book a shuttle tour or a taxi to take you to the highest peak. There are several lookout points along the 18 mile (30 km) road, some of which offer snack stands and coffee shops. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats.
It will take about 45 minutes to drive from the base of the mountain to the highest peak, and it’s best to start heading back before the sun goes down since the winding roads are not very well lit and there are some pretty narrow bends that can be very challenging to navigate once it gets dark. If you’re short on time and you don’t want to head all the way up, it is still worth checking out the first few lookout points since the entire drive offers some pretty incredible views. Along the way, you’ll also find plenty of opportunities for adventure, including six different hiking trails, survival courses, camping sites, and even the world’s longest zip line.
Explore More of Ras Al Khaimah
With relaxing beaches, historic ruins, and magnificent natural scenery, Ras Al Khaimah is a small emirate that packs in a ton of top-rated attractions. The main drawing point of the region is Jebel Jais, but there are countless other sites in the city center and on the outskirts that are worth checking out. The emirate’s compact nature and its close proximity to Dubai make it a great choice for day trips, and if you feel like spending the night, there are plenty of great affordable hotels in the city center. Many of the hotels and resorts along the coast come with direct access to the beach, where you’ll find ample opportunity to engage in watersports or just relax and escape the city for the day. History buffs should definitely pay a visit to the Dhayah Fort, a 16th-century military tower offering a rich history and breathtaking panoramic views.
The National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah is also definitely worth a visit, costing just over $1 USD to enter and offering free tea and Arabic coffee on arrival. Set in a historic fort and former ruling residence, the museum is home to a very impressive collection of ancient artifacts, and the unique construction allows you to wander around independently and check out all of the interesting corners and lookout points. You will also gain invaluable insight into the history and economy of Ras Al Khaimah and of the UAE as a whole.
Visit Al Qudra Lakes
For a super-relaxing and relatively easy Dubai day trip, head to Al Qudra Lakes. This man-made desert oasis is less than an hour drive away from the city and offers some great opportunities for wildlife spotting and easy hiking and walking around the lakes. Renting a car is probably the easiest way to get there, although you can also book a taxi for about $40 USD each way.
Camping around the lakes is a popular activity among Dubai locals, and if you go in the winter months, the mild weather and tranquil atmosphere make this a great spot for beginners to pitch a tent. If you’re planning to stay the night or have a picnic, be sure to bring food and supplies as there are no shops or restrooms around the lakes. Whether you’re looking for a short trip from Dubai that won’t take all day, a quick escape to a secluded setting, or a unique overnight adventure, Al Qudra Lakes are a must-stop destination.
Explore Vibrant Urban Attractions in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi is the nation’s capital city and business hub, and one of the most popular destinations in the UAE. It takes about 90 minutes to drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, the perfect day trip for anyone interested in seeing some different urban attractions and uniquely gorgeous architecture. There is also a bus that will take you directly to Abu Dhabi, or you can hire a taxi for about $50 USD each way.
Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the most popular attractions in the city, known for its breathtaking white-marble domes and its ranking as the largest mosque in the country. For a deeper look into the nation’s culture, heritage, and history, the Qasr Al Watan Presidential Palace is definitely worth a visit. Additional popular attractions include the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Ferrari World.
There are plenty of guided day tours from Dubai to Abu Dhabi to choose from. This full-day sightseeing tour from GetYourGuide will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel or apartment in Dubai and take you on a six-hour adventure through the city. The tour stops at the most popular sites, including the Sheik Zayed Mosque and Qasr Al Watan.
Visit Al Ain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
On the eastern border of Oman, 150 km inland from Abu Dhabi City, Al Ain is an ancient city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. At the center of the city, you’ll find the famed Al Ain Oasis, framed by towering mountain ranges, over 100,000 date palms, popular city parks, and luxurious resort-style attractions. Ancient irrigation systems feed into lush mineral springs, and fascinating remnants from the Bronze Age add to the city’s historic appeal. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to catch some of the yearly festivals held in the city center, such as the Al Ain Classic Music Festival. This paradisal tourist destination can easily be reached from downtown Dubai in under two hours, with either a direct bus route or a short drive, making a trip to Al Ain one of the best side trips from Dubai.
Go Kayaking in Hatta
Nestled at the foot of the Hajar Mountains, Hatta is an exclave of Dubai known for its mesmerizing turquoise waters and endless array of outdoor activities. Visitors can rent a kayak and float along the calm waters of the Hatta Dam, which are set against the scenic backdrop of the largest mountain range on the Arabian Peninsula. If you’re staying in Dubai in the spring or summer, the temperature-controlled pools are the perfect place to take a refreshing dip and a much-needed break from the heat. There are also plenty of walking and biking trails, and Hatta Wadi Hub opens up in the winter and offers archery, ax throwing, rope courses, and more. It takes only about 90 minutes to drive or bus from downtown Dubai to Hatta, and a taxi ride will run you about $50 USD each way.
Go on a Desert Safari
Desert safaris are a classic Dubai day trip very popular with tourists. The most common desert safari experience in Dubai starts with a drive out to the desert in an SUV, where skilled drivers will take you dune bashing and you’ll have the opportunity to go quad riding under the desert sun. You’ll then drive further out to a private reserve where camel rides, belly dance performances, fire shows, and a traditional Bedouin feast are on offer. There are also various overnight desert camping experiences that can be booked independently or in conjunction with a standard safari trip. These excursions make a fantastic opportunity to camp out under the stars and marvel at the untouched beauty of the Arabian Desert.
There are several organized day tours from Dubai that allow you to pre-book a desert excursion. This premium desert safari tour from GetYourGuide offers an exclusive trip to Al Khayma Desert Camp, where you can bash through the famous red dunes and partake in shisha, henna painting, and falconry. At the end of the evening, you’ll enjoy traditional dance shows and a mouthwatering BBQ dinner as you watch the sun go down. In case you’re short on time, GetYourGuide also offers a half-day desert safari that features quad biking, camel riding, and sandboarding.
Go Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Fujairah
Although Dubai itself is home to some pretty impressive beaches, most pale in comparison to the magical coastlines of Fujairah. Set against the majestic waters of the Gulf of Oman, this popular vacation destination is known to offer the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the country. The water offers a wealth of majestic marine life and the backdrop of the mountains makes the climate a bit cooler than you get in Dubai, so you can enjoy relaxing on the beach even in the hottest months. Fujairah is a very popular vacation destination among Dubai residents, and the emirate even offers interesting historic sites like the Al-Bidyah Mosque, which is the oldest mosque in the UAE. It should take you just under 90 minutes to drive from Dubai to Fujairah, and there is a direct bus route that costs around $7 USD.
Take a Ferry to Sharjah
If you don’t have time to try everything on this list, Sharjah is one of the easiest and best places to visit from Dubai and should definitely be at the top of your itinerary. Off hours, it only takes about 30 minutes to drive from downtown Dubai to Sharjah City. To bypass potential traffic and enjoy some incredible scenery along the way, consider taking the ferry. The trip costs around $4 USD, takes about 35 minutes, and gives you the opportunity to admire Dubai’s gorgeous coastline along the way. As soon as you hop off the ferry, you’ll have the opportunity to buy fresh sugarcane juice or take a traditional abra boat ride. Known as the cultural capital of the UAE, Sharjah is overflowing with galleries and museums, the most popular of which are the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization and the Sharjah Art Museum.
The central region of the emirate of Sharjah is also home to the world-renowned desert of Mleiha, where you’ll find major archeological sites that provide evidence of some of the world’s earliest human settlements. The site now offers a museum and opportunities to explore the jaw-dropping caves said to have been used by Paleolithic nomads.
Just over the border between Sharjah and Dubai, you’ll find the mysterious ghost town of Al Madam. The abandoned village is partially consumed in sand and features a few rows of abandoned houses and a mosque. Al Madam is not an official tourist destination, although visitors are welcome to roam freely around the site and through the homes. The village has become so intriguing to travelers in part because no one really knows why the homes were abandoned. Theories range from lack of infrastructure and intense sandstorms to eerie paranormal explanations.
Take a Crabbing Tour to Umm Al Quwain
For a super-unique, exciting, and short trip from Dubai, book a crabbing tour to Umm Al Quwain. The marshlands of this small emirate are known for offering crabbing opportunities, which occur from the evening until morning. Various tour boats will take you out at night and provide torches and hunting sticks, although it is definitely possible to embark on your own excursion from the shore with spears, flashlights, and covered buckets. To increase your chances of a good catch, head out when the tides are high. Some tours will also take you for dinner after the excursion to Flamingo Beach Resort, where you can immediately eat what you catch. Note that Flamingo Beach Resort is well known for crabbing, and the crab populations are regularly fed to maintain a healthy ecosystem.
There you have them, the best day trips from Dubai. Hopefully this guide gives you a sense of the incredible opportunities surrounding the UAE’s most populated city and takes you far beyond the skyscrapers and desertscapes.