The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a confederation of seven Emirates. From ultra-modern skyscrapers, gleaming mega-malls, and record-breaking architectural landmarks, to fine old forts, wooden boats, and sleepy traditional lifestyles, the various Emirates offer a delicious contrast between the exotic past and the dynamic present.
The snow-white domes and minarets of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque dominate the skyline of Abu Dhabi. Stay in the Emirates Palace, which has been converted to a luxurious hotel. Explore Al Hosn Fort in the city center, and the oases and traditional forts of Al Ain.
In cosmopolitan Dubai, marvel at the skyscrapers lining the 12-lane Sheikh Zayed Road, shop at the flamboyantly decorated Ibn Battuta Mall, and take in the view from the iconic sail-shaped Burj al Arab and the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building. Visit the Palm Jumeirah, the world's largest artificial island, shaped to look like a palmtree. Take a guided tour of the Jumeirah Mosque, the only mosque in Dubai open to non-Muslims. For a taste of Old Dubai, wander through wind towers in the Bastakiya quarter, and shop at the Textile Souk, Spice Souk and Gold Souk. Ride a traditional wooden dhow across the Creek.
For a less-developed alternative, visit the other emirates. See beautiful Arabic calligraphy at the Islamic Museum in Sharjah, famed for its Heritage Area museums and galleries. Wander the boat-building yards and sleepy old fort of Ajman, and the conserved fortress-museums of Umm al Qaiwain and Ras al Khaimah. Laze on the golden beaches of Fujairah, with the dramatic Hajar Mountains in the background.
Travel between the different Emirates is easy as there are no checkpoints or customs controls. A modern road system and lack of domestic flights makes hiring a car a good option, though a cheaper (but less comfortable) alternative is the long-distance bus.
Taxis are probably the easiest way of getting around a city. Make sure that the driver turns on the meter, and sit in the back if you're a woman. All public transport in Dubai is covered by a prepaid Nol card, which allows to you take local buses, the modern Metro subway, and the abras (waterbuses) to cross the Creek.
Falconry is a centuries-old popular sport. Originally, falcons were used to hunt meat during the hunting season, and later released into the wild to be recaptured when needed. These days, aficionados in modern falcon clubs keep their prized birds in luxurious air-conditioned cages, and send them to the vet for regular check-ups.
Gold is the UAE's precious metal of choice, and most cities have gold souks, with their glittering rows of shops selling accessories, ornaments and jewellery. Dubai in particular is known for its cheap and authentic gold, because the government exercises tight quality control. But in order to get a bargain, you'll have to haggle!
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