Residents in the UAE are blessed with many public holidays throughout the year, and frequently these will be moved by the Government to form long weekends – queue many last-minute scrambles for a quick getaway!
So get your notepad out and get your wanderlust on! We’ve been speaking to top travel and family bloggers in the UAE about the best spots to head for a short getaway this winter – equally accessible from both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Relaxing retreat or adventure-filled weekend?
We have many wonderful opportunities to explore nature’s backyard right here in the UAE, through to short and easy flights to amazing new destinations nearby. Let’s get exploring…
This post was first published in November 2018, updated for winter 2019-20
Suggested by Sally Prosser from My Custard Pie
It’s impossible to choose my favourite as there are so many interesting places to visit for a long weekend that are easily accessible from Dubai. One of them is Baku in Azerbaijan, a simple 3-hour flight away.
All of the countries of the Caucasus have a very ancient and often turbulent history along the Silk Road. Baku has the footprints of thousands of merchants over time, fused with a new wave of impressive modern architecture.
The Zaha Hadid building gleams like a white sinuous shell over the city. It’s a breathtaking structure; the light moves softly over its curves on the outside and in angular shards through the windows on the ground floor. It’s a photographers’ heaven.
By contrast, you can follow the winding cobbled streets through the beautifully restored, old city. Inside its walls visit the 15th Century Palace of the Shirvanshahs, and gain an eagle-eyed view of the ancient buildings, and newer ones like the Flame Towers, from the top of the Maiden Tower.
Make sure you stop at one of the traditional restaurants by the gate (on a Saturday they will be full of local families). The waiters will bring you an array of little dishes often jewelled with pomegranate seeds or strewn with fresh herbs, and towers of steaming fresh bread.
Where to stay: We stayed in the Sultan Inn which is big on character, a great location in the old city, with friendly staff. Our room was like being in a cosy gentleman’s club with polished dark furniture, thick curtains, occasional tables and plush sofas. It might not suit families with very small children or if you insist on minimalism.
Baku is a city with one foot in the past and one in the future. If you like to potter about really getting to know a place, warts and all, this one is for you.
Suggested by Ed at Dubai Travel Blog
Georgia is a great destination for UAE long weekends. It’s only 3.5 hours away from Dubai by plane and UAE residents tend to get a free visa on arrival or visa requirements are not that strict (please do check for your nationality).
Located at the intersection of Europe and Asia, Georgia has beautiful landscapes, historical landmarks and churches, rich culture and claims it is the birthplace of wine.
If you’ve been a long-time resident of the UAE, the gorgeous views of Georgia’s countryside will definitely be a welcome sight to the eyes. It has four seasons so even if you visit the country during one season, you can still explore it again at a different date of the year and see it in a different light.
I would recommend you try and go on a city tour of Tblisi (the capital city), go on a day tour of Mtshketa and wine tour at Kakheti region. If you have more time to spare, do head to Gudauri for some snow and ski adventures during the winter season.
As the UAE’s closest neighbour, Oman is just a short flight or drive away so easily accessible for a long weekend away from the UAE. Fly to the capital Muscat in less than an hour or take the scenic route by car, it’s longer but quite spectacular (You can see our road-tripping guide with distances here).
Alternatively, you can fly to Salalah or drive north to Musandam via Fujairah or Ras al Khaimah.
Western Hajar Mountain region, Oman
Suggested by Jo Brett from An Expat Abroad
With its dramatic mountain ranges and culture, Oman offers a slower pace of living to the UAE. Omani people are very welcoming and the country offers so many different experiences from outdoor adventures to luxury hotels. Go off-roading, hike in the mountains, swim in a wadi, camp on the beach or go diving, it’s all possible in a weekend in Oman.
Take a glimpse into the past in the old capital of Nizwa with a trip to the ancient fort and souk. A must visit is the ancient car-free mountain village of Misfat al Abreyeen. The village has an air of serenity, they still use the ancient ‘falaj‘ irrigation system and it’s awash with lush vegetation and crops.
Where to stay: There are many fabulous Oman hotels but one of our favourites to date is the Alila Jabal Akhdar, a five-star mountain retreat, perched high on the top of the Al Hajar mountains.
Expect breathtaking scenery, luxurious suites and villas, first-rate facilities and service. Fully committed to sustainability and eco-tourism the hotel offers delicious traditional and international cuisine using fresh organic produce grown on site or locally sourced. Outdoor activities include yoga, cycling, hiking, climbing and cave adventures.
Little adventurers are welcome in the Play Alila programme. Kids can explore the onsite Butterfly Trail, fly kites at sunset or enjoy supervised play sessions. Alila Jabal Akhdar offers something for everyone, the adventurer who wants to explore, wellness at Spa Alila or simple relaxation by the pool.
Musandam Peninsula, Oman
Suggested by Keri from Our Globetrotters
Nothing beats the raw, natural beauty of heading to the where the Hajar Mountains meet the Strait of Hormuz. The Musandam Peninsula has earned itself the nickname the “Norway of Arabia” for good reason. Sailing amongst the dramatic fjords you are almost guaranteed to see pods of dolphins at play as traditional dhow boats float by and fisherman can be seen at work in their tiny traditional villages, scattered in the foothills.
Some come to Musandam to enjoy the challenge of climbing the dramatic khors that abruptly jut into the ocean, or to snorkel and enjoy water sports in the stunning, calm waters.
Mostly it’s a place to come to enjoy the sheer peace and tranquillity between the water and mountains. The drive itself from Ras Al Khaimah is one of the most beautiful in the region with the road hugging the hillside as it wraps its way around to the regional capital of Khasab.
The journey can be made in 2 hours by car from Dubai (3 hours from Abu Dhabi), but you do need to factor in border crossing time at Al Darah which can vary (expect it to be significantly longer on a holiday weekend). Make sure you have your paperwork in order before travelling by car including ownership and insurance papers, as well as passports and exit fees, as well as your Omani eVisa.
Where to stay: If not camping or sleeping on your dhow boat, good options are the Atana Khasab Hotel, or sister hotel Atana Musandam Resort (dry). Both offer family rooms, pool and dining options and are lovely places for basing yourself before and after exploring on the water. You can transit between the two hotels for a variety of dining options.
CHECK PRICES FOR ATANA KHASAB HOTEL | ATANA MUSANDAM RESORT | CHECK FOR LAST MINUTE MUSANDAM HOTEL DEALS
Suggested by Meghna from Love, Life & Little One
I always tell my husband, that one of the main reasons why I married him, was because he lived in Muscat. I remember, falling instantly in love with Muscat, during my holiday some 7 years back. Being in Muscat is like living on a beautiful heritage walk.
A city nestled between the sea and the mountains. The locals so friendly, the food so rich, so yummy, no high rises, good quality of life, aesthetic city planning with gardens in the roundabout, clean roads, and vast sky, where the sun shines and stars twinkle in the night. Coming from a noisy and busy city like Mumbai, Muscat was a laidback, cultural paradise to me and a paradigm shift for me too.
Now that I live in Dubai, it is my absolute favourite long weekend destination. Whether you want to drive or fly, it is so convenient, budget-friendly, understated and naturally beautiful as a contrast to the extravagance of Dubai.
I love Muscat for its wide range of outdoor activities. You can go dolphin watching, you can lounge in the lazy river at the Shangri-la, you can do a barbeque by the beach at Yeti, or you can drive a little further and get awed by the natural caves at Al Hoota.
If you want desert, you have it! If you want to climb a mountain, you’ve got it! If you want springs, culture walk, stay at an Oasis, or water sports on the beach, you have got it all.
What’s not to love??
My 2 favorites, must-see/Must do places in Muscat are:
- Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque: It is truly magnificent.
- Dolphin Watching Cruise: It’s a beautiful experience and the waters in Muscat are just a different shade of blue and green. Good for eyes, soothing for the soul
Where to stay: I highly recommend Shangri-la Barr Al Jissah Hotel if you are travelling with family and kids.
If you are on a romantic holiday, then stay in Chedi Muscat and don’t miss their Couple Spa or stay in Al Bustan Palace and get transported to the royal luxuries of the Middle East. I also recommend going to “ The View” at Al Hamra region in Oman to live in this luxury eco-resort tucked away in a scenic valley, it offers an exclusive vacation experience.
Suggested by David from Out & About UAE
Approximately three hours from the capital by car (2 hours from Dubai) is the Emirate of Fujairah. An area of rocky outcrops, isolated beaches and a landscape quite unlike anywhere else in the UAE. Fujairah makes up the majority of the country’s east coast and is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and those looking to get away from it all. A wealth of cultural attractions and long stretches of untouched beaches are what make this Emirate truly unique.
Don’t miss the Friday Market (also know as Souq al Juma) in the mountainous town of Masafi which is a great place to stop for snacks, a coconut or a spot of shopping. The market has everything from colourful plants, right through to fruits and vegetables, Omani sweets, terracotta pottery and household items. It is also said to be one of the best places to purchase a carpet in the UAE.
Just outside Fujairah’s city centre lies Al Hayl Castle. Despite being the most difficult of the local attractions to access, it’s the most rewarding. A strategically placed fort high upon the mountainside, the area is also known as the ‘fortress mountain. and provides exceptional views of the surrounding area.
Al Bidya Mosque (also known as the Othmanian Mosque) is the oldest in the UAE. Remarkably, no timber was used in its construction, instead one central column in used to support the roof and four domes. The mosque is unique in design as it does not have a minaret and despite its age, is still a functioning mosque, so ensure you dress respectfully if you plan on visiting.
The Emirate of Fujairah is also the only place in the UAE to experience bull butting, which takes place on Friday afternoon at around 5pm on the corniche. Despite any preconceptions that you may have, this is not a sport in which the animals are harmed. Rather a competition of strength, in which the gigantic bulls have to push each other out of a marked circle. Much like wrestling, the stronger bull is the winner and they are prized by their owners.
Where to stay: Our favourite reason for visiting Fujairah is relaxation. A place where the craggy Hajar Mountains meet the Indian Ocean. The Fairmont Fujairah Beach Resort & Spa is one of our favourite properties in the region, making for a luxurious escape from the world and the first art-inspired hotel in the UAE.
180 generously sized rooms, monochromatic in design and with a distinctive Arabesque touch make for a charming property with some excellent restaurants (don’t miss fine dining seafood spot The Copper Lobster) and a firm focus on family.
Those with children will appreciate the inflatable water park, Aqua Bounce, and the Lava Beach Club designed in fiery hues of red, orange and yellow to emphasise the feeling of being inside a volcanic crater.
You don’t need to leave the UAE for a relaxing beach holiday when Fujairah is right on our doorstep.
Looking for a relaxing resort break with kids club? Our next two suggestions will see you through the next long weekend in style:
Hilton Ras al Khaimah Resort & Spa
Suggested by Clementina from DubaiMums.Com
As a family with two young kids, we really appreciate the city “escapes” in the weekends, as often as possible. We don’t want to travel far and we enjoy exploring our host country. Therefore, I’ll tell you why “We love Hilton Ras Al-Khaimah Resort &Spa”.
We spent there just one night and two days and we were so sorry to leave. What we look for at a hotel when booking is to have a Kids Club. The weekend is about spending time as a family but also for us, parents, to enjoy time together, over a cuppa on the beach or at the spa. It’s relaxation time for us, too. Hilton RAK Resort & Spa has a big Kids Club that our girls enjoyed very much, doing all kind of activities, from building blocks and watering plants to dress-up and painting.
I call this resort “the swimming pool heaven” as really, there are so many pools, connected to each other or just separate that the girls mainly spent their time in the swimming pool, never getting bored. What we enjoyed, as adults, was the walk around the resort, taking breaks at the beach bars with live music.
CHECK PRICES FOR HILTON RAS AL KHAIMAH RESORT & SPA | CHECK FOR LAST MINUTE RAS AL KHAIMAH RESORT DEALS
Shangri-La Hambantota Golf Resort and Spa, Sri Lanka
Suggested by Asha from Abu Dhabi Review
A lot of people who head to Sri Lanka spend their time trekking from one town to the next to witness the beauty and culture of the country. However, for those who need a base camp to call home for a few weeks, Shangri-La Hambantota Golf Resort and Spa which is around 4 hours away from the airport, can give you everything your family could desire.
The resort has a stunning and spacious, open-air feel to it, overlooking the southern coast of Sri Lanka and is surrounded by a field of green (formally a coconut plantation) and a world of nature and wildlife.
The resort’s outdoor facilities include areas that provide mesmerising views across the ocean, three pools (one specifically for adults only), a splash park and 23ft high trapeze for all acrobat enthusiasts. The kids club runs daily from 9am-7pm and offers lots of different activities including circus school. The pools also have water slides and a floating zorb.
Other family activities include tours outside of the resort. The Riverboat safari along the Walawe river offers the chance to see birds, crocodiles and the mouth of the river where it meets the Indian Ocean.
The highlight for some is the Elephant Transit Home in Udawlawe, which gets you close up to elephants, peacocks and monkeys in their natural habitat.
Thanks to all our blogger friends in the UAE for sharing their favourite destinations both close to home and abroad.
Don’t forget to check out our Ultimate Guide to Winter in the UAE 2019-20 – it includes a printable checklist you can hang on the fridge to keep you motivated to see more of the great outdoors this winter and explore with your family.
Or if you are only looking for easy day trips, check out this guide to our favourite scenic drives in the UAE.
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