From its pristine beaches along the Arabian Gulf to its unique mountainous terrain, historic cultural sites and rich red sandy deserts, you will need much more than one weekend to take in everything Ras Al Khaimah has to offer.
On this page, we will cover:
- Where exactly is Ras Al Khaimah and how do you get there
- A brief history of Ras Al Khaimah
- The best things to do in Ras Al Khaimah
- Historical buildings & cultural sites
- Outdoor adventures
- Marjan Island & Beach life
- Where to stay in Ras al Khaimah
Where is Ras al Khaimah – How to get there
Ras Al Khaimah sits on the northern-most part of the UAE, on the Gulf Coast, almost all the way to the Strait of Hormuz, bar the small Oman peninsula of Musandam.
As you immediately cross the border from neighbouring Umm Al Quwain (by either the E11 or E311) the first major sites you will come to are Marjan Island jutting into the Arabain Gulf, and Al Hamra.
Continuing along the E11 you will come to the bustling centre of Ras Al Khaimah, Al Nakheel.
The easiest way to get there from DXB or Dubai is my private car or taxi, but there are some public bus options too.
- Book a private transfer service from DXB inside the terminal to your RAK hotel door
- Book a private transfer from any Dubai city location to your RAK hotel
- Private airport service Ras al Khaimah to DXB transfer
A brief history of Ras al Khaimah
Ras al Khaimah, also affectionately known locally as simply “RAK” like much of the UAE was a Bedouin society until the later part of the 20th century. They were the last of the seven Emirates to join the unified country in early 1972.
It has a proud heritage that can be dated back some 7000 years! Archaeological finds are believed to date back to 5500BC. The Ras al Khaimah National Museum houses much of these archaeological finds and is a great place to start your learning journey.
Unlike much of the rest of the UAE, oil was not discovered in RAK. It relies heavily on other industries and an expat workforce. Tourism is just one of the areas they are rapidly trying to develop.
Best things to do in Ras al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah has a great reputation as the outdoor playground of the UAE. Its varied terrain makes it popular with weekend adventurers and stunning beach fronts a magnet for locals and expat residents looking to make a weekend escape away from the big smoke.
Historic Buildings & Culture of Ras Al Khaimah
As mentioned above, many of the UAE’s most historical finds are in Ras Al Khaimah. The best sites to visit for more insight into Ras al Khaimah’s historic past are:
A fertile area, the settlement here in Dhayah in northern Ras Al Khaimah is believed to date back to the 3rd century BC, making it one of the oldest continually settled parts of the world.
The fortification on this rocky outcrop though dates back to the 18th century, a strategic defence point for the oasis beneath. It is here the British invaded in 1819 and later formed the Trucial States by treaty with the ruling Al Qasimi’s.
Due to the construction style, restoration works at the Fort remain an ongoing battle. Be prepared for the steep climb of 300+ steps (and do keep an eye out for sharp stinging plants and possible snakes in the rocks, keep to the path at all times). This is a good spot to tackle on your way through to Musandam.
You will find several dozen smaller forts dotted throughout the Emirate.
Ras Al Khaimah National Museum
As mentioned above, many archaeological finds from present-day Ras al Khaimah are kept here, in a fort building that was a residence in the 1960s and later a prison.
You can learn more about visiting the RAK Museum here. It is open daily though you are best going with a guide to get the most from the experience, there won’t always be English-speaking guide on duty. Entry 5dhs.
- Check out this full day tour from Dubai where you can see the Museum, Forts & Old Souk before a drive up Jebel Jais
Al Jazirah al Hamra Ghost town
In days gone by, this was perhaps far more an eerily impressive site (also known as al Jazeera, al Jazirat)
These days, with the approaching development from modern Al Hamra, the buildings that once made up the ghost town look to be largely reclaimed and rapid redevelopment is occurring. You can learn more here.
Still worth a photo stop in the area is the extensively refurbished Al Hamra Fort. The venue is now being used for festivals and events, breathing life back into this once-abandoned part of the Emirate.
Historic Mosques of Ras Al Khaimah
There are over 30 recognised historic mosques in Ras Al Khaimah, the second oldest in the country is Mohammed Bin Salim which has been extensively restored inside and out. It is notable as it’s a very understated mosque, boasting no minarets or grand entrance. You’ll find it about 500m on from the RAK National Museum, near the beach.
Next door, you will see better examples of abandoned traditional houses. The coral and sea sand constructed buildings cannot withstand the harsh elements close to the water. Again, many of these houses in this area abandoned by their previous Bedouin occupants have been reclaimed by the local expat worker population.
Old Souq & Kuwaiti Street
There are a few different areas claiming to be “the Old Souq”. Don’t expect to see anything on the scale and to the tourist needs that you might find in Dubai but you will perhaps find of interest visiting the vegetable and fish markets at the bustling heart of RAK trade.
Those more interested in picking up bargains on gold, tailoring, clothes and other knick-knacks may want to head to the Al Kuwaiti area after dark to see a buzzing local part of Ras al Khaimah.
Al Suwaidi Pearl Farm
Arguably one of the best new inclusions on the RAK cultural scene. This cultivated pearl farm sits in the quiet fishing village inlet of Al Rams.
Owner Abdulla Al Suwaidi has chosen to continue his grandfather’s legacy as one of the UAE’s last pearl divers. His informative tour guides you through the wetlands of Al Rams then onto his pearl fishing farm, Suwaidi Pearls. Here, the process of modern pearl cultivation is explained with a traditional diving demonstration and a look through his treasure chest!
Lunch delivered from the local village is optional (but an absolute must!). Abdulla is generous with his time and his explanations, bringing a true Emirati tradition to life. This is one of the most unique cultural experiences you will find in the UAE and thoroughly recommended – tours currently by private arrangement.
Climb the UAE’s Highest Peak Jebel Jais
Jebel Jais at 1,934 metres above sea level is the highest peak in the United Arab Emirates. Running all the way from the Strait of Hormuz and Musandam in the north through to the south of Oman, the mountains provide a picturesque playground.
You can now drive most of the way up Jebel Jais, though there are still construction works, you would need to complete the summit by foot.
Sunrise and sunset are the most popular times. The drive from the base is 30kms and takes about one hour to the summit, but there are plenty of other viewing stops along the way.
Twice a day there is a RAK tourism shuttle bus service up Jebel Jais departing from The Cove Rotana.
If you would like more off-roading, we strongly suggest you get your hands on the latest edition of Explorer UAE Off-Road. There are detailed maps in here (albeit they can date fast so use the QR codes for up to date information). We never head off-the-beaten-path in the UAE without it.
Fly through the mountains on the world’s longest zipline
A fairly recent addition to Jebel Jais Flight, the longest zipline in the world at 2.8kms, is the Jebel Jais Zipline Tour. Seven zip lines are connected by a suspended platform, giving over 5kms in total of ziplining fun through the mountains.
(Participants need to be taller than 122cm and weight between 40 to 130kgs)
We understand the UAE’s first Bungy is also on its way… watch this space.
Jebel Jais Via Ferrata
Reopening in November 2019, this is one of the most breathtaking ways to tackle Jebel Jais with ledge walking and ziplining involved – stay tuned for what the new season will involve but here is a taster:
There are several wadis (wide valleys between mountains) to be found in Ras Al Khaimah. These include
- Wadi Shawka
- Wadi Albaih
- Wadi Ghalilah
- Wadi Sham
There are plenty of exploration tracks you can take your off-road vehicles on – check out the Explorer Guide we mentioned above before heading off-road.
A warning: If there is heavy rain, don’t rush to see the waters flow in the wadi’s, many have lost their lives from this behaviour.
Desert Exploring Companies
There are now plentiful companies operating different outdoor adventures in the mountains and desert of Ras Al Khaimah. We have not tried them all, therefore, cannot vouch for services but as an idea of what is available:
- Rock climbing
- Mountain bikes
- Horse riding
We will update this section in due course with adventure company recommendations as we have more Ras al Khaimah adventures to complete this winter – drop us a line if there are any you would like to recommend!
Beach Life in Ras al Khaimah
There’s plenty of coastline to enjoy in Ras Al Khaimah – but in true Emirates style, they have made even more! The largest development project in the Emirate is Marjan Island, a man-made peninsula and home to luxury resorts and properties.
The luxury resorts do dominate, but there are also many stretches of beach popular with campers too (albeit we think not as beautiful as other parts of the country – our UAE camping guide coming soon!)
You will find the main beachfront of Ras al Khaimah far less developed than in Dubai. So pull up a picnic rug and umbrella and enjoy the seaside ambience. But do be mindful, there are no change rooms or cute instagrammable huts etc on this stretch of coast, its very much more al naturale!
Other Attractions in Ras Al Khaimah
Like much of the country, RAK isn’t short of a Mall or three to keep people busy indoors during the hottest months. Some of the larger malls with indoor play centres include:
- Al Hamra Mall (Funville for kids & cinemas)
- RAK Mall (Sparkys, games corner)
- Manar Mall (Tridom indoor entertainment, cinemas)
You can take a stroll along the Corniche (yes, every city in the UAE has one!) or seeking some greenery in Al Saqr Park.
Note there used to be a larger waterpark Iceland Water Park but this shut abruptly in mid-2018. With major redevelopment work, it is expected to re-open, inshallah.
Best family hotels in Ras Al Khaimah
There is an extremely long list of great family accommodation options in RAK. It is really proving itself equally as worth as a tourist beach destination as Dubai, and they definitely understand the larger family market.
We have a full review of Ras al Khaimah Beach resorts here, these are some of our favourites worth considering:
- Doubletree by Hilton Resort & Spa Marjan Island – with larger suites, a pirate ship pool area, choice of seven restaurants and seven pools.
- Rixos Bab al Bahr Marjan Island – an all-inclusive favourite for those who like to party on their weekends & outdoor sports and entertainment.
- Waldorf Astoria – this stunning waterfront resort, attached with the Al Hamra Golf Resort & Spa is a luxury favourite that can accommodate larger families
- The Cove Rotana Resort – a picturesque beauty further along the coast with a mixture of hotel rooms and luxury villas spread from hillside to waterfront canal views. Includes 2 infinity pools and private beach.
- The Ritz Carlton, Al Wadi Desert – nestled deep in the desert, this villa-style resort in a protected reserve is one of our all-time UAE Desert Resort favourites for a unique Ras al Khaimah experience
Note that the closer you are to the beach, the more you pay! Marjan Island and Al Hamra, closer to the border with Umm Al Quwain and Dubai have more luxurious resort-style hotels, whilst you will find cheaper hotels, but with fewer facilities in Al Nakheel and RAK city centre.
Search all Ras al Khaimah Accommodation here
Further Reading and information on Ras Al Khaimah & the UAE
- Tourist Board: Ras al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority
- How to get to Ras Al Khaimah from Dubai
- Best Eco-Tourism Experiences in the UAE
- The UAE’s best winter weekend activities
- Best short getaways from Dubai
- Tour through RAK to the Musandam Peninsula, Oman
- Fun & interesting things to do in Fujairah
- Best family beach resorts in Fujairah
We hope you’ve enjoyed this tour through the UAE’s northernmost Emirate of Ras al Khaimah and will be inspired to add it to your winter travel plans this year. We promise, there is far more to the UAE than just Dubai!!