Should you devote an entire week to tour all of Dubai’s attractions? Or could you do so in less time and be better off splitting your time between enjoying Dubai’s urban highlights and relaxing in another equally attractive emirate like Ras Al Khaimah?
The answer to that question will depend on what kind of traveller you are and what you look to get out of your travel experience, but a twin-centre escape combining a short city break in Dubai with some extended downtime on a glorious stretch of secluded beaches (some of which boast natural lagoons) in Ras Al Khaimah will make for a holiday to remember.
Combining Dubai with Ras Al Khaimah is the best way to experience two totally different sides to the UAE, with equally attractive accommodation options and yet totally different appealing factors and leisure options.
Less-trodden Ras Al Khaimah is a haven for beach lovers, with miles of unspoilt beaches and a variety of luxury resorts, many of which boast outstanding facilities for families. The beaches here are more beautiful and secluded than Dubai’s, with some even boasting natural lagoons. The stretches of golden sands are pristine and offer families and couples a great opportunity to relax and forget every worldly care in the world. The resorts cater to your every need and do so in full-blown luxury and style with many family-focused facilities, activities and entertainment options for little ones. It’s families’ paradise! Couples will still enjoy dedicated adults-only spaces at most resorts so kids splashing about won’t be a nuisance to those seeking ultimate romance, tranquillity and seclusion. What’s great about Ras Al Khaimah, you ask? What isn’t? would be my answer. Especially if you combine it with Dubai’s thrill’s, world’s first attractions and unrivalled entertainment.
Why Dubai first?
The most famous of all UAE cities, this destination is massively popular for a reason. To put it into perspective, no other emirate and no other city in the Middle East packs such a wide variety of entertainment options and futuristic attractions. It simply can’t be beaten! And you can easily cover most of its main highlights in five days or less.
Unless your idea of a perfect Dubai holiday involves an ambitious jam-packed itinerary full of historic, futuristic as well as leisure attractions, and you want to tick literally every box on all there is to do, you can breeze through the Middle East’s trendiest, most modern city in just three days or so, feeling like you have really soaked up the buzzing energy of the place, the glamour and having enjoyed.
What to do in Dubai in three to five days
As an urban destination at the height of luxury and innovation, top things to do usually involve the quintessential climb to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, where you can linger to enjoy literally high tea (or should that be ultra high), sip a cooling drink at the panoramic Skyview bar with spectacular views and get your hands on a souvenir or two. For a memorable evening, you can have dinner at Atmosphere, the world’s tallest restaurant and if money is no object you can indulge in a private dining experience. And, if you have little ones, the At The Top experience at Burj Khalifa is easily combinable with a visit to the Dubai Aquarium, since you gain access to both from Dubai Mall.
Dubai’s famous, colossal malls pack quite a variety of attractions for families of all ages. If you come without kids, the malls are a great space to dine, chat and shop till you drop at world-class stores and boutiques featuring virtually every international brand you can think of.
Malls are also home to the largest indoor ski centre in the Middle East, an ice-skating rink, a mega-large arcade at SEGA Republic (including rollercoaster rides), bowling, amazing soft play parks for little one, cinemas, the DUCTAC theatre and arts centre and so much more. In the vicinity of the Dubai Mal, you also have the famous Dubai Fountains, the scenic Dubai Lake, which you can cross in an abra (highly recommended at dusk) and the beautiful Opera District. This is the very centre of downtown, so in just one day you can do many or most of the things just mentioned (including the Burj Khalifa climb).
Beyond the malls, if you want a feel of old Dubai, you can check out the Deira district, haggle for gold, fine silk scarves or spices at the souks and immerse in history at the Dubai Museum and Al Fahidi Fort. If you seek adventures of the thrilling kind then you can go on a desert safari adventure, dine under the stars in a Bedouin camp or choose from the many and varied theme parks on offer: Aquaventure, Wild Wadi Water Park and the quartet of Dubai Parks and Resorts - Legoland, Legoland Water Park Motiongate, Bollywood Parks and the free to enter Riverland!).
If you still have time to kill (and can bear to be dragged from your hotel)
Where to stay in Dubai
With one of the world’s most varied concentration of hotels, Dubai has no shortage of accommodation options and in fact, one of the hardest parts of planning a Dubai holiday might be choosing where to stay. With so much choice and most of it being so exceedingly good you might struggle. Put simply,y the amount of choice when it comes to Dubai hotels is overwhelming. Here is where we help by highlighting out some of the best.
Best Value For Money
There is quite a battle among some mid-range hotels in Dubai battling it out for the best value for money title. The Shangri-La and Fairmont The Palm are two strong contenders, as is the newer Swissotel Living Al Ghurair. But in my opinion, Park Hyatt Dubai takes the crown as best value for money hotel. Not only is it cheaper than all the ones previously mentioned, it also has little to envy the others (except perhaps the beach but even then it only loses out against Fairmont The Palm). Its privileged, peaceful location overlooking the glistening waters of Dubai Creek is simply sublime and puts you next door to the historic part of Dubai and the souks. The level of personalised luxury together with the calm beauty of its plush, cream-coloured, spacious rooms and suites makes it a tough one to beat. The onsite free-form pool is a thing of beauty dotted by tall palm trees. It’s hard to get better than this at this price in Dubai.
For a little bit more the Movenpick IBN Battuta Gate is a great value alternative and one of only two hotels where you can go all-inclusive (adding to the potential savings factor) in Dubai and also get free WiFi. With a very attractive price tag it offers sophisticated rooms with Arabesque style and sits conveniently next door to the Dubai Metro and the IBN Battuta Mall. It’s also a really beautiful, large property with kids club and also offers a free shuttle bust to Oceana Beach Club in Jumeirah Beach. It’s hard to get more bang for your buck.
All the trimmings
For top facilities without skimping on luxury and compromising on anything, one of the best hotels in Dubai is Palace Downtown Dubai, with a perfect location right at the heart of Downtown, giving you immediate access to attractions like Dubai Mall, Dubai Fountains, Dubai Lake and the Burj Khalifa, all within mere footsteps. And not just access, the views are the most impressive you will find anywhere in Dubai. Many people stay here simply because the views over the dancing fountains, the lake and Burj Khalifa simply can’t be topped. Beyond boasting stunning views over the mirror-flat glistening lake, lit up at night by the surrounding buildings, the hotel is chic, small, elegant and with unique character.. This is Arabian flair and sophistication at its finest, from the low-rise building to the archways and the beautiful decorative touches in a palatial setting.
Without a doubt, when all things are considered (from kids’ facilities and dedicated family-friendly spaces to leisure options for parents, beautiful expansive grounds a serene ambience and all-around good leisure options) Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort in Jumeirah Beach takes the top spot as Dubai’s best family-friendly hotel. Families of all age ranges are guaranteed a great. Babies, toddlers and kids have not one but two beautiful and perfectly shaded pool to splash about, one of which also features a fun water slide. The kids club is spacious and has a great outdoor area with slides, little houses, toys and other shaded attractions. For adults, teens and older kids there is a huge range of water sports on offer at the beach and an adults-only pool for swimming laps and relaxing while the kids are well looked after at the kids club.
For a touch of more glamour in terms of room design, space and amenities you can stay at The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi next door, which is part of the same complex and offers you free and direct access to all of Le Meridien Mina Seyahi’s facilities. But bear in mind that while staying at Le Meridien you also get free access to all of The Westin’s facilities. It’s a win-win situation wherever y decide to stay.
OK, so it’s really hard to pick just one luxury hotel when Dubai is full of them to the brim and there’s fierce competition among them, with each bringing a unique touch that sets them apart from the rest. Also, technically-speaking the most luxurious would have to be Burj Al Arab, which has self-declared itself the world’s first seven-star hotel, but its opulent, over-the-top luxury might not be to everyone taste, least of all to the reach of everyone’s pockets (there is at least £800 difference between Burj Al Arab’s most basic room rate and the next more expensive hotel’s). So, having said that, one of the most visually stunning and most luxurious is the One&Only The Palm. It’s also one of the most romantic. Beautifully hidden away from the world facing a secluded stretch of private beach on the westernmost tip of The Palm, this resort offers utmost peace and quiet, with three Michelin-starred restaurants by chef Yannick Alleno, a spectacular pool and the UAE’s one and only Guerlain Spa.
For iconic, regal luxury you can’t beat the Palazzo Versace Dubai, it’s simply an out-of-this-world experience designed and inspired by the legend that the Versace fashion house is. And although the Armani Hotel is double as expensive as this one, it might feel more sophisticated and edgy but not more luxurious and sumptuous.
A beach extension in Ras Al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah is the perfect destination to forget about the fast-paced world you left behind, let all your Dubai experiences sink in without any of the noise or distractions and none of Dubai’s impossible to ignore manmade attractions. In many ways Ras Al Khaimah is Dubai’s antithesis and that’s what makes it such a perfect destination to complement Dubai.
Where to stay in RAK
In stark comparison to Dubai’s nearly 1,000 hotels, resort and accommodation options, Ras Al Khaimah 50 or so lodging options. It means the decision on where to stay can be narrowed down more easily but with the many luxury options, it’s not that easy for most to discern which hotels and resorts are best for what, depending on what you seek to get out of your RAK experience. Here we offer a helping hand.
Best Value for Money
The Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort and Spa is a luxury five-star hotel (like all of the ones mentioned here) that stands out among the crowd for its superb facilities, its convenient location just an hour’s ride away from Dubai, its seven outdoor pools, 10 restaurants and lodges, fun water sports centre, a kids club, teens club, indoor and outdoor playgrounds as well as a large spa. All facing 1.5 km of private beach and all at a very affordable price.
All the trimmings…and more
My top pick for a more pampering experience is the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. Palatial in every way, this is where traditional Arabian style meets classic luxury - and they look oh so good together. Located on a beautiful stretch of beach, the Waldorf Astoria offers upscale serenity with access to an ample variety of water sports from snorkelling to deep-sea fishing and scuba diving. But more astonishingly it offers an underwater-theme spa for utter relaxation with seaweed-based treatments. Rooms really have the wow factor and feel like a mini palace with exquisite attention to detail and sweeping views of the sea or the golf course next door. The resort also offers exciting dune buggy rides in the desert.
For a different take on luxury, the Rixos Bab Al Bahr is another good option and as an all-inclusive offers you more for your money. It’s at the base of a cluster of man-made islands and beautifully backed by the Hajar Mountains, making it an excellent option for climbers, hikers and backers. It’s a bit removed from everything but well equipped with fantastic kids facilities (waterslides, playground, clubs and pools) and adult-only areas for couples and families to relax in, so there’s no need to venture elsewhere.
One of the best hotels for families and coincidentally also one of the best value ones (always a bonus for families) is the DoubleTree by Hilton Resort & Spa, Marjan Island. Cheerful, joyful and family-friendly to the core, this beautiful property on Marjan Island is set on a crescent-shaped beach and offers multiple pools for all ages and tastes, some are visually breathtaking and make for great #InstaMoments. The youngest in the family will love the pirate island water park, the kids club with climbing wall and arcade games, the shaded pools and the awesome playgrounds. It helps families that room rates are below average in this part of the world, also making it excellent value for money. All-inclusive options are available for extra comfort and peace of mind and, in fact, most guests choose this option. Rooms are family-friendly too, sleeping two adults and two kids with a sofa-bed and free cots on request. Interconnecting rooms are also an option.
Full-blown Luxury - the extra frills
Truly escape the world to the remote luxury of The Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah, Al Wadi Desert. This swanky resort in the heart of the desert may not have a beach but with its selection of private pools, you won’t miss it. This sanctuary of peace sits in the midst of a protected nature reserve, home to indigenous wildlife like the Arabian oryx and antelopes, while gazelles are frequently spotted onsite greeting guests. While remote, it’s only about 45 minutes’ ride from Dubai. It feels luxurious in every way imaginable with each spacious stand-alone tented villa having is own private pool and a spacious terrace with open views of the desert. The luxury spa is made up of 10 royal ad deluxe pavilions with a rainforest experience as well as 16 different hydrotherapy pools. A plethora of adventures are also offered, from desert falconry to camel rides, so you can do as much or as little as you want while basking in pampering comforts and dramatic scenery all around.