Did you know the UAE is comprised of seven emirates? Everyone recognizes Dubai and Abu Dhabi, but here’s a look at the other five.
When one thinks of the UAE, usually Dubai and Abu Dhabi are first to come to mind. However these are just two of seven Emirates…there are five more: Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. Here’s a look at what to do in each of them.
The third largest emirate, Sharjah is the UAE’s cultural capital, known for its beautiful mosques, gold souk and Sharjah National Park. You will uncover hidden gems in the Pearl of the Gulf, such as the King Faisal Mosque; Souk Al Arsah, one of the UAE’s oldest souks; the renovated Fort of Sharjah, a former ruling family residence built in 1820; and the Heart of Sharjah, a cultural heritage site with galleries and museums. Personally, I am particularly fascinated by the Calligraphy Museum where local and international calligraphers showcase Arabic calligraphy on paper, wood, canvas and ceramic.
Ajman is quiet and relaxed compared to the other emirates, with most of the activity happening along the corniche overlooking the 16-kilometer stretch of beach. Culture lovers should head to Ajman Museum, an eighteenth-century fort that served as the ruler’s residence until 1970. At Ajman Dhow Yard, I enjoyed watching master craftsman building Dhows (traditional Arab sailing vessels). A haven for birds (including pink flamingos!) and marine life, Al Zorah Nature Reserve is a vibrant ecosystem made up of mangroves, turquoise lagoons, and sandy beaches.
Least populated of all the emirates, Umm al-Quwain, which translates to Mother of Two Powers, is located in the north. It is said that Umm al-Quwain is the most peaceful place in the world, especially for anyone who loves the sound of waves crashing along the shore. The calm lagoon offers some of the best sailing in the Emirates, and birdwatchers can observe wonderful wildlife at Al Sinniyah Island, a 35 square-mile/90-square-kilometer marine sanctuary that’s the largest of all islands. From November to March, cormorants and other seabirds are spotted regularly flying a few feet over the sea. Umm al-Quwain airfield features a striking landmark with a story to tell: An Ilyushin IL 76 Russian cargo plane built during the Soviet era. A popular a backdrop for photos, the plane mysteriously appeared in 1999, most likely due to an emergency landing, but no one really knows the true backstory.
Located in the northern part of the UAE, Ras Al Khaimah, originally known as Julfar, borders Oman’s Musandam exclave. Outdoor enthusiasts love its diverse landscapes, breathtaking coastlines, and terracotta desert dunes. The emirate features luxury resorts, new leisure facilities and a mountain road with glorious views. The National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah is located in a fort that was the former residence of the ruling family until the early 1960s.
Nestled between the Hajar Mountains and the Indian Ocean, Fujairah is the fifth largest emirate and the only one that is not almost completely mountainous but the only solely located on the Gulf of Oman, not the Arabian Gulf. Fine restoration work has been put into the emirate’s historic attractions: the Al-Bidyah Mosque, the UAE’s oldest, and Fujairah Fort, which was built in 1670, but damaged in the early twentieth century by the British. Considered the UAE’s oldest fort, it has previously served as both a defensive building and a home for the ruling family. For travelers, Fujairah is a laid-back relief after the hustle and bustle of Dubai while for locals, it is a favorite weekend beach getaway, and is famous for scuba diving. The reefs of Snoopy Island, named after the cartoon dog it resembles, are teeming with marine life, making the island popular for snorkeling and diving.