×

12 Top-Rated Day Trips from Dubai

Written by Jess Lee
Updated Jun 23, 2021

We may earn a commission from affiliate links ()

Dubai's combo of beaches and cosmopolitan buzz could keep you occupied for a week, but even serious city slickers need a break every now and then.

The UAE is so compact, most of the major tourist attractions and popular things to do in the UAE are only a short trip away, so there is plenty of day-tripping potential when you want to explore farther than Dubai.

Everybody should make time to add a desert excursion into their trip to experience the landscape of rippling, orange dunes.

For visitors who want to dig into culture and history, the Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are two of the best places to visit in the country and should be high on the day tripping hit list.

Abu Dhabi city is home to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the world-class collection in the Abu Dhabi Louvre, while Sharjah's restored heritage district is home to a clutch of museums. Out in the emirate's inland desert, the hugely important Mleiha archaeological site mixes ancient history with desert activities amid the surrounding sand dunes.

Discover where to head on your day out from the city with our list of the top day trips from Dubai.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Experience the UAE's Rippling Dunes on a Desert Safari

A desert safari
A desert safari

Heading out into the desert for a day is a must-do for any traveler who wants to experience the UAE's epic sand dune landscapes.

Desert day trips come in all varieties. Some include (or offer as extra) activities, such as camel trekking, quad biking, and sandboarding. Others offer desert dinner packages in a traditional-style Bedouin tent, and some focus on spotting endemic wildlife such as sand gazelles amid the dunes.

The nearest dune areas to Dubai are the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (which only a few tour companies are allowed to enter) and the desert dune area around Mleiha.

The dunes of the Rub Al-Khali (Empty Quarter) near Liwa Oasis are too far away from Dubai to be used as a day trip.

If you don't have much time, the Dubai Desert 4x4 Safari offers a taster of the UAE's sprawling desert interior with a half-day trip by 4x4 into the sand dunes. It includes time spent driving within the dunes and a barbecue desert dinner at a camp where guests can sandboard and camel ride. Transfers directly to and from your hotel are also included.

2. Explore the Sights of Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Abu Dhabi, about 132 kilometers from Dubai, is home to two of the UAE's major modern landmarks.

Come to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a triumph of contemporary architecture merged with traditional Arabic design and artistry. Decked out with a lavish use of marble, gold, ceramic work, and crystals, the mosque's high ornamentation is a combination of Mamluk, Fatimid, and Ottoman stylistic design to symbolize all the ages of the Arabic empires.

The mosque incorporates 82 domes, the world's largest Persian carpet (created by 1,200 carpet weavers), and seven absolutely ginormous crystal chandeliers (the largest weighing 12 tons). The overall effect is one of staggering opulence and superb craftsmanship.

After the mosque, head to Saadiyat Island where, on the waterfront, the galleries of the Louvre Abu Dhabi sit under a glinting silver dome.

Opened in 2017, the Louvre's collection tells humanity's story through the art we've left behind, swooping through history from the first communities, through the rise and fall of empires, up to the present day.

The full-day Abu Dhabi Tour is a great option if you want to squeeze Abu Dhabi's main highlights into a day. The tour includes a guided visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, photo stops at Abu Dhabi Heritage Village, and Yas Island's Formula 1 circuit and Ferrari World, plus a stop at Louvre Abu Dhabi. All transport from Dubai, including pickup and drop-off from most hotels, is included, and the tour can be booked on a private or shared basis.

3. Zipline, Hike, or Climb Jebel Jais

The route leading up to Jebel Jais
The route leading up to Jebel Jais

Jebel Jais in Ras Al-Khaimah has become one of the UAE's top adventure activity destinations. The highest mountain in the country, Jebel Jais is around 130 kilometers northeast from Dubai.

A switchback road leads up to a beautifully landscaped observation terrace near the summit if you just want to visit to take in the scenery of craggy mountain peaks and boulder-strewn slopes. Most visitors these days, though, are here to take part in one of the mountain's many activities.

The Jebel Jais Flight is the world's longest zipline, with zipliners whizzing down over the mountain's jagged contours at speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour.

The mountain's Via Ferrata route around Jebel Jais's lower slopes offers organized climbing tours in the cooler months of the year.

For those who just want to pull on their hiking shoes and enjoy the mountain scenery on foot, a series of hiking trails have been mapped and marked on the mountain, and can be hiked independently.

Official site: www.visitjebeljais.com

4. Get Your Speed Thrills at Ferrari World

Ferrari World
Ferrari World | MrT HK / photo modified

This theme park in Abu Dhabi city, about 112 kilometers from Dubai, offers much more than just looking at cars.

Touted as the world's largest indoor theme park, Ferrari World encompasses roller coaster rides; Formula 1 race courses; audio-visual attraction rides which allow you to experience Italy's most famous highlights from the air and tour the Italian Ferrari factory; an entire children's section with rides suited for little ones; and a museum of Ferrari's cars (obviously).

It's a great day out for kids of all ages, with everything from a learn-to-drive experience for small children to riding the world's fastest roller coaster (going from 0 to 240 kilometers per hour) on the Formula Rosso ride, which gives you the real Formula One racer experience.

Location: Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

Official site: www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com

5. Sail along the Musandam Peninsula's Coast

Musandam Peninsula
Musandam Peninsula

Oman's Musandam Peninsula, about 194 kilometers from Dubai, is the perfect peaceful antidote to Dubai's bright lights and big city buzz.

This jagged region is incredibly scenic, with its tall, mountainous coast plunging steeply into the sea of the Arabian Gulf.

Due to its similarity in character to the fjords of Norway, it's often nicknamed the Arabian Fjords, but these mountains in actuality were carved by tectonic plate movement and not by glacier movement.

The best way to experience the scenery here is by a dhow cruise from the Omani town of Khasab. There is a strong possibility of seeing dolphins along the way, and many cruises make a stop at Telegraph Island, which was once used as a telegraph station by the British for their London to Karachi cable line.

The inlets in this area are particularly spectacular, and those interested in history can still see the ruins of the very lonely station where the telegraph operators used to live and work.

The Musandam Dhow Cruise Day Trip from Dubai takes the hassle out of organizing your own Khasab dhow cruise. On this trip, you get a six-hour scenic dhow cruise departing from Khasab, including a stop near Telegraph Island for swimming, snorkeling, and an included lunch. All transport from Dubai, with pickup and drop-off from your hotel, a local guide, and unlimited cold soft drinks, coffee, and tea are also included.

6. Discover Al-Ain's History

Al-Ain
Al-Ain

Nicknamed "The Garden City," Al Ain makes a great day trip from Dubai for families, with its mix of historic attractions and outdoor activities.

Right in the center of town, Al Jahili Fortress is one of the country's finest restored forts.

Nearby, you can cycle within the shady retreat of Al Ain Oasis before visiting Al Ain Palace Museum's collection of artifacts from the city's Hili Archaeological Site, which gave Al Ain its UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Out of the center, the drive up to the peak of Jebel Hafeet (the second tallest mountain in the UAE) is top of most visitor's must-do activities.

For families, though, one of the main reasons to head to Al Ain is to visit the renowned Al Ain Zoo, where you can spy Arabian and African species roaming in carefully created natural-style habitats, and head out on the zoo's own safari tour experience.

7. Explore the Heritage Attractions of Sharjah

View towards the Eye of the Emirates Ferris wheel
View towards the Eye of the Emirates Ferris wheel

One of the easiest day trips from Dubai, Sharjah sits just roughly 15 kilometers from downtown Dubai.

Head here if you want to delve into the UAE's history and culture, as Sharjah's heritage district on the waterfront is home to a bundle of museums.

The two major museums not to miss are the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilizations, one of the best museums in the country, and the Sharjah Art Museum, housing one of the world's best collections of contemporary Middle Eastern art.

The area around these two landmark museums is also home to a restored souk (bazaar) and is scattered with small museums dedicated to traditional culture, ethnography, and art that are well worth exploring.

Away from the heritage district, there's a lot for families here as well, with the Eye of the Emirates Ferris wheel and the butterfly house on Al Noor Island among the child-friendly attractions.

8. Cool Off in Wadi Adventure Park

Wadi Adventure Park
Wadi Adventure Park | Michael Coghlan/ photo modified

Dubai's city heat can really wear you out. In Al Ain, Wadi Adventure Park offers water park fun with a difference and is only a 153-kilometer drive from Dubai.

This activity park offers kayaking, surfing, white water rafting, and wakeboarding all in man-made facilities.

There's also climbing, ziplines, obstacle courses, and swimming pools (for just chilling out after all the activities).

The white water rafting course stretches for more than one kilometer, while the surfing pool offers a safe environment for complete beginners to master surfing techniques.

This is a great family-friendly day out that's sure to please teenagers, as well as younger children.

Address: Hazza Bin Sultan Street, Al-Ain

Official site: www.wadiadventure.ae

9. Kayak on Hatta Lake

Hatta Dam
Hatta Dam

The small town of Hatta sits surrounded by craggy, arid mountains, about 126 kilometers inland from Dubai near the border with Oman.

On the outskirts of town, the Hatta Dam is a popular day-tripping destination for anyone seeking a break from city life, with its kayaking and boating on the dam's lake amid jagged mountain slopes that roll right down to the water's edge. Both single and tandem kayaks are available to rent at the dam.

For more Hatta activities, the Hatta Mountain Bike Trail has 50 kilometers of marked trails in the surrounding area to explore, with bike hire at the trailhead (in the Wadi Adventure Hub just out of Hatta town), so you don't even need to lug a bike along from Dubai.

While in Hatta, pop into the Hatta Heritage Village for a taste of traditional Hajar Mountain life amid the fully restored ancient village, with its traditional dwellings and displays of local culture and crafts.

10. Experience Ancient History amid the Desert at Mleiha

Desert scenery surrounding Mleiha Archaeological Site
Desert scenery surrounding Mleiha Archaeological Site

Mleiha Archaeological Site is both one of the UAE's most significant historic sites and a major desert activity center. It sits in the Emirate of Sharjah, 75 kilometers east of Dubai.

Human history at Mleiha has been traced back to the Paleolithic era, when nomadic early humans first left Africa and crossed through the Arabian Peninsula on their journey into Asia.

The archaeological excavations here have discovered multiple layers of human habitation from the caves used by those early humans through evidence of a later Neolithic settlement, Bronze Age tombs, and palace and fort remains dated to around the 2nd or 3rd century.

If this incredible history isn't enough to draw you here, Mleiha offers horse riding desert tours; trekking on the mountain of Jebel Buhais, which overlooks the site; 4WD excursions across the surrounding orange sand dunes; and walking tours to the caves used by those early humans.

Whatever extra activities you tag onto your visit, make sure to take one of their guided archaeological tours, taking in all the major archaeological sites at Mleiha plus the on-site museum, which thoroughly explains the deep significance of this site in our understanding of human history.

Official site: www.discovermleiha.ae

11. Head into the Hajar Mountains

View of the Hajar Mountains
View of the Hajar Mountains

Ranging across the eastern UAE and into Oman, the Hajar Mountains make a great nature escape from Dubai and offer the Emirate's best road trip experience.

The winding mountain passes offer stupendous panoramic views and plenty of opportunities to see gazelles, while bird-watchers should keep their eyes peeled to spot Egyptian vultures.

There are several wadis (valleys) hidden within the mountains for hiking, rock scrambling and climbing if you're looking for more activities than just a scenery-laden drive trip and the tiny villages of the region, sometimes topped with lonely fort watchtowers, are a world away from the bright lights of Dubai.

12. Head East to Fujairah

Al-Bidyah mosque
Al-Bidyah mosque

A day out in the Emirate of Fujairah, about 167 kilometers from Dubai, manages to combine both nature and history.

The mud-brick Al-Bidyah mosque is thought to be the oldest example of a mosque within the UAE, with a history that can be traced back to the 15th century (though it may be much older).

On the outskirts of the modern city of Fujairah is the small, golden-hued stone Fujairah Fort, which was a vital communication and military post during the 16th century.

Around the fort area is Fujairah's Heritage Village, where you can walk through a reconstructed typical village that highlights local Emirati rural life in earlier centuries, including exhibits and demonstrations on traditional farming techniques.

If you're looking for something less historic, the beaches to the north of the city are some of the prettiest in the UAE, lying along the Gulf of Oman, with excellent snorkeling and, for those who want to explore deeper, the best scuba diving in the Emirates.

Discover destinations, find outdoor adventures, follow the journeys of our travel writers around the world, and be inspired.

More on United Arab Emirates