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Dubai is just one of 7 Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The others are quieter, but still have great beaches and resorts offering excellent value for money.
At laid-back Ras al Khaimah, to relax on the lovely beach might be your only ambition, but there are plenty of distractions including a fantastic, floodlit golf course, a great array of water sports and the khat (hot springs) to visit. The museum has archaeological material dating back as early as 5,000BC!
The only Emirate on the Gulf of Oman, Fujairah has lovely clean beaches backed by mountains. Its a haven for water sports, especially snorkelling and diving. Deep-sea fishing is popular too. Cultural attractions include ancient petroglyphs that date back to the Neolithic period.
Everything in Abu Dhabi is modern, sleek and shiny. The United Arab Emirate's capital is often accused of being a rather soulless place, but that's going a bit too far: it's not exactly buzzing, and it may have more sheen than atmosphere, but it does have its attractions.
If you're prepared to look below the surface of the modern Abu Dubai, you'll find traces of the pearling village it was such a short time ago. Start at the city's old fort and wander the streets to discover local history, Islamic art both ancient and modern, and the ageless life of wharf and souk.
Al-Ain is the main town in the Buraimi Oasis, which straddles the border between Abu Dhabi and Oman. Its sister town, Buraimi, is on the Omani side of the border, but visitors can move freely between the two, making this a fine way to get a taste of Oman without the hassle of obtaining a visa.
The oasis is probably the longest inhabited part of what is now the UAE, with settlement dating back to the 4th millenium BC. In more recent times, Al-Ain was the birthplace of Shaikh Zayed, the current ruler of Abu Dhabi, and he has lavished funds on it. Buraimi has not received the same largesse and remains a comfortable provincial town. The resulting contrast between the two communities makes this an interesting spot to visit. The other drawcard in summer is the dry heat of the oasis, a welcome relief from the humidity on the coast.
The Al-Ain Museum and Eastern Fort share the same compound in south-east Al-Ain. The museum contains exhibits on life in pre-oil days, Bedouin jewellery, weaponry, musical instruments and the interior of a Bedouin tent. An eclectic display of the decorations received by Shaikh Zayed includes the Order of Isabel the Catholic and a bullet from a Palestinian commando leader who hijacked three aircraft to Jordan in 1970. There's not a lot to see in the fort apart from an old cannon in the courtyard.
If you're in the market for a sheep or goat, stroll over to the nearby livestock souk, which attracts Bedouin and townspeople from all over southern UAE and northern Oman. It's an interesting place to wander around, especially early in the morning when trading is heaviest. There's also a small camel market in the morning close to the centre of town. When you tire of the stench of animal dung, head north across the border to the atmospheric Buraimi Souk, which is full of fruit and vegetable stalls and is backed by the Al-Hilla Fort. Nearby is the impressively restored, 400 year old Al-Khandaq Fort; it's well worth prowling around the fort's courtyard and climbing the battlements.
Camel racing takes place about 20km (12mi) from Al-Ain, on the road to Abu Dhabi, on Friday mornings during the winter months. You can also arrange camel safaris, ranging from one hour jaunts to overnight treks that include a night in a Bedouin tent. Al-Ain is a two hour drive east from Abu Dhabi; the two settlements are connected by a tree-lined freeway plied by buses and service taxis. It's roughly the same distance south of Dubai, accessible by service taxi.
The third largest of the seven emirates, Sharjah is a place that too many visitors to the UAE either miss or pass through quickly. It has some of the most interesting architecture in the country, the largest mosque in the UAE, an interesting archaeological museum, a pocket-sized Disneyland, plenty of watchtowers, a natural history museum that's the slickest in the entire Gulf, souks to rival Dubai, and an old souk that offers a window on an older way of life that has now all but disappeared. It's also a great place to purchase Persian carpets. Though Sharjah has long been seen as Dubai's poorer cousin, in the 1980s it took the lead in the development of the country's tourist development and became the main point of entry for people arriving in the UAE on package tours. Sharjah is on the northern coast, adjacent to Dubai.
Dibba's name features large in Islamic history as the site of the great battles of the Ridda Wars between Muslim armies and a number of tribes and towns that had sworn allegiance to the Prophet but changed their tune after his death. The victory of the Muslims at Dibba in 633AD traditionally marks the end of the Muslim reconquest of Arabia. Today, Dibba is a quiet set of three seaside villages - each belonging to a different ruler (Fujairah, Sharjah and Oman). Dibba is a really nice spot, though perhaps not quite as nice as the Italian fishing villages to which it has fancifully been compared. Dibba is approximately 50km (30mi) north of Fujairah and 145km (90mi) east of Dubai, accessible from both by service taxi.
The youngest of the UAE's seven emirates fronts the Gulf of Oman and makes a good base for exploring the eastern coast, regarded as the prettiest part of the country. It boasts a museum showcasing archaeological and ethnographic displays, a spooky old town and a 300 year old fort. Bithna, 12km (8mi) north-west of Fujairah, has several archaeological sites, including the Long Chambered Tomb, thought to have been a communal burial place, and an impressive fort.
The northernmost of the UAE's emirates, Ras al-Khaimah is one of the most beautiful spots in the country. It's an area of carefully irrigated abundant greenery surrounded by sea, desert and mountains. The relaxing city of Ras al-Khaimah welcomes tourists but doesn't bend to them. Its attractions include an interesting museum, an atmospheric old town, souq and fishing port, and the best camel racing in the country. There are several interesting archaeological sites nearby, including the Queen of Sheba Palace in Shimal 5km (3mi) to the north. Ras al-Khaimah is approximately 100km (60mi) north-east of Dubai, accessible by service taxi.