The world's 'coolest' winter: Top places to visit in the UAE
For those wanting to venture further than their backyards, here is a quick checklist of things to do and places to see.
For Dubai residents, staying indoors during winters is a sheer waste of the lovely weather. For those wanting to venture further than their backyards, here is a quick checklist of things to do and places to see. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Indeed, I’m convinced that there can be no such exhaustive list for the UAE, because this country is always seeking to develop new areas and to reinvent itself. Take note of the protocols and enjoy these sights and sounds.
Winters for me have always meant guiding groups of locals and visitors through the narrow lanes of Bastakiya, pointing out the interesting buildings, stopping for refreshments in charming restaurants and peeking into the art galleries and museums. A great way to end the walk is by indulging in some grub at the creekside restaurants while watching the abras go by.
The area that hosts the big Ferris wheel (Eye of Dubai). Developed recently, this has a longish bridge that goes over the water and ends at the JBR public beach. Walking over it is a nice experience, affords good views of the Marina, JBR area. There are many restaurants.
Al Mamzar Beach Park, Sharjah:
Al Mamzar Beach Park, combining a park and a beach, is worth a visit. Beach offers water sports. It can get very crowded on the weekends, though.
An archaeological site in Sharjah. It offers different activities, such as trips to the Fossil Rock and Camel Rock in the desert and an overnight star-gazing camp. It is possible to avoid paying to see the Fossil Rock and Camel Rock by climbing over the fence by the road and trekking up. I recommend going via the centre.
Wasit Wetland Reserve:
Located in Sharjah, close to the Arabian Wildlife reserve, it has an aviary that houses many types of birds. The birds are outside in an open enclosure and you are on the inside, looking at them through floor-to-ceiling glass.You can also go around the reserve in a dune buggy.
Developed near the creek (contiguous to Bastakiya), the restaurants and establishments here have a traditional Arab look and feel.
Developed in 2018, this is a complex of restaurants in a beachside location. There is a play area for kids. Parking is expensive.
It’s a small group of lakes, good for having picnic lunches and lazing around on winter afternoons, preferably with a pair of binoculars for bird-watching. I think the nearest bathroom facilities are a few minutes drive away, at the Last Exit, a pitstop with food trucks, a store, restroom, etc. The heart-shaped lake made famous by the crown prince, called Love Lake, is best seen from a height to make out its shape. It has become quite crowded now, so most people are heading to the Expo Lake instead.
Last Exit at Al Khawaneej:
Located opposite the Quranic Park, this is long drive away. There are food trucks spread over large grounds. There’s an artificial lake in the middle. A bridge traverses this lake, which has been christened, ‘The Promise Bridge’, and the sides of the bridge are covered with locks, presumably of people who have made promises? There’s also a shop that sells paper lanterns, on which you can write a wish and set afloat in the water. There’s a play area, many games for children and target shooting for adults.
This is close to Bastakiya and earlier could be done as a part of the Bastakiya tour. However, over the last two years it’s been redeveloped extensively (still ongoing actually) and now there’s much to be seen, so you need a separate trip to do it justice. This area used to house the residences of the royal family in the past, and those old houses are being redeveloped into museums showcasing the Emirati history and culture.
Ras Al Khor Creek:
Home to many flamingoes that can be watched through a ‘hide’ built for this purpose. It’s hard to believe, but this is very much inside the city, not far from Dubai Mall. Go at the feeding times. It’s lovely and the photos and videos you get are National Geographic-worthy.
Dubai Design District:
Makes for a good walk in winters. You can stop and admire the clever installations and the quirky seats that are spread throughout this office area. A selfie with the sign, ‘I love Dubai’ is a must.
This is the second highest mountain top in the UAE and affords panoramic views from the top. It’s possible to do both a day trip and an overnight at Hotel Mercure.
Al Jubail Island, Abu Dhabi:
The mangrove walk that opened in 2020 at Jubail Island, Abu Dhabi, is a nice way to get up close and personal with the mangroves, if kayaking tours are not for you. It’s a wooden boardwalk through the mangroves with many viewing platforms. You can see crabs when you look down.
Al Rafisah Dam:
A two-drive to Fujairah will bring you to this tastefully developed dam surrounded by mountains. You can go boating or kayaking. There’s a restaurant with rest room facilities. Good for some clicks and a bit of arm/leg exercise in the kayak/pedal boat.