Dubai makes a great holiday destination, but its not the only place in the Persian Gulf worth visiting. From skiing and drinking homebrew in Iran to art exhibitions and opera in Abu Dhabi, we round up the best places to visit.
Good for city break
Abu Dhabi may have the seven-star hotel, the Emirates Palace (www.emiratespalace.com), which cost over £2 billion to build, but as Frank Gehry, the architect responsible for the city’s new Guggenheim museum, has stated, ‘What they don’t want is a repeat of Dubai.’ His Guggenheim is being built on Saadiyat Island, a vast project encompassing a Performing Arts Centre by Zaha Hadid and Tadao Ando’s Zen concrete Maritime Museum.
Saadiyat Island’s other big arts project is an outpost of the Louvre, and there’s talk of the British Museum getting involved too. Cementing its title as the cultural heart of the Emirates is the Cultural Foundation (www.adach.ae), which hosts art exhibitions and lectures, as well as concerts and operas; it also organised the first Middle Eastern WOMAD festival in 2009. More classic holiday pursuits are also on offer, from the large, public Corniche beach to the Sir Bani Yas nature reserve island.
What was merely a windswept desert outpost 40 years ago has become a sprawling orgy of luxury hotels, absurdly ambitious architectural projects and opportunities to spend your hard-earned millions. There are the 300 man-made islands that make up the World, the globe’s tallest tower in Burj Khalifa, and the Atlantis Palm Resort, with its sunken city and a bay thoughtfully stocked with friendly dolphins.
For full immersion in the 21st-century Arabian Nights fantasy, stay in one of the luxury Bedouin-style, tent-roofed suites of the Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa (+971 4 832 9900, www.al-maha.com), located in a vast conservation reserve in the desert just outside the city.
Many companies run 4x4 expeditions into the surrounding terrain. There’s also camel racing, alongside the world’s richest annual horserace.
For more inspirational ideas about hotels, restaurants and things to do in Dubai, visit Time Out Dubai online.
Good for active breaks
Unexpected, yes, but the Alborz mountain range, within which Iran’s capital is nestled, is home to no fewer than 16 pistes, and skiing has long been popular with Iran’s elite. The sport was briefly banned after the revolution, but is back in vogue again, and the remote mountain resorts provide a welcome escape from Islamic state control for many young Iranians.
The largest resort is an hour’s drive from Tehran at Dizin, where you can ski for around 200,000 rials a day (£12). Equipment and clothes are also available to hire incredibly cheaply. Lifts are still segregated and bars cannot sell booze, but the locals make up for this by entertaining in large rented chalets where you can top off a day’s hard skiing down the 3,658-metre pistes with a widely available homebrew.
Good for natural highs
Just a two-hour drive away from Dubai, Musandam has become a favourite for Emirates-based holidaymakers in need of a quiet weekend retreat. Instead of glass-walled skyscrapers, you get to look up at the medieval castle in the centre of regional capital Khasab, surrounded by a stunning plateaux of grey mountains.
The Golden Tulip Resort (just outside town; +96 82 673 0777, www.goldentulipkhasab.com) offers beautiful coastal views, a terrace shisha bar and more than passable local fare. Or take a boat trip through the fjords, which have earned Musandam the nickname ‘the Norway of Arabia’, and from which you’ll be able to spot Telegraph Island, the now deserted site of the British Empire’s attempt to lay a telegraph cable from Bombay to Basra.
Good for city break
The name originally comes from the word for ‘safe anchorage’, and the mountains that encircle this small but perfectly formed port town make it just that. Strict architectural regulations and features such as the impossibly elegant Grand Mosque make this arguably the most beautiful city in the Gulf. In 2006 it was named as Arab Cultural Capital, and its recently opened Bait al-Baranda Museum is home to a wealth of Omani artefacts.
History is everywhere, from the carefully preserved port itself, to the opportunity to partake in the time-honoured tradition of bartering in the city’s ancient Muttrah Souk. For a great view of the city, head up to the Grand Hyatt hotel’s Rooftop Grill House (www.muscat.grand.hyatt.com) for dinner.
Time Out guidebooks
Dubai, Abu Dhabi & the UAE
Time Out's resident team helps you get the best from this extraordinary destination. Alongside the Palm Jumeirah, the Burj Al Arab and all of the city's dazzling new developments, Time Out Dubai gives you the inside track on local culture, with independent reviews and incisive features covering everything from high-end restaurants to traditional souks.
This pocket-sized Dubai Shortlist guide selects the very best of Dubai's sightseeing, restaurants, shopping, nightlife and entertainment. What's more, it takes you straight to the latest venues and tips you off on all the newest things to see and do in the capital. This is your perfect guide to a weekend break in Dubai.