Souqs & Skyscrapers in Modern Arabia
Over the past half century, the United Arab Emirates has used enormous oil and gas wealth to transform itself into one of the Middle East’s most dynamic, diverse, forward-thinking—and tourist-friendly—countries. On this trip you’ll explore the two biggest cities, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, both famed for visionary architecture and over-the-top luxury. You’ll also discover two destinations more steeped in the traditional, pre-oil boom culture of the region: Sharjah, designated by UNESCO as a Cultural Capital of the Arab World, and Al Ain, a beautiful inland oasis with ancient roots and multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Travels to: United Arab Emirates
Days 1-3: Dubai (UAE), Sharjah
Begin your UAE tour by touching down in Dubai and begin exploring this city of superlatives. Spend time in the Al Fahidi Historical District, home to Persian-inspired windcatchers. Enjoy lunch and learn from an expert on local culture at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. Head across the Dubai Creek on an abra boat and stroll through the souqs on the opposite side. You’ll ascend to the observation deck of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Finally, a day trip to Sharjah, the UNESCO Cultural Capital of the Arab World, provides a deep dive into traditional culture on the Arabian Peninsula.
- Cross the historic Dubai Creek in a local abra boat
- Have lunch in the Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, where locals share traditional food and provide insights into Emirati culture
- Take the 2,717-foot elevator ride to the Burj Khalifa observation deck and then step out to spectacular 360-degree views
- Explore the traditional gold, spice, and produce markets (souqs) of Dubai and Sharjah
- Wander the exhibits at the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, opened in 2008, and containing more than 5,000 artifacts from all over the Islamic world
- Admire the admire the beauty and complexity of Arabic calligraphy at the Sharjah Calligraphy Museum
Days 4-7: Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai
Like Dubai, Abu Dhabi—the UAE’s capital—has transformed itself over the past half-century into a thriving, cosmopolitan city. Touring here includes the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and the Qasr Al Watan Presidential Palace. You’ll refuel with a 24-carat-gold-sprinkled cappuccino at a luxurious hotel, the Emirates Palace. Before heading back to Dubai, take a day trip the historic oasis city of Al Ain, home to several excellent museums and multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- Enjoy the exceptional art of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, including pieces on loan from Paris’s Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and Centre Pompidou, as well as works from the museum’s own collection
- Marvel at the striking mix of modern and traditional design at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE and the only one in Abu Dhabi open to non-Muslims
- Drink a cappuccino sprinkled with 24-carat-gold dust at the luxurious Emirates Palace
- Stroll the garden-like Hili Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that protects tombs and an irrigation system dating back thousands of years
- View finds from the Hili Archaeological Park and other nearby archaeological sites at the excellent Al Ain National Museum
Dates & Prices
- Private trip prices vary by season and are subject to hotel availability for your travel dates.
- Listed prices below are based on double occupancy and a 2 traveler minimum.
- Hotel upgrades, additional nights, and solo traveler prices are available on request.
Land tour price, per person, starting from:
- Shared accommodations as noted in the itinerary. Contact MIR for hotel upgrade prices.
- Meals, as noted in the itinerary.
- Restaurant tips for included meals.
- One arrival and one departure transfer. Additional arrival and departure transfers available at additional cost.) MIR will arrange for travelers to be met upon arrival and seen off on departure, whether or not we make your air arrangements.
- Ground transportation throughout itinerary by private vehicle (type of vehicle depends on number of travelers in your group).
- Guided sightseeing tours and entrance fees, as outlined in the itinerary.
- Services of experienced, English-speaking local guides, drivers, and other staff, as noted in the itinerary.
- Complete pre-departure electronic document that includes detailed packing suggestions, reading list links, country-specific information, maps, travel tips, and more.
- Assistance booking your custom flight arrangements, on request. (Please note that international airfare is not included in the land tour cost.)
- Electronic final update bulletin with any late news, updates, and important information.
- International airfare and taxes/fuel surcharges.
- Meals and drinks not specified as included in the itinerary.
- Single supplement if requested or required.
- Baggage handling.
- Items of a personal nature such as phone calls, email, laundry, and alcohol.
- Gratuities to local guides, drivers, porters, and other service personnel.
- Visa fees, excess-baggage charges, airport departure taxes, vaccinations, and other medical costs.
- Expenses incurred as a result of delay, modification, or extension of a tour due to causes beyond MIR’s control.
- Travel-related insurance including cancellation, medical, and evacuation insurance.
- Optional pre- or post-tour extensions.
Level 2: Medium, but Customizable
This ‘Essential’ itinerary designed for private travel in the UAE features long days walking and standing, some long days of overland travel, some stair climbing, unpaved sidewalks and streets, uneven surfaces and steps, absent handrails, and lack of elevators. While some of these challenges are inherent in the destinations and sites, as one of our Essential Series programs this trip can be modified as needed for those travelers who are looking for a less challenging (or more challenging) program.
There is a significant amount of touring on foot, and those travelers planning to take the program as written should be able to walk one to two miles a day comfortably. Footing can be an issue and travelers should be able to negotiate streets of packed dirt, cobblestones, uneven surfaces (possibly steep and/or wet), and deal with situations without handrails or ramps. Some attractions are only accessible via steep staircases. Museums rarely have elevators.
Past travelers have also encountered challenges with plumbing, bureaucratic service, variety of locally available foods, and availability and quality of public restrooms.
Accommodations in the basic program are generally four-star hotels. Upgrades are available, please call for details.