25/04/2024

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From Dunes to Skyscrapers: A 6-Day UAE Journey into Luxury and Culture

12 min read
From Dunes to Skyscrapers: A 6-Day UAE Journey into Luxury and Culture

Escaping the dreary winter of Germany last December for a sun-kissed Christmas in Barcelona turned out to be a fantastic idea. Craving warmth again, we set our sights on the enchanting UAE journey for our next holiday. Originally, we planned to spend 4 days in Doha and 2 days in Abu Dhabi, but our plans changed because the flights were too crowded.

How our UAE Journey was finalized

We were excited about our Qatar Airways trip to Doha with standby tickets on the first day of the school holidays. However, our enthusiasm took a hit. Just half an hour before take-off, we got the disappointing news that a business seat, initially assigned to us, was out of order due to safety concerns, and they couldn’t give it to any passenger. With the flight fully booked, we didn’t let it dampen our spirits. Instead, we quickly opted for the next available flight to Doha the next day.

Determined to bask in the warmth of a holiday destination, we found ourselves at the airport the following day, only to face yet another disappointment in securing a flight to Doha. Frustrated but not defeated, we sat in the airport, scanning for alternative warm getaways with our bags packed. It dawned on us that London boasted more flights not only to Doha but also to the UAE.

Booking a hotel in Frankfurt Airport, we embarked on an early morning flight to London. Fortunately, Etihad Airways had available seats on the flight to Abu Dhabi and promptly provided us with boarding passes upon booking. Consequently, we completely changed our holiday plans by booking accommodations in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Finally, our search for a warm getaway took us on a new journey through the lively landscapes of the UAE. Come along as we tell the story of our unplanned holiday to the exciting cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

6-Day UAE Journey Itinerary

1st Day: Abu Dhabi International Airport arrival, Bur Dubai area, souks in the old town, and Al Fahidi Historical District.

2ed Day: Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Marina, Dubai Mall, and theDubai Fountain Show.

3rd Day: Sky views near the Dubai Mall and a Desert Safari tour.

4th Day: Bus to Abu Dhabi, Al Manzel Apartment Hotel, and Abu Dhabi Mall.

5th Day: A tour including Etihad Towers, Qasr Al Watan, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

6th Day: Corniche walk, flight from Abu Dhabi to Doha, and flight from Doha to Frankfurt.

Navigating Dubai is quite convenient, mainly using the metro lines due to their affordability and extensive coverage of major attractions. In Abu Dhabi, we opted for taxis, which are reasonably priced – for instance, a trip from the Al Manzel Apartment Hotel to Abu Dhabi airport cost us approximately 16 Euros. Our UAE journey included two booked tours, one in Dubai for exploring the desert, and another in Abu Dhabi for visiting the Grand Mosque and Presidential Palace, both chosen on a whim.

1st Day: Abu Dhabi International Airport arrival, Bur Dubai Area, Al Fahidi Historical District

Abu Dhabi international airport arrival

Our plane touched down in Abu Dhabi International Airport around 1:00 am local time, and to our surprise, the airport, though small, was much newer than anticipated. The whole place buzzed with fellow travelers. The entry process was fairly straightforward — the immigration officer checked our passports, snapped photos of our faces, and even recorded our fingerprints. However, the hand luggage checkpoint right after border control, before collecting our bags, took us by surprise.

Etihad Airways offers a complimentary coach service to Dubai from Abu Dhabi airport, but it needs to be booked 24 hours in advance. Since we couldn’t book ahead, we headed straight to the coach stop outside the airport. The staff understood our situation and allowed us on board. Instead of dropping us at Dubai Airport, the coach took us to Al Wasl Centre parking in Dubai, a few kilometers away from the Dubai Airport, where we could spend a few hours until morning.

In the middle of nowhere, we walked a few minutes to the nearby metro station. After approximately 30 minutes, the metro embarked on its first run of the day, carrying us to our Hyatt Place Dubai Baniyas Square hotel in the early morning. After another six hours of waiting, we eventually checked in and took the chance to make up for some much-needed sleep.

Bur Dubai Area

Our UAE journey started from the Bur Dubai area. As we slowly opened our eyes and took in the daylight, we discovered our hotel was nestled next to the oldest neighbourhood in the city – Bur Dubai. Long before Dubai embraced its urban transformation, this area to the west of Dubai Creek stood as the city’s original settlement. A brief stroll took us to the Dubai Creek, where the mix of modern ships and traditional boats using nets to load and unload goods showcased the area’s unique blend of residential and commercial life. It’s fascinating how this part of the city retains its historical charm amid the advancements of the modern world.

Souks in the Old Town

Strolling along the creek, we reached the city’s souks in just a few minutes – those traditional covered markets filled with the delightful chaos of the spice market, textile market, gold market, and more. We probably had that distinct tourist look because, as we approached the spice shops, the owners eagerly approached us, keen to showcase and sell their products. Some even tried to guess our nationalities, sparking friendly small talk. Despite the lively greetings, we opted not to make any purchases at the souk. Nevertheless, these markets are a must-visit, offering a fantastic glimpse into the city’s rich traditions.

Al Fahidi Historical District

We hopped on an Abra to cross the creek—a traditional boat that locals use daily. It’s a stark contrast to the modern Dubai skyline behind it. Costing only 2 AED, this little boat offered us an authentic experience of the city.

Old Dubai, nestled in Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood, showcases the way of life from the mid-19th century. The historic wind towers, fashioned from sandstone, teak, gypsum, palm wood, and sandalwood, provide a glimpse into Al Fahidi’s rich past. Every alley, winding path, and airy tower tells tales of a bygone era before the formation of the seven emirates.

Arriving late in the afternoon, we found both the Coffee Museum and Islamic Information Centre closed. Undeterred, we stumbled upon a bustling local restaurant and savoured our first oriental dinner of the Middle East trip.

On the way back, darkness had set in, and the creek was beautifully illuminated. It was the perfect moment to capture some night scenes.

2ed Day: Palm Jumeirah, Dubai Marina, Dubai Mall, watched Dubai Fountain Show

Explored Palm Jumeirah

We hopped on the Palm Jumeirah Monorail to reach the tree-shaped Palm Jumeirah island. It gracefully glides along the main trunk, making stops at the Atlantis hotel and the adjacent waterpark. However, our excitement was met with a bit of disappointment as we discovered that the viewpoint was now part of the waterpark.

Undeterred, we strolled along the boardwalk from the Atlantis. It’s a pleasant spot, but the lack of shade makes it enjoyable only when the weather isn’t scorching. After a few hundred meters, we found ourselves back at the Atlantis. Looking for a comfy spot, we treated ourselves to Asian food at a restaurant. It was a bit expensive, but it tasted really good!

Strolled around the Dubai Marina

In my view, Dubai Marina takes the crown as the finest modern neighbourhood. Skyscrapers stand tall next to the meandering canal, where opulent yachts patiently await their next adventure. There’s no shortage of international fine cuisine at the numerous eateries. While strolling along the Marina Promenade, we enjoyed a splendid view of the marina from various angles.

Dubai Mall

Opting for a Christmas dinner at Dubai Mall, a hub with hundreds of eateries serving global cuisine, seemed like a splendid idea. However, the journey from the metro station to the mall felt quite lengthy, and by the time we eventually arrived, we were feeling quite stressed out, to be honest.

Dubai Fountain Show

We eventually located the fountain and saw that the area was already packed with people. However, it wasn’t a real issue as the fountain shoots water incredibly high! The fountain show outside the mall was absolutely fantastic! It’s one of the iconic landmarks in the UAE, and the way the fountain sprays water into the air in various patterns was truly mesmerizing. With the added touch of lights and music, the entire performance had the crowds expressing enthusiastic. It was a truly spectacular sight, WOW!

3rd Day: Sky views next to the Dubai Mall, Desert Safari Tour

Sky views next to the Dubai Mall

Sky Views Observatory is right next to the Dubai Mall. In the early morning, the sky was clear, so we headed up to take in the views of Dubai’s downtown areas. The Observatory sits 219.8 meters above the ground, providing a 360-degree panorama of the surroundings. Looking down through the glass floor, I observed the empty new highways below, pondering why no cars were passing through during the day. With my somewhat timid heart, I didn’t feel particularly encouraged to take part in the Edge Walk and Glass Slide.

Desert Safari Tour

Our tour guide showed up in front of our hotel a few minutes before the agreed-upon time. Our tour group was a cozy bunch of five, just enough to comfortably fit into a Toyota off-road vehicle. The itinerary promised Arabian tea, camel riding, sand sliding, and a thrilling desert drive through the captivating desert landscape. Our skilled driver expertly navigated through the undulating sand dunes, providing us with a rollercoaster-like experience against the golden backdrop of the desert.

As the sun dipped behind the dunes, the entire landscape transformed into a canvas of warm hues. Armed with our cameras, we captured the sunset in the UAE desert—a memory etched in images, reminding us of nature’s beauty long after the sun sank beneath the horizon.

4th Day: Bus to Abu Dhabi, Al Manzel Apartment Hotel, visited Abu Dhabi Mall

Bus to Abu Dhabi

We purchased tickets over the counter at the Dubai bus station and boarded the bus bound for Abu Dhabi bus station. Upon reaching the bus station, we opted for a taxi to take us to our hotel in Abu Dhabi, costing us approximately 20 AED.

Al Manzel Apartment Hotel

For some reason, our room wasn’t ready on time. The Al Manzel hotel manager expressed regret and assured us that they would address the issue promptly. In the meantime, to alleviate our disappointment, he kindly offered us freshly squeezed orange juice. Additionally, they extended the courtesy of a late check-out, allowing us to leave the hotel after 18:00 two days later.

The hotel room was spacious, comprising a bedroom and a living room with two bathrooms. It also featured a fully equipped kitchen. A great value for the money we paid.

Abu Dhabi Mall

It was already very late, and dinner time had arrived. We decided to head to Abu Dhabi Mall, just a few minutes away on foot. While the mall may not boast the same level of modernity as the Dubai Mall, it is certainly sizable enough for locals to do their shopping.

5th Day: Etihad Towers, Qasr Al Watan, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Since we only had one full day in Abu Dhabi, we booked another tour that included visits to Etihad Towers, Qasr Al Watan, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This choice proved to be truly rewarding, making it the highlight of our entire UAE journey!

Etihad Towers

The five-tower complex next to the Abu Dhabi Corniche stands as a testament to modern luxury and architectural brilliance. It was used as a filming location for the 2015 film Furious 7.

We headed straight up to the observation deck on the 74th floor of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel. The observation deck offers visitors panoramic views of the Arabian Gulf, Qasr Al Watan, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre.

Qasr Al Watan

Qasr Al Watan is not merely a symbol of architectural grandeur but also a living museum that highlights the country’s traditions and governance. The exterior of the entire building is in a striking white color, creating a vivid contrast against the blue sky.

The Great Hall is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, adorned with a stunning chandelier and intricate carvings that reflect the UAE’s cultural identity, portraying the immense wealth and cultural richness of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Another marvel is the carpet, weighing an impressive 35 tons. Woven by a team of 1,200 skilled artisans over 24 months, this massive carpet is more than just a floor covering; it’s a labor of love and meticulous attention to detail.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a symbol of religious devotion. We were delighted to join the tour as it saved us hours of waiting time! The dress code is very strict. Our tour guide had to borrow several abayas for women to wear.

The first striking sight is the main courtyard, the focal point of the entire complex with a marble floor adorned with beautiful patterns. As sunlight interacts with the smooth surface of the marble, the white marble floor and the majestic building behind it create a mesmerizing misty effect.

6th Day: Coniche walking, flight to Doha, and flight from Doha to Frankfurt

Coniche walk

On or last day of UAE journey, we took a Corniche walk in Abu Dhabi. Corniche is a waterfront promenade that provides breathtaking views of the Arabian Gulf on one side and the city’s impressive skyline on the other. The well-maintained gardens, palm-lined pathways, and the gentle sea breeze create a serene atmosphere. Along the way, we saw various recreational areas, playgrounds, and cafés.

Flight from Abu Dhabi to Doha

Our flight to Doha was set for the evening, and with the benefit of a late check-out, we departed the hotel around 18:00, summoning a taxi to take us to the airport. Abu Dhabi Airport boasts a stress-free, smart travel system, making dropping off our luggage a hassle-free experience.

We completed document and biometric checks via one of the e-registration kiosks from the Smart Travel System. Remarkably, this process took us just a few seconds—quite amazing!

Flight from Doha to Frankfurt

The flight from Doha to Frankfurt departed after midnight, granting us a few precious hours to explore the super-modern Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar.

As we strolled through the terminals, the airport’s modern and sophisticated architecture left us a lasting impression. The expansive spaces were not only functional but also visually impressive. Hamad International Airport is a state-of-the-art facility, boasting world-class amenities, including luxurious lounges, attractive shopping options, and a diverse range of dining experiences.

Wandering through the shopping outlets was an overwhelming experience, offering everything from luxurious high-end brands to authentic Qatari merchandise. The airport, in my eyes, felt like a colossal shopping centre. This unique encounter made our waiting time feel remarkably shorter and more enjoyable.

Travel tips for UAE Journey

After a 6-day UAE journey, we’re delighted to share some experiences with you.

To reach Palm Jumeirah, visitors can only use the Monorail. If you’re driving, you’ll need to park your car next to the rail station.

For budget-friendly meals, head to the local restaurants in Dubai’s old town near the souks. If you’re after a more upscale dining atmosphere, consider the options in the Dubai Mall.

Public transportation to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque can be challenging. It’s advisable to join a tour to visit Qasr Al Watan and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque , as waiting times for entry can be lengthy otherwise.

To plan your journey between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, checking bus schedules and routes a few days ahead is recommended. You can do this on official websites such as https://www.abudhabitravelplanner.com/travel-abu-dhabi-to-dubai/.

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