The Gulf States: Bon voyage!

Saturday, 9 February 2019 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Dubai, Editorial, General, UNESCO World Heritage
Reading Time:  84 minutes

© Hégésippe Cormier/cc-by-sa-3.0

© Hégésippe Cormier/cc-by-sa-3.0

The Arabian Gulf (the Arab states call the west side of the Persian Gulf Arabian Gulf) is a mediterranean sea in Western Asia. The body of water is an extension of the Indian Ocean (Gulf of Oman) through the Strait of Hormuz and lies between Iran to the northeast and the Arabian Peninsula to the southwest. The Shatt al-Arab river delta forms the northwest shoreline. The gulf has many fishing grounds, extensive reefs (mostly rocky, but also coral), and abundant pearl oysters. The body of water is historically and internationally known as the Persian Gulf. Some Arab governments refer to it as the Arabian Gulf. About 200 million people are living in the Gulf States, with Iran being the most populous country with 80 million inhabitants, followed by Iraq (38.7 million), Saudi Arabia (32 million), Yemen (38 million), United Arab Emirates (9.4 million), Oman (4.4 million), Kuwait (4.1 million), Qatar (2.6 million) and Bahrain (1.5 million). Tourism is an increasingly important factor for the smaller countries of the region, but Iran and Saudi Arabia are developing this sector more and more either. While the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain are suitable for less experienced travelers, traveling to other countries in the region requires quite a few preparations. Relevant links to the U.S. Department of State can be found at the end of each country portrait. With the exception of Yemen and Iraq because of travel warnings for EU citizens (there are additional travel warnings for other Gulf States for US citizens), all Gulf States can be visited without difficulties, as far as the rules, way of living and habits of the respective host country are respected.


  • Bahrain
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Yemen

  • Manama, capital of Bahrain © Wadiia/cc-by-sa-4.0

    Manama, capital of Bahrain © Wadiia/cc-by-sa-4.0

    The Kingdom of Bahrain is a Middle Eastern archipelago in the Arabian Gulf, tucked into a pocket of the sea flanked by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It’s an oasis of social liberalism – or at least Western-friendly moderation – among the Muslim countries of the region. It’s popular with travelers for its authentic “Arabness” but without the strict application of Islamic law upon its non-Muslim minority. Although it has a heavily petroleum-based economy, its more relaxed culture has also made it a social and shopping mecca (so to speak), which has helped it develop a fairly cosmopolitan middle class not found in neighboring countries with just a rich elite and subsistence-level masses. Bahrain means “Two Seas” in the Arabic language. Manama is the capital and largest city of Bahrain, with an approximate population of 157,000 people in the city and 411,000 in the urban area. Manama was designated as the capital of Arab culture for the year 2012 by the Arab League. Other important cities are Riffa, Muharraq, Hamad Town, A’ali, Isa Town, Sitra, Budaiya, Jidhafs, and Al-Malikiyah (cities in Bahrain). Bahrain’s largest islands are Bahrain Island, the Hawar Islands, Muharraq Island, Umm an Nasan, and Sitra. Bahrain has mild winters and very hot, humid summers. The country’s natural resources include large quantities of oil and natural gas as well as fish in the offshore waters. The country is host to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    As a tourist destination, Bahrain receive over eight million visitors yearly. Most of these are from the surrounding Arab states although an increasing number hail from outside the region due to growing awareness of the kingdom’s heritage and its higher profile as a result of the Bahrain International F1 Circuit. The kingdom combines modern Arab culture and the archaeological legacy of five thousand years of civilisation. The island is home to forts including Qalat Al Bahrain which has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Bahrain National Museum has artefacts from the country’s history dating back to the island’s first human inhabitants some 9000 years ago and the Beit Al Quran (meaning: the House of Qur’an) is a museum that holds Islamic artefacts of the Qur’an. Some of the popular historical tourist attractions in the kingdom are the Al Khamis Mosque, which is one of the oldest mosques in the region, the Arad Fort in Muharraq, Barbar Temple, which is an ancient temple from the Dilmunite period of Bahrain, as well as the A’ali Burial Mounds and the Saar temple. The Tree of Life, a 400-year-old tree that grows in the Sakhir desert with no nearby water, is also a popular tourist attraction. Bird watching (primarily in the Hawar Islands), scuba diving, and horse riding are popular tourist activities in Bahrain. Many tourists from nearby Saudi Arabia and across the region visit Manama primarily for the shopping malls in the capital Manama, such as the Bahrain City Centre, Dana Mall, Al Enma Mall and Seef Mall in the Seef district of Manama. The Manama Souq and Gold Souq in the old district of Manama are also popular with tourists.

    Read more on U.S. Department of State: Bahrain,, – Bahrain, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Bahrain and Wikivoyage Bahrain.

    Tehran Towers and buildings in the northern part of Tehran with the Alborz mountains © Shervan Karim/cc-by-sa-3.0

    Tehran Towers and buildings in the northern part of Tehran with the Alborz mountains © Shervan Karim/cc-by-sa-3.0

    With about 81 million inhabitants, Iran is the world’s 18th-most-populous country. Comprising a land area of 1,648,195 km² (636,372 sq mi), it is the second-largest country in the Middle East and the 17th-largest in the world. Iran is bordered to the northwest by Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan; to the north by the Caspian Sea; to the northeast by Turkmenistan; to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan; to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman; and to the west by Turkey and Iraq. The country’s central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, and its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, give it geostrategic importance. Tehran is the country’s capital and largest city, as well as its leading economic and cultural center (cities in Iran).

    Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, beginning with the formation of the Elamite kingdoms in the fourth millennium BC. It was first unified by the Iranian Medes in the seventh century BC, and reached its greatest extent during the Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus the Great in the sixth century BC, stretching from Eastern Europe to the Indus Valley, becoming a larger empire than previously ever existed in the world. The Iranian realm fell to Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC, but reemerged shortly after as the Parthian Empire, followed by the Sasanian Empire, which became a leading world power for the next four centuries.

    The regions are Sistan and Baluchestan, Caspian Iran, Central Iran, Khorasan, Persian Gulf Region, Iranian Azerbaijan, and Western Iran. The most notable cities are Tehran ( the vibrant capital, a beautiful city that suffers horrendous traffic and air pollution), Hamadan (one of the oldest cities in Iran), Isfahan (former capital with stunning architecture, great bazaar, and tree-lined boulevards. Most popular tourist destination in the country. There’s a Persian saying that “Isfahan is half the world.”), Kerman 8this south-eastern Iranian city is one of the five historical cities of Iran), Mashad (greatest city of Eastern Iran with an important mosque, the shrine of the Imam Reza), Qom (one of the holiest cities in the Middle East, considered the Jewel of Iran), Shiraz (a former capital, home of famous Persian poets such as Hafiz and Sa’di; known for gardens, especially roses. Very close to the famous ruins of Persepolis), Tabriz (a former capital with great historical bazaar, provincial capital in Western Iran; it’s been suggested by some that this is the site of the Biblical “Garden of Eden”), and Yazd (a remote desert city – circumstance influenced special architectural themes where water streams run in underground rooms in houses and wind-towers to keep them cool). Other destinations are Alamut (near Qazvin – castle of the legendary Assassins), Dizin (one of the highest ski resorts in the world, two hours north of Tehran. Great powder snow, cheap prices and few international visitors makes this is a great place for a ski holiday), Kish Island (a free trade zone in the Persian Gulf, it is regarded as a consumer’s ‘paradise’, with numerous malls, shopping centres, tourist attractions, and resort hotels. There is also Iran’s first marina on the east side of the island), Qeshm Island (Iran’s largest and the Persian Gulf’s largest island. Qeshm island is famous for its wide range of ecotourist attractions such as the Hara marine forests. According to environmentalists, about 1.5% of the world birds and 25% of Iran’s native birds annually migrate to Hara forests which is the first national geo park), Pasargad 8the first capital of the Achaemenid Empire, and home to the tomb of Cyrus the Great), Persepolis (impressive ruins of a vast city-like complex built over 2,500 years ago, near the modern city of Shiraz. It was set on fire by Alexander of Macedon and further ruined by Arabs. Called TakhteJamshid in Persian, Persepolis is the symbol of Iranian nationality), and Susa (200 km north of Ahvaz, was Iran’s most ancient city. The Ziggurat of Chughazanbil, Darius the Great’s palace, the Jewish prophet Daniel’s temple and Artaxerxer II ‘s palace are among the historical sites).

    Iran, the wellspring of one of the world’s great civilizations, is a country of striking natural beauty and gorgeous tiled mosques. Its landscape is incredibly varied. Its recent history has been tumultuous. The country is host to 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Although tourism declined significantly during the war with Iraq, it has been subsequently recovered. Since the removal of some sanctions against Iran in 2015, tourism has re-surged in the country. Over five million tourists visited Iran in the fiscal year of 2014–2015, four percent more than the previous year. Alongside the capital, the most popular tourist destinations are Isfahan, Mashhad, and Shiraz. Several organized tours from Germany, France, and other European countries come to Iran annually to visit archaeological sites and monuments. In 2003, Iran ranked 68th in tourism revenues worldwide. According to the UNESCO and the deputy head of research for Iran’s Tourism Organization, Iran is rated fourth among the top 10 destinations in the Middle East. Domestic tourism in Iran is one of the largest in the world.

    Read more on U.S. Department of State: Iran, – Iran, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Iran and Wikivoyage Iran.

    Baghdad in 2005 © - USACE HQ, JIM GORDAN, CIV, USACE

    Baghdad in 2005 © – USACE HQ, JIM GORDAN, CIV, USACE

    Iraq is bordered by Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait to the southeast, Saudi Arabia to the south, Jordan to the southwest and Syria to the west. The capital, and largest city, is Baghdad. Iraq has a coastline measuring 58 km (36 miles) on the northern Persian Gulf and encompasses the Mesopotamian Alluvial Plain, the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range and the eastern part of the Syrian Desert. Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run south through Iraq and into the Shatt al-Arab near the Persian Gulf. These rivers provide Iraq with significant amounts of fertile land. Regions of the country are Al Jazira (the land north and northwest of Baghdad, between and around the upper Tigris and Euphrates rivers), Baghdad Belts (the belts of suburbs, towns, and cities radiating out from the centre of Baghdad), Iraqi Desert (the vast, empty wasteland in the west and southwest of the country), Iraqi Kurdistan (home to the Kurdish people, and largely under the administration of what is for all intents and purposes a separate national government, this is the safest region of Iraq for travel), and Lower Mesopotamia (The Cradle of Civilization itself, home to major Shia cities and holy sites, such as Karbala, Najaf, Basra, and Nasiriyah, as well as legendary ruins of ancient civilizations, including Babylon and Sumerian Ur). Important cities are Baghdad, Arbil, Ar Rutba, Basra, Dahuk, Fallujah, Karbala, Kirkuk, Mosul, and Sulaimaniyah (cities in Iraq). Other destinations are Ashur (former capital of the Assyrian Empire and UNESCO World Heritage site, this is one of the country’s few great archaeological sites that has benefited from the latest invasion—the Hussein government planned to create a dam nearby that would have flooded and utterly destroyed the site), Babylon (damaged by inept reconstruction, looting, and military negligence, the ruins of ancient Babylon are still some of the most impressive in the Cradle of Civilization), Ctesiphon (the ancient capital of the Parthian and Sassanid Empires left us with magnificent, towering ruins, most notably of the magnificent Arch of Ctesiphon; just across the Tigris is the archaeological site of the ancient Hellenistic city of Seleucia), Hatra (once a UNESCO World Heritage site, this formerly well-preserved Parthian city off in the desert contained quite possibly Iraq’s most magnificent ruins, which were severely damaged or destroyed by Da’esh extremists in 2015), and Ur (the ruins of the ancient Sumerian city, best known for its giant step pyramid, the Great Ziggurat of Ur). While Iraq contains ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, it has been ravaged by war and oppression for the last century (History of Iraq). The country is host to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Tourism in Iraq). Read more on U.S. Department of State: Iraq, Tourism in Iraq, – Iraq, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Iraq and Wikivoyage Iraq.

    Kuwait City © - boulanger.IE/cc-by-2.0

    Kuwait City © – boulanger.IE/cc-by-2.0

    Kuwait is situated in the northern edge of Eastern Arabia at the tip of the Arabian Gulf, it shares borders with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. As of 2016, Kuwait has a population of 4.2 million people; 1.3 million are Kuwaitis and 2.9 million are expatriates. Expatriates account for 70% of the population. The country has a diverse history. Important cities are Kuwait City (the capital), Al Jahra (30 minutes – A town north of Kuwait City with great historic importance. Fires caused by faulty wiring well-known), Al Ahmadi (30 minutes – Many of Kuwait’s oil refineries are located here), Hawally (20 minutes – Important residential area), Farwaniya (20 minutes – Important port in Kuwait), Mubarak Al-Kabeer (25 minutes), Salmiya (15 minutes – Known for its beaches and host high-end real estate. Inner blocks are residential areas of lower cost), Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh (25 minutes – Very cheap housing. Residents are mostly Indian blue-collar and semi-blue collar workers), and Riggae (a quiet and cleaner alternative to Jleeb). Kuwait City, Salmiya, Jahra and Wafrah are the main destinations in Kuwait. Wafra and chalets are common getaways for Kuwaitis and residents. Wafrah (113 km away from Kuwait City) is basically farmland (areas of Kuwait). Chalets are beach houses in Khairan and Bnaider, where Kuwaitis enjoy beach culture, yachts and participate in water sport activities like scuba-diving. Most Kuwaitis own chalets although some chalets can be rented. Failaka Island has a diverse climate from the rest of Kuwait. Before the war, Az-Zawr, the town on the island was heavily inhabited but after the war the town was destroyed and very few people live here. There is a heritage hotel here now. Ferries can be taken from Kuwait City and Salmiya. The country is host to non UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Tourism accounts for 1.5 percent of the GDP. In 2016, the tourism industry generated nearly $500 million in revenue. The annual “Hala Febrayer” festival attracts many tourists from neighboring GCC countries, and includes a variety of events including music concerts, parades, and carnivals. The festival is a month-long commemoration of the liberation of Kuwait, and runs from February 1 to February 28. Liberation Day itself is celebrated on February 26. The Amiri Diwan is currently developing the new Kuwait National Cultural District (KNCD), which comprises Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre, Al Shaheed Park, and Al Salam Palace. With a capital cost of more than US$1 billion, the project is one of the largest cultural investments in the world. In November 2016, the Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Cultural Centre opened. It is the largest cultural centre in the Middle East. The Kuwait National Cultural District is a member of the Global Cultural Districts Network.

    Read more on U.S. Department of State: Kuwait, Kuwait Tourism, – Kuwait, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Kuwait and Wikivoyage Kuwait.

    The traditionell Dhow, an enduring symbol of Oman © Pranav21391

    The traditional Dhow, an enduring symbol of Oman © Pranav21391

    Oman is located on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Holding a strategically important position at the mouth of the Arabian Gulf, the country shares land borders with the United Arab Emirates to the northwest, Saudi Arabia to the west, and Yemen to the southwest, and shares marine borders with Iran and Pakistan. The coast is formed by the Arabian Sea on the southeast and the Gulf of Oman on the northeast. The Madha and Musandam exclaves are surrounded by the UAE on their land borders, with the Strait of Hormuz (which it shares with Iran) and Gulf of Oman forming Musandam’s coastal boundaries. The country’s regions are Northern Oman (The capital city, fertile Al-Batinah coast, majestic Hajar Mountains and the Musandam Peninsula), Central Coastal Oman (awe-inspiring dunes, old forts and coastal scenery fringing the Indian Ocean), Dhofar (lush coastal lowlands and mountains bordering Yemen), and Empty Quarter (huge desert wilderness including much of the largely undefined border area with Saudi Arabia). Important cities are Muscat (the historic capital and largest city), Bahla (oasis town which is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Buraimi (border crossing town adjacent to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates), Ibra (gateway to the Wahiba Sands), Matrah (adjoining the capital city and just as historic), Nizwa (contains one of the best-known forts in Oman), Salalah (the south, which is almost tropical at the time of the Kareef), Sohar (one of the legendary homes of Sindbad), and Sur (where dhows are still made by hand) – (cities in Oman). Other destinations are Hajar Mountains (a majestic range, the highest in the Arabian Peninsula, which stretches into the United Arab Emirates), Madha (tiny exclave of Oman completely surrounded by the United Arab Emirates), Masirah Island (a real desert island experience awaits on this haven for turtles and other wildlife), Musandam Peninsula (a rocky exclave on the Straits of Hormuz with some magnificent wadis), and Wahiba Sands (massive rolling dunes as far as the eye can see).

    From the late 17th century, the Omani Sultanate was a powerful empire, vying with Portugal and Britain for influence in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. At its peak in the 19th century, Omani influence or control extended across the Strait of Hormuz to modern-day Iran and Pakistan, and as far south as Zanzibar. As its power declined in the 20th century, the sultanate came under the influence of the United Kingdom. Historically, Muscat was the principal trading port of the Arabian Gulf region. Muscat was also among the most important trading ports of the Indian Ocean. Oman’s official religion is Islam (History of Oman). The country is host to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    Tourism in Oman has grown considerably recently, and it is expected to be one of the largest industries in the country. The World Travel & Tourism Council stated that Oman is the fastest growing tourism destination in the Middle East. Oman has one of the most diverse environments in the Middle East with various tourist attractions and is particularly well known for cultural tourism. Muscat, the capital of Oman, was named the second best city to visit in the world in 2012 by the travel guide publisher Lonely Planet. Muscat also was chosen as the Capital of Arab Tourism of 2012.

    Read more on U.S. Department of State: Oman, Oman Tourism, – Oman, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Oman and Wikivoyage Oman.

    Museum of Islamic Arts Park in West Bay of Doha © - Mohamod Fasil/cc-by-2.0

    Museum of Islamic Arts Park in West Bay of Doha © – Mohamod Fasil/cc-by-2.0

    Qatar is occupying the small Qatar Peninsula on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. Its sole land borders are with Saudi Arabia to the south and the United Arab Emirates to the southeast, with the rest of its territory surrounded by the Arabian Gulf. An arm of the Arabian Gulf separates Qatar from the nearby island country of Bahrain. Following Ottoman rule, Qatar became a British protectorate in the early 20th century until gaining independence in 1971. Qatar has been ruled by the House of Thani since the early 19th century. Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani was the founder of the State of Qatar (History of Qatar). Important cities are Doha (capital), Al Khor (northern city with a population of some 36,000, close to Ras Laffan LNG (liquified natural gas) terminal), Al Ruwais (the wider area of the northern municipality of Madinat ash Shamal), Al Shahaniyah, Al Wakrah, Dukhan, Mesaieed (industrial town south of Doha, and 25 km south of Wakra, with recreational activities on the coast, including the sand dunes of Khor Al Udeid (the Inland Sea)), and Umm Salal Mohammed (cities in Qatar). Other destinations are Zubarah, the ruins of a deserted city and a fort built in 1938 by Sheikh Abdu’llah bin Qasim Al-Thani, and Khawr al Udayd (Inland Sea) – a region of rolling dunes and high revving engines, many tourists and locals alike enjoy racing up and down the seemingly endless sand dunes. There are a variety of tourism companies that will give you a guided tour of the region, often complete with a traditional Arab meal and campfire. The country is host to one UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Under the ambitious five-year development plan of the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA), the government aimed to boost the number of visitors from 964,000 as of 2007 to 1.5m by 2010. The funding required to meet this goal was present in sufficient amounts; in 2008 the state allocated some $17bn for tourism development through 2014, most of which was allocated towards hotels, exhibition space and infrastructure. In order to keep up with a rising number of visitors, the government set a goal of increasing hotel capacity 400% by 2012. In addition to financial support, the government has also worked to ease business regulations in a bid to increase private sector activity. A major aspect of expansion plans is the Hamad International Airport, which will have the capacity to handle up to 24m passengers upon the completion of the first phase in 2012. Other niche tourism segments receiving special focus include cultural tourism on the back of the high publicity opening of Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art, and sports tourism, initially spurred by the Asian Games, to which Qatar played host in 2006. The government appears to be committed to long-term expansion plans, but challenges nevertheless remain, including effective marketing to the international community as well as the effect of the financial crisis on global tourism appetite. The 2022 FIFA World Cup is scheduled to take place in Qatar in 2022.

    Read more on U.S. Department of State: Qatar, Qatar Tourism, – Qatar, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Gulf Times, 25 October 2019: Tourism sector in Qatar growing rapidly: ITUC official, Wikitravel Qatar and Wikivoyage Qatar.

    Riyadh Skyline showing the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) and the famous Kingdom Tower © B.alotaby/cc-by-sa-4.0

    Riyadh Skyline showing the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) and
    the famous Kingdom Tower © B.alotaby/cc-by-sa-4.0

    Saudi Arabia
    Saudi Arabia is constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula. With a land area of approximately 2,150,000 km² (830,000 sq mi), Saudi Arabia is geographically the fifth-largest state in Asia and second-largest state in the Arab world after Algeria. Saudi Arabia is bordered by Jordan and Iraq to the north, Kuwait to the northeast, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to the east, Oman to the southeast and Yemen to the south. It is separated from Israel and Egypt by the Gulf of Aqaba. It is the only nation with both a Red Sea coast and a Arabian Gulf coast and most of its terrain consists of arid desert and mountains. The area of modern-day Saudi Arabia formerly consisted of four distinct regions: Hejaz, Najd and parts of Eastern Arabia (Al-Ahsa) and Southern Arabia (‘Asir). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 by Ibn Saud. He united the four regions into a single state through a series of conquests beginning in 1902 with the capture of Riyadh, the ancestral home of his family, the House of Saud. Saudi Arabia has since been an absolute monarchy, effectively a hereditary dictatorship governed along Islamic lines. The ultraconservative Wahhabi religious movement within Sunni Islam has been called “the predominant feature of Saudi culture”, with its global spread largely financed by the oil and gas trade. Saudi Arabia is sometimes called “the Land of the Two Holy Mosques” in reference to Al-Masjid al-Haram (in Mecca) and Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (in Medina), the two holiest places in Islam. The state has a total population of 28.7 million, of which 20 million are Saudi nationals and 8 million are foreigners (History of Saudi Arabia). The country’s regions are Asir (southwestern highlands with a temperate climate and strong Yemeni influence), Eastern Province (covering the Gulf coast, the center of Saudi oil production), Hejaz (on the Red Sea coast, site of Mecca, Medina, Jeddah and the home of trade and commerce), Nejd (the central highlands centered on Riyadh, the home of the Sauds and the most conservative part of the country), and North (rarely visited, home to the Nabataean ruins of Madain Saleh). The cities are Riyadh (the capital and “dead center” of the Kingdom), Abha (a summer tourist mountain resort city in the southwest near the Yemeni border), Dhahran (the home of Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest petroleum company), Jeddah (a large metropolitan city on the Red Sea, and the gateway to Makkah and Madinah), Jubail (the largest industrial city in the kingdom), Mecca (the holiest city of Islam), Medina (the site of the Prophet’s Mosque), Najran (a Yemeni-influenced city with a remarkable fortress), and Taif (a moderate-sized mountain town and popular resort area) – (cities and towns in Saudi Arabia). Other destinations are Empty Quarter Rub’ al Khali (one of the largest sand deserts on earth), Hajj (the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca), and Madain Saleh (ruined Nabataean city similar to Petra). The country is host to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    Although most tourism in Saudi Arabia still largely involves religious pilgrimages, there is growth in the leisure tourism sector. According to the World Bank, approximately 14.3 million people visited Saudi Arabia in 2012, making it the world’s 19th-most-visited country. Potential tourist areas include the Hijaz and Sarawat Mountains, Red Sea diving and a number of ancient ruins. In December 2013, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to begin issuing tourist visas for the first time in its history. Council of Ministers of Saudi Arabia entrusted the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage with visa issuing on the basis of certain regulations approved by the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs. As part of Saudi Vision 2030 (Arab News: Road to 2030) the country is on its way to open up as a whole.

    Read more on U.S. Department of State: Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia Tourism, – Saudi Arabia, The National, 27 September 2019: Saudi Arabia announces tourism mega projects with local and global investors, Arab News, 27 September 2019: Saudi Arabia to offer tourist visas for the first time, BBC, 27 September 2019: Saudi Arabia to open up to foreign tourists with new visas, The National, 27 September 2019: Saudi Arabia relaxes dress code for women tourists, The National, 27 September 2019: From NEOM to Ad Diriyah: Saudi Arabia’s ‘giga projects’ and when they are expected to be completed, Saudi Gazette, 28 September 2019: Crown Prince’s Vision 2030 is taking Saudi Arabia in the right direction, Gulf News, 30 September 2019: Saudi Arabia: Your guide to new dress code and public decency code, Arab News, 3 October 2019: Ambassador sees Germans coming soon to Saudi Arabia ‘in large numbers’ as Kingdom opens doors to world tourists, The Guardian, 6 October 2019: Saudi Arabia to allow unmarried foreign couples in hotel rooms, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Saudi Arabia and Wikivoyage Saudi Arabia.

    Sharjah City © Mueed Ahmed/cc-by-sa-4.0

    Sharjah City © Mueed Ahmed/cc-by-sa-4.0

    United Arab Emirates
    The United Arab Emirates, sometimes simply called the Emirates, is a federal absolute monarchy at the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula on the Arabian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, as well as sharing maritime borders with Qatar to the west and Iran to the north. The country is a federation of seven emirates, and was established on 2 December 1971 (History of the United Arab Emirates). Each emirate is governed by an absolute monarch; together, they jointly form the Federal Supreme Council. One of the monarchs (traditionally always the Emir of Abu Dhabi) is selected as the President of the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi is the federal capital and centre of government in the Emirates (cities in the United Arab Emirates). It is the largest city of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and one of the most architecturally modern cities in the world.

    Tourism acts as a growth sector for the entire UAE economy. Dubai is the top tourism destination in the Middle East. According to the annual MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index, Dubai is the fourth most popular tourism destination in the world (nearly 15 million visitors in 2017). Dubai holds up to 66% share of the UAE’s tourism economy, with Abu Dhabi having 16% and Sharjah 10%. Since the 1980s, the UAE has been spending billions of dollars on infrastructure. These developments are particularly evident in the larger emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The northern emirates are rapidly following suit, providing major incentives for developers of residential and commercial property.

    The United Arab Emirates is a modern and dynamic country. For most Western tourists, the UAE offers an environment that is extremely familiar. The malls are extraordinarily modern, filled with virtually any product available in the West. The less well known side of the UAE includes remote, magnificent desert dunes on the edge of the Empty Quarter and craggy, awe-inspiring wadis in the north-east bordering Oman. The roads and other public facilities are modern if, at times, extremely crowded. Supermarkets offer a vast assortment of products from Europe and the U.S., depending on the shop, along with local and regional items. Major international chains such as Ikea and Carrefour have a presence and fast-food chains (nearly all from the U.S.) such as McDonald’s and KFC operate widely. On the other hand, there are still a few crowded traditional souks filled with products from around the world, rug stores. These can be hard to find for the average traveler, as the malls tend to gain an overwhelming amount of attention. Contrary to what is printed in some guidebooks, the souks in Abu Dhabi were torn down in 2006 and no longer exist. The souks in Dubai are still wonderful to explore, though. The country is host to one UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    UAE launched a successful bid for Expo 2020 with Dubai. The win is unprecedented in the region. World Expos are a meeting point for the global community to share innovations and make progress on issues such as the global economy, sustainable development and improved quality of life. World Expos can be a catalyst for economic, cultural and social transformation and generates legacies for the host city and nation.

    Abu Dhabi Skyline © - giggel/cc-by-3.0

    Abu Dhabi Skyline © – giggel/cc-by-3.0

    Emirate of Abu Dhabi
    The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate by area (67,340 km²), accounting for approximately 87 percent of the total land area of the federation. Abu Dhabi also has the largest population of the seven emirates. In recent times, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has continuously contributed around 60 per cent of the GDP of the United Arab Emirates.

    Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the emirate, after which it is named, as well as the capital of the federation. With a population of just under 1.5 million, Abu Dhabi is the headquarters of numerous oil companies and embassies. The city features large gardens and parks, green boulevards lining all the streets and roads, sophisticated high-rise buildings, international luxury hotel chains and opulent shopping malls. The capital city has seen various construction projects and the opening of shopping malls. The opening of the Emirates Palace marked the opening of the most expensive hotel ever built. The annual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Yas Island, with the Ferrari World theme park, is a Formula One motor race held in the capital city, which further attracts tourists. The upcoming US$28 billion cultural zone of Saadiyat Island and its centerpieces the Louvre museum opened in November 2017 and the Guggenheim museum is under development. The development of tall buildings has been encouraged in the Abu Dhabi Plan 2030, which will lead to the construction of many new skyscrapers over the next decade, particularly in the expansion of Abu Dhabi’s central business district such as the new developments on Al Maryah Island and Al Reem Island. Abu Dhabi already has a number of supertall skyscrapers under construction throughout the city. Some of the tallest buildings on the skyline include the 382 m (1,253.28 ft) Burj Mohammed bin Rashid as part of the World Trade Center Abu Dhabi, the 324 m (1,062.99 ft) The Landmark and the 74-story, 310 m (1,017.06 ft) Sky Tower, all of them completed. Also many other skyscrapers over 150 m (492.13 ft) (500 ft) are either proposed or approved and could transform the city’s skyline. One of the most important architectural landmarks is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. This is arguably one of the most important architectural treasures of contemporary UAE society—and one of the most opulent in the world. It was initiated by the late president of the United Arab Emirates, HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, fondly thought of as the father of the UAE.

    Apart from the capital city, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is held in the countryside and the tourism board is trying to highlight other places in the emirate. Abu Dhabi has several parks and gardens and more than 400 kilometres (249 miles) of coastline, of which 10 kilometres (6 miles) are public beaches. Other destinations are, e.g., Al Ain (oasis in the desert and the second-largest city), Liwa Oasis, and Sir Bani Yas Island. Both Abu Dhabi and Al Ain have international airports, although Abu Dhabi’s is by far the larger and better-connected of the two. Coming in via neighboring Dubai is also a viable option: it’s 170 km from Dubai to Abu Dhabi city and 100 km to Al Ain.

    Al Zaher Palace in Ajman © MMuzammils/cc-by-sa-3.0

    Al Zaher Palace in Ajman © MMuzammils/cc-by-sa-3.0

    Emirate of Ajman
    The Emirate of Ajman has an area of a mere 260 square kilometres (100 sq mi), which makes it the smallest of the emirates in terms of area. It is named after the city of Ajman, which is its seat of government. It is bordered on the north, east, and south by the Emirate of Sharjah. It has a population of some 400,000. Located on the coast of the Arabian Gulf, Ajman also controls two small inland exclaves: Manama and Masfut, both of which are primarily agricultural. Approximately 95% of the population of the emirate resides in the city of Ajman, which forms part of the Dubai-Sharjah-Ajman metropolitan area. Ajman is ruled by Sheikh Humaid bin Rashid Al Nuaimi of the Al Nuaim tribe.

    Tourist attractions in the emirate, including hotels, shopping and cultural destinations are growing rapidly. Tourist attractions include the Ajman National Museum situated at Ajman Fort, the Red Fort and the museum in the inland enclave of Manama. Ajman’s corniche is a popular evening and weekend destination for families and features a number of fast food outlets, coffee shops and stalls. It is home to the Outside Inn, a popular watering hole with expatriates, as well as to a number of hotels, including the Ramada, Bahi Ajman Palace Hotel, the Ajman Saray and the Fairmont Ajman.

    Ajman beach is always a nice place to spend the day in with the warm sun, white sands, and clear waters. Dolphin spotting is also a recreation activity enjoyed in the emirate. Designer outlets and major brands are available in City Center Mall and consist of a wide variety of food outlets too. In the traditional side, there is always the Iranian souq were you can buy domestic goods and if you are lucky some interesting pottery. Lulu Hypermarket has a nice cafe that is not too pricey, average 10 dirhams for a whole meal with a drink, as there portions are huge its money well spent, and a wide selection of smoothies at reasonable prices. The Ajman Fish Market is a great place to see fisherman bring out the fresh catch and watch the middlemen auction them to the shopkeepers. Its possible to buy fish and get it cooked right there in the fish market or across the street.

    Dubai Skyline 2015 © Tim.Reckmann/cc-by-sa-3.0

    Dubai Skyline 2015 © Tim.Reckmann/cc-by-sa-3.0

    Emirate of Dubai
    Ruler of the emirate is HH Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and the emirate is governed by the Government of Dubai. The emirate is made up of various other municipalities and villages. The inland exclave of Hatta is located about 134 km east of Dubai City. It is bordering Oman to the east and south, the village of Sayh Mudayrah in Ajman to the west, and Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah to the north. Dubai is a commercial and cultural hub of the Middle East, it’s a global transport hub, and has attracted world attention through many large innovative construction projects and sports events.

    Dubai City is the capital of the emirate and was named after it. The city is symbolised by its skyscrapers, including the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, in addition to ambitious development projects including man-made islands, world class luxury hotels, and some of the largest and extraordinarily modern shopping malls in the world. Dubai is a cosmopolitan metropolis and a global city. The fourth most popular tourist destination in the world in 2017, it is developing rapidly in tourism and trade. Dubai is a mixture of old and new, traditional and modern. From old traditional souks and historical buildings (now being preserved for cultural reasons or already part of the national heritage) to modern Dubai’s overwhelming shopping malls, incredible artificial islands and giant modern skyscrapers, Dubai is a world in itself and offers plenty of wonderful attractions. The city has numerous museums and historical buildings, but Dubai Museum is a must see for a first-time travellers to the Emirates. It provides a glimpse of the old life of Dubai, its people and their culture and heritage. Dubai’s districts are:

    Things to do:

    • Abra ride: Best done at night in the cool weather and to enjoy the city lights. Abras can be hired for a private tour (for a price negotiable with the driver, but usually very cheap). This is quite a popular activity at sunset on a clear day, particularly if the driver is able to enliven the tour with stories about the structures on either side of the Creek. Just make sure that the purpose of one’s abra hire is made clear at the outset – otherwise you will be in for a very expensive cross-river trip or a crowded private tour.
    • Beaches and Sea: There are endless water sport opportunities as Dubai has some of the whitest and sandiest beaches in the world. Ocean temperatures range from 22°C in winter up to 35°C in summer, there are few wave breaks and the strong winds can make swimming difficult. The water is also very salty so many prefer to use their hotel swimming pool. Diving activities have been severely affected by offshore construction work for the Palms and The World; consequently, long boat trips are necessary to reach wreck sites. Alternatively, one can make the 90 minute road journey to the East coast Emirate of Fujairah or the Sharjah enclave, Khor Fakkan, for top class diving on coral reefs supporting extensive marine life.
    • Camel Race Track: One of the more unusual attractions, with races being held on Thursday and Friday in the winter. You can watch the races, and you’ll have the opportunity to visit the paddocks. Vendors sell everything from beads to rugs and blankets, so you can purchase souvenirs.
    • Desert Adventure: There’s a reason why they call Dubai the desert city. Make the most of the serene sandy landscape with a range of fun activities, whether you’re looking to raise the adrenaline with quad-biking or relax on a luxury overnight escape.
    • Natural outdoors: Although at first glance the outdoors may seem dull and uninteresting, and even dangerous due to the desert conditions, there are actually amazing natural destinations in the Emirate of Dubai, which extends into Hatta. There are pristine waterfalls, cliffs lined with fossils, even freshwater lakes.
    • Yacht Charter: An easy way to explore the man-made Palm Islands and coastal skyscrapers. Fleets are available for hire from Dubai Marina from many of the yacht charter agencies.
    • Dubai Creek cruise/ride: Dubai Creek is the foundation from which Dubai grew. It originally served as a port for trading vessels plying to and from India, Africa and the Middle East. Today a bit of the old shipping culture still remains. In and around the Creek one can see some of the original buildings that have served as customs houses and defense structures. You can book a ride (usually four hours) on the Dubai Marina cruise or rent a private boat to take you on an hour-long ride up and down the Creek.
    • Burj Khalifa: Visit the tallest building in the world with the magnificent centrepiece of Dubai, Burj Khalifa is surrounded by hotels, must-visit shopping destinations and a world of entertainment options.
    • Golf: It may be a desert, but a lot of money and water is spent on irrigating opulent golf courses. Alternatively, for a more local flavor, try sand golf!
    • Hot Air Balloon Ride: Great fun seeing all the sand dunes and mountains early in the morning or during sunset.
    • Big Bus Company tour: You can take a bus tour, both day time and night time, of many of attractions in Dubai.

    Dubai is practically synonymous with shopping and could be called “Do buy”. Low tariffs and a huge amount of cargo passing through its port ensure that practically anything is available at fairly competitive rates, although the appreciation of the Dirham and the plentiful supply of shoppers means that Dubai is no longer a bargain basement shopping city. You’ll also find products in Western chain stores, still with the original tags quoting euro or sterling prices, being sold with a 20-30% mark-up once converted to dirhams. The best things to buy are textiles, electronics and gold; electronics are believed to be much cheaper, while there is a wide selection of textiles and gold. Dubai shops suffer from the standard developing world shopping phenomenon of having no storeroom and no stocks in reserve, even in the mega-malls – and for clothes shopping this may mean that you struggle to find the style you want in the size you want. Shops open as early as 09:00 and stay open to 22:00, and on weekends to midnight or 01:00. Remember to haggle in the souks, as discounts are almost always available and even in situations where the item will not become much cheaper, the customer is always expected to “play the game” of haggling. A simple question of “what’s your best price?” will often result in a shop-keeper going to extraordinary lengths to sell his stock. Prices in the malls and other Western shops tend not to be negotiable. Far from being a bad thing, this allows the canny visitor to work out comparative prices for common souvenirs – an invaluable aid when a shop-keeper in a souk is asking for a higher price. Dubai Shopping Festival has been the biggest shopping event in the Middle East since 1996. Almost every shop has a sale, starting in January and ending February. The DSF is not limited up to Shopping but also produces some mind blowing stages shows and performances performed by international celebrities. There’s also a very similar Dubai Summer Surprises trying to pull in punters during the summer low season. Dubai is known for its gigantic malls and is a magnet for shoppers. There are many supermarkets, and international brands such as Carrefour, Géant and Waitrose have multiple locations as do ‘home-grown’ brands Choithrams, Spinney’s, Union Co-Operative and Lulu, amongst others.

    Fujairah © Aravind Sivaraj/cc-by-sa-3.0

    Fujairah © Aravind Sivaraj/cc-by-sa-3.0

    Emirate of Fujairah
    Fujairah is the only one of the seven that has a coastline solely on the Gulf of Oman and none on the Arabian Gulf. The easternmost of the Emirates, Fujairah is the only Emirate not to have a coastline along the Arabian Gulf. It is also the youngest of the Emirates, only becoming independent from Sharjah in 1952. The weather is seasonal, although it is warm most of the year. The months of December to March are generally the coolest, with daytime temperatures averaging around 25 °C (77 °F) and rarely venturing above 30 °C (86 °F)—with temperatures climbing to over 40 °C (104 °F) degrees in the summer. The winter period also coincides with the rainy season and although by no means guaranteed, this is when Fujairah experiences the bulk of its precipitation. Rainfall is higher than the rest of the UAE, partly because of the effect of the mountains that encircle the Emirate, and partly because the prevailing winds are easterly bringing with them water-laden clouds off the warm Indian Ocean. The variability of the east coast climate is partly due to the presence of the Al Hajar mountain range. As with other mountainous areas, precipitation is higher, and this allows for a more varied micro-environment in the area. Tourist visitor numbers peak just before the school summer months. On vacations, many Fujairah residents travel to western emirates such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, for entertainment and shopping purposes. They also visit the Wadis surrounding the emirate on camping and hiking trips. At the same time, other emirates’ residents visit Fujairah for relaxation purposes and to get away from the stifling heat of the desert. Watersports are becoming more and more popular amongst both locals and tourists. Examples of watersports are jet skis, windsurfing, waterskiing and diving. Professional diving instructors can be found in Le Meridien or in Royal Beach Hotel, where one can even obtain an International Diving License, for a fee.

    LuLu Mall Fujairah opened in 2014. Fujairah City Centre opened in April 2012 with 105 units along with Century Mall near the Fujairah Ports. The construction of the Fujairah mall has also been completed in 2016. Fathima Shopping Center in Fujairah is another favorite affordable shopping destination. The local souk tends to sell products for residents (plants, spices etc.) rather than tourist merchandise. A smaller souk is open along the Corniche in the evenings, but the main focus there is on generic goods – and copies of brand-name items. For souvenirs, most top-level hotels have at least one gift shop with the customary array of items. Prices are not negotiable and tend to the higher end of the spectrum.

    Despite its location, there is very little to see in Fujairah city. The city is a business centre first and foremost, with none of the enticing atmosphere of the other large cities of the UAE. Fujairah city itself is most emphatically not designed for pedestrians, being dominated by main roads. Thankfully, taxis, which have been completely changed to a new fleet of Nissan Altimas and Toyota Camrys, are metered, and start at 3 dirhims during the day (3.50 at night) are plentiful. In fact, visitors attempting to walk around the city will attract horn tooting from taxi drivers, who seriously cannot believe that anyone would choose to walk. Of some interest is the fort, located just outside the city itself. The main structure is still undergoing renovations, but visitors may walk around the reasonably large site for free. Compared to other forts in the UAE, though, Fujairah Fort is a poor cousin; however, there is a museum, too, that is closed on Fridays, and the reconstruction of the heritage village is well on its way. While the Indian Ocean is enticingly close, some parts of the beach would not seem to be a good option to swim at. However, Dibba Al-Fujairah which is 30km far from Fujairah city would be a good choice, where you can enjoy the sunny beaches and you can practice any sea activity you like. One more interesting thing to do is that you can make a boat trip to one of many islands that lie in the Gulf of Oman, really wonderful places to visit and it is a good place for fishing as well. All things considered, Fujairah is probably more suited as a base from which to go on excursions to the surrounding areas (most of which are enclaves of Sharjah), rather than doing anything much else. The city is growing in stature as a business destination, particularly where oil is concerned, but tourism remains somehow significantly behind. Fujairah’s economy is based on subsidies and federal government grants distributed by the government of Abu Dhabi (the seat of power in the UAE). Local industries consist of cement, stone crushing and mining. A resurgence in the construction activity helped the local industry. There is a flourishing free trade zone, mimicking the success of theDubai Free Zone Authority which was established around Jebel Ali Port. The federal government employs the majority of the native, local workforce, with few opening businesses of their own. Many of the locals work in the service sector. The Fujairah government prohibits foreigners from owning more than 49% of any business. The free zones have flourished, partly due to the relaxation of such prohibition within the zones, as full foreign ownership is allowed there.

    Among the hotels are Radisson Blu Resort Hotel Fujairah, Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort, Miramar Al Aqah Beach Resort, and Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa.

    Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah
    The current statehood is the result of the 1909 appanage from Sharjah. Its name could be taken to mean “headland of the small huts”, which can be attributed to the indigenous buildings that existed along the coast. The emirate is in the northern part of the UAE, bordering Oman‘s exclave of Musandam.

    The capital city and home of most residents is also called Ras Al Khaimah. The city has two main sections, Old Ras Al Khaimah and Nakheel, on either side of a creek. It is served by the Ras Al Khaimah International Airport. It consists of a northern part (where the city of Ras al-Khaimah is situated), and a large inland exclave in the south (near Hatta), and a few small islands in the Arabian Gulf. Ras al-Khaimah has the most fertile soil in the country, due to a larger share in rainfall and underground water streams from Omani mountains. Important towns, settlements and areas include Al Jazirah Al Hamra (an old coastal town with numerous real estate projects and industrial zone), Ar-Rams (a coastal town; in the past, a typical fishing and pearl-diving village), Khawr Khuwayr (an industrial zone, with the largest port in Ras al-Khaimah and numerous companies such as a cement factory), Diqdaqah (a village known for agriculture activities), Khatt (a village surrounded by mountains, famous for its thermal springs and palm gardens), Masafi (a town in the south, on the border with Fujairah; well known for drinking water), and Huwaylat (a central village in the south).

    Main economic sectors are Real Estate (numerous residential areas, offices, commercial buildings are constructed in Ras al-Khaimah), Tourism (Ras al-Khaimah is becoming a new destination on tourist maps. Ras al-Khaimah is home to five star hotels and beach resorts including Hilton Hotels and Resorts, Rotana or Banyan Tree. It has a number of 4 and 3 star accommodations. In the 1980s, the emirate formed Ras al-Khaimah Ceramics, which has become one of the world’s largest ceramics producers), Manufacturing and High-Tech Industry (in the 1980s, the emirate formed Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries (Julphar), the Persian Gulf region’s first pharmaceuticals company. Falcon Technologies International (FTI) represents high-tech industry and produces optical storage media (CDR,DVDR, BDR). In 2012, Innovative Composite Engineering was established in the Industrial Free-zone to manufacture high end composite products (aerospace, construction parts)). Service sector (recently growing sector with its prominent RAK Bank and RAK Insurance companies), and Agriculture and Fisheries (in the past, these were the main economy sectors of Ras al-Khaimah. Nowadays they are still significant providing foodstuff not only for the Emirate but for the whole country).

    Ras Al Khaimah is nestled between the Al Hajar Mountains on the East and the Arabian Gulf on the West and shares mountainous borders with Oman. With the completion of the new Emirates Highway, Ras Al Khaimah is only about one hour from the Emirate of Dubai. The Emirate Ras Al Khaimah combines a fascinating and a relaxing tourist hub with its calm blue seas with clean white beaches, dramatic desert dunes and the majestic Al Hajar Mountains. It has numerous fascinating tourist landmarks, beautiful wildlife conservations and sanctuaries. Golf has become one of the leading tourist attractions within the emirate.

    Sharjah © - Jaseem Hamza/cc-by-3.0

    Sharjah © – Jaseem Hamza/cc-by-3.0

    Emirate of Sharjah
    The emirate of Sharjah comprises the capital city of Sharjah, after which it is named, and other minor towns and exclaves such as Kalba, Dibba Al-Hisn and Khor Fakkan. The emirate is a constitutional monarchy. It has been ruled by Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi since 1972. Sharjah has two main free trade zones: the seaport and free trade zone of Hamriyah and the Sharjah Airport International Free Trade Zone (SAIF Zone). The Hamriyah Free Zone Authority was established by an Emiri decree issued on November 12, 1995 and consists of a port and associated logistics and trade facilities. Also established in 1995, the SAIF Zone is adjacent to Sharjah International Airport and is currently home to some 2,500 companies. Sharjah is the third largest in area of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the only one to have land on both the Arabian Gulf coast and the Gulf of Oman. Expatriates generally live in Sharjah and work in Dubai because cost of living is cheaper in Sharjah, but better jobs are in Dubai. However, the emirate is considerably larger than Dubai with coastline on both West and East coast of the peninsula. The road to the east coast goes through rugged Al Hajar mountains. Public buildings in the Emirate were all designed by the present Shaikh (a qualified architect), a nice visual change from the usual fare of skyscrapers in other Emirates. Sharjah is a “dry emirate” which means sale or possession of alcohol within Sharjah is almost entirely forbidden.

    Sharjah has long invested considerable resources in building a strong cultural identity and heritage and was named in 1998 as UNESCO’s Arab Capital of Culture, an event commemorated by a large pillar erected opposite the Sharjah Desert Park and Arabian Wildlife Centre between Sharjah and Dhaid cities. Sharjah was also named as Islamic Culture Capital 2014 by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), a specialized institution of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the fields of Education, Science and Culture. This is commemorated by a (smaller) pillar mounted to the front of Sharjah’s University City. The Sharjah Art Foundation works on a broad range of contemporary art and cultural programmes to the communities of Sharjah, the UAE and the region, including the Sharjah Biennial which first took place in 1993. Founded in 2009, SAF also organises the annual March Meeting, residencies, production grants, commissions, exhibitions, research, publications and a growing art collection as well as a number of education and public programmes. Sharjah Art Foundation is funded by the Department of Culture and Information. The city has 16 museums. Sharjah’s Ruler, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammad al Qasimi, established the Sharjah Museums Department, an independent department affiliated to the Ruler’s Office, in 2006. The Expo Centre Sharjah in the city of Sharjah holds an annual book fair that is known throughout the region. It was founded, built and operated from 1976 to 1989 by Frederick Pittera, an international producer of Trade & Consumer Fairs. The event typically attracts hundreds of local and international publishers and thousands of titles. The Sharjah Light Festival (SCTDA) is a nightly art exhibit with local and international artists that takes place in public places. The festival, which is the first event of its kind in the region, runs for ten nights in the month of February using the latest graphics and lighting techniques and 3-D technology. The festival takes place in 14 locations across the emirate offering a unique combination of light and music to create innovative three-dimensional designs on mosques, key landmarks and heritage buildings.

    See and do

    • Sharjah Culture Activities: Good overview available here including a few restoration of old houses. The Heritage is situated near the Corniche between Burj Avenue & Al-Maraija Road. Many historic buildings have been reconstructed with traditional materials. The most interesting sites are Al Hisn Fort, Bait al-Naboodah, Literature Square with House of Poetry, Sharjah Calligraphy Museum, Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization, Sharjah Heritage Museum and Souq al-Arsa. Most sites in the Heritage Area have opening times set aside solely for women. Visitors of both genders should make certain of these on arrival in the city,
    • Art Area: Includes Sharjah’s Art Museum which covers regional and international art exhibits, with the oriental collection being its highlights. The Arts Area is situated opposite the Heritage Area on the other side of Burj Avenue,
    • Sharjah Archeology Museum: The museum explore the changing environments experienced by the region’s inhabitants from the Stone Age to the present day through displays of artefacts, coins, jewellery, pottery and ancient weapons. Investigate a dig in progress, explore models of burials, houses and tombs and see the first forms of writing in this area,
    • Other museums also covers marine, natural history, aviation, and other valuable aspects: Sharjah Museums Authority,
    • Sharjah Desert Park: t has three components spread over one square kilometre: the Natural History Museum, Arabian Wildlife Centre and the Children’s Farm.The museum provides people of all ages with an opportunity to learn about the flora and fauna of the Arabian Desert and has five main exhibition halls: A Journey through Sharjah, Man and the Environment, A Journey through Time, The Living Desert and The Living Sea. The Arabian Wildlife Centre showcases the rich diversity of fauna in the Arabian Peninsula as well as teaching about species which have become, and are becoming, extinct. It contains more than 100 species of animals, and is divided into a reptile and insect house, aviary, nocturnal houses, viewing area and a section for large predators and monkeys. The children’s farm gives children a chance to come into close contact with farm animals, such as donkeys, goats, sheep and chicken,
    • Fish Market,
    • King Faisal Mosque: This magnificient mosque was a gift of the Saudi Arabian King Faisal. It was opened in 1987 and has space for 15.000 people. There are separate prayer rooms for men and women and the mosque has an Islamic library with more than 7.000 books. Admission for muslims only,
    • Al Qasba and Eye of the Emirates: At Al Qasba, you can enjoy culture, entertainment and leisure attractions representing the very best from the Arab world and beyond,
    • Al Mahatta Museum: Al Mahatta was the first airport in the Gulf region. It was opened in 1932 as a staging post for commercial flights from Britain to India. There is an interesting film about the daily life at the airport and Sharjah town in the 1930s and four original propeller planes stand in the hangar,
    • Jetskiing is very famous around summer time in the Khalid Lagoon
    • Qanat al Qasba has a beautiful mosque right by the canal,
    • From Al Qasba there is a ferry that gives you a boat tour around Sharjah,
    • Several diffent yearly festivals take place, and each one is a wonderful cultural experience. There are many fun activities at these festivals such as camel rides, henna, delicious Arabian foods and dishes, and much more,
    • In celebration of the date season, which runs from mid-May to mid-August, the Date Festival is held at the Fruit and Vegetable Market from May 15 to August 15,
    • Sharjah Central Souq (Blue Souq, New Souq): The Central Souq is one of the best souqs in the emirates, specialising in carpets from Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey, pashminas from Kashmir and silver jewellry from Oman and Yemen. In the Gold Center (corner of Sheikh Humaid bin Sar al-Qassimi Road and Al Wahda Roas) there are plenty of stores selling gold jewellry,
    • Khlas Malaki Dates: Sweet dates, packed into small boxes, a nice souvenir, and
    • Sharjah Mega Mall.

    Among the hotels are Crystal Plaza Hotel Sharjah, Copthorne Hotel Sharjah, Radisson Blu Resort, Royal Grand Hotel, and Ramada Sharjah.

    The mangroves, with the city of Umm al Quwain in the distance in 2012 © - Peter Dowley/cc-by-2.0

    The mangroves, with the city of Umm al Quwain in the distance in 2012 © – Peter Dowley/cc-by-2.0

    Emirate of Umm al Quwain
    Umm al-Quwain is the least populous of the emirates, located between Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah on the west coast. The emirate is ruled by Saud bin Rashid Al Mu’alla. Umm Al Quwain covers an area of 800 square kilometres and stretches from the beautiful, lush green coastal mangroves lining the shores of the Arabian Gulf, inland across the rolling sand dunes to the fertile oasis surrounding Falaj Al Moalla. The inland oasis and hinterland town of Falaj Al Moalla lies some 50km from Umm Al Quwain city. From November to March temperatures are idyllic and average 26°C in daytime and 15°C at night (79°F to 59°F). Temperatures can rise over 40°C (104°F) in the peak of the summer and the humidity levels are high. Rainfall is minimal and averages 42 millimetres a year. The coastline experiences cooling sea breezes during the day. The name Umm Al Quwain is derived from Umm Al Quwatain, which means “Mother of two powers”, a reference to the powerful seafaring tradition of this emirate. The modern history of Umm Al Quwain dates back 200 years when the Al Ali tribe moved their capital from Al Sinniyah Island to its present location in the mid 18th century, when the water supply dried up.

    See and do

    • Dreamland is the world’s largest aquapark.
    • The traditional activities of fishing, falconry, camel racing and dhow building are still evident in Umm Al Quwain emirate. The Shaheen (or peregrine) falcon can be spotted here along with the famous light skinned hunting hawk, the AI-Hur.
    • The dhow building yard where skilled craftsmen continue to assemble these traditional boats is still very much in existence. In the old town, around the fort, the once charming old coral stone houses still display features of the original architecture and intricate sculptured plaster work.
    • The Aquarium is on the headland beside the new port. Part of the Marine Research Centre and open to visitors by prior arrangement, it features the large variety of fish and sea life found in the region including rays, snakes and corals.
    • Happy Land is a kids’ heaven with attractive video-games, jumping castles and a lot more a kid wants.
    • Islands of Umm Al Quwain lie to the east of the mainland peninsula on a unique stretch of coastline consisting of sandy islands surrounded by dense mangrove forests, separated by a series of creeks. The largest of the seven islands is Al Sinniyah, followed by Jazirat Al Ghallah and Al Keabe, all of which are visible from the old town. Tucked in between these and the coastal plains are the smaller islands of Al Sow, Al Qaram, Al Humaidi, Al Chewria and Al Harmala. The Madaar creek running between the islands provides a navigable waterway for fisherman even at low tide when the average depth is less than a few feet.
    • Camel Racing: going inland, the road to the Camel race track at Al Labsa affords an exceptionally pretty drive. This lovely race track is set in the lee of large dunes to the left of the road leading to Falaj Al Moalla. During the winter months, the camels race early in the morning on Thursdays and Fridays and spectators are welcome. Camel caravans are a familiar site crossing the desert from one race track to another. The dunes in this area, interspersed with wooded dales, provide a challenging terrain for off road desert drivers or as they are commonly called “dune bashers”. They also offer some of the most picturesque desert camping spots in the emirates promising an unforgettable night under the Arabian stars. Group camping trips can be arranged.
    • Umm Al Quwain Museum is a renovation of the fort of Umm Al Quwain which once guarded the entrance to the old town, overseeing the sea on one side and the creek on the other. The museum houses artifacts found at important nearby sites including Al Dour and provides a fascinating insight to bygone times. Restoration work is scheduled to recreate the aged wall that once surrounded the original settlement.
    • Al-Dur was a coastal city from 200 BC to the third century AD. The site, along and to the right of the Sharjah/Ras-al-Khaimah highway, has been excavated and many interesting artifacts put on display at the UAQ museum.
    • Palma Bowling is more than bowling as there is pool & snooker, video games, shisha bar, a beachside restaurant, et al. Egyptian decor with pyramids and mummies. Easily reached by taxi.
    • Umm al Quwain’s Corniche: a good place for anyone who enjoys the sounds of waves and peace. Smoking “shisha” could be the best moment at UAQ’s Corniche at night for those who love shisha in peace, especially on chilly winter nights.
    • Sailing in the calm waters of the lagoon provide some of the best and most interesting sailing in the Northern Emirates.
    • Conditions are ideal for water-skiing, wind surfing, kayaking and jet-skiing. Sailing and canoeing through the clear, quiet waters to the deserted islands and exploring the mangrove swamps inhabited by a variety of seabirds, fish and insects offers a unique adventure for any visitor. Pink flamingos, jumping fish, turtles, numerous crabs and rays can all be seen in their natural environment.
    • Umm Al Quwain Marine Club and Riding Centre is not far from the fish souq, situated on a large stretch of shaded beach overlooking the lagoon. The riding club, established in 1979, at one time had more than 40 horses and a team of qualified riding instructors.
    • The Umm Al Quwain Aeroclub, not far from Dreamland, is the first UAE aviation club and was set up under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Mualla. Easily recognised by the vintage Antonow-2 Bi-Plane and the enormous Iljuschin-76 Cargoplane on display, the Airport has 6 spacious hangers, a 1.800m Runway, with N-VFR lighting, a spacious coffee shop etc. etc.. The club is known for its skydiving and parachute championships and has hosted various championships. Provides the opportunity for flying, hot air ballooning, skydiving (single & tandem), parachuting and paramotoring in the UAE. Training and lessons are given throughout the year and friendly advice is offered from experienced GCAA certified instructors and pilots. The aircraft available include microlights, gliders, Cessnas and a plane for aerobatics. Good place to fly, and learn to fly, away from the main UAE. airports and over some of the Arabian Gulf’s deserted beaches and enchanting lagoons. Flying enthusiasts meet here on Thursdays and Fridays and anyone is welcome to drop in.
    • Umm Al Quwain Motor Racing Club is situated on the city side of Dreamland and offers participants the opportunity to experience the speed, thrill and exhilaration of off road dune buggy racing and motor hiking in three purpose built arenas.
    • Falaj Al Mualla Garden Park: Few Meters away from UAQ bridge in Emirates Road or Outer Bypass Road. Family orientated with swimming pool. Open to all residents with a minimal fee of Dhs. 2 per person. Times: Sun. – Wed. 08:00 -23:00 for women and children. Thurs. – Sat. 10:00 – 00:00 for families. Alos has childrens’ playground, BBQ areas, bike rental. Quad bike ride for Dhs. 50 per 1 hour.

    Avid birdwatchers can enjoy the wonderful wildlife at Khor al Beida and other popular sights lie to the south and east of the town. Al Sinniyah Island is also visible from the corniche. The shallow tidal lagoons and mudflats create the perfect feeding, nesting and resting habitat for several species of heron and plover, Greater Flamingo, gulls and terns. Between November and March, hundreds of Socotra cormorant are regularly spotted flying just a few feet above the sea, as they move from one sand bar to another. Coastal flats and dune tracks around the lagoon to the south east of the promontory provide excellent mountain hiking terrain, varied enough to suit any age and ability. Al Sinniyah, the largest of the islands, is a marine sanctuary covering 90 square kilometres. This was once the original settlement site but now shelters huge colonies of cormorants, other seabirds, gazelle and al qaram trees, and dugong (sea cows) and turtles can be seen in the shallow waters surrounding the island.

    Read more on U.S. Department of State: United Arab Emirates, – United Arab Emirates,,,,, Ras, Wikipedia Umm al-Quwain, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel United Arab Emirates and Wikivoyage United Arab Emirates.

    Old Sanaa © Antti Salonen/cc-by-sa-3.0

    The old town of Sanaa is part of the UNESCO World Heritage © Antti Salonen/cc-by-sa-3.0

    Yemen is an Arab country at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen is the second-largest country in the peninsula, occupying 527,970 km² (203,850 sq mi). The coastline stretches for about 2,000 km (1,200 mi). It is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea to the south, and Oman to the east-northeast. The important cities are Sana’a (capital), Aden (seaside former capital of South Yemen), Al Hudayda (a relatively large city on the Red Sea with beautiful beaches), Al Mukalla (East Yemen’s biggest city and bustling port, the gateway to the historical Hadhramaut region), Kawkaban, Shibam (a famous historical town of Hadhramaut, perhaps Yemen’s most fascinating and exotic destination), and Ta’izz (the most populated city in Yemen). The regions of the country are Yemeni Coastal Plains (the dry flat territory along the Red Sea and Arabian Sea), Yemeni Mountains (the mountainous region rising steeply from the coastal plain), Yemeni Highlands (the region descending slowly eastwards from the mountains of the west), Empty Quarter (the desert, inhabited only by nomads), Red Sea Islands (over 100 small islands in the Red Sea), and Socotra (a larger island farther out in the Arabian Sea) – (cities in Yemen). Yemen was the home of the Sabaeans (biblical Sheba), a trading state that flourished for over a thousand years and also included parts of modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. Today, besides some architectural monuments, there is very little left of the once great history and thriving culture of the country. The country is host to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

    There has been a sharp decline in tourism since the 2011 Yemen Crisis. The rise of extremism caused fear in prospective foreign tourists to Yemen. Yemen has four World Heritage Sites, some of the sites have been attacked including historic old city of Sana’a. In 2015 UNESCO declared its plan to protect the world heritage sites of Yemen.

    Read more on U.S. Department of State: Yemen, Yemen Tourism, – Yemen, History, Culture, Cuisine, Tourism, Economy, Democracy, Human Rights, Wikitravel Yemen and Wikivoyage Yemen (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by - Global Passport Power Rank - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.

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