The Seven-Emirates-In-One-Weekend Road Trip
Updated: May 9, 2020
A couple of weeks ago I was supposed to head off on my long-planned "Seven-Emirates-in-one-Weekend" road trip. It's something I'd been planning for a while, but other commitments (mostly work travel) got in the way. The moral of the story is to do these things when you think of them as you don't know what's going to crop up on the way. But we shouldn't start a story with the moral, and since I didn't do the trip when I could and for the moment I still can't, let's head off on that imaginary journey together now.
Most of my favourite things here in Dubai are not the obvious. You'll never find me in one of our glitzy malls unless I'm feeling particularly benevolent to someone who has asked to be taken there,
or I've had to go to the Samsonite store to fix my suitcase for the umpteenth time. Instead I would start this weekend road trip either by watching the sunrise from the Jumeirah Archaeological Site, a caravanserai dating back to the 9th century right in the heart of one of the city's ritziest neighbourhoods, or with a quick swim in our irresistibly warm waters. Secret Beach is a good option - it's far from being a secret anymore, but the waters are some of the clearest and bluest around. Then a short drive over to Dubai Creek where you can find some of Dubai's best bargains - a 1 dirham ($0.27) cup of hot karak tea and a couple of freshly fried samosas (and, since this is an expedition, ice cream). If you feel like enjoying them from the water, you can spend one more dirham (a steal) to take an abra (a small motorised boat) across to the other side. But we don't have time for that today as we need to press on and get through four more emirates. If we did have more time, we'd also go to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve to visit the Arabian Oryxes, once extinct in the wild, but now happily roaming the dunes here. We'll save this for another weekend.
Instead let's get back in the car and take the 20-minute drive north to Sharjah, rather unfairly famous for being the dry emirate (i.e. alcohol-free) as opposed to being famous for its fantastic museums, including the Al Mahatta Aviation Museum, located on the site of the first airport to be built in the UAE in 1932 as a staging post between the UK and India (Sharjah beat both Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the air race back then), complete with the original control tower. We should also try and squeeze in a quick stop at the Sharjah Art Foundation's Rain Room, but sadly won't have time for the brilliant Mleiha Archaeological Centre set amongst beautiful red dunes, and with evidence of human settlement dating back 130,000 years - around the time that we were venturing out of Africa for the first time. Again, something for another weekend jaunt. If we haven't already overdone the samosas we can try and track down the famous (well, in my books anyway) "Sharjah Sandwich", made of crushed samosas, fries, onion, tomato and chilli all wrapped in bread. Not easy to find for sure, but definitely worth the search.
Then it's back in the car to head a few more kilometres north to little Ajman where we can stop at the Outside Inn, a quirky little bar selling cheap pints of beer and - ssshhhhh - bacon butties, and then on to our fourth emirate of the day, Umm Al Quwain. Another blink-and-you'll-miss emirate, keep an eye out by the side of the road for the mysterious abandoned Ilyushin plane, rumoured to have been used for illegal arms smuggling by the infamous Viktor Bout. It's located next to what is probably Umm Al Quwain's most popular "attraction" - the Barracuda booze shop.
Onwards to Ras Al Khaimah, or RAK, the northernmost emirate that's home to high rocky-mountain hiking terrain where I once did an incredible - and incredibly strenuous - hike. We'll stop at Dhayah Fort which in 1819 was the last bastion of the Al Qasimi clan's resistance against the British who accused them of piracy and "maritime lawlessness". The British came with the big guns, as they usually did, and pummelled the fort with cannons until the Al Qasimis surrendered. It's the highest hilltop fort in the UAE, so we'll climb up to enjoy the views, and maybe even catch a glimpse of our next destination, Fujairah, where we'll spend the night before continuing our long drive south.
Fujairah will be an exciting one for me as the last trip I planned there was curtailed by an unexpected hospital stay. This time we'll snorkel around Snoopy Island, not home to cartoon beagles but said to resemble Snoopy lying on top of his kennel, and hopefully we'll bump into the green turtles that like to hang out here. Then we'll visit the Al Bidya mosque, dating back to the 15th century (and people still insist there's no history in the UAE...), and if we're feeling flush, we can head to the market at Masafi to bargain for souvenirs (but please don't let me pick up yet another ceramic teapot).
And then it'll be time to head to our last emirate of this road trip, Abu Dhabi, home to our nation's capital. I really hope we've left enough time left to see it properly - if we haven't, we'll have plenty more ideas for future weekend road trips. Ideally we'll climb the dunes in the Empty Quarter, rent a bike and ride through the Al Ain oasis (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), drive up to the top of Jebel Hafeet for cool air, a very kitsch little canteen, and views over neighbouring Oman, but realistically we can't squeeze all this into one afternoon. We'll go to the incredibly ornate Qasr Al Watan Presidential Palace where we'll walk around craning our necks with our mouths wide open in awe as we try to take in all the intricate detail, and when our necks ache too much we'll make the short drive to the Louvre Abu Dhabi where we'll admire the architecture just as much as the art.
As our weekend draws to a close there's only one place to finish our Seven Emirates itinerary, and it's at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, where we'll watch the colours of the sky change as the sun sets to form a worthy backdrop for one of the world's most beautiful buildings.
And that's it, seven Emirates successfully visited in one weekend. I can't wait for the day we can actually make it a reality.