The United Arab Emirates is famous for its relentless sunshine, its golden dunes that roll on for miles and some of the most ambitious, opulent building projects of modern times.
But it’s not all super-tall skyscrapers and shifting sands. The country founded just 47 years ago by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is now home to more than 200 nationalities and a world pioneer in many sectors.
Here are 10 things that make the UAE special when you travel there:
Keeping you safe
Day or night, the UAE is incredibly safe. No surprise that for the past two years Abu Dhabi outperformed cities such as Vienna and Tokyo to be voted as the world’s safest by online crime index Numbeo.
Connecting the world
For such a young country, the UAE has quickly climbed the ladder to become one of the world’s most important and booming aviation hubs.
Dubai’s International Airport has been ranked as the busiest airport for international travellers for four consecutive years, with more than 88 million passengers passing through it last year. That’s almost 10 times the number of residents (9.4 million).
They don’t just pass through, though. Travellers get to enjoy facilities such as a five-star hotel, an outdoor swimming pool and a Zen garden — all without leaving airport grounds.
Shopping Malls to rule them all
The Mall of the Emirates in Dubai boasts an indoor ski park with the world’s largest indoor ski slope, on an 85-meter-high indoor mountain. It also has real-life penguins.
Dubai Mall, the world’s second largest, has the world’s biggest indoor aquarium, which harbours more than 33,000 sea animals and is one of Dubai’s main tourist attractions.
Adventures to remember
Abu Dhabi is home to Warner Bros. World - the world’s largest indoor theme park. It includes six immersive lands to explore — among them Gotham City of Batman fame.
Museum buffs and culture seekers will appreciate Sharjah, home to Sharjah Fort. A royal residence dating back to 1823, the coral stone building has been restored and converted into a history museum where visitors can learn about Sharjah’s ruling family’s defence tactics.
However, for those travellers looking for things to do and not simply see, you can’t beat the wildlife adventure in Abu Dhabi’s Sir Bani Yas Island.
If you’re lucky, your visit to the Arabian Wildlife Park will result in up-close sightings of giraffes, cheetahs and gazelles.
Food fit for royalty
The country is known in the Arab region for its growing restaurant scene and with good reason.
You may not find a better chai tea than one in any number of local corner chai cafes, and these are the places to rest your feet and relax in the heavily air-conditioned space when you need a break from the desert.
Renowned international chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Nobu Matsuhisa and Jamie Oliver have opened world-class restaurants that have upped the food game.
Architecture to Awe
Abu Dhabi’s Capital Gate is the world’s most leaning tower at 18 degrees to the west — four times that of Italy’s iconic leaning tower of Pisa. The world’s tallest building, in fact, is in the UAE (adding to the ever-growing list of superlatives): Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
Located in Zabeel Park in Dubai, the landmark (measuring 150 meters in height) is a strategically located rectangle that allows visitors to view both sides of Dubai, the old and the new.
Dedicated care for camels
Raising camels in the Arab world is a tradition that goes back thousands of years. Those of specific breeds are worth millions of dollars.The Camel Hospital, which officially opened in Dubai at the end of last year, is one the only facilities in the world made just for the care of these hump-backed creatures.
Out of this world hotels
The UAE is one of those countries where tourists outnumber residents. Last year, the number of international travellers arriving at the country was 20.7 million, and the country’s many hotels offer stays that suit a diverse range of tastes.
Thriving cultural scene
Over the past 10 years, the UAE has seen an increased interest in the arts. Off the coast of Abu Dhabi lies Saadiyat Island, a piece of land dedicated to furthering the region’s cultural interests.
Case in point: This is where the world’s second Louvre Museum lives. It’s not as crowded as Paris’ Louvre, not yet at least, making it an excellent option for those who prefer their art without the crowds.
Ministries to improve quality of life
The UAE is home to many of the world’s firsts and largests, and that extends to its government affairs, with the appointment of a Minister of Artificial Intelligence and a Minister of Tolerance — the first roles of their kind in the world.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE’s prime minister and ruler of Dubai, says the introduction of a Minister of Tolerance will help toward “intellectual reconstruction.”