UAE is a federation of seven relatively small emirates on the shores of the Persian Gulf. It’s an incredible economic success story and has become a tourist hotspot in recent years. UAE has invested its oil revenues in creating some of the most modern and exciting cities in the world, without taking away from the beauty of the surrounding desert.

Add in superb airline services, and you have a destination that’s easily added in to just about any international itinerary. In fact, it can be hard to fly long-haul these days without going via UAE, so it makes sense to have a longer stopover and make the most of all that this country has to offer.

UAE can be quite literally breath-taking, whether you enjoy stunning modern architecture or the sense of solitude and space that comes when you’re surrounded by sand dunes. For a true desert experience, saddle up on a camel (or opt for a 4×4 vehicle) and embark on a desert safari that can involve demonstrations of falconry and traditional feasts eaten in tents while reclining on cushions.

It’s hard to believe that the other side of UAE – that is, the gleaming modern cities – didn’t exist just a few short decades ago. Fans of architecture will love UAE (although don’t look down if you’re scared of heights). Some of the world’s most iconic buildings have been constructed here in recent years, including the astonishing Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest structure at over 2 700ft (that’s almost twice the height of the Empire State Building).

There’s also the beautiful, sail-like Burj al-Arab hotel – built on an artificial island just offshore, and the world’s only 7* place to stay. Even if you’re not overnighting there, you should definitely take in the views from its observation decks.

Another iconic UAE building is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi – by now, you’ll be getting the sense that this is not a place where people do things by halves.

That impression will only be reinforced when you start to discover all the activities on offer in UAE. This may be a hot desert country, but that’s no reason why you can’t go snow-skiing, jet skiing or to a superb ocean aquarium.

Gateway cities: Abu Dhabi, Dubai

Best time to travel: November – March

Highlights: Al Bastakiya, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Gold and Spice Souks, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Burj Khalifa, Dubai Mall, Al Qudra Desert

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