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Sitting at the crossroads of the world, where Europe, Asia and Africa meet, the United Arab Emirates, or UAE, has transformed itself in a few short decades into one of the world's fastest growing tourist destinations. Twenty years ago, only the adventurous few would have contemplated holidaying in this once barren, now dazzling and glamorous, desert kingdom. Yet it has all the ingredients anyone could want in a holiday -- not just the usual sun, sea and sand, though it has these in abundance, but a fascinating traditional culture, spectacular hotels, some of the world's best shopping and, above all, a safe and welcoming environment.
When most people think of the UAE, often the destination that first springs to mind is Dubai, and this is certainly the spot that attracts the most tourists, with its world-class luxury hotels, iconic mega shopping malls, and unique entertainment venues. But it is only one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, and away from the glitz of Dubai, the country has an abundant variety of attractions to offer. It's a land of stunning natural scenery and amazing contrasts, from majestic mountains to long stretches of golden sandy coastline, from remote and beautiful desert dunes to historic forts and glimpses of ancient civilisations.
A Rival for Dubai
The UAE is situated at the northern point of the Arabian Peninsula, with coastlines to the west and north looking over to the Persian Gulf, and to the east towards the Gulf of Oman. The largest of the seven emirates is Abu Dhabi, home to the nation's capital city, and possessing 90% of the UAE's vast oil reserves. This wealth is now enabling Abu Dhabi to rival Dubai as a glamorous tourist destination and playground for the rich and famous.
In fact, the city of Abu Dhabi is often known as the city of superlatives, claiming the world's most expensive mosque -- the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque -- the world's most sumptuous hotel, the Emirates Palace, and the world's largest theme park, the Ferrari World, as well as the breathtaking Abu Dhabi Shopping Mall. But located as it is on 200 islands, Abu Dhabi can offer much more in the way of holiday potential. Here you can enjoy some unique activities, such as cruising on a traditional pearling boat, chartering your own boat to explore the outer islands, or experiencing the vast desert sea, the Rub' Al Khali, on desert safaris.
Yet More Holiday Riches
Dubai and Abu Dhabi may be the Big Two, but they are only a small part of the UAE's holiday riches. For instance, Ras al Khaimah, the tiny emirate at the northernmost tip of the UAE, is investing millions to position itself as the country's newest holiday hot spot. Visitors here can enjoy beautiful mountain scenery, dotted with ancient mosques, palaces and historic villages, and the area is also renowned for prehistoric villages and heritage camel race tracks.
Probably the most scenic of the emirates is the mountainous Fujeirah in the east, once known as the Land of the Sea Giants. With its coastline bordering the Gulf of Oman, Fujeirah has one of the richest marine environments on the planet, and its coral reefs offer the ultimate under-water experience. Among the profusion of enchanting places to visit are the picturesque fishing village of Dibba, and the charming resort town of Khor Fakkan at the foot of steep mountains, as well as ancient forts, hot springs and dramatic waterfalls.
Art, Culture and Much More
Meanwhile Sharjah, the third largest emirate, is a paradise for art and culture lovers, being crammed with sites like the world-renowned Arts Museum, the Museum of Islamic Civilisation, the Archaeology Museum, and the Heritage Area, which is a cluster of museums and cultural exhibitions. However, Sharjah is also blessed with an abundance of both man-made and natural attractions, which have made it a major tourist destination in its own right. For instance, near the quaint fishing village of Kalba is the Khor Kalba Conservation Reserve, the world's most northerly mangrove forest and a birdwatcher's paradise, while the suburb of Al Qasba is home to a variety of entertainment options including the big wheel known as the Eye of the Emirates, and exciting Sharjah Boat Tours.
With sun that shines all the year round, the UAE, with its vast wealth of attractions, is a perfect destination for anyone seeking to escape a cold, gloomy winter. The time when temperatures are at their most moderate is the period from October to March, warming up a little during April and May, and the summer heat starts to abate again from September onwards. However, always remember that not only hotels and shopping malls, but all venues, taxis and public transport, are air-conditioned, so there is no wrong time to visit this incredible country. The UAE genuinely is a year-round destination, allowing you to do virtually anything in the world you want to do -- and to do it in ultimate style.