Seven insiders from seven emirates pick their favourite de-stressing spots, places to eat, not-to-miss excursions, attractions and best-kept secrets. There are reasons they love these places that you won’t find on a travel website.

Abu Dhabi

Heba Al Fazari is founder of the new online fashion retailer Coveti.com

The Park Hyatt, Saadiyat Island. They have a restaurant by the beach, I just go and sit there for hours. it’s just calming, especially in the winter, you just go there and have a nice coffee, it’s calming, you can sit there with a book. Sometimes I take my laptop with me. Sadly they don’t have Wi-Fi except for guests, but I just use my phone. My favourite restaurant is Sontaya [Thai], at the St Regis Saadiyat Island. It’s really nice, the food is delicious, the service is attentive. Every time I go we just have a good time, espcially in the winter time. In the summer it’s still nice, the view is really calming. The other favourite I have is Mezlai, in Emirates Palace, it’s the Emirati restaurant. The food is really nice. The Emirati food there is really nice.

There are two bakeries I really like, if you come to Abu Dhabi and you don’t try, it’s like you didn’t come. Al Sultan and Al Saada (on Al Falah Street) have been there forever. I remember once my friend from Russia he came to visit Abu Dhabi a year ago, we didn’t have time to go for a big dinner and in Russia they like meat… I said let’s go try manaeesh. We tried meat with cheese, his family just loved it, they went back the next day and bought a whole bunch.

Three spots you cannot miss in Abu Dhabi are: the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the viewing deck at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers and the Yas Marina circuit.

Dubai 

Mark Tulloss works as a legal and operational adviser to the construction industry and has lived in Dubai since 2006

My favourite hotel in Dubai is the XVA Art Hotel. It is located right in the middle of the Al Fahidi historic area and each room is uniquely designed to reflect the culture and heritage of Dubai.  Its art gallery showcases some of the best new work emerging from the burgeoning local arts scene and the courtyard restaurant attracts a diverse crowd ranging from expatriate artists to the Emiratis who work at the nearby Ruler’s Court. Add in the frequent musical performances, ranging from avant-garde to traditional, and the place has the energy and feel of a Paris salon.

I love The Creek. Starting from the historic al Fahidi district in Bastikiya, visit the calligraphy museum and modern art galleries and the textile souk. On the Bur Dubai side go to Shindaga, where you can see the restored home of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum, the ruler who saved Dubai from the collapse of the traditional pearl fishing industry. Have a mixed grill and shisha at one of the inexpensive Creek side cafés and watch the dhows come and go. Pay Dh1 at the abra station to cross the Creek on one of the traditional water taxis and, explore the spice and gold souks on the other side.

Get to the Al-Qudra Cycle track before dawn (book a rental online in advance). The 70km circuit is well-maintained and car free and if you’re lucky you might see one of the antelopes that roam the area running alongside you, or the shadow of a falcon that has decided to catch a ride on your slipstream.

My favourite place to chill is So Spa at the Sofitel, Palm Jumeirah. You’ll get a real taste of the indulgence and over the top luxury for which Dubai is famous and the chilled hydrotherapy pool will cool you down after all the walking and cycling. Book an appointment early in the day and take advantage of access to the beach and pool facilities.

As for dining, on a Thursday evening around 9pm, go to Bombay Chowpatty for pani-puri. See how the locals do it then just follow their example.  Once you’ve finished your allotment of these morsels, hold out your bowl for a final portion of the spicy water, it’s refreshing and allegedly quite good for you. The other place that can’t be missed is Mazaree al Shams on Beach Road in Umm Sequiem. Everyone everywhere seems to make kebabs, but there is only one that’s the best. Every Arab friend I have taken there doesn’t just say the kebabs (and salads) are as good as mom’s homemade, they say it’s better.

Ajman

Nancy Stearns Bercaw is an international journalist who has published two memoirs and written for the New York Times. She is the chief of staff of Ajman University.

My favourite hotel in Ajman is the Ramada Beach Hotel on the Corniche. I stayed there with my son when we first arrived in Ajman in July 2017. I loved getting up at dawn to swim in the Gulf across the street from the hotel. Plus, the spa at the Ramada is absolutely wonderful and quite affordable.

Any visitor to Ajman simply must enjoy the beach. It’s completely Zen. My second top recommendation is to look for the guy on the beach who gives camel rides, and then take one! I also love the Ajman Museum because the structure itself is a historic fort. The whole setting is an homage to Ajman’s past.

The best-kept secret in Ajman is Al Zorah Nature Reserve, where you can see pink flamingos amongst the green mangroves.

The best restaurant in Ajman, in my opinion, is Thanani – which just happens to overlook the Al Zorah Nature Reserve! The food is what I would call Euro-Arabic with a twist of Asian fusion. Thanani’s mocktails are refreshing and served in very creative glassware. Whenever we have guests visiting Ajman University, we always take them to Thanani for lunch.

sharjah the good life

Sharjah

Sara Al Madani is a well-known entrepreneur and radio presenter on Sharjah’s brand-new Pulse 95 Radio

My absolute favourite is the Sheraton Sharjah Beach Resort & Spa. I love that it’s in a prime location, easily accessible from anywhere around Sharjah. The design, service and ambience is great too – it gives off a real holiday vibe!

Sharjah has maintained and safe-guarded so many hidden gems. If someone were to explore the Emirate, they would get to see some beautiful sites; from old souks to local restaurants, that serve delicious food.

I encourage people that have just moved here to go on a self-exploration journey across Sharjah, they are guaranteed to find something they like!                                                                                                                          

I don’t think it a secret anymore but nestled in the heart of Sharjah is Al Noor Island. Every time I visit this place I feel calm and at peace. The entire island has been inspired by nature; after a busy and stressful day at work, head over to Al Noor Island to de-stress, relax and unwind. A true hidden gem for me, my favourite restaurant in Sharjah is Diplomat. It’s been around for ages and is what one would call ‘old school’. The food is scrumptious!

Ras Al Khaimah

Anna Zacharias is a Canadian journalist raised in Ras Al Khaimah. She is the author of People of Ras Al Khaimah, a new book with photographer Jeff Topping that documents the lives of the people who call Ras Al Khaimah home. 

People looking for a beach break can base themselves at one of the hotels on Marjan Island or in Al Hamra, south of the city centre. If you want to experience Ras Al Khaimah, book downtown. Rooms at the centrally located Hilton Double Tree start from Dh250 in the summer off season.

Any visitor to RAK has to see Jebel Jais. Travel millions of years back in time as you wind up the Jebel Jais mountain road. To better appreciate the magnificence of these limestone formations, book a hike with an experienced and reputable group like UAE Trekkers. This road is accessible with saloon cars.

The abandoned village of Al Jazirat Al Hamram gives sense of life in the Gulf before oil. The pearling town built with coralstone and sandbrick is just north of Marjan Island. The site is still under restoration so to make the most of your visit, read up on the Gulf’s pearling history before you visit.

Al Suan Camel racetrack is the most scenic in the country, set amidst red dunes and ghaf trees. Brave visitors can join the camel owners and dune-bash alongside the track as the camels race, controlled by walkie-talkie-robot-jockeys. Races are held south of the city in Al Suan every Friday morning, from October to April. Dress modestly.

The best-kept secret is the old town by night. Few tourists venture across the bridge to the district that gave Ras Al Khaimah its name but this is the place to be after dark. The old Corniche and the area around the fish market are the national epicentre for karak, which draws great crowds on weekends. Modest dress is a must. Cover your legs and shoulders.

Sikkat Beirut

Umm Al Quwain

Christopher Pike is a Trinidadian/Canadian photographer who has been based in the Emirates for seven years.

For the first six years in the UAE I was a staff photographer at The National newspaper, covering news, sport and business nationally and regionally. I was sent many times to UAQ on assignment, where I fell l in love with the smallest emirate.

I visited the Palma Beach Resort once, and although quite kitchy, I revelled in it, and enjoyed it for what it was. I usually eat at random places and have made a number of stops at Sikkat Beirut. Decent prices and smiling staff. For me, the best-kept secret is Shanzilezi on the corniche for a shisha. That or a casual wander through the old town, soaking in a time and a way of life slowly slipping away.  Overall the best part of the UAQ is its low-key feel and laid-back locals, what you assume Abu Dhabi would have been like 30 years ago. It’s unbelievable to think this hidden gem is only 90 minutes from downtown Dubai.

Fujairah

Anwar Kabbani  grew up in Fujairah and moved back after completing his MBA in 2003. He now runs a transport service centre for courier and freight services and lives there with his wife and two children.

Kabbani loves the “quietness of the village and the malls of the city”. His favourite place to go swimming on the weekends is the Miramar Hotel, while when it comes time to going out with friends, he chooses the Al Meshwar Restaurant.

“My best times are with family on the beach or at the desert. My favorite hobby is fishing.”

His pick for three things not to miss in the emirate? “Fujairah Museum, enjoy the past of Fujairah; Al Aqah area, to relax on the white beaches in the warm sun; And Fujairah International Marine Club, to experience the sport of fishing.”

For more UAE travel inspiration from The Good Life, discover an art-lover’s guide to Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood