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United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) is a country of many contrasts which boasts natural, cultural and historical wonders from ancient and modern times. Here, traditions from Bedouin forefathers are practiced alongside 21st century Western living; skyscraper cities pulse beside tranquil deserts; lush green parks and golden beaches skirt dusty villages and archaeological discoveries. Its unique combination of modern-day opulence and traditional Arabian hospitality makes the UAE an exceptional place to visit; not simply as a stopover, but as a destination in its own right.

Until only a few decades ago, the Emirati forefathers were Bedouin camel herders dating back thousands of years. Rich cultural traditions of hospitality, poetry, folklore, dancing, horsemanship, and swordplay reveal a fascinating culture. Visitors can connect with this history via the Dubai Museum; the Sheik Saeed House; Dubai's gold souks; Abu Dhabi's bustling fish market; local spice merchants and rug traders.

When most people think about the UAE, they think of Dubai glitzy, glamorous and new. In recent times it has gone all out with a building extravaganza, so visitors to the modern city can be assured they'll find glittering skyscrapers, ultra-modern shopping centres, luxurious hotels, great restaurants, cafes, entertainment, exhibitions, and diversions of every kind. Artificial islands, sunny beaches, lush green parks, championship golf courses, desert safaris and even snow skiing prove it's the place that has something for everyone!

Visit the magnificent Jumeirah Mosque and picturesque Bastakiya with its historical wind-towered merchant houses. Scale the heights of the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa' which reaches 160 floors (828metres) into the sky and dine at the Atmosphere Restaurant on level 122 for an unforgettable meal-with-a-view. Ski artificial snow fields in the Mall of the Emirates; then blast down the near-vertical 'Leap of Faith' waterslide at Atlantis's Aquaventure water park. Enjoy tax-free shopping (they don't call it 'Do-Buy' for nothing!) and don't miss the fabulously frenzied annual 'Dubai Shopping Festival' as it offers up designer outfits for knock-down prices.

The equally modern, but far less ostentatious capital, Abu Dhabi, is an exciting alternative to Dubai. With golden beaches, magnificent architecture, traditional Arabic souvenir shopping, and an enigmatic empty desert dotted with oases such as Al-Ain and Liwa, it is a city that has a real sense of connection to the desert and the sea. The impressive Grand Mosque, Iranian food markets in Port Zayed, gleaming white mosques and elegant high-rise apartments in Corniche; and the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village offer a glimpse of true Abu Dhabi life.

Less than an hour from the glittering lights of Dubai and Abu Dhabi is the timeless beauty of the Arabian Desert. 4x4 dune bashing is perfect for those seeking a thrill, while desert safaris by camel-back in true Lawrence of Arabia-style are also popular ways to explore the sand dunes and rocky canyons. Be it a ride along the beach on a purebred Arabian stallion; trying one's hand at the ancient sport of falconry or soaring above it all in a hot air balloon, no visit to the UAE is complete without a candle-lit Arabian feast under the desert's starry night sky a fitting finale to a memorable day.

The best time to visit the UAE is from October up until May with warm-to-hot, sunny days and pleasant evenings. The months of November, January and February are especially agreeable as daytime temperatures average 24C. North-westerly winds (shamal) sometimes blow during these winter months, bringing choppy seas. It starts to get hotter again during March and April, and by May temperatures are in the high 30s. June to September should be avoided (unless you plan to stay inside!) as temperatures average 40C and humidity is at 100%.

Click here for our suggestions on events and places to go at various times of year