Think about the United Arab Emirates, or UAE, and your first images are probably of landmark hotels hugging Dubai’s sandy beaches, or nestled in bustling Downtown with views over the soaring Burj Khalifa (still the world’s tallest building on its 15th anniversary).
However, the UAE is made up of seven emirates in total and while many people will be familiar with Abu Dhabi (the UAE capital and also the largest of the emirates), how many could name the other five?
Each of the emirates offers incredible hotels and experiences, so we have compiled a list of some of the best.
With sprawling gardens and multiple swimming pools, Rixos Marina Abu Dhabi offers that rare commodity in modern times – space.
Located at the end of the Al Marina island, and with fabulous views of Abu Dhabi’s ever-evolving skyline, this is a slice of seclusion in the city – a city that has grown significantly as a tourism destination in the last decade.
The rooms are elegant, spacious and packed with smart technology and touches – not to mention those sea or city views from floor-to-ceiling windows.
Various watersports are available, including diving, or simply bask on the small but perfectly formed beach.
Head to the 37th floor for fine dining, unmatched views, and killer cocktails at Prive.
A favourite with families and couples thanks to multiple dining options and activities, the hotel (part of the Accor group) is surrounded by attractions including the neighbouring Marina Mall and the Emirates Heritage Village – a reconstruction of a traditional Emirati oasis town.
The Cove Rotana
Ras Al Khaimah
There is nowhere else in the UAE quite like the Cove Rotana. This resort feels like a Mediterranean village perching precariously on a Greek mountainside, overlooking crystal-clear waters.
The property has made the most of that vibe, with narrow winding pathways snaking their way between the villas and hotel rooms, connecting guests to the magnificent beach, swimming pools, and restaurants.
Choose one of the spacious villas for your own plunge pool and make sure to call for a golf cart to whisk you around the resort (especially if heading uphill).
Only an hour’s drive from Dubai on a good day, this feels a world away, and there is so much to do on the doorstep, with ‘the nature emirate’ of Ras Al Khaimah providing mountains and desert all within a short drive.
The Cove Rotana may have been one of the 5-star pioneers in the emirate, but it has continued to evolve and offers a great escape, friendly service, and those laidback Mediterranean vibes.
The Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi Desert
Ras Al Khaimah
Having visited this ultra-luxury desert resort when it opened as a Banyan Tree more than a decade earlier, it was interesting to see how things had changed with new operators The Ritz-Carlton.
I am happy to report only good news and happy memories. The 1,235 acre resort is as stunning and exclusive as it ever was, just now a bit better. Guests will still enjoy the incredibe setting and superb private villas with plunge pools overlooking golden sands and visited by animals including the distinctive Oryx.
There are many activities for families and couples to savour, from guided desert safaris to signature spa experiences in The Rainforest, bike and horse riding, plus falconry experiences.
Dining is superb, and sundowner cocktails at the rooftop bar is highly recommended.
One major addition is a sister beach resort at Al Hamra, so guests can enjoy the best of both worlds.
One&Only One Za’abeel
New for 2024, this architectural marvel is a suitably stunning addition to Sheikh Zayed Road, lined with soaring skyscrapers from Emirates Towers to Burj Khalifa.
Not content with having arguably the most sophisticated beach resort in the city (One&Only Royal Mirage), this new hotel destination is being called the world’s ultimate urban resort.
Discover a world of captivating duality, where the horizontal resort has been reimagined into a vertical masterpiece, and where exceptional dining, innovative wellness and extraordinary experiences create a spectacular urban stage in the centre of Dubai.
Expect 11 restaurants, with six run by Michelin-starred chefs, complete with simply incredible views. Plus, there is an extra incentive to stay longer, by living longer – thanks to the groundbreaking Longevity HUB from Clinique La Prairie.
The Chedi Al Bait
Dubai’s nextdoor neighbour is blessed with many traditional cultural and artistic attractions, and now has a growing portfolio of unique hotels and destination resorts. The Chedi Al Bait, which opened in 2023, is at the centre of the Heart of Sharjah district – where Islamic heritage meets a contemporary scene.
Converted from seven historic manor houses converted into 65 suites, this is a truly luxurious experience that exudes Emirati hospitality and architectural signatures.
East meets the Middle East, and the best of the West in The Restaurant, complete with open-air courtyard to soak up Sharjah’s latest luxury hospitality offering.
VIDA Beach Resort
Umm Al Quwain
With a hip, Miami Beach atmosphere and contemporary chic design flourishes, VIDA feels almost out of place in Umm Al Quwain. That also makes it the best hotel – by far – in the overlooked emirate, with glorious rooms, attentive staff, and a chilled attitude.
There is a lot of development work going on in the area but VIDA is a slice of the good life and could be transported to any beach location around the world.
Created by Emaar – the legendary developer behind Burj Khalifa, Downtown Dubai, Dubai Marina and countless residential districts and upscale hotels – you know you are in good hands. This is a boutique experience, and one which VIDA describes as ‘a place where art is a lifestyle and fashion is a belief’.
Atlantis The Royal
Dubai has a new destination. While the Burj Al Arab remains, along with Burj Khalifa, icons of the city that are recognised worldwide, Atlantis The Royal has taken the art of luxury hospitality to another level.
When the Burj Al Arab opened, it famously described itself as a seven-star hotel. Of course, such a classification does not exist, but similar claims could be made for The Royal.
Opened with spectacular fanfare by Beyonce in late 2022, this property sits at the end of Palm Jumeirah, next to its sister, Atlantis, The Palm.
As such, it has a spectacular location and draws on many of the original Atlantis’ strengths – such as multiple Michelin-starred chefs helming signature restaurants, and unique guest experiences. The difference is, The Royal takes luxury and service to new heights.
The Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah
Covering just 259 square kilometres, Ajman is the UAE’s smallest emirate, but that does not hold back The Oberoi from winning multiple awards naming it the best luxury beach resort in the entire Middle East (World Travel Awards 2023).
Nestled a short drive from Dubai’s 24/7 cityscape, The Oberoi Beach Resort Al Zorah is a true escape, surrounded by mangroves and boasting superb white sand beaches. Golf fans will also love the adjacent Jack Nicklaus-designed championship golf course – arguably the most picturesque in the whole country.
The Oberoi Group, founded in India in 1934, is renowned for luxury, and this property marks the brand’s only footprint in the UAE. As such, it does not disappoint, with sophistication oozing from every thoughtful detail – from design to dining.
W Abu Dhabi Yas Island
Formula 1 fans will recognise this futuristic hotel as it sits next to (and has a bridge across) the Abu Dhabi Yas Marina Circuit. Opened 15 years ago, the hotel was taken over by Marriott’s lifestyle brand W Hotels in 2019 and given a welcoming refresh.
Slicker than a Max Verstappen slipstream, the hotel is chic, modern, and stylish. As well as views over the F1 track and neighbouring marina, Yas Island is home to Yas Links golf course and a growing array of theme parks and attractions – including Seaworld, Warner Bros, and Ferrari World.
Plus, you’ll have the chance to drive around the F1 track in everything from a Caterham Seven to a Formula Yas 3000 single-seat race car.
Sandy Beach Motel
For something completely different, welcome to Fujairah. Clinging to the East Coast of the UAE and sitting on the Indian Ocean, Fujairah is famed as being the weekend destination of choice for Dubai residents looking for a slower pace of pace.
It has been that way for at least two decades, and Sandy Beach retains that old-school resort charm and nostalgia for long-term residents in the UAE.
As well as that beach, the majestic Hajar mountains loom behind, and just off shore is the iconic Snoopy Island – so named as it resembles the cartoon dog lying on his back (if you squint hard enough and have a vivid imagination).
You don’t need imagination to see turtles as you snorkel around Snoopy, or kick back in one of the chalets, complete with terrace and barbecue facilities.
An essential UAE experience.
Special mention also goes to the Kingfisher Retreat – a collection of 20 top-end tents surrounded by mangroves, and nestled on an island with a working conservation centre.
Situated in Kalba which is an enclave of Sharjah on the East Coast sandwiched between Fujairah and the border with Oman, the only way to arrive is by boat, the only way to leave is reluctantly.
Also check out Sharjah Collection’s other boutique resorts in the emirate, from futuristic desert domes to uber-chic Airstream glamping.