There was a time when Ras Al Khaimah was a little-known part of the UAE, often overlooked in favour of glitzier destinations like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. These days, however, the northernmost emirate is becoming increasingly popular among the region’s weekend warriors, with something to offer every traveller – whether you’re in search of outdoor adventure, historic attractions or simply a relaxed staycation. And while Dubai might be on top when it comes to record-breaking attractions, Ras Al Khaimah is notching up a few of its own, hosting the UAE’s highest ever music concert on the country's loftiest mountain Jebel Jais last year, and launching the world’s longest zipline from the impressive peak. With so much going on, it's an exciting time to explore the emirate which should feature high on every UAE visitor's must-do list.
Boasting a pristine coastline, an abundance of sheltered bays and year-round sunshine, Ras Al Khaimah is the perfect place for those who love the ocean. You can try out a variety of watersports in ideal conditions, or for something novel, follow in the footsteps of pearl divers and delve into the region’s rich maritime heritage.
AL HAMRA SAILING CLUB
Ras Al Khaimah’s Al Hamra Marina is fast becoming a go-to destination for sailing and water sports enthusiasts in the UAE. Much of that is due to Al Hamra Sailing Club, a popular, family-friendly social hub for the local community. Here visitors can sign up for sailing lessons, rent a stand-up paddle board to explore the marina, or grab a bite and relax at one of the club house’s al fresco tables that overlook the sandy beach and calm waters. It is the perfect spot to try your hand at something new, or while away a sunshine-filled weekend.
There has always been a strong connection to the ocean in the UAE, due largely to the region’s maritime history of sailing, trading and pearl diving. Before the discovery of oil, many locals owed their livelihood to pearling and Suwaidi Pearls, a cultured pearl farm in Ras Al Khaimah, is dedicated to preserving that heritage. Generations of the Al Suwaidi family were involved in the pearl trade and visitors to the farm can learn more about this fascinating industry.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF RAS AL KHAIMAH
Housed in a centuries-old fort with foundations dating back to the 1800s, the National Museum of Ras Al Khaimah offers an interesting insight into the history of the emirate, with many of the artefacts and collections on display donated by members of the ruling Al Qasimi family, as well as excavated from the surrounding area. It is also a prime example of the region’s architecture, with its stately towers, elaborately carved doors and wide open courtyard.
One of the biggest draws of Ras Al Khaimah is the natural landscape. And thanks to the cooler temperatures that the emirate enjoys at the beginning of the year, it is the ideal time to explore the sheltered wadis that are peppered with natural trails for hiking, mountain biking or simply setting up camp.
Nothing beats the thrill of leaving the city behind and heading for the mountains. As the tallest peak in the UAE, Jebel Jais is a popular spot with those looking to escape the hustle and bustle for the weekend. There are plenty of rugged trails to hike, as well as a viewing point close to the top that offers spectactular views. For an adrenaline rush, head to Jebel Jais Flight, the world’s longest zipline at an impressive 2.8 kilometres.
In the UAE, a desert safari is the best way to experience a taste of what life was like for the nomadic Bedouin tribes that once roamed the desert. Take a tour through Ras Al Khaimah’s vast dunes to sample traditional pastimes, such as henna painting, camel trekking and falconry shows, as well as sampling Middle Eastern delicacies, set to a soundtrack of traditional music.
When it comes to getting active outdoors, those in the know in the UAE head straight for Wadi Showka (also known as Wadi Shawka). This wadi in Ras Al Khaimah is known for its dramatic scenery and a rugged undulating landscape that is perfect for off-road running and mountain biking. Keep an eye out for herds of local goats and camels wandering the trails.