Mention the UAE and most thoughts automatically turn to Dubai, but there are plenty more authentic places to visit in this sunny corner of the Arabian Gulf. Ras al Khaimah manages to combine luxury and wellness with rich culture, delicious food and plenty of winter sunshine, making this northernmost Emirate a top pick for January breaks.
Sand and sunshine
Ras al Khaimah boasts 64km of balmy Gulf coastline and powdery beaches. Temperatures are usually between 20 and 30°C (68-86°F) from October through April, so you can pack your summer clothes with confidence, along with a jacket for cooler evenings. The best beaches are arguably on Al Marjan Island and the nearby Al Hamra Village and of course, every beautiful beach has its share of opulent resorts, luxury spas and five star facilities. Checkout the Waldorf Astoria or Banyan Tree Wadi for some of the most lavish spa treatments and book yourself a New Year treat.
If you want to get out on the water, Ras Al Khaimah has plenty of watersports opportunities including fishing, parasailing, boat trips, jet skiing and kayaking. If water slides and rides are more your idea of wet and wild, the Ice Land Water Park offers fun for all ages.
History and culture
Although much of the UAE appeared in the last 20 years, Ras Al Khaimah boasts over 7,000 years of history and heritage. A trip to the RAK National Museum or the 16th century Dhayah Fort provides timely reminders of the history of this former fishing and pearl-diving centre. Old Town Souks are also in their own timewarp, stocked with bolts of silk, colourful rugs, sacks of spices, luxury leather goods and authentic crafts.
For local culture, look no further than the delicious local cuisine and seafood featuring recipes passed down through generations.
Things to do in Ras Al Khaimah
If you want to venture beyond your luxury resort, plan a trip to Jebel Jais, the highest mountain in the UAE at an impressive 1,930m above sea level. Desert safaris trips offer cultural highlights such as belly dancers and fire eaters as you dine on a traditional BBQ beneath the starry night sky at the Bedouin Oasis Camp. This is also the chance to witness the mesmerizing Tanoura spinners with their colourful skirts whirling as they rotate as part of the ancient practice of trance-like meditation.
Another ancient cultural treat is seeing peregrine falcons at a falconry display at the Banyan Tree Al Wadi Nature Reserve. The Bedouins often trained falcons for hunting in the desert and guests will see the birds swoop and fly at incredible speed. You may also get the chance to don the huge leather gauntlet and hold one of these gorgeous birds of prey for a photo op. No desert trip is complete without a camel ride, offered at the Bassata Desert Village. If you prefer, the Al Wadi Adventure Centre offers horse riding safaris into the desert.
Finally, shopping for luxury goods and souvenirs can be found in the extensive RAK Mall, Safeer Mall, Al Hamra Mall or Al Naeem Mall, although visiting the largest mall in the world is an attractive opportunity, just 90 minutes south at the Dubai Mall.