Grab your road trip playlist and the camera because these road trips are worth the trek
If you’re short on time, or patience, make the short trip to Al Ain to head up the emirate’s highest peak. The drive into the city itself is picturesque as the sand dunes take a reddish hue and vegetation sprouts up around you.
It’s an easy drive through part of town to get to Jebel Hafeet, which straddles the border between the UAE and Oman. At the base of the mountain is the Green Mubazzarah, which is a great stop off as a break between your drive from Abu Dhabi and to the mountain summit. Enjoy a picnic in the lush greenery and hot springs before hopping back in the car for the windy drive up the 1,250m mountain. There are a few viewpoints along the way, as well as a hotel if you’re in need of refreshments or want to stop for lunch. At the top you should stop for photos over the Garden City.
Drive time: 1h 30min to the base, 15min to the summit
Getting there: It’s a simple drive up the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain road. Once you reach the Garden City, follow signposts for Jebel Hafeet.
If you’re prepared for serious off-road driving, Liwa is a must. You’ll definitely need a 4×4 and desert-driving know-how as the Empty Quarter offers its own challenges. You’ll feel miles away as you drive through different coloured dunes and past date plantations. If you just want to drive, you could stick to the paved roads, but head off into the dunes for some bashing and then set up camp.
The area is also home to Tal Moreeb, aka scary mountain. We don’t recommend attempting to drive up it, but it’s certainly a fun challenge to attempt to run up its steep face.
Drive time: 2h 30min
Getting there: Head out of Abu Dhabi on the E11 before heading south on E45.
One of the easiest drives, and a perfect day trip for families, is the short drive to neighbouring Dubai where you’ll find an expanse of desert that’s become a popular attraction for residents.
Aside from the cycling track, you’ll find a small food truck park, Last Exit. But our favourite road trip is driving around the series of lakes that are teeming with flamingos, black swans, ducks, herons, red-wattled lapwings, crab plovers and more.
The roads that skirt the lakes are flat so there’s no need for a 4×4. Find a tree, park up and enjoy a picnic and a splash in the lake. Just remember to clean up after yourself before you leave. There’s also a newer set of lakes known as the Flamingo Lakes with watch towers.
Drive time: 1h 15min
Getting there: Take the Dubai highway and exit for Bab Al Shams. Continue past the resort until you reach the Al Qudra cycling village – toilets are here. Cross over the track and follow signs for the lakes.
Better known as Fossil Rock, this outcrop features various marine fossils, hence the name, making it a prized archaeological site.
The drive to the mountain is fairly easy so is a great option for both beginners and experienced off-road drivers. You’ll head on a sandy track past camel farms and a wadi, but as you approach the rock the terrain will offer more challenging options for dune bashers. We recommend going on a clear day to watch the sunset and camp nearby.
Drive time: 2h 10min
Getting there: Take E102, the Sharjah-Kalba highway and exit for E55 towards Maleihah.
The UAE’s highest peak is naturally going to deliver when it comes to views. The steep 30km road up Jebel Jais, which was only built a couple of years ago, is a fun drive. Expect beautiful views – and dedicated points to stop and take it all in – over the 70-million-year-old Hajar Mountain range that stands nearly 2,000 metres above sea level.
The mountain is now home to the region’s first via ferrata so if you’re an adrenaline junkie, choose from three ziplines and whiz across the mountains. It’s also a great option for experienced climbers with hooks and ladders built into the cliff face. To find out more, visit: jebeljais.ae
Drive time: 3h 10min
Getting there: Take Emirates Road (E611) to Ras Al Khaimah, join Khuzam Road, follow signs for Wadi Bih and continue on to the Jebel Al Jais Road.
If you love nature, drive the width of the country from the West coast to the East, to this exclave of Sharjah on the border of Oman. The drive to the town itself is picturesque as you snake your way through the mountains and enjoy views of the Gulf of Oman, but the final destination of this route is the main attraction.
Kalba is known for being a bird watcher’s paradise with its creek, mangroves and sandy beaches. A few years ago, Khor Kalba, the creek area, became a nature reserve to help protect the local species and was later added to Ramsar as a global wetland of significance. While access is restricted – though there are rumours of it re-opening for limited visitors this year – you can stand on the bridge with binoculars and spot breeding populations of rare birds including the Arabian Collared Kingfisher and Sykes’ Warbler. For further tips, visit: uaebirding.com
Drive time: 2h 40min
Getting there: Skirt around Dubai on the E611, exit for E102, then take the Dubai – Fujairah Road and follow signs for Kalba.
Game for a longer trip? If you cross the border into Oman you’ll be rewarded with stunning scenery on the open roads that wind through mountains and across desert flats. After winding your way up and over the peaks and past rural villages, you’ll come to Oman’s former capital, the historic town of Nizwa.
Surrounded by lush oases, the city centre comprises a beautiful fort and bustling souk that’s still a hub for trade with everything from traditional weapons to herbs and pottery.
If you leave early enough, this could be a day trip. Or stay overnight in the nearby Sahab Hotel or Golden Tulip Nizwa.
Drive time: 4h 30min
Getting there: Cross the border in Al Ain at the Mezyad Border Post. Follow signs for the 21, Nizwa-Ibri Road.
Not only is this Oman coastal town one of the most picturesque around, but the drive to it is stunning.
The windy cliff-side road skirts around the mountain. Don’t be distracted by the shimmering turquoise ocean though, as there are a few hairpin turns that require you to keep your wits about you. Closer towards the town, there are a few rocky beaches to stop and set up a picnic, as well as a few lookout spots perched at the higher points of the road. Once there you can head to a park, beach or enjoy a dhow cruise, but be sure to book in advance. If you’ve got time, continue on to Khor Najd.
Drive time: 3h 40min
Getting there: Head to Dubai then take the E311 and E11 through RAK. After the border post, continue on the Khasab Coastal Road into town.
One of the most picturesque drives around also offers a reward at the end of your cliff-side excursion. Located in Musandam, this is one of the most iconic routes in Oman, and is even well known among UAE explorers. Take care on the slithering roads and hairpin turns as you wind your way up the mountain and back down the other side. The views as you descend are stunning, looking out into a crystal clear fjord. At the base you can swim in the water, have a picnic or even camp.
Drive time: 4h 10min
Getting there: Follow directions to Musandam then continue past Khasab before joining the Sall Ala Road. There aren’t many signs so take your GPS and plug in 26.096436, 56.331740