Must see attractions in Arabian Peninsula

  • Top ChoiceSights in Dubai

    Burj Al Arab

    The Burj Al Arab's graceful silhouette – meant to evoke the sail of a dhow (a traditional wooden cargo vessel) – is to Dubai what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Completed in 1999, this iconic landmark hotel sits on an artificial island and comes with its own helipad and a fleet of chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce limousines. Beyond the striking lobby, with its gold-leaf opulence and attention-grabbing fountain, lie 202 suites with more trimmings than a Christmas turkey. The Burj Al Arab is worth visiting if only to gawk at an interior that’s every bit as garish as the exterior is gorgeous. The mood is set in the 590ft-high lobby, which is decorated in a red, blue and green color scheme and accented with pillars draped in gold leaf. The lobby atrium is tall enough to fit the Statue of Liberty within it. If you’re not checking into the Burj Al Arab, you need to make a reservation for cocktails, afternoon tea or a meal to get past lobby security. A minimum spend applies; check the Burj's website for details. When it opened in 1999, the Burj Al Arab was the tallest hotel in the world at 1053ft © Romrodphoto /Shutterstock Architecture of the Burj Al Arab The Burj Al Arab has 60 floors spread over 1053ft (321m) and was the world's tallest hotel at the time of its opening. British architect Tom Wright came up with the iconic design and signature translucent fiberglass facade that serves as a shield from the desert sun during the day and as a screen for the impressive illumination at night. The Burj Al Arab's interior by British-Chinese designer Khuan Chew is every bit as over-the-top as the exterior is simple and elegant. The moment you step into the lofty lobby, a crescendo of gold-leaf, crystal chandeliers, hand-knotted carpets, water elements, pillars and other design elements put you into sensory overload. Some of the 258,333 sq feet (24,000 sq meters) of marble hail from the same quarry where Michelangelo got his material. The white metal crosspieces at the top of the Burj Al Arab form what is said to be the largest cross in the Middle East – but it’s only visible from the sea. By the time this unexpected feature was discovered, it was too late to redesign the tower – the hotel had already put Dubai on the map and become the icon for the city. See the cross on a boat charter and decide for yourself. The scale is amazing. Dubai-inspired cocktails are served in the Burj Al Arab's Gold on 27 bar © Lara Brunt / Lonely Planet Bars and restaurants in Burj Al Arab The cobalt-blue and emerald-green color scheme may not exactly project class and exclusivity, but all is forgotten when enjoying the dreamy views of the Gulf and Dubai skyline from the Skyview Bar. A cocktail or afternoon tea in this capsule-shaped lounge sticking out from the main building on the 27th floor is high on the to-do list of many Dubai visitors despite the steep minimum spends. Reservations are essential. If you've got a hankering for unusual cocktails, book a perch in gold-leaf-drenched Gold on 27, on the same floor as Skyview. Drinks are inspired by Dubai's past, present and future and include many nonalcoholic choices. A Ghaf, A Goat and A Camel, for instance, is not the beginning of a joke but a delicious potion blending Cascara milk, bourbon vanilla, white peach nectar and sweet goat-cheese meringue. Book ahead. The Burj Al Arab is set on its own island and is surrounded by gorgeous beaches © Vivek_Renukaprasad / Getty Images Beaches near the Burj Al Arab For the quintessential Instagrammable photo of you and the Burj Al Arab, take a stroll on nearby Jumeirah Public Beach as the sun dips into the Gulf and then upload the picture via one of the Smart Palms that provide free waterfront wi-fi. This wide, clean band of sand is actually an attractive place to spread your towel any time of day. In fact, now there's even a floodlit section for nighttime swimming. When the surf's up, it's fun to watch the boarders, although waves are only small to medium. Top 7 beaches in Dubai The Burj Al Arab is a self-appointed 7-star hotel that comes with all the trimmings © Dmitry Birin / Shutterstock Where to stay near the Burj Al Arab The Burj Al Arab regularly hosts pop stars, royalty, billionaires and the merely moneyed. The lobby with its eye-catching waterfall and opulent decor is the overture to the 202 richly decorated suites. The North Deck adds two huge pools and 400 sunloungers. Suites are bi-level, and even the smallest measure 1829 sq ft (170 sq meters) and come with a personal butler. The decor is lush, with moiré silk walls, mirrored ceilings over the beds, curlicue high-backed velvet chairs and inlaid bathroom tiles displaying scenes of Venice. And all that gold? Yes, it’s the real 24-karat thing. For less luxurious options, the cluster of midrange hotels and hotel-apartments next to the Mall of Emirates offer great value for money. Where to eat near the Burj Al Arab For a surreal dining experience at the Burj Al Arab, book a table at Al Mahara to nosh on fish and seafood while seated before a giant, round aquarium. An elevator posing as a submarine drops you into a gold-leaf-clad tunnel spilling into one of Dubai's most extravagant restaurants. Tables orbit a circular floor-to-ceiling aquarium where clownfish flit and baby sharks dart as their turbot and monkfish cousins are being devoured. Only the finest seafood imported from the UK – and prepared with deft simplicity – makes it onto plates here. A dress code is enforced, and no children under 12 for dinner. For spots with a view of the Burj Al Arab, head to the bars in Madinat Jumeirah, such as Folly by Nick & Scott, for romantic views of the tower. How to get to the Burj Al Arab The nearest Dubai Metro station is Mall of the Emirates, but a taxi or bus ride is required from there. Buses 8, 81 and 88 pass by the Burj Al Arab.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Downtown Dubai

    Burj Khalifa

    The Burj Khalifa is a stunning feat of architecture and engineering, with two observation decks on the 124th and 148th floors and a restaurant-bar on the 122nd. The world’s tallest building pierces the sky at 2715ft (828m) and opened in January 2010, six years after excavations began. Up to 13,000 workers toiled day and night, putting up a new floor in as little as three days. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world at 2715 feet © Umar Shariff / Shutterstock How to get tickets to visit the Burj Khalifa To avoid wait times or expensive fast-track admission, book tickets online as far as 30 days in advance. Timed tickets are available at the ticket counter and often sell out quickly. Book especially early if you want to go up at sunset. Prices go up during prime hours (around sunset), and closing times may vary depending on demand and the season. Budget at least two hours for your visit. For a more in-depth experience, you can rent audio guides for Dhs25 ($6.80). High humidity often cloaks Dubai in a dense haze, making views less than breathtaking. On hazy days, it’s better to visit at night. No refunds or rain checks are given if the outdoor viewing terrace is closed for bad weather. The Burj Khalifa has two observation decks, on the 124th floor and the 148th floor © ardiwebs / Shutterstock At the Top Observation Deck Taking in the views from the world's tallest building is a deservedly crave-worthy experience and a trip to the "At the Top" observation deck on the 124th floor (1483ft) is the most popular way to do it. Once you get to the platform, you can seek out high-powered "viewfinders" that help bring even distant developments into focus (at least on clear days) and cleverly simulate the same view at night and in the 1980s. There are also six digital telescopes that use HD cameras with a high zoom to zero in on places outside the cityscape. Getting to the deck means passing various multimedia exhibits until a double-decker elevator zips you up at 32ft per second. At the Top Sky To truly be on the world's highest observation platform, you need to buy tickets to "At the Top Sky" on the 148th floor (1820ft). A visit here is set up like a hosted VIP experience with refreshments, a guided tour and an interactive screen where you "fly" to different city landmarks by hovering your hands over high-tech sensors. Afterwards, you're escorted to the 125th floor to be showered with Burj trivia and to take in another attraction called "A Falcon's Eye View" that lets you take a virtual flight over the emirate by soaring over key attractions like a bird. Restaurants and bars at the Burj Khalifa The food may not be out of this world, but the views are certainly stellar from At.mosphere, the world's highest restaurant, on the 122nd floor (1450ft). Richly decorated in warm mahogany, limestone and thick carpets, the dining room oozes a sophisticated ambience while the compact menu lets quality meats and seafood shine. There's also a lounge one floor up if you just want a drink. Reservations are essential, minimum spends apply, a dress code is in effect and no children under 10 are allowed. To get there, you need to take the elevator from the foyer of the Armani Hotel. The Burj Khalifa opened six years after construction started © shutterlk / Shutterstock Burj Khalifa construction and architecture Engineers and the Chicago-based architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) had to pull out all the stops in the construction of the Burj Khalifa. Pouring the 11.5ft-thick foundation alone required 16,350 cubic yards (12,500 cubic meters) of reinforced concrete. The design was inspired by the Hymenocallis desert lily. Burj Khalifa's superlative statistics The Burj Khalifa is not only the world's tallest building (for now) but also flaunts other records and impressive figures, including the following: tallest free-standing structure highest outdoor observation deck (1820ft) highest occupied floor (160th floor, at 1920ft) longest elevator (1653ft) highest number of floors (211) highest restaurant (122nd floor, at 1483ft) weight of concrete used is equivalent to 100,000 elephants the service elevator has a carrying capacity of 6 tons the facade is made of 28,261 glass panels it takes three to four months to clean the facade in 2011 French climber Alain Robert scaled the Burj in just over six hours in April 2014 two other Frenchmen (Vincent Reffet and Frédéric Fugen) set the world record base jump from the Burj the largest light-and-sound show on a single building on New Year's Eve 2017 Downtown Dubai's skyline rises out of early morning fog © Naufal MQ / Getty Images Where to stay near the Burj Khalifa The Burj Khalifa is located in Downtown Dubai, and the Armani Hotel occupies 15 of the lower floors of the Burj Khalifa. Staying in Downtown Dubai puts you smack dab in the city's vortex of vibrancy. Aside from the big international chains, you'll also find a few home-grown players imbued with a local sense of place. With few exceptions, you'll need to shell out top dirham. Where to eat near the Burj Khalifa If you don't want to shell out for a meal in the world's highest restaurant, there are plenty of other options nearby. For fresh organic salads and mains with a view of the Burj and the lake, head to Baker & Spice. Majlis in the Dubai Mall's Souk section serves refreshments made with camel milk, including a creamy camelccino (cappuccino with camel milk). How to get to the Burj Khalifa Take the Dubai Metro to Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Dubai

    Madinat Jumeirah

    One of Dubai’s most attractive developments, Madinat Jumeirah is a contemporary interpretation of a traditional Arab village, complete with a souq (market), palm-fringed waterways and desert-colored hotels and villas festooned with wind towers. It’s especially enchanting at night, when the gardens are romantically lit and the Burj Al Arab gleams in the background. There are exquisite details throughout, so if you see some stairs, take them – they might lead you to a hidden terrace with a mesmerising vista of the sprawling complex. Architecture of Madinat Jumeirah The architects of this luxurious resort village at the foot of the Burj Al Arab looked to Dubai's original creekside settlement in Bur Dubai for inspiration. Wind towers, traditional wooden boats used as water taxis, waterways and even a market create modern Arabian flair in this complex that comprises three palatial hotels and dozens of private villas set in a richly landscaped garden. Souk Madinat Jumeirah is constructed to look like a traditional Arab market © Tupungato / Shutterstock Shopping at Souk Madinat Jumeirah At the heart of the complex lies Souk Madinat Jumeirah, a maze-like bazaar with around 75 shops lining wood-framed walkways. Although the ambience is too contrived to feel like an authentic Arab market, the quality of some of the crafts, art and souvenirs is actually quite high. For a bit of Western culture, see what’s playing at the Madinat Theatre. There are numerous cafes, bars and restaurants, the nicest of which overlook the waterways and the Burj Al Arab. Visitors can ride traditional-style boats through the waterways of Madinat Jumeirah © Seqoya / Shutterstock Riding an abra at Madinat Jumeirah Explore Madinat Jumeirah's 2.5-mile-long network of winding waterways on a leisurely 20-minute cruise aboard a traditional-style abra (a motorized wooden boat) with cushioned benches. The desert seems far away as you glide past enchanting gardens of billowing bougainvillea, bushy banana trees and soaring palms, all set against the dramatic Burj Al Arab backdrop. Tours leave from the Souk Madinat waterfront (near Trader Vic's). No reservations are necessary. If you are staying at a Madinat hotel or eating at one of the restaurants, your abra shuttle is free. Madinat Jumeirah has plenty of bars and restaurants with great views of the Burj Al Arab © Gimas / Shutterstock Where to get Friday brunch at Madinat Jumeirah At the start of the weekend in the United Arab Emirates, Friday brunch in Dubai is a time-honored tradition, especially among Western expats. The Madinat hotels Al Qasr and Mina A'Salam are famous for putting on some of the most most opulent spreads in town. Both dish up an unbelievable cornucopia of delectables – roast lamb, sushi, cooked-to-order seafood, beautiful salads, mezze and all sorts of hot dishes, plus there are cheese and dessert rooms. Make dinner or brunch reservations at least one week ahead for most of the restaurants. Turtle watching The Jumeirah Al Naseem resort is the latest addition to Madinat Jumeirah and the home of the nonprofit Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project. It has nursed more than 560 injured or sick sea turtles back to health and released them into the Gulf. The turtles spend the last weeks before their release in the hotel's sea-fed lagoon. The enclosure is open to the public daily for free, and feedings take place at 11am on Wednesdays. Access is via the hotel. Keep an eye out for specimens of the endemic hawksbill turtle that limped onto the list of critically endangered species, with only 8000 nesting females known to exist worldwide. Yoga on the beach Downward dog and sun salutation with a view of the Burj Al Arab? Just sign up for the daily sunset yoga sessions  for Dhs90 ($24.50) organized by the on-site Talise Spa and on Madinat Jumeirah's private beach. An even more spiritual journey awaits during Full Moon Yoga – if you can get the timing right. Madinat Jumeirah has a handful of five-star accommodations © Peter Pesta Photography / Getty Images Where to stay near Madinat Jumeirah Madinat Jumeirah is located in the Jumeirah neighborhood of Dubai. Luxury lovers should steer towards the Burj Al Arab or the hotels at Madinat Jumeirah. The cluster of midrange hotels and hotel-apartments next to the Mall of Emirates offer great value for money. Where to eat near Madinat Jumeirah Take advantage of happy-hour deals offered at many Madinat bars. For sunset drinks with a view of the Burj Al Arab, the rug-lined terrace of the Bahri Bar is a perfect vantage point. Book early for delicious seafood with Madinat and Burj Al Arab views at chic and sophisticated Pierchic. How to get to Madinat Jumeirah The nearest Dubai Metro station is Mall of the Emirates, but you'll need to take a taxi or bus from there. Buses 8, 81 and 88 pass by Madinat Jumeirah.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Deira

    Gold Souq

    All that glitters is gold (and occasionally silver) along this covered arcade where dozens of shops overflow with every kind of jewelry imaginable, from delicate pearl earrings to lavish golden wedding necklaces. Simply watching the goings-on is a treat. Settle down on a bench and take in the lively street theater of hard-working Afghan men dragging heavy carts of goods, African women in colorful kaftans and local women out on a shopping spree. The best time to visit is in the bustling evenings. Mornings are busy with tour groups, and the afternoons are sleepy. Gold has been big business in Dubai since the 1940s. Today, the emirate is one of the world's largest gold markets, accounting for roughly 25% of the global trade. The Gold Souq comes alive in the evenings © Terry Carter / Lonely Planet Central Arcade Dozens of jewelry shops spilling over with gold, diamonds, pearls, silver and platinum line the souq's car-free, wooden-latticed central axis. From stud earrings to intricate wedding necklaces, it's a dazzling display and a must-see, even if you're not part of the bling brigade. Most shops are run by Indian merchants, while customers are mostly Indian or Arab, which helps explain the deep yellow tint of the gold and the often extremely elaborate designs, as is preferred in those parts of the world. Record-breaking gold ring Dubai being the capital of superlatives, the Gold Souq is naturally home to a record-breaking piece of jewelry. Stop at Kanz Jewellers just past the main souq entrance (off Old Baladiya St) to snap a selfie with the world's largest and heaviest gold ring, as certified by Guinness World Records. Called the Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba), the 21-karat beauty weighs in at nearly 140 pounds (64kg) and is studded with 11 pounds (5.1kg) of diamonds and precious stones. It is worth a hefty US$3 million. Dubai's Gold Souq has many intricate jewelry designs on display © Kritsana Laroque / Shutterstock What to look for when buying at Dubai's Gold Souq There's no need to worry about fakes at the Gold Souq (unless you're in the market for a knock-off Rolex watch or Prada bag from one of the touts trying to tempt you). The quality of gold is regulated by the Dubai government, so you can be fairly confident that the piece of jewelry you've got your eye on is genuine. Price is determined by two factors: weight based on the official daily international rate and the artistry of the item. The latest gold rates are posted throughout the souq and online. Most pieces for sale here are 14 or 18 karat. If you don’t see anything you like, don’t panic. Most shops will make something to your own design. Haggling is expected, and vendors build in price buffers accordingly. Since the price of gold itself is fixed, focus on the intricacy of the artisanship as a point of discussion. Buying more than one item should also net you a discount, as does paying in cash, though credit cards are almost always accepted. Sharp bargaining skills usually make merchants drop the initial asking price by 20% to 30%. Don’t rush! Remember, you don’t have to make a decision on the spot. Compare carefully before you buy and be prepared to haggle. Where to stay near the Gold Souq Dubai's Gold Souq is in the Deira neighborhood, which is close to the airport and therefore popular with visitors on stopovers. There are plenty of older, smaller, budget places in and around the souqs, although some can be quite – how shall we say? – shady. Nicer properties can be found along the Creek as far south as Dubai Festival City. Where to eat near the Gold Souq A classic pit stop in this area is Ashwaq Cafeteria, whose shawarma rocks the palate. Wash it down with a freshly squeezed fruit juice. How to get to the Gold Souq Take the Dubai Metro to Al Ras, or ride an abra (a traditional boat) to Deira Old Souk abra station.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Dubai

    Kite Beach

    This long, pristine stretch of white sand, a little way north of Jumeirah Public Beach, is a major draw for sporty types, with a range of activities on offer, including kitesurfing, beach tennis, beach volleyball and kayaking. There's also a jogging track and a shaded skatepark nearby. The sand here is super clean and there are showers, wi-fi, toilets and changing facilities, plus lots of food trucks and cafes. The beach also boasts great views of the Burj Al Arab, one of Dubai's prime landmarks. It gets very busy on Friday and Saturday when a seaside market with crafts and gifts sets up. To reach the beach head along Jumeirah Rd; the strip of sand is located behind Saga World shopping centre. Parking is available, with a large lot next to Al Manara Mosque. There's no entrance fee to access the beach. Restaurants near Kite Beach There's a decent smattering of restaurants right next to Kite Beach that'll suit most tastes. Options include Circle Café, serving breakfast, brunch, coffee and smoothies; popular burger and steak joint X Factor; and Italian-themed Tomato & Basilico. There are also a number of food trucks (notably the excellent Salt, which serves up scrumptious sliders), ice cream places and takeaway coffee spots mere steps from the sand. Hotels near Kite Beach Jumeirah offers a great selection of accommodation options. Luxury lovers should steer towards the Burj Al Arab or the hotels at Madinat Jumeirah. The cluster of midrange hotels and hotel-apartments next to the Mall of Emirates offer great value for money. For proximity to Kite Beach, however, Beach Walk Hotel and Park Regis Boutique Jumeirah are two good options, both a 25 to 30 minute walk away.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sheikh Zayed Mosque Area

    Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

    Rising majestically from manicured gardens and visible from the bridges joining Abu Dhabi Island to the mainland, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is an impressive welcome to the city. With more than 80 marble domes on a roof-line held aloft by 1000 pillars and punctuated by four 107m-high minarets, it's a masterpiece of modern Islamic architecture and design. Conceived by Sheikh Zayed, and marking his final resting-place, the mosque is one of the few in the region open to non-Muslims. More than 90,000 tonnes of pure white marble from the Republic of Macedonia were used in its construction. Delicate floral designs inlaid with semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, abalone, jasper and mother-of-pearl, decorate a variety of marbles and contrast with the more traditional geometric ceramic details. While it includes references to Mamluk, Ottoman, Fatimid, Moorish and Indo-Islamic styles, the overwhelming impression is contemporary and innovative. In the interior, three steel, gold, brass and crystal chandeliers fill the main prayer hall with shafts of primary-coloured light. The chandeliers, the largest of which weighs approximately 11 tonnes, sparkle with Swarovski crystals and shine with 40kg of 24-karat galvanised gold. One of the prayer hall's most impressive features is the world's largest loomed carpet fashioned from Iranian cotton and New Zealand wool and flown in from Mashad, Iran, on two aeroplanes. The medallion design with elaborate arabesque motifs took 1200 craftspeople two years to complete, half of which was spent on hand-knotting the 5700 sq metres of woollen thread on a cotton base. That translates as 2.268 billion knots! Visitors are welcome to enter the mosque except during prayer times. A worthwhile free 45-minute guided tour (in English and Arabic) helps explain some fundamentals of Islam while pointing out some of the stylistic highlights of the interior (otherwise comprehensive audio tours are available in 11 languages). Check the website for prayer times, which change daily. Mosque etiquette requires all visitors to wear long, loose-fitting, ankle-length trousers or skirts, long sleeves and a headscarf for women. Those not dressed appropriately are asked to go into a changing room at security, where hooded abayas (a robe-like dress worn by women) and kandouras (casual shirt-dress worn by men and women) can be borrowed for free. Sheikh Zayed's mausoleum is on the approach to the mosque entrance, though only sitting presidents are allowed to enter. Prayers are continually recited by attendants here in one-hour shifts 24/7 (the cycles takes 1½ to two days to complete). While photographs of the mausoleum are not permitted, visitors are free to photograph all other parts of the mosque, but sensitivity should be shown towards those in prayer. There is a good cafe and a gift shop inside the complex on the mosque's northern side.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Doha

    Souq Waqif

    This vibrant complex is without doubt one of the most atmospheric places to explore in Qatar. Built on an ancient market site, the area remains the social heart of Doha. Centuries ago, Bedouin would bring their sheep, goats and wool here to trade for essentials, and the entire market area has been cleverly redeveloped to look the part of a 19th-century souq, with mud-rendered shops and exposed timber beams, plus some authentic and beautifully restored original Qatari buildings. With booming prosperity, the advent of vast air-conditioned shopping malls and Qatar's rush to embrace the new, Souq Waqif fell into serious decline by the 1990s, and much of the market was destroyed in a fire in 2003. An outcry from Qataris prompted the authorities to undertake a massive rehabilitation program, one that continues to this day. Such has been the success of this venture that the souq keeps growing to accommodate new ‘old alleyways’. Despite the ongoing gentrification of the area, the chief business of the souq continues unabated, and it remains one of the most traditional marketplaces in the region. This is the place to look for national Qatari dress, including the beautifully embroidered bukhnoq (girl’s head covering), spices, perfumes and oud (incense made from agarwood). Until land was reclaimed along Doha's waterfront in the 1970s, the waters lapped at the entrance to Souq Waqif, where traders were just as likely to arrive by boat as by camel. The first semi-permanent shops here were built around 250 years ago. Before that, vendors stood and sold their wares from makeshift stalls, as the market often flooded, and it is from this tradition that the souq's name derives: waqif means 'standing' in Arabic. The Falcon Souq is a highlight, but falconry is not the only traditional Qatari leisure pursuit you can see around the market. Nearby stables house Arabian horses and just off the Corniche end of Al Jasra St, a pen is filled with feeding camels most of the day. Animal lovers beware: located behind the colourful spice section of Souq Waqif is a collection of caged birds, and sometimes cats, rabbits, tortoises and dogs, kept outside in all weather: hot, hot and even hotter. Some of the shops are like museums, displaying artefacts (such as swords and shipping memorabilia), plus jewellery from around the Arab world. Many shops and stalls in the souq close around 1pm and reopen at 4pm, but the area, and its many cafes and restaurants, remains open all day.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Abu Dhabi

    Louvre Abu Dhabi

    Designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Jean Nouvel, the highly anticipated Louvre Abu Dhabi finally arrived in late 2017. Through 12 galleries, the world-class collection traces humanity's artistic achievements from the Neolithic up to the present day, all the while breaking all norms of traditional museum curation. Here, artworks are grouped by theme and time-frame rather than country or specific civilisation. The result is a globe-trotting journey through human heritage that highlights the universal threads of all cultures. From the First Villages ( gallery 1) through Civilisations and Empires ( gallery 3) and The Magnificence of the Court ( gallery 8) all the way up to A Global Stage ( gallery 12), where Ai Weiwei's 2016 'Fountain of Light' takes centre stage, the exhibits transcend geography and nationality. This means you encounter unexpectedly beautiful juxtapositions such as a bronze winged dragon from northern China sitting in front of a glazed-brick Persian archer from the Achaemenid Empire, and the bronze head of an Edo Culture king from Nigeria displayed amid a room lined with French and Italian 17th-century oil paintings of royalty. Highlights include an eerily beautiful 7th-millennium-BC Ain Ghazal statue from Jordan; a 3rd-millennium-BC standing Bactrian princess; a black stone statue of Gudea, prince of Lagash from Iraq's neo-Summerian era; a c 2nd-century Buddhist stupa plaque from India; a 2nd-century bronze lion from Spain; a 15th-century ceramic bust of St Peter of Verona; and paintings by Picasso, Rothko and Miró. As well as the permanent collection, separate buildings house temporary exhibitions (four held annually), a children's museum and the excellent museum cafe. These buildings are all grouped around a central plaza which juts straight out into the sea and is shaded by the museum's elaborate 7500-ton filigree dome, which seems to hover mid-air above. The dome pays homage to date-palm-leaf shading with its geometric star design dappling the plaza floor below in a 'rain of light' effect. You'll need around two hours to explore the museum if you're just browsing, longer if you've got an interest in art or history. For a highlight snapshot of the collection, 90-minute tours (adult/child Dhs50/30) are offered at 11am and 2pm daily in English and at 5pm on Friday in Arabic and French.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Muscat

    Mutrah Souq

    Many people come to Mutrah Corniche just to visit the souq, which retains the chaotic interest of a traditional Arab market albeit housed under modern timber roofing. Shops selling Omani and Indian artefacts together with a few antiques jostle among more traditional textile, hardware and jewellery stores. Bargaining is expected although discounts tend to be small. Cards are generally accepted in most shops, but bring cash for better deals. The main entry is via the Corniche, opposite the pedestrian traffic lights. Distinctive items for sale in the souq include antique mandoo (wedding chests) with brand-new thumbtacks brought down from the Hajar Mountains; rope-twined muskets that saw action in the Dhofar wars of the 1970s; an alleyway of sandals that complete the men’s smart Omani costume; and another of aluminium serving dishes for the traditional Omani shuwa (marinated lamb cooked in an underground oven). The traditional coffee house at the souq's entrance is a rare relic from the past and a locals-only meeting point for elderly men. Take care not to wander into the historic Shiite district of Al Lawataya by mistake, as the settlement is walled to protect the privacy of the residents here. A sign under the archway requests that visitors keep out. Navigating the souq takes a bit of practice. You enter through a two-storey, domed gateway on the Corniche (by the traffic lights) and head slightly uphill away from the sea. If you keep turning right at each junction, you will of course come back to the sea. If in doubt, head downhill. That said, getting lost inside the souq is part of the fun. A right fork at a pedestrian roundabout and a left at Muscat Pharmacy should lead you to an Aladdin's cave of a bead shop, but then again…

  • Top ChoiceSights in Hajar Mountains

    Jabreen Castle

    Rising without competition from the surrounding plain, Jabreen Castle is an impressive sight. Even if you have had a surfeit of fortifications, it's worth making the effort to clamber over one more set of battlements – Jabreen is one of the best-preserved and whimsical castles of them all. Head for the flagpole for a bird's-eye view of the latticed-window courtyard at the heart of the keep; the rooms here have distinctive painted ceilings. Built in 1675 by Imam Bil-Arab Bin Sultan, Jabreen Castle was an important centre of learning for astrology, medicine and Islamic law and, unusually for Oman's forts and castles, there's quite a lot to discover inside the vast battlements. There is an interesting date store, for example, to the right of the main entrance on the left-hand side. The juice of the fruit would have run along the channels into storage vats, ready for cooking or to assist women in labour. The most interesting feature of this castle is the elaborately painted ceilings. Several rooms, that seem to spring illogically from different courtyards in the heart of the keep, sport ceiling timbers with the original floral motifs. Finding these hidden rooms is part of the fun – and the original defensive mechanism – of Jabreen. Try to locate the burial chambers, remarkable for their carved vaults, and the room earmarked for the sultan’s favourite horse. Jabreen's location, trapped between the mountain and a particularly arid part of the desert, roasts under a ferocious sun for much of the year, hence the falaj (irrigation channel) running through the outer courtyard, which was not used for water supply but as an early air-con system.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Abu Dhabi

    Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital

    Standing outside Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, watching anxious owners from across the region delivering their hooded 'patients' in person, you will quickly realise that this is a much-needed and much-loved facility. Falcons are an integral part of traditional Gulf culture, and no expense is spared in restoring these magnificent birds to full health. Tours include visits to the falcon museum, the examination room – including intimate glimpses into coping procedures – and the free-flight aviary. Tour reservations (bookable online) are mandatory. If you're willing to brave an arm, the well-behaved raptors will even perch for a photograph. The hospital is about 6km southeast of Abu Dhabi airport. Coming from central Abu Dhabi, follow Airport Rd (E20) to Sweihan Rd in the direction of Falah City; about 3km past the junction with Hwy E11, turn right after the water tank (before exit 30A) and follow the signs to the hospital.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Muscat

    Grand Mosque

    Quietly imposing from the outside, this glorious piece of modern Islamic architecture was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30th year of reign. The main prayer hall is breathtakingly beautiful. The Persian carpet alone measures 70m by 60m wide, making it the second-largest hand-loomed Iranian carpet in the world; it took 600 women four years to weave. Mwasalat buses stop outside the mosque. The mosque, which can accommodate 20,000 worshippers, including 750 women in a private musalla (prayer hall), is an active place of worship, particularly for Friday prayers. Visitors are required to dress modestly, covering arms and legs and avoiding tight clothing. Women and girls (aged seven and above) must cover their hair. An abaya (full-length dress) and scarf can be hired from the mosque cafe and gift shop for OR2.5; some form of ID is required as a deposit. Tours are available.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Oman

    Nakhal Fort

    Built on the foundations of a pre-Islamic structure, the towers and entrance of this fort were constructed during the reign of Imam Said Bin Sultan in 1834. There are excellent views of the Batinah Plain from the ramparts, and the majlis (reception room) on the top ‘storey’ of the fort makes a cool place to enjoy the tranquillity. The windows are perfectly aligned to catch the breeze, even in summer. There are many features to look for: gaps where boiling cauldrons of honey would have been hinged over doorways, spiked doors to repel battering, round towers to deflect cannonballs and falaj in case of a siege. The entire structure is built around a rock – a common feature of Omani forts, which saves the problem of having to construct sound foundations. There are well-maintained public toilets here.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Saudi Arabia

    Prophet’s Mosque

    One of only two mosques in the world that can accommodate a million people, the Prophet’s Mosque holds deep significance for Muslims all over the world. It is said to have been built by the Prophet himself in AD 622 and not only encompasses his final resting place (alongside the first two caliphs) beneath the iconic green dome built by the Ottomans, it also covers where his house once stood, adjacent to the mosque when it was just a modest square mud-and-wood building. Like Al Masjid Al Haram (the Grand Mosque) in Mecca, the Prophet's Mosque never closes and is home to several significant religious spaces and relics. This includes the coveted rawdah area close to the Prophet's tomb, regarded by Muslims as one of the gardens of heaven where supplications are never rejected, and a dazzling marble minbar (pulpit) decorated in gold, dating from the late 15th century. The mosque has a two-tiered structure and is rectangular in shape. The oldest section is in the south of the structure and was built by the Ottomans. It has 27 domes and an open-air courtyard. The rest of the mosque was built during a number of Saudi expansions, beginning in 1951. These often integrated modern takes on classical Umayyad, Ottoman and Mamluk architectural styles. One of the most innovative features, however, is outside the main building in the paved area that's also used for prayer. This has a series of retractable canopies that fan out like umbrellas during the day to offer shade. Watching this happen is an impressive sight. The motorised canopies were designed by German architect Mahmoud Bodo Rasch, who has also worked on the Grand Mosque and the Quba Mosque.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Salalah

    Al Baleed Archaeological Park

    Well-labelled and atmospherically lit at night, the ancient ruins of Al Baleed belong to the 12th-century trading port of Zafar. Frankincense was shipped from here to India in exchange for spices. Little is known about the port’s demise, but the excellent on-site Museum of the Frankincense Land charts the area’s settlement since 2000 BC and illustrates the nation's maritime strength, including its recent renaissance. The site includes several kilometres of landscaped paths and the adjoining reed beds make for good birdwatching. An electric vehicle (500 baisa per person) takes visitors on a 20-minute lap of the extensive grounds. There's also a handicrafts shop and cafe on site.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Mecca

    Al Masjid Al Haram

    The focal point for every Muslim and the biggest mosque in the world, Al Masjid Al Haram is able to host a million worshippers and covers an area of 356,800 sq metres. At its epicentre is the Holy Kaaba, covered in black and gold cloth, around which Muslims can be found circumnavigating night and day (known as tawaf). It's the holiest structure in all of Islam, and is at the heart of the Islamic pilgrimages (hajj and umrah). The Kaaba predates the Prophet Muhammad's lifetime; Muslims believe it was built by the Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ishmael. The foundations of the mosque around the Kaaba date to at least the 7th century, when the second caliph, Omar Bin Al Khattab, built a structure to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims each year. Set into the Kaaba's eastern corner is the Black Stone, a relic Muslims believe fell from the heavens and was placed into the corner by the Prophet Ibrahim. The stone came away from the Kaaba during the Prophet's lifetime, and it is said he then personally placed it back into the corner, where it sits today. At the Kaaba's northwestern edge, a curved area known as the Hatem or Hijr Ishmael represents the area believed to have been part of the Kaaba's original boundary when it was built by the Prophet Ibrahim. The mosque is in the midst of the Third Saudi Expansion, which will increase the mosque's area to 400,000 sq metres and allow 2.5 million people to pray inside it.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Sharjah

    Sharjah Art Museum

    Sharjah's heritage and arts areas are anchored by one of the region's most dynamic art museums, a treat for committed art-lovers and casual visitors alike. Downstairs, two galleries present rotating temporary exhibits of international calibre. Upstairs, the permanent collection offers a comprehensive survey of art created in the Arab world from the late 19th century onward. Its importance, as one of the few spaces in the world where you can view such a vast collection of Arab art, is indisputable. The permanent collection's most stunning pieces are found in the Barjeel Collection Wing – a long-term loan of some of the most pioneering and significant works by prominent Arab artists from the Barjeel Art Foundation. Some of the highlights include Lebanese artist Rafic Charuf's stark 'Palestinian Woman', influential Iraqi artist Kadhim Hayder's 'Fatigued Ten Horses Converse with Nothing', Egyptian artist Zeinab Abd El Hamid's chaotically colourful 'Quartier Populaire' and three works by post-Surrealist Syrian artist Marwan.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Saudi Arabia

    Jubbah Rock Carvings

    This is arguably the Kingdom's premier pre-Islamic site and open-air art gallery. Covering an area measuring 39 sq km are some of the most impressive petroglyphs (rock carvings) you are likely to ever see. The finest carvings date from around 5500 BC, when much of this area was an inland lake and inhabitants carved game animals that came to the waters. Elegant rock-cut ibex, oryx and camels abound, as well as significant Thamudic inscriptions dating to 1000 BC. The site is at the northwestern edge of the city of Jubbah and is signposted from the centre of town. Access is next to a new visitors centre. Jubbah is 100km northwest of Hail and a visit can easily be done in a day by car. Visitors arriving at the weekends should phone or email ahead to ensure the site is open.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Dhofar

    Jebel Samhan Viewpoint

    The upper plateau of Jebel Samhan suddenly ends in a vertiginous drop more than 1000 meters to the coastal plain below. Barely a ledge interrupts the vertical cliff, and it seems impossible that there should be any route down from here that didn't involve a rope and crampons. But in fact that is not the case: locals, armed with nothing more than a snake stick and a kettle, have been climbing from plain to jebel for centuries along their own hidden paths. However, this is definitely not recommended for the casual visitor. Better to sit back from the cliff edge and watch the birds (mainly crows and some large birds of prey) as they tumble over the rim or ride the thermals from plain to cliff top in search of food.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Jebel Shams

    Wadi Ghul Viewpoint

    The term 'Grand Canyon of Arabia' is wholly deserved for this quintessential feature of Oman's spectacular mountain scenery. A short path leads to the edge of the limestone cliffs with a vertiginous 1000m drop into Wadi Ghul below. There are no safety barriers, but the cliff edge is stepped at the top allowing visitors to sit in safety while contemplating the view. There are other viewpoints along the Jebel Shams road, but this is the most expansive. There's a colourful carpet stall opposite selling key fobs and small rugs.