If you’re in the UAE on a short layover, base yourself in downtown Dubai. Spend day one checking off the iconic sights on a Big Bus tour and then head up to the Burj Khalifa at sunset (book ahead). Take a spin around Dubai Mall and have dinner in Souk Al Bahar, with a view of the Dubai Fountain.
The next day, take a cab to Sharjah to visit the Museum of Islamic Civilization, the Sharjah Art Museum and wander among the little museums and souqs of the Heritage Area before strolling through the Central Souq. Afterwards enjoy dinner at Shababeek.
Spend two days in futuristic Dubai and one in retro Sharjah before heading south to Abu Dhabi to marvel at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, zoom around Ferrari World and discover world history at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
For total contrast, dip into the desert next to face a huge dune, magical silence and plenty of camels, preferably on an overnight trip.