Outdoor Hidden Gems: Where to Escape the Crowds This Winter in the UAE

7 mins

Looking for somewhere new to explore during the cool winter months? We’ve got you covered…

The UAE’s beautiful winter weather is something that should be relished and enjoyed at every available opportunity.

However, it’s easy to get into a pattern of visiting the same beaches and parks every weekend.

So, this winter, why not mix up your day trips, and explore some of the UAE’s most amazing outdoor hidden gems as well.

From flower farms to secret lakes and uninhabited islands, these are some of the most amazing and gloriously undiscovered places to get outside in the fresh air.

The Sandbank Islands, Abu Dhabi

turquoise waters at the beach

Spending a day sunbathing on your own private sand island might sound like the stuff that dreams are made of, but in Abu Dhabi, it’s very much a reality. Free from luxury hotels, restaurants and any human development, the sandbanks islands near Saadiyat Island only appear at low tide. Surrounded by startlingly turquoise waters and offering complete privacy and serenity, the secret-keepers to these idyllic islands are the team from Droubnaa tour company.

They’ll take you there by private boat, set you up with chairs, an umbrella and a picnic, and leave you to absorb the full glory of the Arabian Gulf without a soul in sight to disturb you. Make sure you come with a fully charged phone, you’ll want to take lots and LOTS of photos. 

Where: Near Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi – Prices vary.

The UAE Flower Farm, Ras Al Khaimah

flowers growing in the Arabian mountains

While the UAE isn’t short of pristine flower beds, meadows filled with wildflowers and rare blooms are usually impossible to find. But not at the UAE Flower Farm. Tucked away in the Hajar mountains of Ras Al Khaimah, the farm’s lush fields of flowers provide a vibrant pop of colour against the jagged peaks. Spanning gladiolus, lavender, hollyhocks, snapdragons and numerous types of roses, the flower farm has produced and sold 50,000 packets of seeds, which have all gone on to be planted in gardens and balconies across the country.

A powerful demonstration how nature can thrive even in the driest and most barren of landscapes, strolling through the rows and rows of flowers is a lovely experience. You can also admire the vibrant flowers from a small café in the centre of the fields, and support the farm’s efforts by taking home some homemade lavender tea. 

Reopening December. Entry is AED15 per person.

Al Wathba Salt Lakes

salt lakes surrounded by desert

It may have enjoyed a phase as the UAE’s hottest Instagram backdrop, but the Al Wathba salt lakes still count as way off the beaten track. Located out in the Al Wathba desert, close to the equally beautiful Al Wathba fossil dunes and about an hour’s drive from downtown Abu Dhabi, the ethereal salt-crusted blue lagoons are truly a sight to behold. The exact location can be tricky to find, and the last part is definitely more comfortable to navigate in a 4×4. But, when you spot the bright blue waters and snowy white crystals appearing like a mirage in the middle of the desert, the adventurous drive all feels very much worth it.

Where: Al Wathba, Abu DhabiFree of charge.

Al Fayah Caves, Sharjah

view of mountains and desert and trees during winter months

A great educational day out for the whole family, the prehistoric Mleiha’s ‘Valley of the Caves’ at the Al Faya Caves, is not to be missed. Discover structures dating back to the Paleolithic period -approximately 150,000 years ago – and tour the Mleiha Archaeological Centre. Visitors can also enjoy picnics and camping in this historical setting.

Activities range from Dh50 to Dh1,500

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Reserve, Dubai

flamingos drinking in water

Downtown Dubai isn’t exactly renowned for its birdwatching opportunities, and so it may come as a surprise to learn that tens of thousands of birds have chosen to make their home by Dubai Creek, at Ras Al Khor Wildlife Reserve. Lush, green and unspoilt, the sanctuary is renowned for its flocks of elegant bright pink flamingos. The sight of the iconic long-legged birds against the backdrop of the Burj Khalifa and city skyline never fails to be amazing, and you can also spot fascinating mammals such as Arabian red foxes and Ethiopian hedgehogs, plus snakes, lizards, fish and many more birds like osprey, grey herons, great egrets and reef herons.

With the flamingos visiting annually between October and April, there’s never been a better time to discover this often overlooked corner of Dubai.

Free to enter.

Fossil Dunes, Al Wathba

fossilised dune

Just 30 kilometres from the hustle of Abu Dhabi, the sandy dunes of the Arabian desert transform into rugged rock formations at Al Wathba. Shaped by relentless winds over millennia, the once-shifting dunes evolved into rugged rock formations, revealing astonishing fossilised structures. Beyond the impressive rocks, the area is teeming with camels, offering plenty of photo opportunities—especially at sunset. While many opt for a day trip to explore the fossil dunes, the location is also an idyllic setting for a night of camping beneath the stars.

Free to enter

Hudayriyat Island, Abu Dhabi

beach and palm tree with boat

While Hudayriyat’s public beach is well known for being one of the best free beaches in Abu Dhabi, the island’s huge array of other outdoor activities and facilities are less spoken about. Scattered with interesting sculptures, the boardwalk nature trails are perfect for a relaxing stroll. Or, for a more thorough workout, you can rent a bike from Yas Cycles (AED50 for one hour) and cycle around the 5km and 10km bike tracks.

Taking in some exceptionally cool water bridges, and some amazing views of the city skyline, it makes for a far more enjoyable calorie burner than any spin class. Adding further outdoor fun, the Circuit X rope park offers ziplines, climbing walls and sky-high activities for all ages, while the Bab Al Nojoum campsite provides everything from rustic desert tents to vintage campervans and beach villas with private pools.

Nature walks are free, other prices vary.

Wadi Shawka, Ras al Khaimah

pretty mountain range with rocks and greenery

Just a one hour drive from Dubai, Wadi Shawka is a popular spot for a picnic, a day-trip, hiking or camping. On the journey there you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Mleiha desert and the rugged landscapes of Ras Al Khaimah. Wadi Shawka and its family friendly trails, is less crowded than it’s popular counterpart Jabel Jais and boasts numerous hikes, picturesque camping sites, natural pools and cycling paths. A perfect outdoor gem.

Free to enter

Jebel Jais, Ras al Khaimah

tree and rocks with water

Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest peak, attracts outdoor enthusiasts and nature aficionados with its cooler temperatures and breathtaking Ras Al Khaimah views all year round. Surpassing date palm farms, wadis and ancient fishing villages, the mountain’s peaks offer an exceptional natural setting for a whole range of adventure activities from the world’s highest zip line to plenty of hiking trails. Well-maintained roads wind through meandering hairpins, providing access to the peaks and numerous viewpoints for appreciating the ever-changing scenery.

Hikes are free, prices for activities vary

Mirfa Beach, Abu Dhabi  

beach and palm trees

Located an hour and a half from Abu Dhabi and three hours from Dubai, Al Mirfa Beach is the perfect place to escape the crowds. As one of the UAE’s most well-kept secrets, there’s no fighting for a parking spot or a place for your towel at this remote stretch of beautiful golden sand. Unlike most other public beaches, camping is permitted, and with its clear blue waters and incredible sunset views, it’s the perfect place for a weekend adventure. Camping and picnic supplies can be purchased from the nearby town of Al Mirfa, and toilets, showers, playgrounds and walking paths can also be found along the beachfront.

Where: Al Dhafra, Abu DhabiEntry and parking is free of charge.

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