The United Arab Emirates, often referred to as the U.A.E, is a federation of seven emirates on the eastern side of the Arabian peninsula, at the entrance to the Persian Gulf. It has coastlines on the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia to the west and southwest, and Oman to the southeast and also on the eastern tip of the Musandam Peninsula as well as an Omani enclave within its borders. It is a country rich in history and culture and an easy starting point for travels in the Middle East.
For most Western tourists, the U.A.E. offers an environment that is extremely familiar. The malls are extraordinarily modern, filled with virtually any product available in the West (save sexually explicit material; movies are censored, as are, to some extent, magazines). The less well known side of the U.A.E. includes remote, magnificent desert dunes on the edge of the Empty Quarter and craggy, awe-inspiring wadis in the north-east bordering Oman.
Alcohol is widely available at many restaurants and bars, as well as outlets of MMI and African + Eastern, in Dubai, and in the tourist hotels of every other emirate save Sharjah. As of 2023, licences to purchase alcohol for off-sales in Dubai are free, and can be applied for in-person at any MMI or African + Eastern outlet on provision of a passport (for tourists) or an Emirates ID (for expats). The emirate of Sharjah, however, remains completely dry.
The roads and other public facilities are modern if, at times, extremely crowded. Supermarkets offer a vast assortment of products from Europe and the U.S., depending on the shop, along with local and regional items. Major international chains such as Ikea and Carrefour have a presence and fast-food chains (nearly all from the U.S.) such as McDonald’s and KFC operate widely. On the other hand, there are still a few crowded traditional souks filled with products from around the world, rug stores. These can be hard to find for the average traveller, as the malls tend to gain an overwhelming amount of attention. (Please note that contrary to what is printed in guidebooks, the souks in Abu Dhabi were torn down in 2006 and no longer exist. The souks in Dubai are still wonderful to explore, though).
The combination of Emirati Arab culture mixed with Southeast and South Asian as well as African and other immigrants who live here adds to an already vast and vibrant melting pot of cultures.