Let’s start by scratching Qatar off the list. The gas-rich nation has a reputation for dullness, with little for visitors to do save grabbing a drink at the W Hotel or browsing through the Souq Waqif for plastic camel trinkets. So that leaves the United Arab Emirates’s Dubai and Oman, two very contrasting destinations.
It’s the Las Vegas of the Middle East, says Razan Alzayani, a photojournalist based in the city state. “I think Dubai is an easy choice because it has tons to offer in terms of must-sees.” On her hit-list for you is, of course, the Burj Khalifa (burjkhalifa.ae), the tallest building in the world, where you can take in the Dubai Fountain water show at its base or ride an elevator to its observation deck. (Floor 124, please.)
She also recommends heading to Bastakiya, “which is full of cute cafés and art galleries,” and taking a taxi to Al Serkal Avenue (alserkalavenue.com) in the Al Qouz industrial area to get a sense of the contemporary art scene there.
Alzayani, who has called everywhere from Boston to Bahrain home, also recommends visiting the creek-side district of Deira “to see the old spice and gold souk and to take an old water taxi along the creek.” And finally? Some time on the city’s beaches (her favourite is Kite Beach) and a side trip to the desert for some off-roading.
Oman, meanwhile, is praised for its natural beauty, historic treasures and warm populace.
“Oman’s people are so friendly, welcoming and down to earth,” says Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey, a writer and “serial expat” who has lived in Oman, Qatar and Dubai. (She recently settled in Australia.) “Oman’s people have to work for their money. They drive taxis, work the supermarket check-outs – you can actually meet them and become friends, something quite difficult to achieve in any of the other countries.”
The capital of Muscat is home to museums, a new Royal Opera House and the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (omantourism.gov.om), with its white marble, enormous Swarovski crystal chandelier and space for 20,000 worshipers. But many side trips await here too, such as visiting the fort of Nizwa, says Lemmin-Woolfrey. “If [you] have time, drive the Rustaq Loop past Al Hazm, Rustaq and Nakhl. If [you] have more time, get down to Salalah for a totally different Oman and an idea of where the ancient frankincense trail started.”
Alzayani, who has been to Oman half a dozen times, says the country is ideal for travellers looking for outdoor adventure. She suggests hiking and swimming in the natural pools at Wadi Shab and heading to “the Musandam Peninsula, where they can take traditional dhows and do day tours to neighbouring islands, go snorkelling, fishing or scuba diving.”
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