Situated in the topmost corner of the United Arab Emirates, Ras al-Khaimah has managed to incorporate the rapidly modernizing and growing economy of its city into neighbourhoods without completely forsaking its traditional past. Glittering high-rises are visible, but have not encroached on the palatial ruins, traditional markets, and simple residential communities. The city holds a special draw for outdoor enthusiasts, as it is nestled right between tall mountains and the sea. The towns just outside this coastal city still hold on to their seaside traditions, such as fishing, sailing, and pearl diving, and thus give visitors a glimpse into the Emirates’ past before their financial boom.
Location: At the tip of the UAE
Ras al-Khaimah means ‘top of the tent’ in Arabic. The city is so named due to its location on the north-eastern tip of the United Arab Emirates, bordering Oman’s exclave of Musandam. Since the city is located less than an hour away from Dubai, the most popular port of arrival for visitors is Dubai International Airport.
Business: High-tech and real estate boom
Ras al-Khaimah boasts a diverse, modern economy focused on high-tech industries, construction, real estate, and tourism. Though it does not take part in the oil-producing activities most of the country does, its economy has recently exploded due to friendly legislation for foreign investors, which has influenced an influx of expat companies expanding or relocating to the Middle East. Today, the city is the seat of Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries, in addition to high-tech companies that produce optical storage media and aerospace products.
Culture: Preserving tradition in palaces and villages
Ruins of medieval palaces and royal residences, such as Sheba’s Palace and Dhayah Fort, can be found throughout Ras al-Khaimah. The most prominent such building, the former palace of the ruling family, has been converted into a natural history and archaeology museum, known as the National Museum of Ras al-Khaimah. Though the city has moved quickly into the 21st century, it is intent on preserving its heritage, so visitors are still able to visit historic sea trading villages, such as Julfar and Jazirat Al Hamra, located just outside the city. Travellers looking to take a souvenir home should stop at the Old City and Souq, both of which boast traditional shops and artisans’ workshops selling crafts native to the area.
Activities: Climb dunes and sail the sea
In order to get a sense of Ras al-Khaimah’s historical roots, visitors can check out the Bassata Desert Village, which offers the opportunity to participate in traditional local activities, such as camel riding, belly dancing, and dune bashing. The Falcon Show in Banyan Tree Al Wadi gives a glimpse into the falconry tradition of the area. If you want to enjoy the great outdoors or just relax, visit the city’s beautiful sandy beaches, sail with locals in its pristine waters, or head out to the towering local sand dunes, the Al-Khushaym and the Bani Fasan.