Ready to discover the range of things to do in Ras Al Khaimah, the northernmost Emirate? Pack your swimsuit and your desert gear and prepare to visit the adventurous land in the U.A.E.
Disclosure. My work with the airline Royal Brunei highlighted an unusual travel destination to explore: the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah in the U.A.E. This article forms part of a project produced in partnership with Royal Brunei, RAKTDA and Ritz Carlton. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. If you book or buy through any links on this page, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Now, let’s begin!
Things to do in Ras Al Khaimah
Where is Ras Al Khaimah?
It’s a curious place, Ras Al Khaimah, with a curiously interesting name.
Swirling desert sands. A coastline awash with mangroves and pearls, and a natural wildlife menu that counts in oryx and flamingos among the compulsory cantankerous camel.
As the northernmost Emirate of the seven that make up the UAE, it’s also the one with the highest mountain peak: Jebel Jais.
Fast Facts About Visiting Ras Al Khaimah
- Northernmost Emirate of the UAE
- Year round sunshine
- Slightly cooler than its cousins
- Malaria Free*
- Zika Free*
Why visit Ras al Khaimah?
Quieter than razzle-dazzle neighbour Dubai, it has built a reputation for adventure sports, luxe family resorts, and a quieter, more nature-based approach to life in the desert.
The world’s longest zipline headlines the constellation of hiking trails, via ferrata routes and mountain bike paths that thread around the Jebel Jais mountain range.
But of course, like most places in the Middle East, life in Ras Al Khaimah has been going on long before mankind decided to throw itself off a mountain top or float their breakfast in a beautiful plunge pool. Its wealth of cultural activities joins the list of tourist attractions and other must-see places in Ras Al Khaimah.
What makes RAK different from the rest of the Emirates?
RAK, as sensible people say, wears a different identity to its neighbours.
Some customs are shared, some outlooks entwined, but certain others most definitely stand apart.
Each Emirate has a different ruler and with it a different level of interpretation when it comes to political and religious affairs.
RAK sells alcohol and allows women to dress how they like (although it remains a conservative country and it’s wise to cover knees, shoulders and cleavage beyond any hotel resort.)
It also has no oil, a little nugget of information that’s useful to know, as you separate out the identities of countries “in the Middle East.”
Things to do in the Desert in Ras Al Khaimah
Until you’ve seen those deep-red dunes swirl before your very eyes, you live in danger of thinking it’s all a fancy photo filter. It's not. The desert is that beautiful and she deserves at least an evening of your time.
Visit a Bedouin Camp on a Desert Safari
I’ve you’ve never experienced Bedouin life before, then a trip to reconstructed Bedouin Oasis Camp serves as a bite-sized introduction. If you have, then it’s still good fun to reconnect with camels, sandboarding, kohl and dune bashing and yet be able to get back to your hotel to sleep.
Go Dune Bashing in the Sand
Whether your find dune bashing exhilarating or terrifying, there's no doubt that the views are beautiful. Skimming across sand in a 4 x 4 as the sun sets blends the ancient with modern in the United Arab Emirates.
Ras Al Khaimah and Jebel Jais - home to the longest zip line in the world
Things to do in the Mountains in Ras Al Khaimah
With the highest mountain in the Emirates in its repertoire, perhaps it was only a matter of time before someone attached metal to rock and set up the world’s largest zipline.
The World's Largest ZipLine
At 1680 metres above sea level, it’s a dizzying 2.83 km long and “jumpers” can reach speeds of up to 160 km/h. The company, Toro Verde, likes to call each jump a "Jebel Jais flight.”
It’s the pinnacle of the adventure sports available, but by no means the only one.
And if, er, for example, you’re in no mood or no shape for adrenaline-fuelled sports, the views on the way up to the Jebel Jais Zipline through the Hajar Mountain Range deserve a visit in and of themselves.
The sharp, white sails of the canopies against a harsh blue sky and towering stratified rock, all teetering above the glimmering Arabian Sea is a photographer's dream.
The gorgeous coastline of Ras Al Khaimah
Things to do on the Coast in ras al khaimah
When you live on an island, 40 miles of coastline may not sound like much. But when you’re in a country that’s mainly the desert, that coast becomes a lifeline.
Pristine beaches with soft white sand. Clusters of mangrove swamps where flamingos stand in their comical one-legged way. And small fishing villages where boats bob and tilt and glisten in the sun. Here's a guid to things to do in Ras Al Khaimah along the coast.
Relax on the Beach
The beaches aren't the most beautiful in the world but with almost guaranteed good weather and opulent, luxurious resorts, you don't really need soft white sand.
Jet Ski and Kayak
Beyond fly and flop activities for sun seekers, you can jet ski your way across the water or kayak through the mangroves.
Spotlight: The Ritz Carlton Al Hamra
Al Hamra means the red one and this coastal area developed its nickname thanks to its deep, orange-red sand.
The Ritz Carlton Al Hamra provides secluded luxury with cool billowing white sheets and Bedouin-inspired interiors. It has 32 luxurious villas, each with private access to the beach and a private plunge pool. With only a 45 minute drive from Dubai Airport and 20-30 minutes from the sister property, the Ritz-Carlton Al Wadi resort, it's a convenient place to reacharge and relax.
A four poster bed sits beneath white drapes and overlooks a sofa and glass view into a private garden. The television lives hidden in a giant white suitcase, popping up and turning around to face bed or sofa at the touch of a remote control button.
A desk sits behind the bed, with charging points everywhere you'd hope for and a double sink and dressing area stands ahead of the indoor shower and toilet.
It's a short walk through the back of the garden onto the beach, where views of other buildings stand on the horizon
The main restaurant, The Shore House, overlooks the Arabian Gulf with its own infinity pool and seafood-rich menu. Enjoy the sea bass ceviche, pomegranate marinated lobster or simple seafood feast.
There is a Ritz Kids® program for children older than four and for babies this would be lovely, provided you could shelter in the day. For toddlers, the lack of closed gate in the garden could be an issue but apart from that, it looks like a great place for a family to stay. With your own pool, it's easy to access changing facilities and lotion up and you don't need to worry about other guests.
Who it's for: sun seekers looking for a quiet life and a chance to recharge, with an easy access route back to London.
Who it's not for: partygoers and city slickers. People who can't sit still.
Cultural Things to do in Ras Al Khaimah
Life here dates back 7000 years, give or take, with the nomadic Bedouin ranging through the dunes with camels and quiet fishing villages getting by through diving for pearls and trading with India and beyond.
Conquering forces have come and gone, with various levels of bloodshed.
The flag of the Emirates reflects it all: green for agriculture, white for peace, black for oil and red for, let’s euphemistically say, strength and power, rather than my first guess, blood.
So, apart from the geography, why should you visit Ras Al Khaimah?
Well, it’s a great introduction to life in the Middle East and a relaxing base for some sunshine in a quieter, less ostentatious way than Dubai.
The Ras Al Khaimah National Museum
The Ras Al Khaimah National Museum stands in a stone-red fort that used to belong to the ruling family until the 1960s. Among its collection of archaeological exhibits, a number of treaties and documents between Ras Al Khaimah and Britain exist in the first floor Qawasim Room. You'll find weapons as well as information on traditional ways of life here, from pearl diving to harvesting dates along with other farming and fishing activities.
The Dhayah Fort
Small but strategic, this 16th century mud fort sits around 20 km north of the city of Ras Al Khaimah. Fighting took place here between Britain and the Emirate in 1819, destroying many of the other forts, whose ruins can still be seen scattered across the sand. Even without the history, the panoramic views from the Dhayah Fort make a visit one of the best cultural things to do in Ras Al Khaimah.
The decaying ruins of Jazirat al-Hamra may sound grim, but the passage of time has created a photographic masterpiece through crumbling red, rock and sand. Around 20 kilometres south of Ras Al Khaimah city, Jazirat al-Hamra is a former fishing village, abandoned in the 1960s and its coral-red architecture left to slowly decline.
More archaeology awaits southeast of Ras Al Khaimah City at the mineral-rich hot Khatt Springs. Over 107 archaeological ruins have been documented here, from prehistoric tombs to 19th century mud-brick fortification towers. Locals and tourists alike visit for health soaks in the waters, with the backdrop of those beautiful mountains.
Several burial grounds dating back to the Umm Al Nar in 2500 BC have been found in Shima, a settlement in the north of RAK.
Planning a Trip to Ras Al Khaimah
So how do you get to Ras Al Khaimah?
While RAK does have its own airport, for choice and ease of connection, most people fly in to Dubai. From there it’s a 45 minute drive, which makes it faster than getting into central London from Heathrow on the Piccadilly Line.
Flying to Ras Al Khaimah with Royal Brunei
Royal Brunei Airline operate daily flights from London to Dubai. From there, it's only a 45 minute drive or 25 minute scenic trip by seaplane with Seawings to reach Ras Al Khaimah. You can also connect by flying to Abu Dhabi, although the transfer time is longer.
- Royal Brunei's economy flights to Dubai start from £327, for more information about destinations covered by Royal Brunei and to book your flights, visit their website over here or call their customer service centre on 0207 5849939.
- The Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight offers a quieter journey with larger windows that self-tint so you don’t have to argue with your neighbours about whether or not to have the shutter up or down. Service is friendly and efficient and it’s one of the best value airlines around.
- It’s worth mentioning that the airline doesn’t serve alcohol (which may also make for a quieter and more restful flight) and screens out certain “adult” material on the in-flight entertainment. Families with young children are allowed to board first and you can book your seats in advance.
- Seats have USB power points and on my six or so flights with them, the staff have always been exceedingly helpful and polite. What's more, even the Economy seats have a generous 30kg check in luggage.
Travel to London Heathrow
From London Heathrow, the quickest way into the city is on the Heathrow Express which whizzes you in to London Paddington. Fares start for as little as £5.50 if you book in advance on heathrowexpress.com. Children 15 and under travel for free at all times.
I’d recommend you split your time between the three key regions:
- 2-3 days on the coast
- 2-3 days in the desert
- 2-3 days in the mountains
Travelling distances are fairly short so you can pic ‘n’ mix from there and still have time to relax.
Clearly, some of the adventure sports aren’t suitable for young children but the country, its travelling distances and the hotels mentioned here are definitely family friendly.
In Conclusion: Visiting Ras Al Khaimah
So there you have it, an introduction to the best things to do in Ras Al Khaimah, the places to visit, where to stay and more in the emirate with the curious name.
Yet explore just a little and you’ll realise it’s not so curious after all. For Ras Al Khaimah translates to mean the one “at the top of the tent.” The tallest mountain, the northernmost part.
It makes perfect sense to me.
*At the time of writing. But always, come on, you know this already, always check with your own medical professional before booking and travelling.
Travel Tips for the U.A.E
Did you enjoy these interesting facts about Dubai? Why not check out our other articles about the United Arab Emirates.
More Travel in the Middle East
Wondering where to begin? Start with this guide on the best places to visit in the Middle East.
And explore Israel, starting with this guide to two days in Tel Aviv.