Most visitors think they’ve seen it all after exploring towering skyscrapers, palatial hotels, extravagant cars, and colossal malls in the UAE. You may have enjoyed impressive views of Dubai from the Burj Khalifa, clapped excitedly as a belly dancer drew impossible circles with her hips, ate your fair share of camel burgers, and even marveled at the imposing beauty of the Grand Mosque but trust us, you’ve barely scratched the surface of all the UAE has to offer.

These day trips offer a pleasant mix of nature, adventure and heritage to help you discover travel secrets few tourists known exist.

Photo Credit: Habitat

Liwa Oasis - Abu Dhabi

A two-hour drive southwest of Abu Dhabi, the grandeur of the Arabian Desert is on full display at Liwa Oasis. On your way, stop at the Emirates National Auto Museum and the Heritage Village for a jaw-dropping collection of vehicles that include classic military tanks and a 16-foot tall Dodge with an apartment in it, owned by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan al Nahyan, or the “Rainbow Sheikh.” As you continue through the desert, notice the colors of the shifting sand. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a rare Arabian Gazelle. The majestic dunes of Rub Al Khali (or the Empty Quarter) is the largest desert in the Arabian Peninsula, with views that are truly awe-inspiring. Popular stops include the Hameem Oasis, local Bedouin villages such as Muzayri, cultivated date forests, a camel farm, Mezaira’a, and the imposing 328 foot high Moreb Dune.

Photo Credit: El Bash Muhandiss

Masafi Friday Market - Masafi, Fujairah

Though it operates every day of the week, Friday is definitely the pinnacle of the Friday Market in Masafi. The drive to Fujairah takes you through the striking rugged landscape of the Hajar Mountains interspersed with patches of fertile farmland in the Dibba Masafi region. Welcoming a large number of tourists, expats and residents from other emirates on the weekends, the market is a great place to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, date honey, palm syrup, and potted plants sourced locally and from neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Oman. Carpets and housewares in various colors and designs showcase traditional Iranian art and iconic UAE landmarks so stop for a quick snack at one of the stalls selling char-grilled corn-on-the-cob and sip fresh coconut water as you begin to haggle.

"DSC_3924" by Daarkfire via Flickr Creative Commons

Big Red - Dubai-Hatta Road

An easy day trip from Dubai or Abu Dhabi on Dubai-Hatta Road, the aptly named Big Red or “Al Hamar” is a massive 300-foot sand dune with sleep slopes, the color the result of high iron oxide content. The attraction appeals to adventurous enthusiasts who come on weekends with their dune buggies, quad-bikes, jeeps, and sand boards, which can also be rented from local shops in the area.

" Fort of Ras Al Khaimah" by Sakena via Flickr Creative Commons

Jazirat Al Hamra - Ras Al Khaimah

Formerly a fishing and pearl diving village, the township of Jazirat Al Hamra in Ras Al Khaimah is a historical site that offers a rare glimpse into the region’s humble beginning. Abandoned nearly forty years ago by residents who embraced the wave of modernization and moved to cities, it’s the last remaining traditional town in the UAE that is still relatively well preserved. As you walk through the old streets, notice a fortress, a market or souk, mosques, and different styles of houses. From basic homes to opulent multi-storied residences with spacious courtyards, more than a hundred homes give you insight into the lifestyle of the town’s residents; fishermen, pearl divers and prosperous merchant families. Climb to the top of the fortress to enjoy sweeping views and take it all in.

" IMG_8926" by Groundhopping Merseburg via Flickr Creative Commons

Khatt Springs - Ras Al Khaimah

If you fancy a day of relaxation, the Khatt Springs nestled in the scenic Hajar Mountains in Ras Al Khaimah will cure what ails you. Dip your toes in the UAE’s premier hot springs, with three natural sulfuric water sources, the fertile green oasis of Khatt is believed to have therapeutic and medicinal properties. It’s no surprise that the springs are very popular with both long time residents and tourists for their skin soothing abilities for rheumatic diseases and muscular ailments. In addition to relaxing in the hot mineral pools, you can also choose other spa treatments ranging from hot stone massages to Ayurvedic procedures.

"Fishing at Dibba" by Bob Marquart via Flickr Creative Commons

Dibba - Musandam

Located on the northern tip of the UAE, the Musandam Peninsula is often referred to as the “Norway of the Middle East,” thanks to it’s gigantic fjord-like cliffs that rise from the waters of the Arabian Gulf. Take a day trip to Dibba, one of the popular towns in Musandam to cruise the area in a traditional Dhow. Swim, dive or snorkel in the crystal waters to experience the rich marine life of the area. Afterwards, spend a few hours dolphin watching or visiting small fishing villages on the coast by boat. Don’t forget to bring your passport, as you will be crossing into Omani territory. There are a number of tour operators providing tailor-made excursions depending on your budget.