Take a tour of the United Arab Emirates as a movie set!
From dramatic desert-scapes to amazing architecture, is it any wonder the spotlight has been on the UAE in recent years when it comes to some of the most action-packed Hollywood blockbusters?
If you love a good movie to get your inspired to travel, let’s take a tour through the country and how you can relive these awesome Hollywood style adventures for yourself!
Fast & Furious 7
This has to have number one ranking, right? , I mean some of these scenes are just amazing – ok completely unbelievable but what a setting.
Famous Sights: From the Liwa Desert to Emirates Palace it’s a real showcase of the UAE and Abu Dhabi Emirate in particular – from the luxurious and opulency to the vast open spaces of the Empty Quarter.
Take a little sneak peek at these spectacular scenes from Fast & Furious 7
How to live like the stars: Visitors can simply walk into the Emirates Palace to take a look around – most tourists at the very least jump off to have their photo taken here! To go inside the palace you should really be staying or have a meal booking (just say you do at the door, it’s not strict – but DO be dressed respectfully).
Etihad Towers across the road (you know where the cars dramatically jump from one building to another) has Observation Deck at 300 where you can get a brilliant look out over the city.
Oh and if you want fast cars, you might find a few in the valet parking at pretty much every hotel, but for a hands-on experience, you need to head out to Ferrari World at Yas Island. Not only is it one of the largest indoor theme park in the world with the world’s fastest roller coaster, but you can take a Ferrari driving experience – click here to learn more.
Where to stay: You can actually stay inside both Emirates Palace and Etihad Towers! Yes, it’s a surprise to many that Emirates Palaces is not actually the Royal Family’s palace but a mega hotel, managed by Kempinski. (The real palace is next door).
Jumeirah Hotel operates from one of the towers inside Etihad Towers (the rest of the space is combined office and residential). Nearby you can stay at the InterContinental if you want those spectacular views looking back to Etihad Towers, of next door in an equally shiny and architecturally beautiful building you also have Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Famous Sights: Come on, admit it, the Burj Khalifa scenes were pretty breathtaking, right?
Absolutely unmistakable as the tallest building in the world, doesn’t Tom Cruise dangling 1,700 feet off the ground make you just a teensy bit curious about visiting Dubai? Or the giant dust storm imposing itself on the city (we do get dust storms but they are not that regularly and normally not SOOOO dramatic – but they do move in really suddenly like the movie shows)
Hold your breath, let’s relive that moment!!!
How to live like the stars: Visitors can buy advance purchase tickets if you want to see At the Top – Burj Khalifa’s observation decks on the 124th & 125th levels. It’s the one thing I warn visitors you must book weeks in advance as the good slots particular for sunrise and sunset sell out well in advance.
Where to stay: Want to actually stay IN the Burj Khalifa? Yep, it’ s possible at Armani Hotel – it’s even referenced in the film!!
But if it’s a little bit toppy for your budget, there are plenty of other hotels sitting very nearby with superb access to the Burj and the Dubai Mall beneath including Taj Dubai, Sofitel Downtown, the Address Downtown and the Ramada Downtown. Having a Metro stop here as well means you can stay almost anywhere along the Dubai Metro Red line and be in easy access.
You can also stay in the rather opulent Jumeirah Zabeel Saray on the Palm Jumeirah – this place has lives of the rich and famous written all over it!!
Famous Sights: Although the majority of the film is set in Saudi Arabia, you will find Emirates Palace takes on a starring role during the meeting with Jamie Foxx, Jason Bateman and Chris Cooper meet Saudi Prince Ahmed bin Khaled.
How to live like the stars: Well the Emirates Palace, of course! With more than a dozen bars and restaurants to choose from at Emirate Palace, it’s not reserved just for the rich and famous, though a full wallet will help.
Where to stay: If the prices to stay in Emirates Palace itself are too eye-watering (but oh so worth it for a one-off special occasion) then try neighbouring Bab Al Qasr Hotel (the gold building across the road) or Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan.
Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens
Famous Sights: The vast Liwa Desert is the setting for Planet Jakku – they, in fact, built the set to look like the desert!
How to live like the stars: there are so many different ways to enjoy the Liwa Desert. Several tour operators take visitors on day and overnight trips from Abu Dhabi city out to the vast desert surrounds. Visiting the Moreeb Dune is a must for many visitors.
Experienced 4wd drivers will take you dune bashing or dune biking, or the brave may want to try their hand at sandboarding.
Where to stay: Locals and expats alike love to go desert camping, but if it’s the ultimate desert experience you are after, you can’t look past Qasr Al Sarab in the Liwa Desert – Luxury done the way it’s supposed to be! You’ll also get access to a huge range of outdoor activities and the drive alone with the sweeping desert sands and vast emptiness is utterly worth it!
A more budget-conscious option that still has plenty of outdoor desert sports though not as luxurious is Tilal Liwa Hotel.
Star Trek Beyond
Famous Sights: Unlike other films showcasing the UAE, the deliberately sought out less internationally recognized buildings for their futuristic setting of Federation Starbase but it’s clear for those in the know that many of the scenes include Downtown Dubai, JLT, The Burj Al Arab (the beautiful sail hotel) and the Meydan Racetrack.
How to travel like the stars: So air travel has still not been invented but you can get a helicopter tour over Dubai!
Where to stay: With filming over most of Dubai you can stay pretty much anywhere in the Downtown area to relive the experience. Try one of many high-rise hotels that will give you those spectacular views down Sheikh Zayed Road.
Some lesser-known flicks actually filmed in the UAE
OK so you might be familiar with these blockbusters, what about these ones:
Syrianna – This geopolitical thriller starring George Clooney and Matt Damon is set in several different countries, but the scenes that are purporting to be the Iranian desert are in fact shot in the deserts of Dubai.
Wall Street Money Never Sleeps – although mostly shot in New York, Dubai gets a starring role in some of the luxury scenes
Bourne Legacy – another one you might not expect – scenes filmed for Karachi are in fact an undisclosed UAE location.
City of Life – first full-length feature film in English to be set entirely in the UAE.
Champ of the Camp – a talent competition set in a labour camp on the outskirts of Dubai. This is a lesser advertised aspect of Dubai, but make no mistake the labour camps are a prominent and important part of the scenery. Little is ever published of spoken so it was a surprise to see this one pop up in our Hollywood research!
Not actually filmed in the UAE
Sex in the City 2 – The storyline leads us to believe that Carrie and her gang are luxuriating in Abu Dhabi, but in fact, the Emirati authorities would not allow filming so they desert backdrop in this film is actually Morocco.
What about the small screen? TV shows that have visited the UAE
I must say I was most excited to see our very own Raha Beach appear on an episode of the Amazing Race! What a moment though seeing the teams trying to take on local racing camels on bicycles, you can feel their pain!
Then there was the UK Apprentice – teams from the UK sent out here on their scavenger hunt mission (with us yelling hopelessly at them how they were in the wrong spot and where they should be looking!!).
Even the Bold and The Beautiful filmed part of their 2014 series in Dubai & Abu Dhabi.
Top Gear has been another prominent UK show, out here filming in 2013 – flashy vehicles and long desert highways in the Empty Quarter, standard.
There are a plethora of other smaller feature films and shows we haven’t mentioned, particularly those in Arabic, Hindi, Urdu.
Getting to the UAE
So have you visited any of these famous sites? Will you be adding them to your UAE bucket list?
Still seeking UAE travel ideas – how about 100+ of them!
Or how about more Emirati Cultural Experiences?
We are an Aussie/British expat family living in the United Arab Emirates – seeking out fun, culture, adventure and interesting facts about our adopted home since 2012! You can see more of our UAE adventures here – or take a visit to the Middle East with our family travel adventures
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