Sanity-saving short break ideas for UAE parents
We have been on a quest: To find the best place to escape the desert for a few days, that doesn’t cost the earth or involve spending your whole time in transit.
Got the back to school blues already? 9 weeks wrangling your own offspring got you craving just a teensy bit of “me” time? We KNOW how you feel!
It’s time to rope in some help at home and pack your suitcases, ladies… you’re off on YOUR vacation time!
Whether it’s time to relax with your favourite book, walking past priceless artefacts without fear they will be smashed…. or just sleeping in!! We have put together 9 perfect destinations to disappear to with your girlfriends (or go on, you can take your hubby or significant other too!) for a relaxing retreat or special celebration, all within 5 hours of the UAE.
This is part of our Best Destinations Series – check out all our destination advice for families
1. Beirut, Lebanon
How far to Beirut & who to fly with:
The Lebanese capital is less than 4 hours flight, north east of the UAE. Emirates flies daily (DXB), as does FlyDubai (DXB & DWC) and Etihad (AUH).
The city centre is just 30 minutes away by taxi. We recommend pre-booking with a company such as Allo Taxi.
Why you and your girlfriends will love Beirut
With a rich past and vibrant culture, what’s not to love! The country is not too big so within a matter of days you can see the highlights on a series of day trips from Beirut; Byblos – the 7000-year-old port city; Jeitta Grotto and the underground caves; Our Lady of Lebanon at Harissa; the ancient Baalbek Temple; the Jabal Moussa Biosphere Reserve or to the south, the ancient seaside towns of Tyre and Sidon.
In town, Beirut Museum is worth a visit and art-lovers will appreciate the many galleries. Wander the Beirut Souks, have a coffee in Nejmeh Square and stroll the Corniche to Rauche Rocks. – See more Beirut itinerary ideas here.
Once nighttime hits (and by night I mean late – matchsticks in your eyes for this one, mums!) get out and party! Check out Gemmayzeh St (Garoud St) and Armenia Street – Mar Mikhael area. For dining Hamra Street and for you ultra-late nighters, head to the new Waterfront for O1NE Beirut and SkyBar.
Suggested tour options from Beirut
We have used and recommend Joe from Pub Crawl Beirut, not just an evening guide through the bars of Armenia Street, he can take you on day trips as well for small private groups, including winery tours.
Where to stay in Beirut:
Related Reading: Lebanon with Kids | Review of the Gefinor Rotana Hotel
2. Bucharest, Romania
How far to Bucharest & who to fly with:
There are two options from Al Maktoum Airport (DWC) with Fly Dubai or Wizz Air to Henri Coanda (Bucharest Otopeni Airport- OTP). FlyDubai also has a direct route to OTP from DXB. There are no direct options at present from AUH.
The flight from Dubai to Bucharest is 5 hours. From the airport to the city centre is 20kms – 30mins to an hour drive depending on traffic. Taxi’s, Uber or Taxify can be ordered from the airport (have your apps downloaded!).
Why you and your girlfriends will love Bucharest
One of the less discovered capital’s of Eastern Europe, but still thriving with its own special charm. The city has seen many influences over the centuries, some parts are still nicknamed “Little Paris” for their distinctly Parisienne feel. But there are undeniable touches of the Orient and the Balkans – and the impact of Communism was deeply felt by the city.
A sightseeing weekend will take you to see the People’s Palace (which includes the Museum of Contemporary Art) and the Old Town. A walking tour is highly recommended to absorb the countries rich history, many beautiful parks and churches – Herastrau Park and Cismigiu Park are must-sees. It’s a culture lover’s paradise with the Romanian Athenaeum, or look for the city’s many museums and galleries. Book lovers will fall in love with the giant bookstore Carturesti Causel.
For the best nighttime views, seek out Pura Vida Sky Bar, worth the 5-floor hike for cocktails and sunset views over the Old Town! The Old Town itself can be quite touristy so seek our smaller passageways to discover delightful hidden gems.
Suggested tours in Bucharest
As well as sightseeing around the city centre, are you up for a full day tour to see Dracula’s castle?
Where to stay in Bucharest
Realted Reading: Hidden Gems of Bucharest & How to Road Trip Around Transylvania
3. Colombo, Sri Lanka
How far to Colombo & who to fly with:
Etihad and Sri Lankan Airlines fly direct daily to COM from AUH, or Sri Lankan, Emirates & FlyDubai from DXB.
It’s under 5 hours of flying time to get to COM, but be mindful of traffic in Sri Lanka. An hour should see you into the heart of Colombo, or add another 1 to 2 hours if you are heading the southern beach areas such as Wadduwa through to Bentota.
Why you and your girlfriends will love Colombo
Even though the beaches seem to be all people rave about, there’s still fun to be had in the capital. It is a big, vibrant city with a real mixture of glamorous modern high-rise and colonial architecture. Whilst unlikely many Asian capitals there aren’t that many “must see” attractions per se, it’s all about absorbing the culture (and the delicious Sri Lankan food!).
If wandering the busy streets with your kids has not appealed in the past – then why not give Colombo a go with your girlfriends?
For a history walk, start in Colombo 1 district – also referred to as the Fort area – The Dutch Hospital comes highly recommended, along with seeing the Clock Tower and Old City Hall. For a relax head to Galle Face Green and hang like the locals do. Or up for a bargain? Head to one of the most bustling parts of town to experience is Pettah with its markets in Colombo 11 – be prepared to hustle!
For temple lovers, there is the beautiful Hindi temple, Sri Lailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil and Buddhist temple Gangaramaya Vihara, with nearby Beira Lake. And want to get around? You can be pretty sure there’s a tuk-tuk at your service!!!
Suggested tours and activities
Where to stay in Colombo
For luxury and convenience in the heart of the action, our top pick is the Shangri-La Hotel Colombo, with an on-site spa, several restaurants and shared apartment options for your group. If it’s stunning waterfront views you are after with a rooftop pool and the most amazing sunsets our top pick on the coast is Marino Beach Colombo
Related Reading: A family highlights tour of Sri Lanka & Best times to go | Guide to Wadduwa and Southern Sri Lanka
4. Goa, southern India
How far to Goa & who to fly with:
Air India has a daily direct flight from DXB in just over three hours, or other options from DXB include a stop with Oman Air or Jet Airways. From AUH your options all include a stop, with Jet Airways, Etihad or Oman Air.
Depending on what beach you are staying at, you can get to your end destination in as little as 10-20 minutes.
Why you and your girlfriends will love Goa
The small Indian state of Goa off the west coast is distinctly different to the rest of India. It was a former Portuguese colony and the majority of the population is Catholic. Rather than Indian urban sprawl, you’ll find lush forests and plantations, palm trees and 300kms of beaches. It is also exceptionally good value for money with luxury resorts priced significantly below their overseas counterparts.
If it’s cocktails on the beach, waterfalls, a relaxed vibe, a little light retail therapy and a big dose of tranquillity you’re after, this is your place, girls.
Suggested tours and activities
**As an alternative to the classic beach stop, why not book yourself on to a photography retreat? The Wondering Light Retreat is being held in Canacona, South Goa from 29 March to 1 April 2019 and is ideal for ladies from the UAE with a passion for photography**
Where to stay in Goa
South Goa has a reputation for the best beaches and most luxurious of resorts – though a little more pricey, a lot quieter than the north. We recommend The Lelela Goa in Cavelossim for a luxury spa treat, or for a unique touch of Goa hospitality Alila Diwa in Majorda.
Related Reading: Best Beaches in Goa Travelling with Kids
5. Baku, Azerbaijan
It takes about 3-hours on a direct flight to Baku (GYD). Etihad (or codeshare with AZAL – Azerbaijan Airlines) operates daily (AUH). There are several daily options out of DXB with AZAL and FlyDubai.
The airport is 25kms from the city centre, 30-40 mins by car.
Why you and your girlfriends will love Baku
OK, even I had to find out why this city I’d barely heard of until Eurovision 2012 was suddenly making waves! Lonely Planet once described it as “the architectural love child of Paris and Dubai … albeit with plenty of Soviet genes” – that alone has to be enough to tantalize your curiosity for a weekend visit, doesn’t it?
The advent of quick an easy online Visas in 2017 has really opened Azerbaijan up to the west, making the capital Baku hot bucket list property. From it’s architectural wonders to its unique cuisine this is the perfect sized place for exploring on a city break. The UNESCO listed Old City along with the Maiden Tower and Shirvanshahs Palace are must-sees.
If the architecture above ground isn’t enough for you, Baku also boasts having one of the prettiest and well-connected subways of any city, so seeing Baku’s main sites in a day is quite possible. A funicular ride to the Martyrs Memorial and the Eternal Flame is bound to be on your list, too.
Suggested tours and activities
Where to stay in Baku
The classic Four Seasons Baku is an imposing and beautiful building in a great central location. On a smaller budget, try the Winter Park Hotel Baku, exceptionally well rated but value for money 4-star pick under $100USD per night.
Related Reading: See our review of flying low-cost carrier FlyDubai
6. Istanbul, Turkey
How far to Istanbul and who to fly with
Emirates and Turkish Airlines will fly direct DXB to IST (Ataturk) in under 5 hours, or Etihad and Turkish Airlines from AUH to IST. If you are willing to compromise on flying into SAW (Sabiha Gokcen Airport, on the Asian side of Istanbul) there are cheaper options with Pegasus Airlines, FlyDubai and some Turkish Airlines options.
From IST to the “city centre” can take 30 mins to an hour depending on traffic. SAW to the city centre, 1 to 1.5 hours.
Why you and your girlfriends will love Istanbul
Get your walking boots on ladies, the city of seven hills is BEGGING to be explored!!
A true taste of east meets west fusion with the coffee and hummus to go with it! There is culture and sightseeing aplenty to be had with the unmissable Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia Museum, Topkapi Palace to name but a few of the city’s famous landmarks. Get lost in the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar and try out your haggling skills.
If the bustling Grand Bazaar is too much for you, take a stroll through the far more chilled out Galata district, or cruise along the Bosphorus. How about taking a day trip to Princes Islands, or Izmir?
Suggested tours and activities
Where to stay in Istanbul
For pure luxury, it’s got to be the Ciragan Palace Kempinski with its commanding position over the Bosphorus. But if that – unsurprisingly – is out of budget The Pera Palace operated by Jumeirah is a refurbished classic with a long history dating back to the Orient Express – or if you prefer to stay on the Old Town side near Hagia Sofia and the Topkapi Palace, the Neorion Hotel is a great boutique option.
Related Reading: Istanbul Itinerary for Families
7. Belgrade, Serbia
How far to Belgrade and who to fly with
From AUH, Etihad and Air Serbia (codeshare) operate a direct flight to BEG, just a touch over 5 hours. From DXB, FlyDubai fly once daily direct to BEG, or you can take the codeshare options to AUH that will bus you to/from DXB.
Once in Belgrade, a cab to town should take you 20 minutes.
Why you and your girlfriends will love Belgrade
The Serbian capital is still fairly new on the radar for many of us but is growing its reputation as a great short break destination from the UAE.
A landlocked country, Belgrade is famous for it’s setting on the Danube and Sava Rivers. Fortresses, churches and palaces will keep you busy sightseeing by day, while night transforms to one of Europe’s party centrals! The River Clubs or “splavs” are what makes Belgrade truly unique, so pack your party shoes as well as your walking boots!
Suggested tours and activities
Where to stay in Belgrade
Hilton Belgrade comes highly recommended as a great modern hotel, with rooftop bar, walking distance to Slavija Square and St. Sava Temple and with its own on-site spa and Turkish Baths. For something fun and hip, Jump INN Hotel Belgrade comes highly commended – close to the popular sites and a tram stop right outside.
Related Reading: Belgrade’s best tourist spots, restaurants and outdoor activities
8. Aqaba, Jordan
How far to Aqaba & who to fly with
Plans for a twice-weekly direct flight from DWC to AQJ (King Hussein International Airport) with Royal Jordanian subsidiary Royal Wings don’t seem to have unfolded as of yet… Currently, the alternative flight with Royal Jordanian DXB-AMM-AQJ falls just shy of our 5 hour fly time cut-off. However, the commute from AQJ to the resort area is short, you’ll be sipping your pina colada in no time.
AUH connection times are unfortunately not nearly so friendly – but you could still make a great trip direct to AMM and exploring around Amman, Jerash and other sites in the north of Jordan. The Dead Sea is another resort alternative, less an hour west from AMM.
Why you and your girlfriends will love Aqaba
This is one for mixing sun, diving and adventure! Depending how many days you have, not only enjoy the glistening waters of the Red Sea, you can also enjoy day trips from here to both Wadi Rum Desert and Petra, the Lost City.
The Tala Bay area just south of Aqaba on the Red Sea has a gorgeous Mediterranean style marina feel to it. The main activities in Aqaba are on the water, diving, snorkelling or catch a glass bottom boat out into the Red Sea. Although a Muslim country, just like the UAE drinking is allowed on licensed premises.
Suggested Tours from Aqaba
Where to stay in Aqaba
Try the Kempinski Hotel Aqaba for a real treat including beach frontage and on-site spa, or on a smaller budget. Movenpick Resort & Residence Tala Bay is outstanding value for what you get on the beach front and also includes their signature Zara Spa.
Related Reading: Review of the Movenpick Tala Bay | Wadi Rum Desert Camping experience | The Ultimate guide to Petra with kids
9. Jaipur, India
How far to Jaipur & who to fly with
SpiceJet fly direct DXB to JAI, 3 times daily with a flight time a little over 3 hours. No direct flight options from AUH, you will need to fly via Muscat (Oman Air) or Mumbai (Jet Airways).
The 13kms to the city centre will take you about 30 minutes, traffic dependent.
Why you and your girlfriends will love Jaipur
Also known as the Pink City, this is the place to come if you’re up for a girlfriends adventure weekend packed with sightseeing, shopping and Indian cuisine.
With its ancient forts, palaces and bazaars – this is going to be an action-packed trip so walking shoes rather than your flip flops! The Amber Fort may be one of the most famous sights, but there are plenty of other magnificent buildings including the Hawa Mahal (“Palace of the Winds”) and City Palace are bound to be on your must-see lists.
It’s a city that will certainly leave you with a colourful and exciting taster of what to expect from India.
Suggested tours and activities
Jaipur can also be used as a base for reaching the Taj Mahal in Agra, though this is probably too long to fit into a short trip.
Where to stay in Jaipur
For luxury and opulence try the JW Marriott Jaipur Resort & Spa – slightly out of town but packed with eloquent features, very fitting for the setting. Close into town the simple but clean Jaipur Hotel makes a good sight-seeing base.
Lucky Dip? Where should you go on your next UAE short break?
The UAE is such an incredible hub for regional exploration. Do you have any more favourite girlfriend escapes to recommend?
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Disclosures: For the record, most of these joyous looking skinny females are not me. Cheers to stock photos for making us all dream of carefree solo beach runs.
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