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Discovering the Emirates: Things to do in Ajman
Ajman is the smallest of the seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE), covering just 260sqkm. North of glitzy Dubai and the tiny emirate’s much larger neighbour, Sharjah, Ajman was, until recently, a sleepy weekend escape for residents of the better-known emirates. But in the past few years it has started to change and develop. Here are a few of our favourite things to do in Ajman.
Until 2013, Kempinski Hotel Ajman, which opened in 1998, was the only five-star property in the emirate. Now, Ajman has a small selection of other five-star properties – including The Ajman Palace Hotel (opened in 2013), Ajman Saray (opened in 2014) and Fairmont Ajman (opened in 2015).
Proof of Ajman’s growing appeal to those seeking an experience beyond the obvious attractions of the UAE’s larger emirates, the four properties are dotted along the coastline, their white sand beaches providing calming views over the still, turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf.
However, the new Ajman offers more than five-star hotels and some of the best beaches in the UAE. A visit spent confined to your hotel would be a visit, if not wasted, then certainly diminished, as there are many things to do in the emirate.
Life in Ajman is centred on the Corniche. During the daytime you will find a handful of joggers and tourists enjoying a peaceful stroll along the beachfront, but at night and at weekends the Corniche is where the action is. Join the locals enjoying barbeques and picnics on the sand, or visit one of the many cafés or restaurants strung along the 16km shoreline. Traditional Emirati restaurant Attibrah and seafood restaurant Themar Al Bahar are particularly popular with locals.
If you prefer to see exactly where your meal has come from, jump out of bed early and grab a taxi to Ajman Fish Market, where you can watch the day’s catch being brought in by the local fishermen and then auctioned off. Get involved in the action and have your chosen fish filleted, seasoned with local spices and grilled for your breakfast.
You will often hear that shopping is one of the UAE’s biggest attractions, and Ajman has the basics covered – you will find international brands at City Centre Ajman and bargains at China Mall – but it’s best to save your search for luxury goods for a day trip to the mega malls in Dubai and Abu Dhabi (all of the major hotels run regular shuttles).
Eschew Ajman’s malls in favour of a visit to Souk Saleh, where you will find traditional garments and fabrics, and the Gold Souk, where you can barter over the price of a glittering trinket with one of the traders or simply admire the sparkling jewellery on display.
After the Fish Market and the souks, you should have developed a taste for the local culture, and will therefore be ready to explore the emirate’s heritage.
Located near Ajman Marina, a few minutes from Kempinski Hotel Ajman, the Dhow Yard offers a glimpse into the emirate’s history as the foremost builder of dhows (traditional wooden sailing vessels) in the UAE. But the craft of dhow building is far from consigned to history, and a visit to the Dhow Yard will usually reward you with the opportunity to observe the local craftsmen at work.
For a broader understanding of the emirate’s history, visit Ajman Museum. Located in the Al Bustan neighbourhood – one of the least developed areas of the emirate – and housed in an 18th century fort, which served as the ruler’s residence until 1970, the museum displays photographs, weaponry, manuscripts and archaeological artefacts. Tickets are just AED5 (£1).
Still in the city, Al Zorah Nature Reserve is a wetland preservation area comprising creeks, lagoons and mangroves, where 58 species of bird, including the pink flamingo can be found, and Ajman Equestrian Club is home to more than 100 Arabian horses. Lessons and other equestrian activities are available.
If you want to get out of the city centre, Ajman Arabian Horse Stud Farm (owned by HH Sheikh Ammar bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, Crown Prince of Ajman) is responsible for breeding some of the finest Arabian horses in the world, and is located just 30km from Ajman.
Even further afield is Masfout, an enclave of Ajman two hours from the city centre in the Hajar Mountains, which is used as a summer retreat by residents of the emirate. Wear your hiking boots and take your passport (you will need it to cross a couple of checkpoints on your journey).
In 2014, Sheikh Ammar bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, Crown Prince of Ajman, approved plans for Ajman International Airport, which is due to receive its first flight in 2018. So if you want to experience some of these intriguing things to do in Ajman before the hordes arrive, you had better act quickly. Now is the time to visit Ajman.
Written by Charlie Carver