20 November 2018Last updated

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Out and about UAE with Ananda

Ananda Shakespeare, founder of bespoke tour company A Friend In Dubai, gives an insider’s view of exploring the emirates’ hidden gems

19 Apr 2016 | 12:01 pm
  • Ananda Shakespeare.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM

What attracted you to becoming a tour guide in the UAE?

I was a journalist for two decades but have always had a passion for showing people around the cities I’ve lived in. Sitting at my desk writing guides about the UAE gave me the inspiration I needed to finally make the jump. I became a registered tour guide in Dubai five years ago and the licences I have now allow me to take tourists to any of the emirates.

Are there many other female tour guides on the scene?

Plenty! Lots of mums find that it’s a job that fits in well with their families. There are people of many different nationalities guiding out here, including from Poland, Russia, China and Japan, so it’s highly likely that visitors from around the world can find a guide who speaks their mother tongue.

What are Dubai’s most popular stop-offs?

My visitors love the old Dubai tour I take them on. Many of them have visited the emirate multiple times, yet still have no idea where this area is or how to navigate it. Personal tours around Al Fahidi (Bastakiya) are very popular, but it’s such a vibrant city that all sorts of tours are possible, from art- and nature-themed tours to trips to ‘new’ Dubai.

What are the must-see attractions in Dubai?

First-time visitors want to see the top sites such as The Dubai Fountain, Burj Khalifa and Ski Dubai. They also want to spend time on the beach, embark on a desert safari and to dine in some of the best restaurants. The Dubai Mall and the souqs are another drawcard, as are helicopter and boat excursions. They’re keen to know more about the culture and to visit Jumeirah Mosque.

What’s the most beautiful emirate?

Each emirate has its own character and features. Sharjah has an incredible historic area that includes the refurbished Souq Al Arsa, Blue Souq, the beautiful Museum of Islamic Civilisation, Al Hisn Fort, Al Eslah School Museum and Al Qasba area with its Eye of the Emirates Wheel, which is great for families. I love the emirate’s interactive Al Mahata Museum, which is dedicated to aviation, as well as the Arabian Wildlife Centre that’s home to a variety of animals. Lastly, the Islamic Garden, which is planted with shrubs and trees mentioned in the Quran, is an interesting idea.

Where is the best place to experience the desert?

Go to Big Red which, at 300-feet high, is Dubai’s biggest sand dune. My favourite way to see the desert is on the You Drive desert-driving experience run by OffRoad-Zone, during which you learn how to drive a Jeep in the sand.

How can we act like tourists for a day, on a budget?

Most of the emirates’ historic landmarks cost just a few dirhams to enter. It’s easy to have a cheap day out visiting Dubai Museum followed by lunch or coffee in a café in the area, for instance.

What is your favourite way to pass the time?

I love sitting in a local café that overlooks the water, whether that’s on the historic Dubai Creek or at a fishing harbour in Jumeirah. It’s so atmospheric.

To find out more about Ananda’s tours, visit