Qasr al Watan the Presidential Palace of the United Arab Emirates

Understanding the 7 Emirates of UAE

by Dubai Travel Planner

Have you ever wondered what the Emirates of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) actually are?

There is far more to the UAE than just Dubai. In fact, Dubai might be the most populous, but is only the second-largest Emirate, or “state” in the UAE – and even then it only makes up 5% of the landmass of the UAE.

There are seven Emirates in total in the UAE, these are (by landmass):

So as you can see Abu Dhabi is by far the largest Emirate, but NOT the most populous. Dubai is firmly the largest city in the UAE in terms of population.

United Arab Emirates map (It gets a little messy in the east as there are many enclaves and exclaves!)

So what else do I need to know about the United Arab Emirates?

Here are just a few facts that visitors to the UAE should know about the country’s political system and recent history.

When did the UAE become united as one country?

The UAE was formed in 1971 under a Federal Constitutional Monarchy with six of today’s seven Emirates.  (Ras al Khaimah later joined the UAE in February 1972 making the seven Emirates of the UAE that we know today).

Prior to this time, the Emirates were known as the Trucial States; Sheikdoms that were allied with the UK since the 1820s but not united. In 1968 the British announced the withdrawal of their protectorate and discussions began to form a new country.

Every year on 2 December the country celebrates its birthday with extravagant National Day celebrations.

Each of the individual Emirates or Sheikhdoms as they are also known is ruled by a Sheikh (rather than an Emir as you may expect). These seven Sheikhs are members of the ruling Federal Supreme Council.

The country united under one flag in 1971

Who is the ruler of the UAE?

The President of the United Arab Emirates is elected by the Federal Supreme Council.  Since the country’s unification, this has been the ruler of the Abu Dhabi Emirate, while the role of the country’s Vice President and Prime Minister has been held by the ruler of Dubai.

At present, the country’s President is HH Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nayhan, the third son of founding father Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan al Nayhan. He is often referred to colloquially as MBZ.

He took over from his older half-brother HH Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nayhan upon his passing in May 2022 (although he has been the de facto leader of the country as Crown Prince since early 2014 after Sheikh Khalifa suffered a stroke).

Who is the ruler of Dubai then?

Since the 1830s, Dubai’s ruling family has been the Al Maktoums and since January 2006, Emir HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has been the ruler of Dubai, as well as elected Vice President & Prime Minister of UAE.

The Crown Prince of Dubai is Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Where is the capital of the UAE?

The capital of the United Arab Emirates is Abu Dhabi. Qasr al Watan in Abu Dhabi is the Presidential Palace and where the Federal Supreme Council meet, as well as the Federal Cabinet.

Qasr al Watan in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi. Image supplied

Which Emirate has the largest population in the UAE?

Dubai is the hands-down winner when it comes to population. Despite the capital being Abu Dhabi, and by far the largest by landmass, and oil production, Dubai has the greater number of residents.

The current estimate (as at Mid 2019) is that the population of Dubai exceeds 4.1 million people – about 43% of the UAE’s total population.  And of those, only around 10% are native Emirati, the vast majority of the population is expatriate workers from all over the world. At least 3.5 million are thought to live in Dubai city.

Where is all the oil from in the UAE?

The vast majority of oil reserves are in the Abu Dhabi Emirate. Dubai only accounts for about 4 billion barrels of oil from proven reserves; oil is not a major part of Dubai’s economy.

Although oil money is undoubtedly what helped build the current mega-city of Dubai, it reportedly only makes up about 1% of the Emirates GDP as of 2019. Real estate, construction, trade, finance and tourism are much larger sectors.

Local Governments of the seven Emirates of the UAE

Like many countries around the world, the UAE’s Federal Constitution keeps many powers within each individual Emirate, rather than at a Federal level. You can learn more about local Governance here.

Do the Emirates have different flags?

Although united under the one flag of Red, Green, White and Black, each Emirate still retains its own flag, though you rarely see these displayed.

Flags of the individual Emirates of the UAE

What is there to see and do in the other Emirates?

Great question! We are just finishing putting together guides to each of the other six Emirates of the UAE that you may want to incorporate into a trip to Dubai.

Subscribe to our newsletter so you can receive news when these guides are published.

In the meantime, you can see our guide to the best Dubai day trips here.

What do the other Emirates of the UAE look like?

While you wait for our complete guides, here is just a taster tour through the 7 Emirates of the United Arab Emirates in pictures.

Abu Dhabi

The largest Emirate, rich in both coastal vistas, a modern city skyline and deep desert sand dunes through to Saudi Arabia and Oman, is known as “the Empty Quarter”. The vast majority of the UAE’s oil is found here and in the adjacent Arabian Gulf – learn more about visiting Abu Dhabi here.


The largest city and Emirate of the UAE, but also rich in desert landscapes and some mountains see all our Dubai attraction guides here.


Most of the Emirate sits immediately next door to Dubai and includes a coastal city, as well as rolling sand dunes and enclaves and incredibly picturesque exclaves and enclaves on the country’s eastern coast. It is known as the cultural capital of the UAE with many galleries and museums.


The smallest Emirate hugs a very short coastal stretch, sandwiched between Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain, as well as a tiny enclave in the Hajar Mountains, Masfout.

Umm Al Quwain

A small wetlands coastal strip as well as a fairly flat desert landscape.

Ras al Khaimah

A beautiful blend of coastline and beaches, desert sand dunes and the Hajar Mountains – learn more about visiting Ras al Khaimah here.


The only Emirate to sit entirely on the east coast between the Gulf of Oman and the Hajar Mountains giving Fujairah some of the country’s most picturesque landscapes and historic sites.

We hope you enjoyed learning more about Dubai’s neighbours. Got any questions? Feel free to ask us in the comments below and we’ll do our best to help.

Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai

  • Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!!!

Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE and transit passengers self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our recommendation links.

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