collage of images from the seven emirates of the UAE

What are the 7 Emirates of UAE? More Than Just Dubai

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 it 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 the UAE. The 7 Emirates of UAE in order are (by total area):

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

Map of the 7 Emirates of the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is a Middle East country facing the Persian Gulf to the north and the Gulf of Oman to the east. The UE shares a land border with Oman and Saudi Arabia.

7 emirates of the united arab emirates map
United Arab Emirates map (It gets a little messy in the east as there are many enclaves and exclaves, shared with Oman!)

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.

an emirati family waving the UAE flag in a desert
The country united under one flag in 1971

Who is the ruler of the UAE?

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

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

He took over from his older half-brother HH Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, 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 city of the United Arab Emirates is Abu Dhabi. Qasr al Watan in Abu Dhabi is the Presidential Palace and where the Federal Supreme Council meets, as well as the Federal Cabinet. Federal government departments are found in Abu Dhabi.

presidential palace of the United Arab emirates, Qasr al watan in the capital city of abu dhabi
Qasr al Watan in the UAE capital city of Abu Dhabi. Image supplied

Which Emirate has the largest population in the UAE?

The Emirate of Dubai is the hands-down winner when it comes to being the most populous city and Emirate. Despite the city of Abu Dhabi being the capital, and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi having by far the largest land area and oil production, Dubai has the greater number of residents.

The current estimate (as of mid-2023) is that the population of Dubai Emirate exceeds 4.1 million people – about 43% of the UAE’s total population.  Of those, only around 10% are native Emirati; the vast majority of the population is expatriate workers from all over the world. At least 3.6 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 the discovery of oil is undoubtedly what helped build the current mega-city of Dubai, it reportedly only makes up about 1% of the Emirates GDP as of 2022. 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.

Flag of the UAE and the 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 for each of the other six Emirates of the UAE that you may want to incorporate into a trip to Dubai.

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 coastal vistas, a modern city skyline, and deep desert sand dunes through to Saudi Arabia and Oman, known as “the Empty Quarter.” Most of the UAE’s oil is found in Abu Dhabi and in the adjacent Arabian Gulf.

Famous buildings in Abu Dhabi include the country’s largest mosque, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Presidential Palace Qasr al Watan, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and the Yas Marina Grand Prix Circuit on Yas Island, also home to four world-class theme parks. Learn more about visiting Abu Dhabi here.

Dubai

The largest city and Emirate of the UAE, famous for buildings like the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab, and Dubai Mall as well as tourist attractions such as the Palm Jumeirah, shopping malls, and an abundance of beautiful beaches. Dubai is also rich in desert landscapes and mountains see all our Dubai attraction guides here.

Sharjah

Most of the city of Sharjah sits immediately next door to Dubai. The Emirate of Sharjah includes a coastal city, as well as rolling sand dunes and incredibly picturesque exclaves and enclaves on the country’s eastern coast including Khor Fakkan and Kalba.

Packed with heritage sites, many galleries, and museums, Sharjah is known as the cultural capital of the UAE.

Ajman

The smallest Emirate hugs a very short coastal stretch close proximity to Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. The Emirate of Ajman also includes two tiny enclaves in the Hajar Mountains, Masfout and Manama.

Umm Al Quwain

The Emirate of Umm Al-Quwain is made up of a small wetlands coastal strip as well as a fairly flat desert landscape. It is a sparsely populated part of the country.

Ras al Khaimah

A beautiful blend of coastline and beaches, desert sand dunes, and the rugged Hajar Mountains. The emirate of Ras al-Khamaih is known as an adventure playground and also home to peral diving and many heritage sites – learn more about visiting Ras al Khaimah here.

Fujairah

The Emirate of Fujairah is the only one to sit entirely on the east coast between the Gulf of Oman and the Hajar Mountains. This gives Fujairah some of the country’s most picturesque landscapes, sandy beaches and historic sites, including the countries oldest mosque.

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

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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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