Abu Dhabi Destination Guide
Abu Dhabi Holidays
A modern global city, Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and a symbol of international luxury. Abu Dhabi was once a quiet village, home to fishermen and pearlers. Today, it is in the midst of a construction boom since foreigners were given the green light to snap up prime real estate, creating an east-meets-west culture. This cosmopolitan metropolis boasts a glittering cityscape with a booming economy and a new surge of Abu Dhabi tourism. One of seven emirates that comprise the UAE, Abu Dhabi is making its way into lists of top travel destinations thanks to landmark modern architecture, grand mosques and residents who are hold close to tradition and enjoy living in style.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one of the largest in the world, standing as an icon of Islamic devotion. At sunset, the mosque's white marble architecture is bathed in afternoon glow and invites you to explore your spiritual side. Step back in time at the Heritage Village – an interactive reconstruction of a traditional oasis village complete with pottery workshops and spice markets. If you are after more adventurous things to do in Abu Dhabi, all you need to do is look to its back yard – one giant sandpit primed for guided safaris on camel back or off-road dune buggy driving. The Guggenheim and Lourve Museums are on the horizon for Abu Dhabi at Saadiyat Island's multi-billion-dollar cultural zone.
Where to Eat and Drink
Abu Dhabi restaurants are a mix of flavours thanks to a heritage of overseas trading. Emirati cuisine is famous for big flavours like saffron, turmeric and cinnamon with many local dishes favouring fresh fish or lamb. Vegetarians will find dining in Abu Dhabi easy with a lot of food based on vegetables and beans and fresh salad accompaniments. Spoil yourself with an Arabic- style high tea at the Emirates Palace – prepare to be overwhelmed with spiced coffee, delicate gold-flecked chocolates and equally delicious surrounding views. Take note if you are travelling during Ramadan – a month of fasting taking place during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar – as restaurants close during the day but open with gusto at night.
Where to Stay
If you are prepared to loosen your purse strings in favour of unforgettable indulgence, the 7 star Emirates Palace is one of the most luxurious stays in the world and a favourite with royals, world leaders and celebrities. A hotel like no other, the Emirates Palace is embellished in gold with Swarovski chandeliers, grand ballrooms, vast atriums and even a private helipad. If the Palace is a little outside your budget, there are many other hotels in Abu Dhabi that offer affordable luxury. At East or West Corniche (an impressive 8-kilometre waterfront road) you will find a few conveniently located hotels like the Al Maha Arjaan studio apartments. Wherever you choose to stay, Abu Dhabi prides itself on excellent service.
If you are after authentic shopping in Abu Dhabi, visit a 'souk' (Arabic for marketplace) – souks are the place to practice your bartering and pick up traditional coffee pots, carpets, perfumes and spices. Catch a glimpse of traditional trading still in practice at the Fish Souk near Abu Dhabi's main port, or take in the local atmosphere at the Souk Al Zafarana. The modern side of Abu Dhabi shines through with a plethora of malls including the Abu Dhabi Mall and the Marina Mall. Malls are a pleasant reprieve from the desert heat and are filled with popular chain stores and designer boutiques. Most shops operate from 10am to 10pm so you definitely have time for some retail therapy.
Abu Dhabi like a Local
Abu Dhabi is early to rise, with the first of five calls to prayer sounding at dawn – if you plan on visiting a mosque, dress modestly (no bare arms or legs). A trip to Corniche Beach is the perfect way to end your day in paradise – join the locals by enjoying a waterside picnic at sunset. Navigate your way through the Abu Dhabi neighbourhoods by following the numerically labelled streets – odd numbers go across the island and even numbers run parallel to it – main streets are also colour-coded blue while minor streets are green. Abu Dhabi weather is coolest from November to March with crisp desert winds, while warmer weather can bring the odd sandstorm.