A Quick Guide to Abu Dhabi
Once a fishing village, now a highly advanced metropolis founded upon the discovery of its enormous oil and natural gas reserves, Abu Dhabi is a city of contrasts. It’s a place where – as per Sharia law – stoning is legal and homosexuality is not. On the other side, the tax haven’s year long sunshine and grand business opportunities attract thousands of expats every year. As a visitor, I urge you to look beyond the facades, explore not just the palaces, but also the markets, and taste all the layers the astounding Emirati culture has on offer. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque This colossal architectural delight can house up to 40,000 worshipers on the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. It is no less than spectacular and –conveniently located between the airport and downtown – an absolute must during your layover or holiday. Admission and tours are free of charge and sunset hours cause goose bumps.
A full guide to visiting this grand mosque will be published once I get a chance to visit it myself (it was flooded due to a recent storm during my last visit, talk about luck).
Emirates Palace Luxury is taken to a level which you have most likely not even thought of before entering this 7-star extravaganza. Coffee is naturally served with a generous sprinkle of 24-karat gold, while the hotel’s private beaches are home to some of the most picture-perfect backdrops the UAE has on offer. Whether you plan on staying for the night or indulging into high-tea, enjoy and don’t forget to look up – the grandiose designs don’t stop at the ceilings. Dress accordingly (you don’t want to be that tourist gazing at it from afar after being told off by the security guard for wearing beachwear, do you?).
Al Mina Fish Market In this part of the world, markets are the heart of local culture. Luckily, there is plenty more to see than fish, so put your bargaining skills to practice, sample tea, stock up on spices, make friends with strangers and experience a side of Abu Dhabi most visitors disregard.
Abu Dhabi Corniche A man-made paradise ideal for a morning stroll or an afternoon daze.
Abu Dhabi Car Museums & Ferrari World & Yas Marina Circuit The names say it all. If Formula One or cars in general are your thing, welcome home.
Manarat al Saadiyat A must go for all art enthusiasts, this centre houses many well-curated galleries and exhibitions well worth a look.
Etihad Towers / Observation Deck at 30 Gain perspective – in style.
Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital The world’s largest institution to provide health care exclusively for Falcons, with over 75,000 majestic patients in 14 years. Join its award-winning tour to learn all things falconry and get up close with the imposing UAE emblem.
Central Market A convenient option downtown to arrange last-minute souvenirs, although authenticity is lacking somewhat.
Marina Mall While I am not one to encourage a trip to a super-sized mall housing cinemas, ice rinks and plenty of other artificial confusions driving limitless consumption, Marina Mall is home to a 100-meter-tall platform offering excellent views across the city.
(all suitable for veggie-lovers)
Azzurro Souq Qaryat Al Beri – A cosy family-run Italian operation with excellent food and views alike.
Raw Foods World Trade Center Souk, Khalifa Street + Al Muneera Beach Plaza, Al Raha Blvd – “We like to think about our juices as a ‘juice feast’ rather a ‘juice fast’.” Amen to that.
Li Beirut Jumeirah at Etihad Towers – A top-notch taste of Lebanese delights.
Organics Food and Café Nation Galleria Mall, Nation Towers – Laid-back, delicious and fast. All you need for a day of explorations.
The Terrace on the Corniche The St. Regis Abu Dhabi – High-end feasts for all tastes. Very popular, be sure to book in advance.
The Farm Opposite Falcon City – A family-run innovative eatery freshening up the well-trotted chic Abu Dhabi dining landscape. Wholesome food you will love.
Angar Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi – Best Indian in town.
Mezzaluna Emirates Palace Hotel – Authentic Italian food with authentic UAE prize tags in one of Abu Dhabi’s unique settings. Ideal for an extended lunch.
Tarbouche Central Market, Downtown – A healthy and affordable with zero compromises on taste or quality.
Sangeetha Mussafah Abu Dhabi – Very low-key Indian vegetarian restaurant ideal for a quick fuel-up.
Etihad Towers Supermarket located on bottom floor – Perfect for on the go, offering a great variety of international brands, fresh salads, fruit and everything in-between.
Taxis are readably available, reasonably priced and safe to use. To get to and from the airport, jump on A1 v (women sit in the front, men in the back). To navigate your way around town by bus, buy a card at one of the self-service machines next to major bus stops and off you go. Dubai is a 2 hours drive, which can easily be organised by airlines (Etihad and Emirates) as well as tour companies.
When to go
Temperatures can be unbearable between June and August. Ideally, a visit between November and May will allow you to escape the arctic conditions of air-conditioned facilities and explore the city on foot.
Both females and males are to dress modestly. Respect plays a central part in Arabic culture, and I promise your experience will be a lot more confident and authentic if your shoulders and knees are covered, you don’t show obsessive amounts of PDA, and leave alcohol consumption for within hotel and restaurant boundaries.