Abu Dhabi is lot less lively and eclectic than its rebellious younger sister, Dubai, which is just an hour's drive away. Perhaps Abu Dhabi's calm atmosphere is due to its capital city status, or perhaps it is due to its thriving business activities, meaning it doesn't need to rely on tourism. Either way, the city has its fair share of luxury hotels, but not much else to see.
Abu Dhabi is the largest city of the United Arab Emirates and unlike the other six emirates, it is spreak across several islands joined via bridges. It is on one of these islands, Saadiyat Island, that the centre of the city's cultural offering will be located in 2017 when the Louvre and Guggenheim outpost open.
By 2015, the coastal landscape of Abu Dhabi will have completely changed. The building of many hotels and convention centres is planned; the aim is to triple the number of annual visitors to three million. By way of comparison, Dubai already has over 6 million tourists per year.
The maximum temperature is <24°, temperature felt between 39°C and 42°C.
Little or no rain (less than 1.5mm per day).
Sunny (over 80% sunshine).
High air temperature (>24°C), high sea temperature (>24°C), light to moderate winds (between 7 mph and 12 mph).
Optimal comfort: optimal wind speed (between 7 mph and 12 mph) in a warm environment (>24°C).
It is from the Liwa oasis, located 137 miles south-east of Abu Dhabi, that the explorer Wilfried Thesiger left to cross the Arabian Desert (the infamous 'Empty Quarter', which is the most arid desert in the world). Since the late 1950s, Liwa has hardly changed and is better for it! Its blossoming palm grove is fed by an underground river. Here you can go for a stroll, have a picnic in the shade, go hiking on foot, camel back riding or visit the old renovated fort.
Get one of the best views of the city at the Etihad Towers viewing deck, which opened in November 2012.
Abu Dhabi isn't really the place to be if you like being active and if you like to always have something new to explore. Sports fans have more than enough to keep them busy, between horse riding, polo, golf and car racing. Art fans will have something to keep them busy in a few years' time when the Louvre and Guggenheim outposts open on Saadiyat Island. But for now, there are the hotel restaurants and spas (see all our hotel reviews here) to keep the locals busy, which make for a pleasant break from the city life. However, our favourite attraction was the Falcon Hospital, which comes extremely highly recommended. Not only is the hospital interesting to visit, but it is also a mark of one of the few authentic cultural aspects left in the city as falconry is still very much a part of Emirati culture (see more about the Falcon Hospital here).
Our second recommendation of things to see in Abu Dhabi, is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which is just beautiful. With its calligraphy flourishes, semi precious stone decorative elements and its enormous prayer hall - which has the biggest carpet woven in one piece in the world - the mosque is a beautiful place to collect your thoughts. However, there are quite a few tourists, so don't expect to have the enormous site to yourself.
Something else that we wouldn't miss while in the city, is kayaking around the mangrove islands (see our review of the Eastern Mangroves Hotel by Anantara).
For visitors who fancy a spot of sunbathing, Abu Dhabi's best beaches are on Saadiyat Island, where you will find a budding hotel scene comprising of The St-Regis Resort and Spa and the Park Hyatt.
For golfers, the number of courses are on the rise, but there are three major golf courses. The Al Ghazal Golf Club is located 400 meters from the airport and can be reached straight after landing at the airport, even if you are on a transit flight. The Abu Dhabi Golf Club by Sheraton has an 18-hole and a nine-hole course in the district of Al Nakhl Sas, 20minutes from downtown. The Abu Dhabi Golf and the Equestrian Club has a nine-hole course in the district of Mushrif, near the centre. You can also hike and practice equestrian sports at the numerous facilities as well as using the tennis courts and swimming pools.
One of the favourite pastimes in the city, is visiting the Formula 1 race track on Yas Island and having a go at rally driving. Despite a disappointing first few years following the inauguration of the track, it now hosts its own F1 race (usually in the first week of November).
Lastly, most people and guidebooks will recommend the Abu Dhabi cornice and gold souk and while the cornice is pleasant enough to walk along, there isn't much to see. The gold souk is modern and doesn't really have much left from its original days; you can however pick up a good bargain.
Try 'dune bashing' in a 4x4 up the fringes of the Rub Al Khali (the Arabian desert), which is thrilling. Remember to tighten your seatbelt even though the vehicle is usually padded. Learn more at your hotel to book the trip. Departure is in the late afternoon for sunset. A great way for city dwellers to truly understand what real silence is.
Although the UAE is a fairly tolerant country when it comes to dress, it is required that visitors dress moderately conservatively - women should try to cover their shoulders and legs except for when at a hotel or resort, in order to avoid unwanted attention.
As Abu Dhabi is an important centre for conventions and fairs, it is essential to check what's on in the city before planning your trip as hotels get full-booked very quickly and prices are sky-high.
Also, remember that the summer months are to be avoided (June-September) as it is extremely hot in the Emirates - most people will stay off the streets during this period.
If you're looking for a shopping focus to your trip, then travelling while the shopping festival is on is a good idea. The Abu Dhabi Shopping Festival began in 1998, two years after the first Dubai Shopping Festival. As for the timing, it takes place throughout the month of March, once Dubai has finished its own trading frenzy, which begins in January and ends early-February. Dubai's festival is flashier with lots of events on at venues across the city, whereas Abu Dhabi's shopping festival is more about bargain hunting.
Airport taxi tip to Yas Island: when you arrive at the airport you will need to queue for a taxi. As the journey is extremely short expect most taxi drivers to turn down the run. Either offer to pay a little more than what the meter indicates (offer up to 40 AED in total; which is about £6.00). The taxi usher may also suggest you take a private taxi, which doesn't have a meter - negotiate the price before getting in.
Avoid staying at a hotel where loud events are taking place. November is prime time for company incentive events or 'days out', so make sure you know what's on when at your hotel so that you can avoid it - unless listening to blaring music all night long is your idea of a holiday.
Avoid showing off toom uch skin - the emirate is fairly liberal, but to avoid unwanted looks, ladies must make sure that they shoulders and legs are covered up and men should avoid wearing sleevless tops in town.
Also, keep in mind that drinking in public or being drunk in public is against the law. Alcohol can be purchased and consumed only in hotels (some hotels won't sell alcohol and are categorised as 'dry hotels').
The specialties of the Emirates are not try cuisine from other countries. Italian is a firm favourite, followed by Japanese, Chinese and Thai.
Like in Dubai, the food here tends to be eclectic and authentic due to the high number of expatriates living in the city. Some of our favourites include the Thai restaurant, Pachaylen, at Eastern Mangroves by Anantara, Atayeb for its Lebanese/Syrian fare at Viceroy Yas Island, the Sofitel on the Corniche for its French cuisine, Radisson Blu's Italian restaurant, Filini, The St Regis' upscale dining outlet, 55th & 5th and Jumeirah at Etihad Towers' impressive choice of beautiful and varied dining options.
For pampering fiends, make sure you try the Rose Renew Facial with Back Massage at the Radisson Blu Yas Island's spa - ask for Vietnamese therapist, Ha. The Emirates Palace Anantara spa is also a great choice for spending an afternoon as it has one of the most beautiful hammams in the city. And last, but not least, we also loved the hammam treatment at the Eastern Mangroves by Anantara for its large hammam and its friendly staff. One spa we were not able to try, was the Espa at the Viceroy, which is a beautiful spa and has a good reputation among the local crowd.
Despite being the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is still a city in waiting. With the Guggenheim and the Louvre outposts opening in 2017, and several other art-based projects in the pipeline, the city lacks an all-round appeal that Dubai already has. Abu Dhabi attracts business travellers ...
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Yas Waterworld water park has just opened its doors on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi City.