Abu Dhabi is lot less lively and eclectic than its rebellious younger sister, Dubai. Compared to Dubai's six million annual visitors, Abu Dhabi only receives around half of this number, preferring to focus on the corporate side of things. A comparatively calm atmosphere pervades throughout, despite its status as capital, and its several islands are the almost exclusive domain of business executives and hard-working office bods. With constant projects for new hotels and convention centres, the city is fast growing and the emirate's Saadiyat Island is even gearing up to welcome an innovative culture injection in the shape of two new branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in 2015 and 2017 respectively.
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.
Between horse riding, golf, car racing, and 'dune bashing', sports fans have more than enough to keep them entertained. The latter requires heading out into the Arabian desert for a white-knuckled 4X4 ride. Once you've exhausted yourself, head for the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. 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. For beach bods, Abu Dhabi's finest are to be found on Saadiyat Island.
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 take a stroll, have a picnic in the shade, go camel back riding or visit the old renovated fort.
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 a trip during the March shopping festival is a good idea. The Abu Dhabi Shopping Festival began in 1998, two years after the first Dubai Shopping Festival. Dubai's January festival is flashier with lots of events on at venues across the city, whereas Abu Dhabi's shopping festival is more about bargain hunting.
Avoid showing off too much skin - the emirate is fairly liberal, but to avoid unwanted looks, ladies must make sure that their 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 certain hotels.
Due to the huge number of expatriates living in the city, Abu Dhabi's specialities come from all over the world. Italian is a firm favourite, followed by Japanese, Chinese and Thai. Many of the city's hotels, including the Sofitel, Radisson Blu and Jumeirah, have excellent restaurants specialising in everything from French to Lebanese and Syrian fare.
If you'd prefer to sample the city's spas, don't miss the Emirates Palace Anantara spa with one of the most beautiful hammams in the city. The Radison Blu Yas Island, Eastern Mangroves by Anantara and the Viceroy all have highly recommended spas too.
There are few local crafts. To get a glimpse, go to the Women's Craft Centre. Otherwise, there is no longer a traditional souk in the city. Some street markets do exist, but they only offer imported goods (mostly from Iran). The shopping malls have jewellery shops and electronics stores (which offer good prices, especially during the Shopping Festival in March). The rest of the prices are the same as in other international capitals.
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