Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Your guide to Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi City occupies its own island and it is here that visitors arriving by sea will step ashore. Capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi takes its name from the Arabian Gazelle that once roamed here, long before the discovery of oil kick-started the area’s metamorphosis. Consequently, Abu Dhabi is today a futuristic metropolis populated by glass skyscrapers and fringed by salt-white beaches. From a destination billed previously as ‘one to watch’ Abu Dhabi is now officially ‘one to experience’ with world-class hotels, serious shopping, outstanding attractions, incredible restaurants and some of the world’s finest art museums.

Exploring.

The city of Abu Dhabi is spread over a considerable area and taxi is the easiest way to get around. Downtown, in the Saadiyat Island Cultural District, you will find galleries including the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim but if it is tradition you seek, make a beeline for the city’s most famous landmark: the marble-clad Sheikh Zayed Mosque. If time permits, take a tour on a Dhow (a traditional Arabic sailing vessel) or venture outside the city to Mangrove National Park, keeping an eye out for native turtles, flamingos and herons as you venture the forest and salt marshes.

Eating and drinking.

Abu Dhabi offers a wide range of culinary experiences, from street vendors and traditional restaurants to luxury hotels and food courts in shopping malls. Naturally, the majority of cuisine is Middle Eastern influenced—Lebanese being a particular favorite. Goat, lamb, fish, and rice all feature strongly on menus while Mezze—similar to tapas in Spain—often served as a starter. Puddings tend to be very sweet and alcoholic drinks are reserved for hotel bars and restaurants. Kahwa, a strong coffee, is Abu Dhabi’s favorite drink and shai (tea)—in particular red tea with mint, is very popular.

Shopping.

Shopping in Abu Dhabi takes place in traditional souks and ultra-modern malls. Visitors often come specifically to shop and prices tend to favor those in the West. The Marina Mall, in the Breakwater district, and the Abu Dhabi Mall are two of the largest. Even if the allure of shopping does not appeal, the chance to escape the sun can provide a welcome respite from the smoldering heat in summer. The city’s souks also attract considerable tourists. Cash is King here and haggling over prices expected. Souks, in particular, are a great place to pick up traditional UAE souvenirs, such as jewelry, carpets and antiques.

Beyond Abu Dhabi.

An hour’s drive outside the city brings you to Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. Falcons were at one time used to hunt small animals in the UAE and the hospital offers a visitor’s museum, as well as the opportunity to handle a bird under supervision. Al Ain, Abu Dhabi’s second largest city is about two hours’ drive from the capital, at the foot of Jebel Hafeet, the second highest peak in the UAE. Known as the Oasis City, attractions include Al Jahili Fort, built in 1891, the National Museum and Al Ain Palace Museum. Shoppers are not forgotten and the city has a number of modern malls and souks.