If you think of Abu Dhabi as simply a stop-off on route to your “real” holiday, think again. An earthier version of its glitzy neighbour Dubai, Abu Dhabi is a unique mix of Middle Eastern charm and innovation and is the perfect place to venture out of the airport and spend a few days exploring…. or even BE your “real” holiday!
Abu Dhabi is surprisingly green, lush and pretty and has almost 250 miles of coastline so water sports are plentiful – you can go snorkelling in the clear waters of the Arabian Gulf, take a boat trip to spot dolphins, or gently drift in a kayak through the many natural mangroves. However, let’s not forget it is in the desert so you’ll also be perfectly placed to enjoy an adventure straight from the pages of One Thousand and One Nights.
Having had the pleasure of spending a few days there myself recently, I would say it’s a place that has something for everyone to enjoy but these are the unmissable things to include on any Abu Dhabi itinerary:
One of the largest mosques in the world, the Grand Mosque has space for an astonishing 40,000 worshippers but visitors of all, or even no, religious denominations flock to see this breathtakingly beautiful building. The central courtyard is bound by vast white marble pillars and the whole place shimmers with gold and mother of pearl. The ideal time to visit is at 5pm for the ‘Sunset Tour’, and the temperatures are cooler then too.
Stroll down the promenade of the famous Corniche waterfront. This is the best place to view the Abu Dhabi skyline, paddle in the warm waters on the beautiful beach or relax in one of the many green parks and gardens.
Located in the Saadiyat Island Cultural District, this is the Parisian art museum’s Arabian sister and showcases artworks from around the world, with particular focus placed upon bridging the gap between Eastern and Western art.
Originally built for Government and Royalty use, this grand, iconic building is now a fully operational hotel – and probably one of the most gold, glitziest and most luxurious you will ever see. I can wholeheartedly recommend the delicious afternoon tea (or the ice cream sundae dipped in gold!) but the restaurant is very popular so do book ahead.
Climb aboard an SUV, with a qualified desert driver, and enjoy a white-knuckle ride over the peaks and crests of the sand dunes. Definitely not for the faint-hearted (or carsick!) you’ll speed, rattle and roll your way through a Laurence of Arabia style adrenaline-rush adventure.
This is where you’ll find Ferrari World, said to be the world’s largest indoor theme park, Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 racetrack (open to the public on Tuesdays) and Yas Waterworld, an enormous water park built over 15 hectares of land. The water park boasts almost 50 rides, suitable for all ages, with tubes, slides, sprays and loops across four thrill levels. If you visit during summer, be sure to pack swim shoes as the paths around the park get very hot – so the soles of your feet will suffer even if the rest of you is wet and cool!