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Travel to Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is everything you’ve seen in Fast & Furious 7 – and much, much more. The capital and largest member of the United Arab Emirates occupies a small island in the Persian Gulf and commands a strong presence. It’s rich beyond belief – where else could you casually buy 24-carat gold bars from a hotel lobby vending machine? It’s sleek and stylish, thanks in no small part to the meticulous planning of UAE founding father Sheikh Zayed and Japanese architect Katsuhiko Takahashi. It’s home to Rub’ al Khali, the largest uninterrupted sand mass on the planet and Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, the most Instagrammable hotel in the world, right in the middle of it. Plus, it’s a true commercial powerhouse with a flair for culture, innovation and glam. And above all, it’s a perfect city break destination with plenty of thrills to be had.

 

Fly to Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates for

Nested in the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi stretches over some 200 islands, both natural and man-made, connected to the mainland through the Maqta, Mussafah and Sheikh Zayed bridges. Today, it’s a key political, industrial and cultural hub, which is all the more remarkable considering that 50 years ago it was a town of 40,000 without reliable electricity or running water. In fact, it hadn’t really existed before 1761 when the Al bu Falah clan of the powerful Bani Yas tribe settled here and became Abu Dhabi’s ruling family. The city first made a name for itself as a major pearl-diving site in the early 20th century, but that was soon overshadowed by the 1958 discovery of its rich oil reserves. Ten years later, the country’s visionary ruler, Sheikh Zayed laid the groundwork for Abu Dhabi’s transformation into the forward-looking metropolis that it is today.

 

A modern take on Emirati heritage

To get an idea what Abu Dhabi is all about, take a look around the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, an Islamic architectural feat designed to hold over 40,000 worshippers and attracting millions of visitors each year. Blending Turkish, Moroccan, Pakistani and Egyptian design elements, the UAE’s largest and most spectacular mosque was erected to embody the Islamic message of tolerance and respect. It also oozes Arabian splendour, boasting 82 onion-shaped domes, some 1,000 flower-adorned columns, 24-carat-gold-gilded chandeliers and the world's longest hand-knotted carpet. Another Arabian beauty, the Emirates Palace awaits guests and visitors on West Corniche Road with splendid views of a private bay and lavish interiors with gardens to match. Hit Le Café for its famous, 23-carat-gold-flaked Palace Cappuccino and Camel Burger, if you’re so inclined. Did we mention that the city has its own Louvre? Located in the Saadiyat Cultural District, the Middle East outpost of the iconic Parisian museum was unveiled in 2017 and is dedicated to world cultural history. A work of art in its own right, Louvre Abu Dhabi is the largest art space of the Arabian Peninsula and displays amazing pieces of both Eastern and Western art, including the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso and Ai Weiwei. For a dose of adrenaline, jump in the driver’s seat of an Aston Martin GT4 at Yas Island’s Yas Marina Circuit, where Abu Dhabi has hosted its annual Formula One race since 2009. Or go on Formula Rossa, the world's fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. The record-breaking ride reaches a top speed of 240 km/h (149.1 mph) in less than five seconds for the full F1 racing experience.

 

Taste the best in glocal gastronomy

Emirati cuisine, just like the country itself, is a smorgasbord of local and international influences. Abu Dhabi is awash with the finest Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Indian, Philippine and Lebanese eateries, but you shouldn’t miss out on the rich and deeply satisfying Emirati fare, either. Seafood, lamb and mutton are well-loved ingredients, often cooked as a stew, heavy on saffron, cardamom, turmeric and thyme. Khuzi (or ghuzi) is a must-try: the Emirates’ national dish is an aromatic mix of roasted lamb, rice and nuts. So is balaleat (or balaleet), a traditional Emirati dessert that also doubles as a sweet-and-savoury breakfast dish made with vermicelli, eggs, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron and pistachios. Coffee and tea, jazzed up with cardamom, saffron or mint, are essential to local diet and life in general. ’I’m serious about Emirati food’, Shaikha Al Kaabi said in an interview in 2014, right before she opened Meylas. What started out as a kiosk selling Emirati snacks has become a go-to place for fuelling up on balaleet, chbaab or harees, thanks to the young restaurateur’s passion for local cuisine. Located in the Emirates Palace, Mezlai is another great spot for savouring Emirati fare in an upmarket, Bedouin tent-like setting. For a pan-Arabic gastro experience, add Gad Restaurant and Zahrat Lebnan (Lebanese Flower) to your foodie bucket list. The former serves up affordable Egyptian street food, while the latter has been synonymous with authentic Lebanese cuisine for almost four decades.

 

Shop your way through Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi’s shopping scene is vast, vibrant and varied, from portside fish souks to glitzy boutiques with private shopping sessions and everything in between. The Galleria Al Maryah Island brings together over 400 mid- to high-end retail brands under one roof, plus some of the best bites in the city, including the Japanese-French fusion creations of Michelin-starred chef Gregory Marchand at SushiArt. The shops of Madinat Zayed will be a softer blow to your wallet, except for the fine gold, diamond and pearl jewellery stores in the adjacent Madinat Zayed Gold Centre. Traditional markets are a must for their ambience alone but they won’t disappoint on the retail front, either. Check out the catch of the day at the fish souk at Mina Zayed, snap a photo of the rainbow-coloured stalls of the Al Mina fruit and vegetable souk or find the perfect dallah (coffee pot) at Souk Al Zafarana.

 

Go island-hopping

Don’t let their size fool you: the smaller islands of Abu Dhabi are tremendous fun. Visit Dalma Island, the Emirates’ former pearling hub, relax in the infinity pool on Happiness Island, replenish your energy at the five-star eco-resorts of Zaya Nurai Island or sip a cocktail under a beach cabana on Al Maya Island. For a vastly different but no less thrilling experience, sign up for a dawn dune walking, camel-trekking, dune bashing or overnight safari tour through the dramatic dunes of the Al Dhafra Region. Or get on the water to discover the Mangrove National Park in the city’s eastern outskirts: kayak among several-metre-high mangrove trees and their spectacular inhabitants, such as flamingos or western reef herons.

 

Abu Dhabi weather

Abu Dhabi has a hot desert climate with bright blue skies and scorching heat, especially from June to September. During this period, expect temperatures above 40°C, high humidity and the occasional sandstorm. The best time to visit the United Arab Emirates is from November to March, when the days are pleasant and sunny, with moderate to high temperatures. Pack light-coloured cotton clothes and, in the winter, throw in a light jacket and a scarf.

 

Abu Dhabi airport

Located some 30 kilometres from the city, Abu Dhabi International Airport is the United Arab Emirates’ second-largest airport and serves dozens of airlines, which connect the capital to over 100 destinations worldwide. It has three passenger terminals, with Terminal 3 being the latest addition, and plenty of shopping, dining and unwinding opportunities. Designated buses run between the terminals and Abu Dhabi, or taxi and car rental services are also available.