A Spin Around Abu Dhabi
From the world’s fastest roller coaster to a go-kart on the corniche, there’s plenty of ways to explore the UAE’s capital city.
At Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, visitors can marvel at the 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers, beautiful marble mosaic and ‘world’s largest’ hand-knotted carpet
It’s not often you’re faced with the choice of sitting in a goat-hair tent stroking a disgruntled camel or indulging in a coffee sprinkled with 24-carat gold, but that’s the beauty of Abu Dhabi, a city of amusing contrasts. The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf. The country’s commercial and industrial centre is home to a variety of attractions, including one of the world’s largest mosques, UNESCO World Heritage sites and miles of white sand.
Gear Up for Adventure
Abu Dhabi also boasts Yas Marina Circuit, which has hosted the Formula One United Arab Emirates Grand Prix since 2009. Even if you’re not there for the F1, you can check out drag racing or get behind the wheel and book a track day. Adrenaline junkies can take a trip to Ferarri World – the world’s largest indoor theme park featuring Formula Rossa – the world’s fastest roller coaster. You’ll soon discover the UAE has a few ‘world’s best’ titles, which it loves to show off.
While on the island, Yas Waterworld is also worth a visit. The epic water park, which opened this year, is a treat for the family with a whopping 43 rides, slides and attractions suited to various bravery levels. If you prefer traditional city breaks, head to the Marina Mall area, where you can indulge in a camel burger and a gold-topped coffee, or visit Abu Dhabi Heritage Centre for a dose of culture.
A short walk from Marina Mall, The Heritage Centre is a mock-up of a traditional oasis village, providing interesting insight into the emirate’s past. From a museum displaying everything from traditional clothing and an old-fashioned irrigation system to a traditional goat-hair tent, you can also browse the mini market stalls or watch traditional craftsmen at work. Animal lovers will be able to encounter a dromedary, a donkey, ducks and even a bull.
A Taste of City Life
If you’re keen to check out the city’s beaches, the Corniche is minutes away from the Heritage Centre. Hiring pedal-powered go-karts is a popular choice for those after a breath of sea air. If you work up an appetite, there’s no shortage of places to eat. From authentic Asian restaurants to fast food joints and five-star dining, be sure to sample shawarmas (meat wrapped in traditional bread) and manakishes (dough topped with cheese, meat or herbs).
If you have a few days in the capital, it’s worth booking a kayaking trip around the Eastern Mangrove Lagoon, a natural habitat for turtles, sea snakes and a variety of fish. Abu Dhabi has an exciting art scene and will soon have its own Louvre and Guggenheim museums on Saadiyat Island, which is already home to 15,400-square-metre arts and cultural centre Manarat Al Saadiyat.
A trip to Abu Dhabi should include a visit to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE and the eighth largest in the world. Vast enough to hold up to 40,000 worshippers, visitors can marvel at the 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers, beautiful marble mosaic and ‘world’s largest’ hand-knotted carpet.
Open to the public daily except Friday – the Muslim’s holy day – the mosque’s white and gold colours shine brightly in the daylight and are transformed at night by a unique lighting system that reflects the lunar phases. With complimentary tours offered daily, it is a must for holidaymakers keen to learn more about a city that has come a very long way in a short space of time.
Retire in Style
After a tough day of sightseeing, nothing beats relaxing in a cool infinity pool to watch the sunset. At the tranquil Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi the pool overlooks a stunning view of the country's biggest mosque. Although grand in appearance, the hotel’s Arabic decor and warm colours make it feel cosy, a sentiment the friendly staff reinforces by knocking on your door to check that everything's okay or by bringing a fruit kebab to your sun lounger just as you begin to think the heat's getting to be too much.
Conveniently located near the airport and just a short taxi ride from all the major attractions, the hotel is connected by a winding waterway. You can take an abra, a traditional Arabic boat, to the upmarket souk on the complex. Spend the day browsing artwork, jewellery and the plethora of restaurants and bars within the souk.