If Dubai seems a little excessive, the neighbouring emirate of Abu Dhabi may be just what you are looking for as a tourist. Abu Dhabi is both a city and an emirate; the city is an island in the Persian Gulf, linked to the mainland of Abu Dhabi by two long bridges.
Although the city of Abu Dhabi is said to be the richest city on the world, it is somewhat more reserved and less tourist-orientated than Dubai, although it still has plenty of awesome high-rises and a beautiful Corniche waterfront.
Abu Dhabi’s Architecture
Abu Dhabi architecture has something for all tastes. From the impressive Kempinski-owned Emirates Palace Hotel, with its extensive sandstone façade and domed roof, to the well-frequented mosques, Abu Dhabi lets you know that you are indeed in the Middle East rather than Las Vegas. However, it lacks nothing when it comes to stylish shopping malls, luxury five star hotels, lush green parks and unique desert experiences.
Abu Dhabi’s latest real estate venture is Saadiyat Island, which means “Island of Happiness”. It will be a major cultural attraction with museums, parks, golf courses, marinas and beaches making it a top tourist attraction. At an estimated cost of $30 million, Saadiyat Island is due for completion in 2018, so watch this space!
Things to Do in Abu Dhabi
In the meantime, visitors to Abu Dhabi are certainly not short of attractions and things to do. Families can enjoy a day at the Al Ain Zoo and Aquarium or ride the roller coasters and water slides at the Hili Fun City Amusement Park.
For a more cultural experience, the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village offers a reconstructed village and Bedouin tents to show typical life in the UAE in the early 20th century. Visit the historic 18th century White Fort (Qasr al-Hosn), built to guard the precious freshwater supply, or climb the 200-year-old Hatta Watchtower for panoramic Gulf and city views.
Shopping in Abu Dhabi
The Old Souk is another wonderful way to immerse yourself in Arabian life. Shop for handmade rugs, beautiful metalwork, gorgeous jewellery, textiles, art and fair-trade goods. Traders may offer you hospitality in the form of a tiny glass of mint tea. Sit down and experience typical Middle Eastern hospitality and give them the courtesy of browsing their merchandise. If you find something you like, don’t forget to haggle hard. These street-wise traders know their bottom price – it’s up to you to negotiate and find it!
If you prefer air-conditioned malls and designer names, Abu Dhabi will not disappoint. The three-storey Abu Dhabi Mall in the heart of the city is a good place to start. It has a host of familiar high street names from Europe and the USA such as Kate Spade, Hallmark, Diesel and Boots. For food try Dunkin Donuts and the newly opened P. F. Chang’s for excellent American-Asian cuisine.
Enjoy the musical fountains at the Marina Mall, home of Marks and Spencer, Carrefour and Versace, or visit the central Al Wahda Mall. The great thing is that most shops are open until 10pm, so you can still enjoy the day on the beach.