As you approach Abu Dhabi by air, the scene that greets you below, is of dusty, beige flat land. Do not be fooled, for many delights await you in this fascinating city, eagerly waiting, to entice you during your 24hr stopover.
All hotels are of a very high standard, one of which being the comfortable Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi (31st Street Airport Road), only fifteen minutes from the airport. Check in and then head straight into the calm capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Here, skyscrapers, parks and mosques mingle comfortably together.
First head towards the Emirates Heritage Village and saunter around the gloriously blossoming and waterfall laden gardens down on the Breakwater. Here you’ll find evidence of Abu Dhabi’s long history, with fascinating insights into a Bedouin traditional encampment, a souq, and a mosque. Next saunter to the fish market at Al-Meena, if your senses are up to it, for some weird and wonderful sights!
With the heat of mid-morning already rising, escape to the sublime air-conditioned Marina Mall for some retail bliss. Here you will find an impressive selection on offer, including Fendi, Chanel and Dior, in addition to numerous facilities, including an ice rink, bowling alley and cinemas. Whilst here, seek out more traditional souvenirs and gifts by visiting the Karama St, Al Mushrif (women’s handicraft centre) where local female artisans produce fine needlework and weaving. You may also like to visit the carpet souq on Al Meena Road and test your haggling skills!
Now it’s time for lunch; grab a Lebanese mezze lunch al-fresco at Cafe Layali Zaman on the Corniche (look out for the “Baguette” sign), and sample the divine hummus, or the locally renowned baba ganoush. Perhaps you may choose to accompany your Arabian coffee by having a traditional sweet-scented shisha water-pipe! Now detour back in the direction of the airport for a fascinating tour of Abu Dhabi’s Falcon Hospital; you will see birds of prey and local wildife nursed back to health – the finale of the tour providing you with the chance to hold a falcon. Following this, return back into town to the Emirates Palace Hotel and partake of high tea, where one can feast on an English version to include scones, raspberry jam and clotted cream, or “go local” with date and zaatar (a Middle Eastern spice mix of hyssop, sumac and sesame) scones, Arabic pastries and rose-water-scented grapes. Explore the current “exhibition of the moment” whilst here; something interesting is frequently displayed. For anybody who is interested in the Arts and also the future of Abu Dhabi, hop in to a taxi to Saadiyat Island to visit the Manarat Al Saadiyat Visitors Centre, and the Arts Abu Dhabi Gallery. The Guggenheim and Louvre in Abu Dhabi are presently being built here. After the high temperatures dissipate a little, saunter back, for a leisurely stroll of the newly renovated Bateen Shipyard, (open daily except Friday). Situated closely to the Intercontinental Hotel, traditional teak dhows are still assembled here, the mastery and technique dating back centuries. Today, these traditional dhows are often more common for pleasure or racing, as opposed to the trading boats of the past. Continue on your adventure to the Corniche as the sun sets, to stroll with the locals, and roam over to the awe-inspiring Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, by far the most important landmark in Abu Dhabi to the locals, referred to as the “Grand Mosque”, whose extravagant building materials hark from such diverse and far afield places as Germany, Greece, Italy and Morocco. Finally, for dinner, should you not wish for traditional cuisine (although this would be a great pity), head on over to the highly rated Spaccanopoli (Crown Plaza Abu Dhabi) for a delicious plate of gnocchi. When feasted, continue on over to the Hilton Abu Dhabi’s Jazz Bar for a sublime cocktail or two, served with a dash of live jazz – the perfect nightcap and finale to a wonderful stay in Abu Dhabi, before your morning flight.