Abu Dhabi is a young city that emerged out of the desert. Here luxury and glamour can be enjoyed in a culture-rich setting and these are a few must-haves in your itinerary.
Not too long ago, the Emirates were nothing more than sprawling deserts and tiny villages scattered around the oases. Liwa is an oasis town in Al Gharbia – about 200 kms away from Abu Dhabi city. It is an entry point to the Rub Al Khali or Empty Quarter – the world’s largest uninterrupted stretch of sand. The Liwa desert is also home to some of the tallest sand dunes in the world, including the Tel Moreeb which is 300 meters high. During the Liwa International Festival in February, motor sport enthusiasts attempt to climb the 50 degree incline of this hill.
Dune bashing, desert walks, mountain biking, camel riding – there are enough options to explore the desert. In Al Gharbia, the desert meets the sea and opens up a variety of options for the explorer. There are beaches and islands along the coastline, while the desert is up for some off-road driving and year-round festivals like the Liwa dates festival and Al Dhafra Camel Festival. Most tour operators and resorts can arrange camping for you. You can rent a four-wheeler from the city and explore the sands. Make sure you don’t go alone and take a good map with you – you could easily get lost among the dunes if you do not know the area well enough.
A 30-minute drive from Abu Dhabi, Yas Island is a fast emerging entertainment hub in the Middle East. Formula 1, golf and theme parks have visitors streaming in during the day, while the glittering marina and its super yachts have parties going all night.
- Yas Beach: The Island’s only beach is set on the southern shore. Open daily from 10 AM – 7 PM, for an admission fee of AED 50 (Adults) and AED 25 (Children above 12 years).
- Yas Links: 7,450 yard par 72 course designed by Kyle Philips with ocean views and floodlit practice ranges on the west shore of the island.
- Yas Marina & Yacht club: The Annual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix brings super yachts from as far as Australia to the Marina.
- Yas Marina Circuit: Home to the annual F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the circuit is buzzing with events year-round.
- Yas Viceroy Hotel: The only hotel in the world that straddles an F1 race track is built half on land and half over the Yas Marina. The iconic five-star is the centerpiece on the Yas Marina circuit, with innovative design and exteriors that change colour after sundown.
- The Ferrari world: Home to Formula Rossa – the world’s fastest roller coaster and about 20 other giddy rides.
- Yas Waterworld: The recently launched Arabian themed park offers about 43 thrill-a-minute rides.
Featured among the world’s largest mosques and the most remarkable places of worship, this architectural marvel is just about six years old. The Grand Mosque also features 82 gleaming white domes, 1000 marble columns and 24 carat gold plated Swarovski chandeliers – the one under the central dome is apparently 12 tonnes heavy. But the most distinctive feature is the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet spread across the spacious prayer hall. More than 40000 worshipers can pray here at a time!
A visit to the Grand mosque does not end with admiration for its beauty. It is also a chance to learn more about the Islamic culture and traditions. Tours are available daily with an Emirati guide to clear your doubts and educate you. It is one of the few mosques in the world open to non-Muslims. The mosque premises also house the tomb of Sheikh Zayed, who is the founder of UAE. The Central Library on the third floor of the Northern Minaret guards rare Arabic calligraphy collections and about 50,000 other manuscripts.
The Abu Dhabi pearl journey is a 90 minute cruise on a Jalboot – tradition pearl diving boat. Guests are seated in an Arabian Majlis and served Arabic coffee with dates. The Emirati guide will narrate old stories about pearl diving. Traditional pearl diving does not exist anymore. Now oysters are collected from farms where they are raised naturally. Once you have had a crash course on pearl diving, it is time to find some pearls. Guests are asked to select an oyster, which is then opened with an oyster knife. You can look for the pearl and continue selecting oysters until you find one. The pearl is coated in salt and washed before it is wrapped in a pouch. The oyster is also cleaned and handed over along with the pearl – there cannot be a better souvenir. You can even try the raw oyster meat. It tasts like prawns coated in egg white with a salty aftertaste. Before returning to the marina, light Arabian snacks are served as you cruised along the Mangroves.
- Cost: AED 500 (Adults), AED 400(Children below 12 years) and AED 450/person (groups).
- The tour cost covers snacks and beverages. You get to keep the pearl(s) you find.
- Evening tours can be booked in advance. Daily tours are available from 9 AM – 8 PM.
- The Jalboot can carry a maximum of 10-15 people.
- Bookings and more at www.adpearljourney.com
Easily mistaken for the presidential palace, Emirates Palace stuns you with its sheer magnitude. This is ‘beyond-5 star’ opulence, indeed. Simply standing below the heavily gilded central dome can take your breath away. Gold mother of pearl detailing adorns each column and beyond the grand lobby the hotel stretches out to two sprawling wings. Gold seems to be everywhere. There’s even a ‘gold ATM,’ a shiny golden machine that dispenses gold bars and coins.
The Emirates Palace is not just a place for the super-rich to rest their heads. Anyone can walk in to admire the grand spaces or book a table at one of the many restaurants or Al Fresco dining areas. But if you are ready for that ultimate indulgence, book a room – Coral, Pearl or Diamond. The service remains immaculately same for all room categories, only the view outside your window changes.
Shop at the Souks:
Abu Dhabi has at least a dozen swanky shopping malls to keep you safe from the sun and busy shopping! And then there are the souks, with their old-world whiff and real bargains. . The ‘Central Market’ is a modern interpretation of the souk – traditional but covered! The markets near Al Mina or the port used tosell goods imported from Iran on Dhows and the Mina area is taken over by various souks that sell fresh produce, fish, dates and even carpets. You will find the old merchant’s Dhows near the present fish market. The Dates Souk has a variety of the dried fruit, including stuffed dates and date honey. You can buy Iranian, Turkish and Kashmiri carpets at the Carpet Souk, but beware the tourist traps. Art lovers might find a good pick at one of the many galleries.
Abu Dhabi Corniche
Drive or cycle along the 8 Km stretch of waterfront area that also features a number of cafes and restaurants along the Corniche beach. There are individual themed parks like a Family Park with creative climbing structures, the Urban Park with its beautiful gardens, the Lake Park and the Formal Park noted for its maze.
On Khaleej Al Arabi street, the 5 star Hyatt hotel is a challenger to the leaning tower of Pisa. The 35 storey tower leans 18 degrees to the west and has made it to the Guinness world records. This should make a great holiday snap.
Get a bird’s eye view of Abu Dhabi city and surrounding islands from the 74th floor of Etihad Tower 2. Tickets: AED 75.
Experience traditional Emirati life in this heritage village that offers accommodation in mud houses of the desert, pal frond houses of the Emirati sea-dwellers or Bedouin style woven tents.
The tour starts from the Grand mosque to Saadiyat Island through the Emirates Palace and the Heritage Village. Tickets are valid for 24 hours and guests can hop on or hop off at the 11 stops throughout the city.
The most advanced and largest of its kind in the region, the Falcon Hospital tends to about 35,000 of these endangered species. Falcons have a special place in Emirati culture and the noble sport of Falconry has been practiced for centuries. Guided tour are available from Sun – Thur. You can also try your hand at the sport. Advanced booking is recommended.
Races are noramally held on weekend mornings and public holidays. Al Wathba Camel Race Track is about 45 kms east of Abu Dhabi. You can also head to the Al Maqam track near Al Ain.
45 kms from the city, the pyramid shaped museum houses Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan’s collection of almost 200 cars; including off-road and classic American vehicles. It also features the Sheikh’s rainbow collection of Mercedes and the ‘World’s largest Truck’ at its entrance. It is a perfect stop on your way to Liwa, even if you are not that into cars.