Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque 2

Abu Dhabi - Abu Dhabi

Unofficial cultural capital of the UAE, this is a place where spectacular landscape and wildlife exist side by side with sleek malls and culinary fireworks, says Imogen Lepere.

Travel Time 7hrs 30min

Why go?

Little more than 60 years ago, Abu Dhabi was a humble town surviving on the remains of the pearl-diving industry. Thanks to the discovery of oil in the Fifties, today it is a brunch-loving, champagne-fuelled glitter ball suspended between the rippling dunes of the Empty Quarter and the Persian Gulf. As if year-round sunshine, glamorous nightlife and acid-bright beaches weren’t draw enough, it is also emerging as the cultural capital of the UAE with a host of world-class galleries including The Louvre. It isn’t all about seeing and being seen, however. On the outskirts of town silent herons wade the swamps, while falcon trainers and their faithful dogs pad out to the desert at sunrise. Occasionally, between a designer mall and sushi restaurant, you’ll glimpse the hem of a mukhawara (traditional dress) swishing down a side street and the ancient pearl village doesn’t feel so far away.

What to do

Sunning yourself on the Corniche’s famous beachfront and shopping in Yas Island’s vast mall are rites of passage for first timers, but there’s plenty more to discover. Look out for hawksbill turtles on a guided kayaking trip through the mangroves or join local wildlife enthusiast Sultan Karrani 00 971 506 543 309 for a walk through Yas Island’s Al Wathba Wetland Resort, famed for its flamingos. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is located between the three main bridges connecting Abu Dhabi City to the mainland and is the top sight in the city. This glistening haven is big enough to hold 40,000 people as well as the world’s biggest chandelier and carpet, both meticulously handmade. Since opening in 2017, Louvre Abu Dhabi has been at the forefront of the UAE’s cultural scene and the architecture (by Jean Nouvel) is captivating. With their haggling opportunities and chances to sip sweet tea with traders, souks are a great way to experience Emirati culture. Al Ain (the Old Souk) is crammed with everything from clothes to spices, while the Fish Souk and Fruit and Vegetable Souk are near the main port and can easily be combined into a single trip.

Where to stay

‘Big’, ‘bold’ and ‘beautiful’ all spring to mind when describing Abu Dhabi’s hotels. Expect hundreds of rooms, service as polished as the marble domes of the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and pristine pools with swim-up bars. With its amethyst-encrusted lifts, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel 00 97 128 115 555, is case in point. In contrast is Zaya Nurai Island 00 971 250 662 22, – a ten-minute hop by speedboat from Saadiyat Island, with its teepee-style beach tents, 34 pool villas and book cellar. Count the super-yachts in the marina from the spanking-new Abu Dhabi Edition 00 971 2 208 0000, while the Park Rotana 00 971 2 657 3333, makes a great, well-located budget option.

Where to eat and drink

Abu Dhabi is a mecca for expats without forgetting its Emirati roots. Enjoy cocktails and red snapper at Asia de Cuba 00 971 269 933 33, on the Corniche, then pick up baklava and thick Arabic coffee from a local café on the way home. Mezlai 00 971 2 690 7999, at the Emirates Palace was the first fine-dining Emirati restaurant in the city. It conjures local ingredients such as camel milk, za’atar and rosewater into beautiful modern plates. Yadoo’s (Grandma’s) House 00 971 2 441 1311, focuses on traditional favourites such as al harees (meat and wheat slow-cooked and served with ghee). Brunching is a religion here. Every Friday (the first day of the weekend), the city’s beautiful people hit Zuma 00 971 2 401 5900, and Aqua 00 971 281 355 50, and The Terrace 00 971 2 694 4553, http://www.theterraceonthecorn... to sip mimosas.

Time running out?

Book a half-day desert safari to ride camels over the dunes as the sun sets before dining on bedouin dishes likesalona (vegetable stew) around a campfire. http://www.arabiannightsvillag...


Travel Information

Travel Information

Currency is the UAE dirham (AED). Time is 4 hours ahead of GMT. Flight time from London is around 7 hours. The taxi journey from the airport to the city centre takes around 30 minutes.

Getting There

Etihad Airways has direct flights from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi International.
Turkish Airlines also flies from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi with one stop in Istanbul.


Visit Abu Dhabi is the official tourist board and its website provides a wealth of essential travel tips.

Average daily temperatures and rainfall

Min Temp131417202326282926221815
Max Temp222427323738414039353025

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