The futuristic capital of the United Arab Emirates is located on a peninsula, jutting into the Persian Gulf. It is home to the federal governmental offices and is the seat of the UAE Government and home of the Emirate Royal Family. It is highly developed, and home to affluent population. The city is also a political, commercial and cultural center, as well as financial hub, home to headquarters of the Central Bank of the UAE, world’s richest oil operating companies, and numerous multinational corporations. Abu Dhabi is one of the world’s largest producers of oil, but in recent years it is branching off to the sectors of tourism and financial services as well. It was declared the riches city in the world in 2007 by the Fortune Magazine.
Abu Dhabi developed remarkably quickly, in just 50 years a once fishing village plus port turned into what we see today. Its architecture is a mixture of styles, with numerous high-rise skyscrapers and artificial islands, but is definitely not as cosmopolitan and over-the-top as Dubai, but also more laid-back.
The city is continuing to develop into a world-class luxury travel and business destination, and will in future direct more energy into culture. The 2030 development plans envisage construction of museums, art galleries and performing art centers worth 27 billion USD, among which also the Abu Dhabi ‘branches’ of the Louvre and Guggenheim.
Apart from shopping and glitz-viewing visitors can also explore nature, as the city is surrounded by mysterious deserts and oases. Abu Dhabi Emirate is the biggest of all seven, comprising 87% of the total UAE area.
Abu Dhabi has a hot arid climate with sunny weather and blue skies year round. The period from June to September is extremely hot and humid with temperatures exceeding 35 °C and occasional sandstorms that reduce visibility considerably. From November to March you can expect cooler temperatures with occasional fog.
January average temperature 18 deg Celsius 7.6 mm rainfall February average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 20.3 mm rainfall March average temperature 22 deg Celsius, 15.2 mm rainfall April average temperature 26 deg Celsius, 5.1 mm rainfall May average temperature 31 deg Celsius, 2.5 mm rainfall June average temperature 32 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall July average temperature 35 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall August average temperature 35 deg Celsius, 2.5 mm rainfall September average temperature 32 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall October average temperature 28 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall November average temperature 24 deg Celsius, 0 mm rainfall December average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 5.1 mm rainfall
Abu Dhabi International Airport (IATA: AUH) is the second busiest airport in the United Arab Emirates, immediately after Dubai. It is the home of the Etihad Airways.
Public bus no. 901 has services connecting to the city center every 30 to 45 minutes and the fare is really cheap. Metered taxis are allowed on the airport premises. A ride to the city center costs around 60 to 70 Dhs. Complimentary shuttle buses are available if you are flying with Etihad, connecting to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The best way of getting around in Abu Dhabi is by car. You can either rent or use taxis.
Taxis are the best way of getting around. They are available everywhere and are not expensive. A ride in the town will not cost you more than Dhs 10.
Locals tend to drive pretty aggressively so visitors should be careful. In case of a traffic accident with a local, most often the foreigner is considered the guilty party. If you are involved in a car accident do not move the car unless instructed to do so by the police.
The main bus station is at the Hazaa Bin Zayed Road and serves buses inside the city as well as out of the city. A single ride costs Dhs 1, whereas a day pass is Dhs 3.
The city is not equipped for walking around, in addition, the heat is almost always too oppressive. It is spread out wide, making distances between spots quite big.
To see Abu Dhabi from a different perspective, you can go sailing in the Abu Dhabi corniche. There is a variety of boats to choose from, either dhows (local boats) or modern boats, which are anchored along the breakwater. Prices vary a lot, depending on the length of the cruise and services offered onboard. Usually they come together with a lunch.
Desert safaris are a unique glimpse into the nature and culture or the Middle East. Many offer a combination of adventures: dune bashing (off road driving in the tricky desert landscape), camel rides, or sand skiing. Traditional henna painting of hands and feet is also available, as are presentations of the traditional falconry techniques. Some tours include visits to Bedouin villages, camel farms and mountain climbing expeditions and overnight stays in the desert. Often, delicious barbecue lunch is included, together with genuine Arabic coffee and belly dancing. Do not forget to pack good sunglasses and a hat to protect yourself from strong sunlight.
DIVING AND SNORKELLING
There are numerous diving and snorkeling sites for all levels of expertise, off the coast of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The warm water allows snorkeling and diving activities throughout the year. The shallow waters of the Gulf feature some spectacular reefs and wrecks. There are little tidal movement and currents which facilitates beginners’ experience, although diving sites are getting more demanding the further north you go.
From the town of Diva numerous deeper diving sites can be reached via half hour boat ride, but these are only suitable for experienced divers: mountains plunging directly into the sea, overgrown with corals, sea caves and 40 meter dives. During the cooler months nurse and leopard sharks are regularly seen. Sometimes even whalesharks are observed.
Check out Abu Dhabi’s most extravagant hotel, open to window shoppers free of charge. The giant hotel features 400 rooms and suites, and a walk around its perimeter is 2.5km long! The luxurious hotel features unimaginable amounts of marble, gold and crystal, and 1002 Swarovski chandeliers.
Abu Dhabi’s striking beachfront winding along the Persian Gulf shore is lined with a walkway, luxurious hotels, entertainment and activity facilities. This is a favorite evening promenade of the Abu Dhabi’s inhabitants.
SHEIKH ZAYED MOSQUE
The enormous Sheikh Zayed Mosque is UAE’s largest mosque and the sixth largest in the world. The entire mosque can accommodate 40,000 worshippers, whereas the main prayer hall accepts 5,000. It has four minarets 115 meters tall and 82 domes covering the various buildings and an extensive outside yard, entirely paved with marble. From March 2008 tours of the mosque are possible for non-Muslims as well.
THE PETROLEUM EXHIBITION
Address: Corniche East Phone: 626 9715 Open: 7:00 am – 2:00 pm, (Thursdays and Fridays closed) Admission: Free
The place will give you a good glimpse into the development of Abu Dhabi from a minor desert town to one of the most prosperous cities on Earth. The exhibition features old photos, a documentary film in several languages, aerial pictures and an interactive display of the modernization process.
AL HOSN PALACE (THE WHITE FORT)
Address: Khalid bin Walid St Open: daily 7:30 am – 1:30 pm, Thursdays 7:30 am – 12:00 pm. Fridays closed. Admission: Free
The oldest building in Abu Dhabi, constructed in 1793, served as the residence of the ruling family and the seat of government. The interior was extensively renovated and modernized and is now used by the Cultural Foundation, featuring a museum of traditional artifacts and historical photographs. It boasts stunning exterior, with stunning mosaic work over the main gate.
Address: The Breakwater Open: 8:30 am – 5:00 pm Admission: Free
This living museum depicts life in Abu Dhabi before the discovery of oil. It features a replica of traditional Bedouin nomad camp, an ancient irrigation system, workshops with craftsmen, a museum, and demonstrations of camel riding and falconry.
Abu Dhabi is home to many expatriate communities, which is evident also in the range of restaurants available. There are Arabic, Far-Eastern, European, Latin and Continental cuisines to choose from.
Prices vary greatly. The cheapest restaurants are usually Lebanese Arabic and Indian whereas the most expensive ones are the hotel restaurants. International fast food chains are also present. All restaurants deliver at no extra cost, from the simplest stalls, to fast food chains, to top notch hotel restaurants.
During Ramadan restaurants are closed during daylight hours. Visitors should also note that eating, drinking and smoking in public during Ramadan is prohibited for everyone, including non-Muslims. Some of the larger hotels may have a restaurant catering to non-Muslim guests also during this time.
The festival is held every year in March and is one of the best ones, attracting huge numbers of shoppers to the city’s luxurious air-conditioned malls, where especially gold jewelry, electronic gods, fashion and perfumes are popular.
Red Bull stages spectacular stunt competitions where pilots fly at high speed through inflatable gates. 15 of the world’s top pilots will compete for championship points in the first of eight races, held on five continents.
The festival lasts for two days and combines two successful festivals into one: the first night features Latin dancers and musicians, and the second night is dedicated to jazz artists from around the world.
Ramadan is an Islamic fasting month which requires Muslims to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking from dawn to dusk. Non-Muslim visitors are not expected to fast, but should nevertheless show respect by not eating, drinking or smoking in public during daytime.
This is one of the most popular Islamic holidays. It marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a three-day period of feasting and celebration.
Mouloud (The Prophet's Birthday)
This festival commemorates the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, when Muslim families invite guests to their homes and indulge in feasting and celebrations.
Albeit a Muslim city, Abu Dhabi features nightlife that ranges from a quiet stroll down the Corniche, to thumping nightclubs with top DJs – there is something to be found for every taste and age.
There are many international restaurants and dining is a very popular option of spending an evening out. Some of the best restaurants are located in the hotel lobbies in the areas of Breakwater, Sheikh Zayed Street, Corniche Road or Tourist Club area.
Socializing over a coffee and shisha (hubbly bubbly pipe) is an integral part of the social scene here. Many cafes offer freshly baked snacks, sandwiches and buffets and are conveniently located near shopping malls or hotels.
Bars, Pubs, Clubs
Liquor licensing laws are strict so that alcohol is served only in hotel bars and clubs. Bars and pubs are distinguished by a relaxed cozy atmosphere, their offer features entertainment such as happy hours, ladies nights, karaoke, salsa nights, etc. In the nightclubs you will be able to hear Western electronic music, traditional Arabic music, Indian and Iranian music.
Some of them are:
Captain’s Arms –Le Meridian Hotel
English style pub
Cloud Nine – the Sheraton Abu Dhabi
Upscale and expensive, as befits the most fashionable spot in town
Tavern –the Sheraton Abu Dhabi
Popular during weekends, features live music
Rock Bottom Café –Al Diar Capital Hotel
Irish pub with friendly service and authentic atmosphere, drink specials and happy hours
Multiplex cinemas abound. Most offer mainstream entertainment with Hollywood blockbusters.
Most large concerts are held a t the excellent concert hall located in the Emirates Palace.
There is a huge entertainment / cultural center due for completion in 2011 on the Saadiyat Island, featuring the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry, which will display contemporary and modernist art. The complex will also feature a performing arts centre with a concert hall, opera house and drama theatre.
The Abu Dhabi Classical Music Festival features the most prestigious performances by classical music artists from around the globe. Check out the Abu Dhabi Music & Art Foundation website for most up to date listings: www.admaf.org
The area was already settled in the 3rd millennium BC and was home to a nomadic herding and fishing community.
Much later, during the 16th and 17th centuries the territory of the present-day UAE was used by the Portugal for their action against Persia. In mid 18th century the British gained control over the Gulf area. At the same time, two tribal confederations rose to power, namely the Qawasim, (now ruling Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah), and the Bani Yas (today the ruling families of modern Abu Dhabi and Dubai). The latter originally come from Liwa oasis on the edge of the Empty Quarter desert.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
In mid 20th century the economy of Abu Dhabi still largely relied on growing vegetables in the nearby oases, fishing and pearl diving. After the discovery of artificial pearls, the world pearl market crashed, leaving community of Abu Dhabi impoverished. Oil was discovered in 1958, which gradually ushered in the magnitude of development we see today. The oil industry fully developed only after Sheik Zayed became the ruler and started to delve into the rich oil reserves. In 1968 UK decided to withdraw from the Gulf region by 1971. The United Arab Emirates were formed and gained independence in 1971. As oil wealth continued to flow in, mud-brick huts soon gave way to modern skyscrapers, luxurious hotels and huge shopping malls.
In less than 50 years the desert settlement that was once Abu Dhabi completely changed its face to become the capital of UAE, one of the richest – if not the richest city on Earth, home to the World’s richest oil operating companies and numerous multinational corporations.
Abu Dhabi is an Islamic city and thus certain rules should be adhered to.
Do not wear swimwear outside pool or beach area.
Dress modestly. Foreign women are not required to cover their hair, whereas the local women do.
During Ramadan special rules apply: eating, smoking and drinking in public during the day is banned and strictly enforced. However, most hotels cater to their guests in specialized restaurants. During Ramadan especially, dress very conservatively in public, including outdoor activities.
Tipping is not obligatory but a 10% is appreciated.
Alcohol is served in hotel bars and clubs. But note that nobody is supposed to look drunk on the street.
When eating use your right hand to touch or pass food. Using left hand is considered rude.
Dress smart as appearance counts in UAE, especially in the upmarket venues.
Abu Dhabi is a very safe destination, but general precautions should be taken. Visitors are rarely involved in violent crime, but theft of valuables does occur. It is safe to walk around Abu Dhabi any time of day and night.
Health-wise there are few concerns. Drink bottled water; tap water is safe for washing and drinking after boiling. Heat is a factor to look after. Wear sunscreen and protective clothing, and drink enough liquids to prevent dehydration.
Abu Dhabi is served by excellent private clinics and hospitals. Note that they are very costly so it is wise to organize health insurance prior to traveling.
Abu Dhabi experiences hot and sunny weather all year round. During the summer months (June to September) the heat may be too oppressive for some, in which case, a visit during the cooler months (October to May) is advisable. March is the best time to visit if you want to catch the immensely popular shopping festival.