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Welcome to Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi

The brash, bold city of Abu Dhabi is a modern marvel, capital of the wealthy United Arab Emirates and headquarters of the world's richest oil operating companies. The pulsating city, with futuristic skyscrapers and wide tree-lined boulevards, is capitalising on its sophistication, amazing duty-free shopping zone, its luxury hotels and top class transport and communication infrastructure to attract tourists. They come not only for the 'retail therapy' and glitz, but also to explore the fascinating culture of the vast Abu Dhabi Emirate itself (it is the largest of the seven Emirates), with its miles of desert and interesting oases.

The city is almost an island, jutting into the Persian Gulf, with land having been reclaimed from the sea to make way for a long seafront Corniche, lined with lush gardens and gushing fountains. It is a relatively young city, the area having been first settled by nomadic tribesmen in the mid-18th century; it remained little more than a fishing village until oil was discovered in the 1950s, and the financial and trading boom began.

Today the international airport and deep water port bring in visitors from around the world, most clutching credit cards and cash, set on spending as much as possible in the enticing shopping malls and buzzing souk (market). Limousines are a common sight in the congested streets, and restaurants offering the cuisine of many nations do a roaring trade, especially along the waterfront. Shopping fever is at its height during the annual Shopping Festival held in early March. Those taking a break from modern luxury can escape to the desert for a Bedouin feast under the stars, or a camel ride through the dunes.

Information & Facts


Sunshine and blue skies are guaranteed almost every day in Abu Dhabi. Temperatures between June and September can be unbearably hot for most Westerners, exacerbated by high humidity and sometimes reaching up to 118ºF (48ºC) in July and August. Air-conditioning is the norm in all buildings, however. The best months to travel to Abu Dhabi are between October and May, and in January and February it becomes cool enough to warrant wearing a cardigan outdoors. Rainfall is almost non-existent.

Eating Out

The restaurant scene in Abu Dhabi is growing more cosmopolitan, with new international fast food chains and restaurants like the Hard Rock Cafe and Chilli's opening with increasing frequency. However, there are still many independent restaurants worth visiting, and the small family-owned places in side streets and less touristy areas are often of better quality and cheaper than the global chains. For a cheap meal on the go, try a shawarma from a roadside stall.

Travellers to the UAE should keep in mind strict regulations regarding the consumption of alcohol, meaning the only restaurants that are licensed are in hotels and private clubs. Some restaurants are segregated into 'family sections' where men and women must sit separately.

Getting Around

Abu Dhabi is well-supplied with a vast number of metered taxis offering very reasonable fares; these are the best way of getting around in town, and outside of it. There are unmetered taxis, too, and when using these it is best to agree on a fare up front. Most taxi drivers speak good English. It is worth noting that a surcharge can be added for air-conditioning in the taxi. But as temperatures in summer are sweltering, this may still be a better option than walking. There is a limited bus system, but it does not follow fixed routes. Most hotels offer bus service to principal destinations, including the airport. Car and limousine rental is slightly more expensive than in the West, but of course petrol is cheap! Driving in the Emirates, however, is a hair-raising experience, with an established hierarchy as to who has right of way, so unless you are fearless and aggressive behind the wheel, it is best to hire a vehicle with a local driver.

Arabic is the official language of the Emirates, but English is widely used.

The currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham (AED), which is divided into 100 fils. There are no currency regulations in the UAE and all major currencies are readily exchanged at banks and large hotels. The Dirham is fixed against the US Dollar. The best exchange rates are found at private moneychangers who operate throughout the territory, particularly in the more popular souks (markets) and shopping centres. Most major credit cards are accepted, as are travellers cheques (best carried in US Dollars or Pounds Sterling). ATMs are common throughout the UAE. Banking hours are generally Saturday to Thursday from 8am to 1pm, but some are also open between 4pm and 8.30pm.


Abu Dhabi has a very festive nightlife, with most of the bars and clubs located in the city's upmarket hotels, which are allowed to serve alcohol under UAE law. The nightlife only really kicks off at around 11pm; many venues have a strict dress code to adhere to but an otherwise relaxed and safe atmosphere to enjoy. There are a number of English, Irish and American style bars and pubs to go to in Abu Dhabi, some of the most popular including the Harvester's Pub at Sands Hotel, the Jazz Bar at Hemingway's and the Irish pub at the Abu Dhabi Grand. Live performances, happy hour, ladies nights and quiz evenings are regular events in Abu Dhabi bars. The local nightclubs feature international and local DJs, as well as live performances from Arab singers and belly dancers. Exotic cocktails, vintage brandies and Arabic mezzes (snacks) are also offered by most venues. Popular Abu Dhabi nightclubs include Le Meridien's Gauloises Club, and the Tequilana Discotheque at the Hemingway's complex.


Shopping in Abu Dhabi is a very rewarding experience with souks, malls and the airport duty free shops offering some of the lowest prices in the world on a wide range of goods, thanks to very low import duties. Most shopping malls are open Saturday to Wednesday from 10am to 10pm, on Thursdays from 10am to 11pm, and on Fridays from 2pm until late. Independent shops close for lunch from 2pm to 4pm, and then stay open until at least 9pm.

There are a number of souks (markets) in Abu Dhabi offering a vast selection of oriental carpets, gold and antique jewellery, electronic gadgets, designer clothes, cosmetics, spices and souvenirs. The Al Nasr Street, Sheikh Hamdan, Sheikh Khalifa, Iranian and Al Meena souks are among the most popular in Abu Dhabi. Local souvenirs include items such as traditional coffee pots, Bedouin jewellery and antique chests.

There are more than 18 shopping malls and centres in Abu Dhabi offering a variety of brand-name outlets, hypermarkets, cinemas, cafés, restaurants and fast-food joints for shoppers to enjoy; two of the biggest are the Marina and Abu Dhabi malls. Some of the international outlets at these malls are IKEA, Woolworths, Body Shop, Virgin Megastores, Versace, Burberry and Gucci. The Abu Dhabi Shopping Festival is held each March in malls throughout the city and consumers can find excellent bargains and win a number of shopping prizes.


Abu Dhabi is not a tourist destination, but there is whole lot more to see and do here than shopping or business meetings. More good news is that many of Abu Dhabi's quality attractions free. Travellers should take note that getting around the city by foot is not much of an option due to the extreme heat and the best time of year for sightseeing in Abu Dhabi is between October and May.

Famed for its amazing shopping opportunities, many visitors might choose to scrap any sightseeing and spend their time wandering the seemingly endless amounts of shopping malls and districts, but for those who don't a good place to start is Corniche, Abu Dhabi's spectacular waterfront which stretches for miles. Stroll along the walkway, stop on of the sandy beaches or take the kids to the playgrounds or go-karting track. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and is an interesting cultural attraction for westerners to visit.

Khalifa Park is a must for travellers, especially those with kids in tow, as it features an aquarium, museum, play parks, a train and even formal gardens to enjoy some time out under the shade of a tree. Most of Abu Dhabi's hotels have their own beaches and swimming or simply lazing in the sun is a popular pastime for travellers to Abu Dhabi - but don't forget the sunscreen!

Local time in the UAE is GMT +4.

The merge of ancient and modern Arabic culture is no more evident than in the fascinating city of Al Ayn, about 100 miles (160km) east of Abu Dhabi. This historic, scenic oasis is surrounded by red sand dunes and dominated by a vast mountain range on the eastern border of the UAE. Al Ayn has existed since around 3,000 BC and visitors can explore archaeological remains and a large museum. The city is also modern, filled with luxury resort hotels and shiny shopping malls. Experiences such as the Middle East's last remaining traditional camel market vie for attention with an exciting theme park, the renowned Al Ayn Zoo, and an Olympic-sized ice rink. Al Ayn is known as the 'Garden city of the Gulf' because of its tree-lined boulevards and green public spaces.

The oldest building in young Abu Dhabi is the Al Hosn Palace, known colloquially as the White Fort. It was constructed in 1793 as the official residence of the former ruling family, and was extensively renovated in 1983. Today it houses the Cultural Foundation, featuring a museum of traditional artefacts and historical photographs. The Palace is renowned for the magnificent tile work over its main gate.

Kids in Abu Dhabi will love honing their skills in the bowling alley at the Armed Forces Officers' Club, or perhaps playing a game of paintball or table tennis. There is also an Olympic-size swimming pool at the club for kids to cool off in after all that action.

Strap yourself in for the ride of a lifetime at Ferrari World, which opened at Abu Dhabi's Yas Island in November 2010. At over 2 million sq feet (200,000 sq m) this is the largest indoor amusement park in the world. The headline attraction is the Formula Rossa rollercoaster, by some margin the world's fastest, attaining speeds of up to 160 miles p/h (240km) and an acceleration of 4.8 G, which is what a Formula One racing driver experiences at full throttle. The park's many attractions include the largest Ferrari gallery outside of the brand's headquarters in Marinello, Italy; the Speed of Magic immersive 4-D film experience; the G-Force space shot tower; Bell'Italia, which reproduces Italy's main attractions in miniature; and various state of the art racing simulators. An enormous red-domed roof encloses the facility, creating a futuristic and unique structure that has been nominated for several architectural awards. Ferrari World includes six restaurants, featuring four Michelin-starred chefs.

Designed as a living museum depicting traditional Bedouin life, the Heritage Village over the Abu Dhabi Corniche features tents, courtyard houses, an ancient irrigation system, workshops where craftsmen ply their trades, a museum and much more.

A great attraction for children and often called the 'Disneyland of the Middle East', Hili Fun City is the largest theme park in the Gulf. Completely refurbished and modernised in 2009, the park offers a number of rides and amusements, including a mini train tour, an ice skating rink, a rollercoaster and sky-flyer, and the Dynamic Motion Theatre. There are also beautifully landscaped gardens and various picnic spots to enjoy at the park.

Numerous local tour operators in Abu Dhabi offer trips from the city to the famed Liwa Oasis, about three hours drive away along a modern highway. This green, agricultural strip at the edge of the Rub Al Khali ('Empty Quarter') is surrounded by desolate desert with farms abutting towering sand dunes. Visitors enjoy overnight camel trips to camp in the desert. The oasis, made up of a string of small towns and villages, is resplendent with pools of fresh water and date plantations, and is the ancestral home of the Bani Yas tribe from whence sprang Abu Dhabi's ruling family.

The Fun City at Marina Mall is a great place for kids, offering an exciting range of arcade games and rides to enjoy. Favourite rides at the amusement centre include the thrashing shark rollercoaster, the whizzy little bumper cars and the 'Extreme Shock' machine - actually very safe!

The basis of Abu Dhabi's wealth, the oil industry, is showcased in this permanent exhibition of photographs and interactive displays depicting the discovery of the 'black gold' and subsequent development of the region.

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