As Dubai’s grown up, more cultured elder brother, Abu Dhabi possesses an understated chic when compared to its more notorious sibling. Here, the focus is less on pure glitz and more on true luxury – all combined with Middle East character. Culture is an important part of holidays to Abu Dhabi - the planned opening of three magnificent world-class museums on Saadiyat Island cultural district will place it firmly on the cultural map, but in the meantime, there are plenty of other options for culture vultures. And that’s exactly where Abu Dhabi wants to be - a bridge between the Eastern and Western worlds. Here you can get the best of everything, from pristine beaches to world-class sporting events and a glimpse of the local, more rural culture.
Al Ain Heritage Village is an oasis of green in the desert, where you can watch traditional weaving and textile making at the handicraft market. A short drive from here is the local camel market where you’ll see local Emiratis haggling for great value goods. Another great option is a visit to the Falcon hospital. The UAE prizes the falcon as its national symbol, and here you can explore the origins of falconry as a desert sport before handling the precious birds yourself.
Aside from the Formula 1 Grand Prix which takes place every year in November, Abu Dhabi showcases the best of sport in various other ways. You’ll find a selection of fabulous golf courses, with both coastal and desert views and, of course, championship worthy facilities. If watersports are more your thing, then you have the pick of them here - from kayaks, catamarans and snorkelling, to free diving around the Gulf coast. More traditionally, the UAE is known for its love of horses, and a visit to the Equestrian Club on a race night is a must, when the atmosphere is truly electric.
All Abu Dhabi holidays should start with a leisurely stroll along the city’s pleasant corniche, before visiting the impressive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest in the world. An architectural marvel decorated almost entirely in white and gold, for all its opulence the building has a tranquil beauty. The perfect time to photograph it is just before sunset when it is bathed in golden light. Most impressive of all is the mosque’s library, located on the upper floor of the Northern Minaret. The collection includes over 50,000 rare editions of manuscripts and Arabic calligraphy.
The city itself is located on a T-shaped island in the Arabian Gulf, so there are plenty of spectacular beachfront resorts for you to choose from. With its staggering $3 billion construction price tag, the opulent Burj Al Arab is the city’s centrepiece, and affords everything you’d expect from a supreme luxury holiday experience – ornate décor, Rolls Royce transfers, exclusive spa and 24 hour butler service.
Yas Island offers no less of the 5 star holiday experience but with a slightly more tranquil atmosphere. The island is home to the formula 1 circuit and it’s the perfect base for adrenalin junkies to kick back and relax. Straddled between the super yachts in the island’s marina and the F1 racetrack on the other side, the Yas Viceroy is an architectural triumph all of its own which is well worth a visit. Further afield on Saadiyat Island you’ll find pristine beaches and secluded hideaways, or perhaps opt for an Arabian retreat with a stylish hideaway in the Empty Quarter desert.
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