Where Dubai is flashy, out-there and seemingly larger than life, its older, wiser brother just an hour’s down the flat desert highway is a little more subdued, yet still has that similar sparkle. Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is another desert jewel, and offers more than just a transit point onwards to Europe.
Rather than doing the entire journey to the Continent in the one day, it’s worthwhile breaking up your Europe holiday with another getaway in between. Two or three nights in Abu Dhabi will allow you to stretch your legs, relax (and even get to lie down in a real bed) as well as offer an insight into this fascinating city. Read on for the highlights of an Abu Dhabi stopover.
Being seated, strapped in and flown through the air takes on a different meaning at Ferrari World. Located on Yas Island, the fast and furious theme park – the first of its kind – fittingly overlooks the Formula One track. There’s thrill rides for all ages, from go-karts and log flume rides to 4D experiences and flight similutors. Plus, the park is home to five roller coasters, including the world’s fastest, Formula Rossa, which can reach its top speed of 240 kilometres per hour in just five seconds. Ready, set, race!
Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque
The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque is a dazzling architectural marvel that rises majestically from the desert, and a must-visit on any trip to the capital. The building itself is white marble and features over 1,000 columns, 82 domes and 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers (the main hall is home of the world’s largest, weighing 12 tonnes).
This icon of Islam is one of the world’s largest mosques, with a capacity to hold 40,000 worshippers, and is open most days for non-Muslim visitors to marvel at its beauty.
If you’re seeking a scenic spot to stretch your legs, head straight to the Corniche, an eight-kilometre waterfront expanse home to beautiful beaches, with separate family, public and singles sections. Wander the golden sand, make a splash in the warm water or navigate its length by pedal power – there are myriad bike rental spots along the way. If you’ve hired a car, there is free car parking just five minutes’ walk from the beach.
Roughly translating to ‘the island of happiness’, Saadiyat is a great place to base yourself in Abu Dhabi. The island is home to many big-name resort chains with locations right on the sand. You could easily spend your stopover enjoying the spoils of the resorts, from pampering at day spas to simply enjoy cocktails on a daybed. Not a bad way to spend a few days before pounding the cobblestones of Paris or Rome!
Spoilt for choice doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the shopping spectrum in Abu Dhabi. Malls and souks abound in the city, from local marketplaces to flashy megamalls with luxury raffle prizes to win. Try Abu Dhabi or Yas Mall for a glimpse into how the other half shop, or you could head to the ramshackle, yet atmospheric Al Ain Souk to practise your bargaining skills.
If you find yourself in Abu Dhabi on a Friday, a hotel brunch is a must – the sheer choice of food is a great way to forgo the airplane meal on the next leg. For many, it’s a major weekly event, and local expats have their preferred brunching destination of choice. Hotels like the St Regis, Westin and Jumeirah Etiahd Towers all do a fine buffet spread, but unlike anything you’ve seen before.
Think enormous seafood stations with some of the world’s finest delicacies like Canadian lobster and Atlantic crab; entire rooms dedicated to cheese or chocolate; Wagyu beef trolleys; sommeliers and mixologists on hand; and vast choices of baller Champagne, too. Basically, whatever type of cuisine or drink you desire, you’ll find it at an Abu Dhabi brunch.
Leave behind the larger-than-life pleasures of the city for the vastness of the desert. The perfect way to cap off your stopover, join a group for an four-wheel-drive, off-road adventure up and along the desert sands.
On arrival to a Beduoin camp, you’ll enjoy traditional Arabian hospitality, camel rides, sunset over the dunes and often a barbecue dinner complete with entertainment.