A lesser known region of Western Asia is the United Arab Emirates. Made up of 200 exotic but accessible islands off the Arabian Peninsula in the Persian Gulf is an island known as Abu Dhabi.
Historically the region is best known for its connection to the Gulf War of the early 1990’s and the war on terror. But today, the capital of the United Arab Emirates is safe and enticing, offering its visitors luxury and numerous exotic experiences.
The capital of Emirates, Abu Dhabi is a modern city, reflected by skyscrapers throughout the skyline and high end shopping megacenters, but Abu Dhabi also offers parks, traditional gardens and miles and miles of coastline and beaches. Its rise in popularity and attraction to visitors in the past ten years, Abu Dhabi has become a spot for both Hollywood and Bollywood film production as well as a popular destination for the elite.
As a cosmopolitan city you will find a large diversity of cuisine’s. Of course Arab food is popular offering small simple shawarma places and also very luxurious upscale restaurants. What is even more popular is American branding which can now be found throughout the city and Southern Asian cuisine is also very widely available.
So what draws visitors to Abu Dhabi? There are many experiences that attract visitors but here are five highlight reasons to visit:
1. See the Sheikh Zayed Mosque
The modern and beyond grand (241,000 square ft.) mosque is the largest in the country and one is considered a top global attraction. Its design and construction uses the most precious and expensive stones, marble, gold, crystals, and ceramics. The carpet in the main prayer hall was custom designed and is the largest in the world. The building is large enough to safely welcome approximately 41,000 people.
An active mosque, it is a daily place of worship and closed for tourists during normal worship periods. Guided tours are available, good to know is there are dress codes for both men and women when visiting so review requirements in advance.
2. Visit the “New Louvre”
Yes, you read that correctly, Louvre, like the world’s largest art museum in Paris. But this Louvre is found on Abu Dhabi’s adjacent Saadiyat Island in the Cultural District of the Abu Dhabi region. At 260,000 sq ft. it is the largest museum on the Arabian peninsula.
In 2007, an agreement between the city of Abu Dhabi and the French Parliament granted the Arabian city approval to build a completely unrelated arabic version of the mega museum. Part of the agreement included design of the new museum by a French architect.
The museum’s collection includes important works loaned from popular French museums under agreements from Agence France-Muséums and the Musée du Louvre. These include Leonardo Da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, works by Henri Matisse, a self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps and Claude Monet’s Gare Saint-Lazare, to name a few.
3. Experience Being a Race Car Driver
Abu Dhabi has been hosting Formula One racing at the Yas Marina Circuit annually in the winter since 2009. So motorsports has become a very popular sport throughout the country.
Home of the Marina Circuit, Yas Island is about 30 minutes from Abu Dhabi. One of the most advanced Formula 1 circuits available, the course races through several long straights and winding tight corners (twenty one to be exact) passing the Yas marina and traveling through the adjacent Yas Hotel.
If racing a Formula 1 vehicle is on your bucket list, you can take on the course for yourself with a driving or passenger experience. Reserve a Ferrari 458 GT, Mercedes AMC GMT, Aston Martin G24 or you can try the real thing in the cockpit of a FormulaYAS 3000. They also offer courses so you can earn your own racing license.
And if you’re more of the racing fan then fanatic, the marina development next to the track has a theme park, a water park, hotels and beaches to enjoy all the area has to offer.
4. Take a Wildlife Safari
Between Abu Dhabi and Qatar on Sir BaniYas Island within a protected nature reserve is almost 3500 acres that is the Arabian Wildlife Park. Reached by car and ferry, boat or plane, this remote island is home to more than 10,000 free roaming animals including giraffes, cheetahs and gazelles.
While on the island there are a number of safari experiences available.
Interact with giraffes from a viewing platform, or take a wildlife drive farther into the park on a desert safari. A five-star luxury hotel and villas on the island allow guests to schedule 4-wheel drive safaris and extended tours to spot Arabian oryx, hyenas and ostriches.
There are also many archaeological religious sites including a Christian monastery. But a highlight of visiting Sir BaniYas island is the desert island geology that meets the coast is the opportunity to take a horseback ride and then rent a kayak to follow one of the shipwreck routes or snorkel among the diverse marine life that surrounds the island.
5. Do an overnight in the Desert
Enjoy the amazing scenery of the inland Al Dhafra region where you will find the largest sand mass in the world. The Rub al Khali or “Empty Quarter” as it is referred to for the amount of desert that it accommodates within the Arabian Peninsula.
Located within the middle of the Empty Quarter desert region is the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort where you can spend the night and set out to explore some of the biggest dunes outside the Sahara.
Take an off-road adventure to enjoy the scenery that makes up two-thirds of the Abu Dhabi region or take advantage of the opportunity for camel trekking which can also be found here.
One of the best sites of the desert region is the historic town, Liwa at the entrance to the Empty Quarter desert. You will be amazed at the colorful dunes amongst an oasis of approximately 100,000 date palm trees. The town and surrounding desert has been the site for production of some top hollywood blockbuster movies.
Besides the highlighted experiences in Abu Dhabi, the region has become a popular vacation spot for its location, number of activities and modern amenities.
Being a desert area, Abu Dhabi sees year-round sunshine and the summer months can get very hot and humid. For the best temperatures, visit between October and May.
A very bucket list experience, we invite you to explore additional bucket list experiences, from our exotic adventures page.