If you have never been to the United Arab Emirates, then the capital, Abu Dhabi, is a good first stop for you. Smaller than its neighbour Dubai, it will allow you to be gently immersed in all that this area of the world has to offer. If you like first-class hotels and hospitality, superb food and one-of-a-kind experiences, then this will tick all the right boxes.
There are plenty of activities to keep you amused, and my own top five favourites are listed to whet your appetite.
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Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Why? Because it is an architectural dream.
No matter what your faith or denomination, a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque should be at the top of your list. The Mosque is simply breathtaking with the capacity to hold 40,000 worshippers and visitors. It is home to the world’s largest chandelier, weighing in at a hefty 12 tonnes and crafted with Swarovski crystals in 24kt gold. The world’s largest hand-woven carpet, made by 1200 artists, is also located here.
Inspired by the Taj Mahal in India and featuring 82 domes, the Grand Mosque takes its name from the UAE’s first president, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who conceived its majestic construction.
First opened in 2007, construction took 11 years, but the planning process itself took 19 years. The architecture inside is as impressive as the outside. White marble, gold, precious gems and mother of pearl are used extensively.
Entrance is free, but please remember that as you are in a Muslim country, you must adhere to the required dress code where ladies must cover all parts of their bodies as well as their heads.
I wore my clothes (long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt) with a scarf on my head, but if you haven’t got the right items with you, then the mosque will lend you a floor-length abaya (cover-up) to wear during your visit.
I recommend going just before sunset so that you will witness the way the colours and atmosphere inside the mosque change as shadows are thrown around each area.
Why? Because where else can you get a 24kt gold plated cappuccino?
When you conjure up the picture of a luxurious hotel in the U.A.E, you can be sure it will look something like the Emirates Palace.
This 2-mile luxury hotel-resort oozes grandeur and takes opulence to a new height. With its Islamic architecture, the build cost was 3 billion dollars making it one of the most expensive hotel constructions. The sweeping entrance stairwell will wow you as you enter through the lobby and realise just how large it is. Gold and marble catch your eye everywhere you look.
If a night here is not within your price range, then at least indulge in a 24-carat gold cappuccino. Crafted with coffee, camel’s milk and served with gold dust on top imagine what it might be like to indulge in this kind of lifestyle every day.
Why? Because you love beautiful beaches and are an adrenaline junkie.
Yas Beach is one of the best beaches in Abu Dhabi and if you are staying on the island is free to access it through your hotel. Day visitors will be charged to use. If you want something a bit more exhilarating than beach time head on over to Ferrari World. From here you can experience the world’s fastest rollercoaster and the world’s highest roller coaster loop. If you are a thrill-seeker, this is a place you must visit.
If rollercoasters aren’t your thing then maybe Yas Waterworld would suit you better with over 40 rides, attractions and fun for the whole family.
Louvre, Abu Dhabi
Why? Because you are a lover of art and architecture and are curious to visit the world’s only other Louvre.
Located on the Saadiyat Island in the Cultural District, just a 5-minute drive from downtown Abu Dhabi, the £1 billion Louvre museum was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and is a series of 55 detached white buildings which are like an art installation in their own right and imitate an Arabian medina.
The centrepiece is a huge silvery dome that seems to float above the whole museum area. It weighs 7,500 tonnes, the same as the Eiffel Tower and is a true feat of engineering.
Housing 620 pieces of artwork in 8,000 square metres of galleries, you will be able to view priceless pieces from throughout the years. Featuring prehistoric artefacts to striking pieces of contemporary art.
Buy tickets online for Louvre Abu Dhabi as queues can be long, especially in the height of the season and tickets may sell out on the day. Give yourself at least 5-6 hours to enjoy the Louvre at your leisure.
Etihad Towers Observation Deck at 300
Why? Because the views from these iconic towers will take your breath away.
The best view of Abu Dhabi and its surrounding area is from the observation deck.
Located on the 74th floor of Etihad Towers, the Observation Deck at 300 provides a 360-degree view of Abu Dhabi’s splendid skyline. You can pre-book afternoon tea here or enjoy some drinks and nibbles. If you want to gain entry to use the observation deck, then there is an entrance fee, but it is redeemable against food and drink on the day of your visit. If you are a guest at the hotel, then the entrance is complimentary.
Best time to go – Try to avoid coming in the summer months. From the end of May till mid-October the temperature is scorching. I have travelled in April, May and December and they have all been months that were dry, hot and bearable.
Dress Codes – Remember you are in an Arab country and therefore dress modestly in keeping with their requirements. Make common sense judgements when visiting religious sites or public places and cover arms and legs.
Alcohol – You will not be able to drink alcohol if you are under 21.
Public Displays of Affection – It is not acceptable to kiss or hold one another in public. Remember, this is a Muslim country, and you must respect and abide by that culture.