Friday, July 04, 2014

Top 15 Things to do in Abu Dhabi

A lot of people know Dubai as a tourist destination and less of Abu Dhabi. But, this capital city of the United Arab Emirates and also the largest of the seven emirates has a lot to offer to the tourist. I got first-hand experience of this when I was invited to Abu Dhabi by the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Cultural Authority. And to tell you the truth, I saw and experienced so much that I am wondering why I did not visit this beautiful city much earlier. Based on this recent experience, I have jotted below 15 top things to do in Abu Dhabi on your next holiday to this sensational emirate.

Soak in the beauty of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Looking straight at the main prayer hall of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
This beautiful mosque is one of Abu Dhabi’s top tourist attractions. It is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and it is also one of the largest mosques in the world. It can hold 40,000 people inside, houses the largest carpet (one piece) in the world and is home to some large and exquisite chandeliers. Each part of this mosque has been tastefully designed. I absolutely love its ornate corridors and the main prayer hall. There is so much beauty to be seen here.

Hold a Falcon at the Falcon Hospital
Falcon being treated at Abu Dhabi's Falcon Hospital
This place offers a one of a kind experience. It is a top quality hospital, but for falcons. Falcons from all around the world are treated here. It is here that you get to understand about the different types of falcons, know about their behavior and treatment methodologies. And of course, you get to hold them, touch them and even take a photo with them. This educational and thrilling experience will be appreciated by both adults and children. This is the world’s largest falcon hospital. Do not miss the opportunity to visit this place.

Feel the Adrenaline Rush in the World’s Fastest Theme Park Ride
Formula Rossa - the fastest theme ride in the world
Formula Rossa, in Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari World is the fastest theme park ride on the planet. It reaches a top speed of 240 kmph and in less than 58 seconds, it gives you a thrill that is matched only by a few other rides in the world. The Formula Ross is Ferrari World’s flagship product, but this lovely theme park is home to other rides like Speed of Magic, Tour of Italy and many more. You can also see the gallery of Ferrari cars in this theme park that is modeled after Ferrari. The best part is that for AED 240 (for an adult) and AED 120 (for a child), you get unlimited access to all rides excepting Formula Rossa and Speed of Magic. This is cheaper than most theme parks in India and the experience is unparalleled.

Savor a Variety of Dates at the Dates Market
Varieties of Dates on Sale at Abhu Dhabi's Date Market
For us Indians, when someone says Middle East, the topic of ‘Dates’ is not far behind. And everyone seems to relish this sweet fruit. There is this Date market in the heart of Abu Dhabi where you can see, taste and buy dates from all over the middle east (Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Palestine, Jordan and more). More than 100 varieties of dates are sold here. Some are ripe and some are half ripe. Some are black, some are brown and some are red. But, let me warn you that these dates will certainly give you a sugar rush. Personally, I dig the Majulah dates from Saudi Arabia, the Medinah dates again from Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian dates. However, there are so many varieties here that it will appease all kinds of palates.

Reel in the Luxury of Emirates Palace
Gold ATM at Emirates Palace
The Emirates Palace was built to be the home of Sheikh Zayed, but today exists as a luxurious 7 star hotel. Everything about it speaks of luxury. Its gold tones are just the starting point. It is here that you can also see the ATM machine that dishes out gold coins and biscuits instead of currency notes. If luxurious dining and stay is on your agenda, there would hardly be a better place in the whole Middle East.

Pick up Souvenirs from the Central Market Souk
Inside a souvenir shop at central souk, abu dhabi
The central market used to be the last traditional souk of Abu Dhabi. Today, it is an air-conditioned market with modern facilities, but it still has the old charm to it. It is home to so many souvenir shops that you will be spoilt for choice. From Arabian lamps to Turkish plates and from traditional jewel boxes to designer tobacco pipes, you will find it all here. And of course, you will also find spices, gold, local dresses and much more here.

Walk along the Corniche
Lovely Abu Dhabi Downtown view from the Corniche
Cometh the evening hours, the Corniche is a buzz of activity. Locals, expats and tourists take to its lovely pathways on foot or on their bicycles. The Corniche is great for a multitude of things. You can play beach volley ball at the beach next to it, you can walk and be one with the Abu Dhabi crowd, you can sit on one of its chairs and admire the Abu Dhabi skyline, you can enjoy its beautiful white sandy beaches, sip a cold drink at one of its many cafes or visit its many beach clubs. And did I say that it is much cooler here due to the evening breeze.

Shop at Marina Mall
At the Marina Mall of Abu Dhabi
This is the largest shopping mall in Abu Dhabi and is home to many designer brands. While there are many top shopping malls in Abu Dhabi, the Marina Mall is special as it offers everything under its massive roof. It is situated close to the downtown area and hence is easily accessible from the Emirates Palace, the Corniche and the beach.

Make a Day Trip to the Oasis City of Al Ain
Unripe Date Fruit at Al Ain Oasis, UAE
Al Ain, situated close to the Oman border and along the Hajar mountains is a true oasis city in the desert. The original home of Sheikh Zayed, it is the second largest city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Al Ain is home to the Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum (the old palace of the Sheikh), a beautiful oasis area that is filled with date palms, the sensationally traditional Al Jahili Fort and the Al Ain museum. This day trip would educate you about Abu Dhabi’s cultural past and offer you a sneak preview into its traditional life.

Enjoy the Sand Dunes of Al Khaznah
Old Kahwa Jars at Al Ain's Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum
You are never far away from the desert in the UAE, the country that has a part of the Empty Quarter. And as you go deeper into the desert, the sand dunes keep getting bigger and prettier. And where there is sand dunes, there is dune surfing, dune bashing, quad biking, camel riding and much more. You can even spend a night in the desert while enjoying a traditional dinner meal under the stars.

Play Golf at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club
Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, Abu Dhabi
Even though the Abu Dhabi Golf Club is the biggest and the more popular golf club of Abu Dhabi, I personally like the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club due to its proximity to the sea, its beautiful white sands and much cooler weather. This is the place you should head to, if you wish to practice your golf swings or if you wish to challenge your friends. For non-golfers, you can still enjoy this place by visiting the restaurants here or at the neighboring St Regis hotel.

Watch Formula 1 from Yas Viceroy
Yas Marina Formula One Race Track
Staying at the Yas Viceroy and watching the Formula One Grand Prix race from your room is one in a kind experience. There is no other place in the world that provides this experience. And to top it, you get to meet all your favorite race drivers and other celebrities here. It is true that such races are only held once a year, but this contemporary five star hotel, the neighboring Yas Marina circuit and the theme parks nearby ensure that you are always kept busy. In case you are interested, the last race of the Formula One season is taking place in November. If you are interested, call up Yas Viceroy and book your rooms that face the race track. Do remember that for race days, the hotel gets fully booked well in advance.

Take a Abu Dhabi tour on the Big Bus
Big Bus tours of Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi from a double decker bus offers a very interesting perspective. If you are on a short holiday and wish to explore most of Abu Dhabi’s top tourist attractions, this is your best option. These tours work on a hop on and hop off basis and offer tickets for 24 and 48 hours. And all ticket holders get a 50% discount while entering the observation deck at Etihad towers.

Taste Authentic Emirati cuisine at Al Fanar
Al Fanar restaurant- go here for Emirati food
Abu Dhabi is a very cosmopolitan city that offers a myriad of cuisines that range from continental, Middle Eastern, Indian and others. But, if you wish to taste local Emirati food, then you should try out the Al Fanar restaurant at the Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi’s Venetian property. Set in a traditional décor, this place is a huge hit with the local Emirati families. In all probability, you might be the only tourist eating here. But, the food here is top class. The only problem is that vegetarians have very limited options.

Avail the Summer Discounts
Clay model of Emirati Couple
Most of Abu Dhabi offers sensational summer discounts to attract more tourists during the hot season. These discounts range in the 40 to 75% category and can offer a lot of value for money, especially if you are looking at luxury hotels, luxury shopping and much more. If I were planning a luxury holiday to Abu Dhabi and looking to save on some hard earned cash or utilizing it for something else, then I would definitely go to Abu Dhabi during the summers. Do remember this tip of mine!!

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