No less than some fifty years ago Abu Dhabi was a humble fishing village surrounded by dessert sands with a scattering of old buildings, landmarks, and inhabitants. Today, however, the Arab city is lush and cosmopolitan having benefited from well planned developments and a booming tourist industry. Although not quite yet as popular as neighbouring city Dubai, Abu Dhabi boasts an impressive combination of Emirati heritage with a more mellow and youthful atmosphere.
In comparison to the other emirates Abu Dhabi has a much more substantial land mass, making it a popular spot for tourism investment and development. It also offers a wide range of settings for visitors including pristine beaches, natural islands, Arabic deserts, mountainous terrains, and ever-expanding city areas. In fact there’s so much to see in Abu Dhabi that it can be a struggle to fit in all in, so here’s our Top 5 Things to Do in Abu Dhabi to help you plan your itinerary.
1. Dhabi Islands
Abu Dhabi boasts an array of natural islands within its geography. Over the past several decades, many of these islands have been constructed around the booming tourism industry, and as such, offer some of the most palatial surroundings in the area. Here is a run down of our top three islands and why you should visit.
Sir Bani Yas Island is a nature-rich environment with a wide range of exclusive wildlife and adventure activities for visitors. Around half of Sir Bani is made up of the Arabian Wildlife Park, an impressive wildlife reserve home to tens of thousands of free roaming wildlife. The reserve offers visitors breathtaking tours in specially made terrain vehicles accompanied by local guides. In addition the 5 star hotels and spas, equestrian stables, historical buildings, and UAE’s only known Christian monastery make Sir Bani a must see destination.
Saadiyat Island is conveniently located less than ten minutes from central Abu Dhabi, making it one of Abu Dhabi’s cornerstones of luxury development. Rapidly becoming one of the world’s most established cultural hubs, Saadiyat Island is home to the area’s largest collection of cultural sites, including the Zayed National Museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. With its purpose built visitor centre – the Manarat Al Saadiyat, and the region’s first ocean beach golf course the island is a popular choice for visiting tourists and culture seekers.
Yas Island is renowned as the home of the Yas Marina Circuit – host to the annual Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Visitors to the island can stay in the luxury five star Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel, built in the middle of the track circuit, then avail of special visitor packages including unique driver experiences’ and private tuition classes. Attracting a range of opulent visitors from across the globe, Yas Island also features non-stop attractions including the world’s first Ferrari theme park and Yas Waterworld.
2. Yas Waterworld
Yas Waterworld is a truly enormous family-friendly waterpark, themed on The Lost Pearl and featuring over forty rides and attractions, many custom built just for this park. Visitors to this fun-packed modern attraction will be ride the able world’s first, and largest, hydromagnetic-powered group tornado waterslide boasting an impressive 238 metre long track. The Bandit Bomber ride is a unique interactive 550 metre laser effect ride, where riders can shoot off water-jets, launch water bombs and trigger special light effects. Yas Waterworld is also a great pick for adrenaline junkies with three metre high wave rides and the world’s largest man-made surf wave for body-boarders. Offering enough entertainment to keep the whole family amused for the entire day, this park also features a range of eateries, a souk and pearl-diving exhibits.
3. Avenue at Etihad Towers
Etihad Towers is an elegant boutique shopping mall, featuring over thirty luxury brand stores it is a must visit for those who crave a luxury shopping experience. The exclusive retail park includes the world’s first and only Stephane Rolland store, the only A. Lange & Söhne in the Middle East, and many familiar designer name stores including Hermès and Chloé. The art-novae inspired two store mall is part of the Etihad Towers development, custom built to accommodate avid shoppers in impressive surroundings. It is a popular spot not just for retail, but also for hospitality outlets and is home to Abu Dhabi’s first Fauchon Le Café, ALGUSTO restaurant, and one the world’s most luxurious gourmet grocery stores.
4. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center
Constructed over a period of nine years, ending in 2007, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center, at just over thirty acres, is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. Built as an architectural homage to cultural diversity within the Islamic world the mosque’s eighty-two domes, one thousand columns and 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers can accommodate an impressive forty-thousand worshippers. The mosque’s exterior also includes reflective water pools and plenty of visitor parking and facilities. Unlike other mosques in Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is open daily to visitors, except on Friday mornings when the site is only open to worshippers.
5. Emirates Palace
Opened to the public in 2005, the Emirates Palace is one of only two seven star hotels in the world, the other being Burj Al Arab in Dubai. Built to act as a notable landmark for Abu Dhabi, the luxury hotel is located in a bespoke palmed and fountained park, attached to its very own 1.3 kilometer private beach. Owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, the Emirates Palace employs approximately three staff members for every guest.
With no expense spared in the construction and operation of this hotel, it makes it a pricey option for visitors to Abu Dhabi. However, for those who don’t want to book a room, the hotel also welcomes visitors to its variety of restaurants and bars.
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