We spent a week in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, witnessing its cultural wonders, tourist attractions, and more. Here are five places you need to add to your itinerary.
Over the years, I’ve visited the United Arab Emirates time and time again, but never Abu Dhabi. Sure, Dubai gets its suave from its ultra-futurism and architecture, Abu Dhabi on the other hand, is a land of cultural and political heritage, and the pinnacle Arab luxury. Be it the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Emirates Palace, or the Souks – They’ve always had me curious and in wonder. During my travels in the UAE, Abu Dhabi was always a part of my itinerary. However, the pandemic made this trip seem like a stretch. So close, yet so far. Understandably of course, considering restrictions and safety during the time. But as this cloud has now passed, I knew the doors of this Emirate have opened once again to the world, and well, I simply couldn’t resist.
Abu Dhabi is the crown jewel of the United Arab Emirates. It’s their capital, their largest and second-most populous Emirate. But more so, it’s a land of rich Islamic culture, heritage and wonder. I was invited over by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism to witness the magic of their capital Emirate.
Flying Etihad’s Business Class offers a suave of its own. What also made this transit special, was the fact that we few on Etihad’s brand new Airbus A350. Starting with the staples – VIP privileges to security and immigration lines to special business class lounge treatments. If you’d like to skip the que and sit back, relaxed in luxe lounge while your flight preps for departure, Business Class is for you. As you’d expect, Business Class provides you with enough of space to stretch your legs (and trust me, I’m nearly six feet tall so that’s lots of space). Since it was a sunrise flight, I request for breakfast to be served to be just in time before descent began. Before that, I stretched my seat all the way out, pulled over a blanket and snoozed. Of course, travelling from Mumbai to Abu Dhabi is a mere three hour flight but still, catching a cozy nap in the sky is always a great idea.
As per government requirements, it’s mandatory for travelers to pre-register on the Al Hosn app. Also, do a Covid-19 test at the airport itself and wait for the app to display green. You’ll need this as a green pass to visit malls, entertainment venues and more. Once done, we headed to the Yas Rotana, which as the name implies is based on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island and a mere 15-minute drive from the airport.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Day one, we’re heading to the Louvre Abu Dhabi – A cathedral of culture, art and architecture, from around the world and throughout humanity’s stay on Earth. Back in 2007, UAE and France signed an agreement for the use of the Louvre title and bringing their historical wonders from world to this Emirate. This 9,200-sq-meter universal museum was architected by Pritzker-prize-winner, Jean Nouvel. It’s almost like time-travelling to the pasts, revisiting cultures, one after the other. Things that caught my attention? The statue of Pharaoh Ramesses II, the original Vincent Van Gogh ‘Caravans, Gypsy Camp near Arles’ painting made in France in 1888, 16th century Ottoman Armor of a Rider and a Horse. I could sit here all day writing about the wonders underneath that roof. Be sure to check it out.
Next up, Ferrari World. Well, at first you may think it’s an Italian car museum but boy, trust me you’re wrong. Ferrari World is the your access to a serious dose of adrenaline, Italian heritage, and all things Rossa Red. They literally have a bunch of Ferrari F1 cars as decor there! However, the main attraction is the Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller-coaster. How fast? 240-km/hour in less than 5 seconds. The entire course of the roller-coaster is designed to emulate the feeling of driving an actual Ferrari F1 car.
There’s also a roller-coaster ride called ‘The Flying Aces’, which right from the entry counter to ride, gives you access to a day in the life of an Italian Air Force pilot. However, if you’re looking for something a little more quick, theres Turbo Track, which is lets you free-fall or zero-gravity fall. This is one place in Abu Dhabi you can’t leave without visiting.
Abu Dhabi Al Qana National Aquarium
Behold, the largest aquarium in the Middle East. With a tally of 46,000 animals and over 300 species, it houses some of the most exotic fishes, crustaceans, reptiles, and more. The ambience of the place actually makes you believe that you’ve temporarily departed from the urban jungle and are traversing through the mighty wild. Spread over 10 nautically themed zones, there’s not only exotica but also diversity here. Right from the clownfish of Australian reefs to phytons found in dense Amazonian forests, it’s all here.
I was particularly amazed by the large shark tanks there that allow you to view the predator up close. Real Jaws vibes there. Also, the Chilean Rose Tarantula and the Chinese Water Dragon did give me the creeps a little but were definitely interesting to see. Whether you’re a solo globetrotter, couple, or family, there’s something for everyone here and memories to be made.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Being one of the largest mosques in the world, it’s also one of the most elegant. You must be wondering, wouldn’t there be highly conservative visiting rules considering it’s a culturally significant mosque? Well, yes, but also, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is welcoming to visitors from all around the world, whether you’re here to admire it’s rich UAE heritage, architectural elegance, religious significance, or simply just to witness one of the many wonders of Islamic culture.
Upon entering, women will be requested to wear an abaya respecting the holy ground. All in all, the Grand Mosque stretches 22,400 square meters and took 13 years to be completed. You see those mighty domes there? There resides the world’s third-largest chandelier weighing 10 tons and measuring 10 meters in diameter. You’ll also be seeing the world’s largest single-piece hand-woven carpet which is in the main prayer area that’s inaccessible to the general public. The carpet, pieced together from nine weaves, stretches 5,630 square meters and took a year to produce.
I’d suggest having a great guide with you while you’re here. The intricacies are rich and filled with stories and meaning of its own. Also, as the mosque has been named after, it’s the resting place of Sheikh Zayed, the ‘Founder of the UAE’.
If you’re looking of a slice of the Sex And The City 2 life, this is exactly where you’ll find it. The grandeur, opulence, and suave as seen in the movie, was all thanks to the Emirates Palace. Other than that, we actually visited the place to try out some gold-flaked cappuccino. Once you’re done with your dinner, walk down their golden lobby and you’ll find Le Cafe. The 24-carat gold-flaked ‘Palace Cappuccino’ is what you need to ask for. In our opinion, the Emirates Palace is a cathedral of Arab luxury, be sure to visit.
All images: Courtesy Department of Culture & Tourism Abu Dhabi & brands