Just over seven hours away from London Heathrow, is Abu Dhabi; the capital of the magnificent United Arab Emirates. An area mixing contemporary skyscrapers and tax-free shopping mega-centres with culture and beautiful white marble-domed mosques, Abu Dhabi is a dream destination for all.
With archaeological evidence found dating back to the 3rd millennium BC, Abu Dhabi has a rich history and settlements can be traced back over 5,000 years. While today, we know the region mostly for its oil reserves, the first settlers led herding and fishing lifestyles, In 1892 Abu Dhabi became linked with Britain, through the trading of pearls – its convenient location (being able to connect with India and the East), cemented its importance.
By the 1930’s, Abu Dhabi’s wealth had taken a turn for the worse, with the introduction of Japan’s pearl industry, the recession and the death of their ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa. However, just nine years later Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan gave permission for the Trucial Coast Development Oil Company, (renamed the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company in 1962) to search for large oil reserves. In 1958, impressive offshore oil reserves were discovered, along with onshore reserves in 1959. From 1962, the exporting began and Abu Dhabi has been renowned for its unbelievable wealth ever since!
The last 50 years have seen Abu Dhabi change and reconstruct itself into a flawless city, with an abundance of sleek skyscrapers, shopping malls, out-of-this-world hotels and pretty gardens, yet it still holds its history close to its heart, which undoubtedly has been a prominent factory in the area’s success.
With its upmarket new look and so much to see and do, it’s is no surprise that Abu Dhabi has become a playground for tourists wanting the Emirati experience, with a contemporary twist.
But, beneath the sophisticated high-rise buildings and extensive entertainment facilities, lies its cultural heart – rich with Islamic and Arabic traditions. Amongst the tall, towering buildings, you’ll find majestic mosques to take your breath away. You’ll also see sports such as camel racing and dhow sailing and performances of Arabian poetry, dance and music. Many locals still dress traditionally – men with full length shirts and a white or red checked headscarf and women wear a long black robe and a headscarf. It’s not compulsory, but women are asked to cover their shoulders and legs, and dress conservatively, especially during the holy festival of Ramadan.
When to visit
With almost year-round sunshine and very little rainfall, Abu Dhabi is an ideal place to visit at any time – especially during our cold, British winters. Temperatures range from 13C on a cool winter’s night to a high of 42C on a hot summer’s day.
Etihad Airlines are the national airline of the United Arab Emirates and fly direct from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi in just seven hours and fifteen minutes. The airline has won the prestigious “World’s Leading Airline” award at the World Travel Awards for five years running, and we can certainly see why.
From the moment you step on-board, the Arabian-influenced hospitality is evident, combining warmth, generosity and culture. Before you know it, it’s time to land and then the Emirati adventure really begins!
Where to stay
Located just twenty-minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport is the Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi, a spacious and super-stylish hotel in the prime location of Abu Dhabi’s new commercial district.
Conveniently located for shopping malls, restaurants, leisure attractions (including the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, Zayed Sport City and Yas Island) and everything else Abu Dhabi has to offer, you couldn’t wish for a better location.
From the moment the hotel door opens, you know that you’re in for a luxurious stay. The recently opened Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi not only wows from the outside (its entire glass exterior is iconic and stands out amongst the skyline – no mean feat, in Abu Dhabi, with its abundance of eye-catching buildings!) but from the inside too; with stunning suites, a gorgeous spa and inviting restaurants to choose from, all to enjoy during your time at the hotel.
The rooms (choose from classic and deluxe rooms to spacious junior and presidential suites) are all finished to the highest standard, with marble bathrooms and of course, those floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out across the city. Those treating themselves to Executive Level have the exclusive use of the Executive Lounge; serving complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, evening drinks and canapes too.
Speaking of food, keen foodies will be in their element deciding which of the hotel’s restaurants and bars to dine in – spanning all cultures and cooked with fresh ingredients, all prepared by internationally renowned chefs. There’s the Blue Bar, the hotel’s signature bar, which boasts views across Abu Dhabi (a must-visit to sip cocktails as the sun goes down!), the hip Noche Chill-Out Lounge serving South American dishes, creative cocktails and shisha, all alfresco on the terrace, Oceana serving delicious breakfasts and international-inspired dinners, romantic Pan-Asian restaurant Rouge and the Tea Lounge; a relaxing lounge serving the best English and Arabic teas, along with sandwiches and cakes.
After all that fine-eating, the TLC continues in the Hilton Capital Grand’s spa. Indulge yourself further with a treatment, in the sumptuous and relaxing surroundings, and continue your rejuvenating experience by taking time out in the sauna, whirlpool and in and outdoor pools.
Things to do
With all that luxury and hospitality, you could be forgiven for staying in the hotel. However, Abu Dhabi has so much to see and do, that staying indoors is just not an option.
Close to the Hilton Capital Grand is Ferrari World Abu Dhabi – the world’s first Ferrari themed park AND the largest indoor theme park! Whether you’re a Formula One fanatic or not, visitors of all ages can’t fail to enjoy the thrills of the park!
Experience the ride of The Rosso; also known as the fastest rollercoaster in the world! Strap yourself into the F1 cockpit and find out exactly what it’s like to accelerate 240km/h in under 5 seconds! You’ll be launched 52 metres into the air before flying through chicanes and crossing through the finish line in celebratory style.
With the adrenaline still pumping, it’s time to take on the Flying Aces. This record-breaking rollercoaster has the world’s tallest loop and steepest starting hill inclination. Hold onto your seat, as you speed 150km/h along an exhilarating 1.5km track, with that 170ft loop and 51 degree steep lift – guaranteed to give you the ride of your life!
Feeling competitive? Pit your skills against your family, friends and fellow Park guests at the Park’s Racing Academy! Inspired by the iconic Yas Marina Circuit, the 290m long track will see you gear up, buckle up and race your go kart to the finish, to hopefully become the champion! If after your Formula One filled day, you’d like to see where races are held, visit the Yas Marina Circuit itself, which is free to walk or cycle and is open every Sunday night.
just next door to Ferrari World! The Emirati-themed waterpark has been open for just three years and has become one of Abu Dhabi’s must-visit destinations. Spread over 15 hectares, the waterpark has 45 rides, slides and attractions – four of which are never before seen waterpark rides! Whilst it may be a new tourist destination, it ranks highly with local and international guests alike; last year winning the Traveller’s Choice Award and the Certificate of Excellence from Tripadvisor.
The waterpark’s attractions follow the adventures of Dana, a young Emirati girl, looking for a legendary pearl that brought prosperity to her village, and even has a pearl diving attraction, which showcases just how important diving played in the UAE and Abu Dhabi’s history. Yas Waterworld has started to host a Ladies Night, an event not to be missed – with UV henna painting and H20 Dance Zone! Perhaps the ultimate girls’ night out?!
So now you’ve experienced all the best white-knuckle rides and fun of the contemporary side of Abu Dhabi, it’s time to venture five hours outside of the centre, for something a little bit different, yet completely memorable; an evening safari in the desert, with dinner underneath the stars!
The evening exposes you to the extreme side of the capital city’s rich and beautiful culture, starting with a thrilling ride over the bumpy sand dunes, where you’ll find your camel and hop on-board to ride off into the sunset. Once the sun sets, the traditional fun continues as you visit an Arabic camp for henna painting, belly dancing and shisha (a traditional Arabic smoking pipe). There’s also delicious local sweets and coffee to sample.
As the smell of the BBQ wafts, you’ll be seated underneath the stars for a mouth-watering meal you will never forget – complete with Arabian entertainment and coffee and dates, which have been served in Emirati homes, after meals, for centuries. We can vouch, that this experience gave us the true essence of Abu Dhabi, tying together its fascinating history, stunning landscape and friendly hospitality.
Where to Shop
Abu Dhabi is a dream destination for both shopaholics that love a bargain and those that enjoy shopping for designer wares alike.
Head to small souk-like outlets to pick up traditional perfumes, spices, carpets, textiles and golds. Prices are often much lower for the last three items, especially, than at home and if you’re prepared to barter; you could just bag yourself an even bigger bargain!
But, if designer and well-known brands are more your thing, Abu Dhabi’s Yas Mall is a Mecca of stores spanning fashion, footwear, home furnishings, electronics, beauty, toys and so much more! The Mall is home to 2.5million sq.ft of shops, restaurants and entertainment (including a 20 screen cinema and soon-to-be-opening Snow City!), making this a fun day out for everyone – just twenty minutes from downtown Abu Dhabi.
Expect to find well-known brands such as Lipsy, Love Moschino, Apple, Pandora, Jo Malone, L’Occitane, MAC, Calvin Klein and Armani Jeans (along with so many more!), all in this mammoth sized shopping centre, which surprisingly was very easy to navigate!
Looking for the home of luxurious fashion brands? You’ll find them all and more at The Galleria, on Al Maryah Island. The Galleria is a stunning, state of the art shopping centre, favoured by fashionistas – thanks to designers such as Alexander McQueen, Dior, Christian Louboutin, Dolce and Gabbana, Louis Vuitton, Miu Miu, Prada and Ralph Lauren all having boutiques here. If you fancy having a designer splurge; this is your perfect shopping paradise. Just don’t forget your credit card!
It’s worth noting that most shops in Abu Dhabi open 10am -10pm (although many mall stores stay open ‘till midnight!), but some independents do close between 1-4pm for lunch. Hours also change during Ramadan, with many shops closing for the afternoon and reopening from 7pm – 10pm (and even later!).
Where to eat and drink
Now your itinerary is sorted, it’s time to plan where to eat and drink! And like everything else; Abu Dhabi has plenty of choice for all tastes and budgets.
Hotel Aloft, located in the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (just minutes from the airport), has seven trendy bars and restaurants, all providing a fashionable spot to be seen in. One of their sushi restaurants is Relax@12 where on its alfresco terrace, cocktails are sipped and the finest sushi is consumed, as the sun sets over the city. Guests then dance the night away in their cool and luxurious interior. Situated on the twelfth floor, the chic restaurant and bar is a perfect place to relax and send out the day in style. The lounge also hosts a popular Ladies Night every Tuesday and Friday, where ladies can enjoy free drinks between 10pm and 2am! Cocktail, anyone?
If you fancy enjoying drinks and Asian tapas (who wouldn’t?!) overlooking Abu Dhabi – Ray’s Bar at Level 62 of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, is a must! With top tunes and one of the most extensive cocktail menus we’ve ever seen, along with a truly amazing view; this bar is hard to beat.
Staying on the drinks theme, Iris on Yas Island (a thirty minute drive from the UAE capital) is a fabulous bar to visit for a chilled atmosphere, ambience and beautiful setting, overlooking the water. Iris has a relaxed vibe and we can vouch; it is an easy place to enjoy a delicious drink, get lost in conversation and indulge in smooth music.
But, for something a little more low key; there’s a cool pop-up style “beer garden” behind the seaside oasis of the Le Meridian on the Corniche, where a few bars and restaurants open up. With a cool, casual atmosphere and live music; this is one place to visit for a change to the swanky and sophisticated bars, mentioned above.
After all of that sightseeing, cocktail supping and tapas tasting, surely, like us you want to treat yourself to a meal at an award-winning restaurant?! We can’t recommend Vasco’s at the Hilton Abu Dhabi (in the beach area of The Corniche), enough. The menu is inspired by intrepid explorer Vasco Da Gama’s route, recreating flavours from all over the world and diners can enjoy their meal inside or outside. We would always recommend dining outdoors, as long as the weather allows, as the deck enjoys second-to-none views of the Arabian Gulf – one of our favourite highlights of the entire trip. Vasco’s was recently awarded “Highly Recommended” in the Best International category by Time Out Abu Dhabi and with a mouth-watering, varied menu and service, we simply couldn’t fault; we can completely understand why.
Things you should know…
Language: Arabic (English is widely spoken too)
Currency: UAE dirham
Population: 1.6 million
Time zone: GMT +4 hours
Visa: UK Citizens need to fill in a free-of-charge tourist visa upon arrival at Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Law: UAE laws are different to those in the UK and it is advised that you know local laws and customs, in order to not offend, during your time in Abu Dhabi. There can be serious penalties for doing something that may not be illegal in the UK. For example; bars and restaurants may serve alcohol to those aged 18, but it is a punishable offence to drink or be under the influence of alcohol in public. Public displays of affection are also frowned upon. Electronic cigarettes are illegal and are likely to be confiscated at the border.