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Abu Dhabi – In the Shadow of Little Brother
When thinking of Gulf Coast cities, most outsiders mind’s immediately turn to Dubai, the brash and cosmopolitan city to the north of Abu Dhabi. Many will be surprised to learn, though, that Abu Dhabi is in fact the big brother in the family kingdom of the UAE, being both the capital and home of its ruling family. While smaller than Dubai, Abu Dhabi is perhaps a better choice for those who are looking for the wealth and attractions typical of the Gulf States, but in a more compact and manageable package.
Skyscrapers Along the Glittering Waterfront
Many new visitors to Abu Dhabi head straight from the airport directly to the Corniche, and for good reason. Most of the city’s best hotels are along this stretch of coast. The sandy beach is overlooked by small clusters of futuristic glass skyscrapers, giving the whole area a clean and contemporary feel. The water is always warm, and in fact in the height of summer most visitors prefer to swim in their cooled hotel pool since the waters of the Gulf can get uncomfortably warm. Aside from leisure activities, this area also contains the Marina Mall, the largest in Abu Dhabi and popular with shoppers from around the world looking for tax and duty free goods. Guests who don’t have the time to head out into the desert, which is in fact highly recommended, can visit the Emirates Heritage Village, which is just a short distance from the Corniche. This is a theme park developed by the Emirate Heritage Club and offers visitors the chance to get a sense of traditional life in a desert oasis. Traditional arts and crafts, folklore and cuisine are all showcased at the centre. Visitors looking for a change of style can head out to the very end of the Corniche. Here, instead of trendy skyscrapers they will find the immense and very grand Presidential Palace, which can be viewed from nearby hotel grounds.
A Serene Retreat in the Heart of the City
If the glitz, glamour and consumerism of the Corniche gets to be a bit overwhelming, suitable relief is available nearby. One can leave their hotel, and quickly reach the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is the principal mosque in Abu Dhabi and the whole UAE and is one of the largest in the world. Neither its size nor grandeur are, however, its main feature. It has an incredibly simple design and together with its brilliant white palette, interspersed with gold leaf, this imparts a sense of calm - typical of many spiritual locations. Its carpet is thought to be the largest in the world and the grand chandeliers consist of millions of Swarovski crystals refracting light in a million different directions. As with mosques everywhere, both men and women unfamiliar with Islamic practice are advised to familiarise themselves with what constitutes acceptable behaviour and dress during their visit.
Global Culture and Learning in the Desert
In recent years the rulers and planners of Abu Dhabi have aimed to attract global cultural and educational institutions to the Emirate. Some efforts have been successful and some have yet to bear fruit, but Saadiyat Island is the place to head if one would like to visit the likes of the Louvre without being in France, or New York University without being Stateside. The Louvre Abu Dhabi will fully open its striking waterfront gallery in 2017 and feature artwork from around the world. New York’s Guggenheim Museum is also expected to open a branch in Abu Dhabi soon. Also on Saadiyat Island is a branch of New York University, one of the first international institutions to offer liberal arts degrees in the Gulf region. The island also has a couple of hotels on its beachfront that would suit visitors looking for a quieter experience than is available on the Corniche.
Prancing Horses and Sublime Design
It is not only in the worlds of culture and commerce that Abu Dhabi excels, but also in the world of high thrills entertainment. Ferrari selected the Emirate as the location for its first, and to date only, licensed theme park. It is situated in an enormous building of striking design and is painted in Ferrari’s signature racing colours. It’s unlikely any visitor would fail to recognise Ferrari World when approaching its Yas Island site. It does, of course, showcase Ferrari models from when the company first started producing sports cars in 1947 to the present day, but is much better known for its various amusement rides. True to form, it features the fastest roller coaster in the world. Yas Island is also the location for the Abu Dhabi Race Car circuit, so racing fans may be able to see Ferraris and other manufacturers battling to be the fastest of them all. The Abu Dhabi Formula One Race is a major event on the calendar, and most visitors book all inclusive packages so as to be assured of receiving both race tickets and hotel accommodation at this busy time.