Abu Dhabi - An inside guide
Abu Dhabi - An inside guide
Combining Arabian traditions and embracing a globalised future is helping Abu Dhabi cement itself as the cultural hub of the Arabian Peninsula. Perfect to incorporate into cruises from Belfast or Dublin as well as beach holidays from Belfast and Dublin.
“Living in the capital of the UAE, we’re especially proud of our history and heritage. By developing the cultural experiences we offer we can help Abu Dhabi to really stand out as a tourist destination”MUBARAK AL NUAIMI, TCA ABU DHABI’S DIRECTOR OF PROMOTIONS & OVERSEAS OFFICES
Beaches galore: Consider Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi or St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, both of which offer direct access to a nine-kilometre ribbon of dazzling white sand
Shopping heaven: Jewellery, carvings and hand-made carpets in the city’s assorted souks, or designer clothing in air-conditioned malls like The Galleria on Al Maryah Island
Food glorious food: Visitors can dine at restaurants run by Michelin star chefs, like the newly-opened Pearls by Michael Caines at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
Cultural oasis: Recommend a day tour to Al Ain, an oasis city just 90 minutes from the capital that’s brimming with forts, palaces and UNESCO sites
Desert dreams: The dunes of the Rub Al Khali are the largest expanse of sand in the world. Adventure seekers can test their metal with everything from sand surfing to wakeboarding, kayaking to camel trekking
Family fun: Ride the world’s fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi or make a splash at Yas Waterworld. Families can take advantage of a Yas Park Pass to get discounted access to both
Beach bliss: With more than 400 kilometres of coastline, Abu Dhabi has no shortage of beaches. In spring you can share Saadiyat’s with nesting hawksbill turtles
Wildlife: Enjoy safari-style game drives on Sir Bani Yas Island, home to Arabian oryx, gazelles, giraffes, hyenas and cheetahs
Arabian sands: Go dune bashing, camel trekking, sand surfing or ‘fat biking’
Coffee at a palace: Be adventurous and try a ‘camelccino’ at Emirates Palace, a cappuccino made from local camel milk, paired with a piece of camel milk chocolate. Or try the Palace Cappuccino, sprinkled with 24-carat gold flakes
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the most breathtaking buildings in existence. Users of TripAdvisor voted it the fourth-greatest landmark in the world, behind only Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal.
A tour of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital highlights the importance of falconry in Emirati culture. The hospital sees anywhere from 50 to 100 falcons a day. Most are brought in to have their talons trimmed, and seeing a peregrine get a pedicure is among the highlights of the tour.
For a glimpse of the future, the exhibition centre Manarat Al Saadiyat explores the ‘starchitect’-designed mega-galleries currently being built on Saadiyat Island. They include the first branch of the Louvre outside France (set to open later this year), the Brit-designed Zayed National Museum, and the biggest Guggenheim ever constructed.
An Abu Dhabi experience
I can feel the sweat on my brow as I stick the knife in for a third time. I give it a twist and slide my fingers into the flesh inside. All eyes are on me. Everyone else on the boat has opened their oyster and found a pearl on the first attempt. I am feeling the pressure.
“This time you’ll have success,” says Humaid, our Emirati guide and pearl-diving expert. “I am sure of it.”
It occurs to me that I may not have fared too well as an Arabic pearl diver in the late 19th century. Theirs was a hard lot, as Humaid explains.
Long before the discovery of oil, pearls were the primary source of income for the inhabitants of today’s UAE. Crews of 20 men, packed onto traditional wooden vessels like the one I was on now, would depart for the pearl banks for four months at a time. Divers would go down upwards of 50 times a day, pulled to the bottom by weights on their feet, their noses pegged with turtle-shell clips and their ears plugged with wax. After filling a basket with as many shells as possible, they’d pull on their rope and be hauled to the surface.
But prizing the shell open, I let out a less-than-manly squeal as I see my shining pearl. Humaid, it seems, knows his oysters! The Abu Dhabi Pearl Journey is a perfect example of the great cultural experiences now available in Abu Dhabi.
What the experts say
“This is an exciting time for Abu Dhabi. Visitors from the UK jumped 14% last year – to over 231,000 – the third year in a row we’ve achieved double-digit growth. And with the homeporting of ships from MSC Cruises and Celebrity Cruises encouraging pre- and post-cruise stays, landmark hotels from Four Seasons, Grand Hyatt and Fairmont all opening this year, plus the hotly anticipated unveiling of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, we’re expecting similar growth levels in 2016. We’re thrilled to be hosting ABTA’s annual Travel Convention in October – an event that promises to strengthen our relationship with the UK travel industry still further.”
NABEEL AL ZAROUNI, UK COUNTRY MANAGER ABU DHABI TOURISM & CULTURE AUTHORITY