federal capital of the United Arab Emirates and the
largest city of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It is one of the most
modern cities in the world and the center of government in the
With a population
of just under a million, Abu Dhabi is headquarters to a number
of oil operating companies and embassies are based here. With
only 420,000 citizens in the entire emirate, each has a
theoretical worth of $17 million, & has been
described by CNN as the richest city in the world. The
city features large gardens and parks, green boulevards lining
all the streets and roads, sophisticated high-rise buildings,
international luxury hotel chains and opulent shopping malls.
Long viewed as a
staid bureaucratic outpost entirely lacking in neighboring
Dubai's pizzazz, things started to change radically in 2004
after long-ruler Sheikh Zayed passed away and his son Sheikh
Khalifa took over. In a bid to attract tourism and investment,
land sales to foreigners were allowed, restrictions on alcohol
were loosened and several massive projects are under way,
with the upcoming $28 billion cultural zone of Saadiyat
Island and its centerpieces the Guggenheim and Louvre
Museums scheduled to open in 2011. It remains to be seen how
well the strategy will work, but the city is certainly
experiencing a construction boom.
The core of Abu
Dhabi is a wedge-shaped island connected to the mainland by the
Maqta and Musaffah bridges. The wide end of the wedge forms the
city center, with the Corniche running along the coast
and an road variously known as Airport Road or Sheikh
Rasheed bin Saeed al Maktoum Street running lengthwise out
to the bridges.
in Abu Dhabi are simultaneously very logical and
hopelessly confusing. Many roads have traditional names,
like "Airport Road", which may not correspond to the official
names, like "Maktoum Street", and the city is divided into
traditional districts like "Khalidiyya". However, by recent
decree the city has been split up into numbered "zones" and
"sectors", with all roads in each sector numbered: 1st Street,
2nd Street, etc, and the vast majority of street signs only
refer to these. Alas, there is little apparent order to the
numbering, and the numbers go haywire when a street crosses from
one sector into another. Most locals opt to ignore the system
entirely, and the best way to give instructions is thus
navigating by landmarks: if taking a taxi, odds are you will
get to "behind the Hilton Baynunah" much faster than "5th
Street, Sector 2".
Abu Dhabi International Airport (IATA:
AUH) (ICAO: OMAA) is the UAE's second-busiest
airport (after Dubai) and the home base of
Despite its slightly dingy appearance, the airport is quite
well-maintained. The airport is currently undergoing a major
expansion which is proposed to be completed by 2010. Picking up
luggage is also quite easy, although be forewarned that airport
personnel may remove a flight's bags from the carousel and stack
them in a pile next to it, as the airport has few baggage
carousels. Al Ghazal taxis travel to the city at a flat rate of
Dhs.75 and take around 40 minutes. Public bus route 901 also
heads to the city every 30-45 minutes and costs just Dhs.
alternative is to fly to Dubai instead, and continue onward by
bus or, if really in a hurry, by taxi. A metered Dubai airport
taxi direct to the town center will cost about Dhs 300.
If you are flying
on Etihad, complimentary shuttle buses are provided at regular
intervals to the centre of Abu Dhabi and to Dubai. These depart
from the main car park at the front of the airport, by the car
highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is the country's heaviest-travelled
route, and the 170-km journey can be covered in two hours. While
there is a notional speed limit of 120 km/h, this is often
wildly exceeded by young Emiratis and the highway sees over 20
accidents monthly — stay out of the leftmost lane and drive
carefully, especially at night.
Abu Dhabi does not
currently have a usable system of public transportation, so the
best way to get around if you haven't rented a car is by getting
a taxi. Basic white-and-gold taxis with green signs on
top are ubiquitous and crossing town won't cost more than Dhs 5
($1.50) or so. However, slightly more luxurious cabs like Al
Ghazal and National — which monopolize the hotels — charge
anywhere from Dhs. 8 to 25.
If you're staying
at a hotel, there are normally some which wait outside in the
parking lot. You are not expected to tip cab drivers, but
gratuity will be VERY appreciated. Many taxi drivers are
displaced persons, far from their home countries and families,
so don't be surprised if they take out pictures of family
members for you to comment on.
Unless they are
very aggressive drivers or accustomed to reckless road behavior,
most visitors find the Emirati style of driving far too
dangerous to be willing to get behind the wheel themselves.
Those who do should be aware that any traffic accidents between
locals and expats will ultimately mean that the expat is deemed
at fault in most cases. Rented cars / visitors are not treated
differently if they get into a car accident; however it must be
known that if you do get in a car accident that you should NEVER
move your car unless 1) you are asked by the police to do so
over the phone, or 2) the police ask you to move it upon their
arrival to the scene. It doesn't matter how you feel about your
car blocking off 3 lanes in the middle of the rush hour cause
someone gave you a fender bender: if you move your car, you will
be in some serious trouble. Tests for alcohol can also be
administered, and even the blood-alcohol level rise of a glass
of wine will be ground for one month's incarceration.
If you do decide
to take the plunge, beware that the street numbering system is
unusual and it can take 30-45 days to get used to it. U-Turns
are allowed at almost every intersection: when the left lane
signal turns green, you simply have to swing a U-turn and come
back. One tip: whatever other flaws drivers here may have, they
do NOT run red lights. There are cameras at many intersections,
fines are high (US$100-150), and residents who are not citizens
can be DEPORTED for running too many red lights. When the light
turns yellow, that taxi in front of you WILL jam on the brakes,
and you should, too. But when the light turns green, expect
someone behind you to honk at you within the first 1.2
milliseconds to get you moving.
Abu Dhabi has
several large green spaces, many of which include play areas and
equipment for children. The city is studded with lovely
fountains, swathes of neon light, and the occasional sculpture.
Abu Dhabi sits on
the Arabian Sea, which while it is commonly referred to on
western maps as the Persian Gulf, the Arabs of the Emiraties
prefer their traditional name for the sea and can become
offended with the westernization of their region. As Abu Dhabi
is a trading port it is possible on most days to observe boats
and ships of all sorts going about their business. This part of
the Gulf is also home to a set of man-made islands called the
Lulu Islands, part of a tourism venture that is currently still
The Yas Island
project is scheduled to commence construction in two phases
during 2007. Yas Island occupies a total land area of 2,500
hectares, of which 1,700 hectares will be claimed for
development. The Island will feature attractions such as a
world-class motor sports racetrack, signature hotels, the
Ferrari theme park, water park, and the Abu Dhabi destination
retail development of 300,000 sq m retail area, links and
parkland golf courses, lagoon hotels, marinas, polo clubs,
apartments, villas and numerous food & beverage outlets that
will create a unique international tourist destination.
Abu Dhabi offers
little in the way of historical or cultural sights, but there
are several unique stops that no visitor should miss.
Events The Abu Dhabi Cultural Centre has become a
landmark in the Emirates and holds cultural events and
workshops throughout the year. It has a well-stocked
library, children's programs, art exhibitions, benefit
fundraisers, and other culture-related activities that are
the hallmark of any city. It's well worth a look.
Nearly all hotels and private clubs in Abu Dhabi offer
swimming facilities, usually in the form of private beaches.
You can pay for a day's use, or for a year's. Another option
is The Club, an organization geared towards expatriates
that's notably cheaper.
Abu Dhabi is a
compulsive shopper's dream. There are several malls, most of
which have the same stores as other malls. Besides
establishments aimed at locals, malls also include popular
English, American, and Canadian chain stores, as well as
designer places. Many visitors will be surprised at the female
fashion dichotomy- while local custom calls for women to be
covered in public, most stores sell short skirts and halter tops
alongside the more sedate floor-length skirts and high-necked
Mall", opened in 2007, is a large, modern mall in the center
of downtown (11th and 4th Streets). Stores are high-end, the
food court is extensive, and the LuLu Hypermart in the
basement is probably the largest grocery and dry goods store
in, well, anywhere.
There are also
millions of small, independent stores around the city. On the
bottom floor of one building, a person can purchase fancy
chocolates, computer parts, antiques, and clothing. It is better
to purchase things like carpets, art, native jewelry, and
antiques at the independent or souk-like places than at the
malls, as the price will be lower and the shopkeepers more
willing to haggle.
Bargaining is a
big part of shopping in the Emirates, but be prudent. Don't
bargain at Marks and Spencer or Hang Ten. Save your discounting
skills for independent shops dealing in antiques and the like.
Shopping in most
places can be frustrating, as the clerks will follow you around
the store. This is partly due to their concept of what
constitutes good service, and partly because there is a
shoplifting problem. Most will not be intrusive, but some
employees can be very pushy and overly obsequious. Smile and
thank them often, and you're more likely to be left alone after
In carpet stores-
or anywhere that sells tapestries, Indian antiques, and the
like- don't feel too pressured to buy, and don't be shocked if
they start unrolling beautiful rug after beautiful rug at your
feet. You are under no obligation to buy, no matter how much
time they spend with you. However, the pressure will be very
steady, and shyer shoppers may want to travel in packs for
such as Spinney's, Carrefours, and the Abu Dhabi Cooperative
Society are inexpensive and usually stocked with Western goods.
Be careful to examine all produce before purchasing. Visitors
wishing to purchase pork products will likely have to enter a
separate room to do so, as no nationals are permitted in these
sections of the grocery stores.
Prices in Abu
Dhabi tend to be very competitive, and there is no tax.
Dhabi is host to a wide range of palates and ethnicities when it
comes to cuisine. Lebanese/Arabic food is usually cheapest;
hotel restaurants usually the most expensive. The city is home
to all manner of fast food like McDonald's and Hardees, but
there is little call for most people to eat at those places.
Some of the best and cheapest food in the city can be found at
its many Indian restaurants. Portions are almost always
generous, prices low, and quality excellent. Some foreign
residents complained of a lack of good Chinese food, but several
Chinese restaurants have been openned in recent years and serve
authentic and contemparary Chinese food.
The fun thing
about Abu Dhabi is that everywhere, literally from tiny falafel
shacks to the cushy hotel restaurants to Burger King- delivers
to anywhere in the city. Delivery is quick and reliable, and
usually doesn't cost extra.
find the city's selection of meals very satisfying. Vegetable
and bean-heavy native dishes, the array of splendid pure
vegetarian Indian cuisine, and the ready availability of fresh
salads make eating in Abu Dhabi a stress-free experience. Strict
vegans may have a little difficulty communicating their precise
demands, but most places offer vegan dishes and are always
willing to accommodate a paying customer.
always check the Islamic calendar to determine whether they will
be visiting during the month of Ramadan. Since Muslims fast
during daylight hours, restaurants are -- by law -- closed
during the day. It is also against the law to eat or drink
anything, even water, in public and tourists (and non-Muslim
residents) have been arrested and given fines. Large hotels
generally have one restaurant open during the day to serve meals
to non-Muslims. During the evening, however, it's quite a
different story, as the festive atmosphere of Iftar begins and
residents gather for lavish, Thanksgiving-like meals. As long as
you don't mind tiding yourself over in private, the evening
meals are magnificent.
Arabian Palace (behind
02-6343396. The decor is
basic and the food, while cheap and filling, is forgettable,
but the shisha here is excellent. Puff up a pipe, order
their excellent "lemon with mint" drink and gaze at the
skyscrapers. Dh 50.
Lebnan. An institution in Abu Dhabi, they have 3
locations and are well known. The name in itself means
Lebanese Flower Restaurant. Excellent Shawarmas (Grilled
Chicken or Lamb wraps), Koftas (Beefburger meat), Felafel
(Lentils), and Farouj (Broiled chicken).
Hotels in Abu
Dhabi are generally half price compared to Dubai, but you'll
still be looking at well north of US$100/night. However, all are
well-tended and host to first class restaurants, pool, and other
high-end hotel facilities.
. Built at an estimated cost of US$3 billion, this was by
many accounts the world's most expensive hotel to build,
with oodles of gold and marble plating every available
surface. The scale of everything is gargantuan — you need
directions just to find your way from the gate to the lobby!
— and the hotel feels like it's straight out of Las Vegas,
minus the slot machines. Daytripping visitors are welcome,
and entertainment options include caviar and champagne at
the Caviar Bar, a fine Cohiba and cognac at the
Havana Club, or a Turkish coffee (Dh 30) at Le Cafe.
Rooms for the night start from about US$500.
Hilton Abu Dhabi,
. One of the older hotels in Abu Dhabi, but kept in good
shape and recently renovated. Huge Hiltonia
beach/pool/spa complex across the street (free for guests),
small gym in hotel itself. "Plus" rooms face the sea but are
otherwise identical to normal ones. Located a fair distance
from the city center, which is both good (no construction
noise) and bad (virtually nothing within walking distance,
although there are shuttle services to the Marina Mall and
the city center). US$150.
Popular with business travelers, the Baynunah's main selling
points are the central location and spacious rooms equipped
with kitchens. Indoor pool, gym, small lounge open to all
guests. Downsides are thin walls and a construction site
next door which is unlikely to be completed before 2009.
Le Royal Meridien
Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel &
InterContinental Abu Dhabi
Le Meridien Abu Dhabi
Beach Rotana Hotel And
International Rotana Inn
Millennium Hotel Abu Dhabi
Sheraton Khalidiya Hotel