By Lauretta Wright Photo credits: Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority
Abu Dhabi is the capital and second most populous city in the United Arab Emirates after Dubai. The city itself is cosmopolitan but unmistakeably Arabian in feel and tradition. The urban area is punctuated with pleasant gardens, oases of calm among the tall glass skyscrapers in this city of nearly a million.
ng tradition of hospitality and the tranquility of its beaches.
Abu Dhabi is on a T -shaped island about a kilometer away from the mainland connected by the Maqta and Mussafah bridges. It makes up nearly 80% of the UAE’s land area and following years of cultivation, around 5% of this is green made up of parks and plantations. The coastal part of Abu Dhabi does contain some wetland and mangrove. Dozens of smaller islands make up Abu Dhabi and they are in the main uninhabited. Many of these have been designated sanctuaries for wildlife.
Despite pre-conceptions of a city in the desert there are many varied topographical features ranging from the Jebel Hafeet mountain to the Al-Wathba Wetland Reserve; from the natural oases at Al-Ain and Liwa to the Saxaul dew forest.
How To Get There
The main airport for Abu Dhabi is Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Where to stay
Abu Dhabi has a mix of the traditional and the super-luxurious when it comes to accommodation. The region is famed for its six- and seven-star hotels but there are other options which are sure to be more to the liking of those on a more modest budget. These include the internationally well-known chains and the luxury desert resorts. As Abu Dhabi is a popular destination, it is advisable that bookings are made well ahead of any trip.
Flora and Fauna
Despite the inhospitable desert climate, the UAE as a whole has 3,500 endemic plants which continue to thrive despite the salinity of the soil and harsh environment. Most prevalent is the date palm which can be seen in city streets or palace gardens and provides a canopy of green. As well as natural plant life, the government has been working to cultivate the greenery in the city itself- both for the benefit of residents and to lessen the negative effects of sand storms.
Bird and animal life are also abound whilst the former often make brief appearances being able to migrate to more tolerable climes. Reptiles make up the greater part of the animal life and these range from delicately built geckos up to monitor lizards nearly a metre long. Mammal life is dominated by the camel and goat but there are still isolated sightings of the sand and mountain gazelle, shy nocturnals such as the sand cat and rueppell’s fox. The wildlife is not restricted to the land, as marine animals are represented by 240 species of fish, four globally endangered species of shark and two species of critically endangered sea turtles.
Top things to see and do
Even if the trip is only a fleeting one, there is always enough time to do one or more of the following:
1. Abu Dhabi Heritage Village- Find out about the rich cultural heritage of Abu Dhabi prior to the modern irrigation and cultivation that is now in evidence. This experience will be taking a trip in a time machine and seeing how the Bedouin survived in olden times. The Village is situated near to Abu Dhabi Breakwater.
2. Jebel Hafeet- This is the highest point in the whole of the UAE. Visit the peak and enjoy a view of the city centre or perhaps stay overnight in the hotel which is situated near to the mount’s summit (Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet). This might make a particularly fine excursion during the cooler months of winter. Jebel Hafeet is about an hour and a half drive from the city centre.
3. Ride the dunes- One of the more popular adventures for those visiting the UAE is a dune safari. Take the white knuckle ride along with some fellow thrill seekers and finish off the day with a BBQ at your desert camp.
4. Spas and Wellness-The Abu Dhabi and Al Ain areas are particularly well appointed when it comes to spas and wellness centres. So whatever the reason for unwinding or unknotting these aching muscles you are sure to find some top-drawer world class therapy in Abu Dhabi.
5. Hit the beach-Even if your hotel is not on the actual Gulf coast the Abu Dhabi Corniche gives beach lovers access to sand based relaxation with a public swimming area. There is a man-made island, called Lulu Island, which goes right across it via a short boat ride. There is also a public beach, Al Raha Beach, which is only a short drive from the city centre.
6. Take a Cruise-A great way to see the Gulf Coast is on board a luxury yacht or commercial dhow. Most operators offer cruise packages and most of them will include some kind of buffet or a la carte dining options.
Being the cultural centre that it is, the eating establishments of Abu Dhabi represent every taste under the sun. Be it Asian or European, fast food or haute cuisine, visitors to Abu Dhabi will find something to whet their appetite.
As well as the finest food available from the kitchens of the luxury restaurants of Abu Dhabi there is also the opportunity to grab something quick from the ubiquitous fast food joints and street stalls. In the emirate, contrary to standard practice in the UK, the slightly cooler weather of the winter months is favoured for al fresco dining. It is then that diners can take in the sights of the sea and beach views.
Nightlife in Abu Dhabi ranges from taking a quiet stroll with the family by the cornice to the heady buzz of watching a band play in a pub to dancing to the beat in a hotel nightclub. Abu Dhabi caters for families, singles, those of a more mature age and those of more tender years. Nights out in the emirate can include visiting one of the city’s restaurants or taking in a show or exhibition. You can even continue shopping as the sun goes down as many of the city’s malls stay open late in the evening.
In Abu Dhabi and the surrounding area there are nearly twenty shopping malls. Marina Mall and Abu Dhabu Mall are two of the largest and include attractions such as the big name international brands like Zara, Versace, Burberry and Louis Vuitton. Some, including Marina Mall, also have a hypermarket and multi-plex cinemas. As well as this, the visitor is well catered for when it comes to food and drink with a bewildering array of restaurants and cafes on offer for those who need a bite to eat or a caffeine fix.
Other malls include Fotouh al Khair Mall, Hamdan Centre, Lamcy Plaza, City Centre, Liwa Centre, She Zone, Rotana Mall and the Madinat Zayed Shopping and Gold Centre, Alkhalidiyah Mall, Alwihda Mall.
Abu Dhabi Special Events
There are a number of special events going on throughout the year including:
Al Ain Music Festival- Held in February this classical music festival attracts many big international named musicians.
Abu Dhabi Shopping Festival - Held in March, this is a great opportunity for bargain hunters to pick something up at discounted prices. The fair is very large and all manner of wares are available.
Abu Dhabi Salsa and Jazz Festival, This takes place in April/May and is a festival of Latin and jazz music at the Beach Rotana Hotel and Towers Abu Dhabi.
Accession Day, - This takes place in August and commemorates the accession of the ruler of Abu Dhabi. It is a time of feasting and celebration.
UAE Desert Challenge, This is an annual cross country race and is considered one of the finest in the world. It begins in Abu Dhabi and ends in Dubai.
National Day Festival- Taking place in December the festival marks the founding of the UAE. It is a time of international shows, sporting events, exhibitions and cultural spectacles.
How to get around
Although as of last year the Department of Transport has introduced a bus service in Abu Dhabi, private transport is still the main way to get around Abu Dhabi. Private cars and taxis operate a two AED pick up fee and then 0.50 AED for every kilometre. There are distinctions among the taxi driving fraternity with the “expensive” new cars having fares starting at 15.00 AED.
The bus service that was introduced last year launched with four routes, and initially for free to encourage take-up. The services run from 6am to 12midnight every twenty minutes and it is expected by next year there will be over 1,300 buses in operation.
In terms of dressing etiquette, Abu Dhabi is quite conservative but tolerant. However, although it is relaxed, visitors should respect the fact that excessively revealing clothing (both for men and women) is not acceptable. This includes beaches where swimmers should not wear very revealing swimsuits. In settings like nightclubs, casual wear like caps and shorts are not acceptable. In official settings non-locals would be expected to wear formal dress such as a suit and tie or evening dress.
Location: The emirate of Abu Dhabi is part of the UAE. It has borders with Saudi Arabia and the Sultanate of Oman. To the north east it borders Dubai and to the north is the Persian Gulf.
Time: GMT + 4 Hours
Language: Arabic is the official language (English, Urdu and Hindi are widely spoken)
Climate: Sunny blue skies are a feature all year long. The hottest time of the year is April through to September with average highs over 40 degrees. It is at this time that there are most frequently sandstorms
November to March is the coolest time of year and it is at this time that the emirate sometimes experiences dense fogs.
Area: Abu Dhabi’s land surface measures 67,340 square kilometres, which is equivalent to about 80% of the UAE’s total land area.
Population: Population in the Abu Dhabi emirate, inclusive of Al Ain, the Western region and the Islands, stood at 1,463,491 as of end 2006, comprising one third of UAE’s total population.
Religion: Islam is the official religion of the UAE.
Electricity: The electricity supply in Abu Dhabi is 220/240 volts at 50 Hz
Telephone code: +971 02
Currency: The Dirham (Dhs or AED)
Passport/visa requirements: A passport valid for a minimum of six months from date of arrival is required by Brits. No visa is needed for business or tourist visits lasting 30 days (extendable on request up to 90 days), provided they meet the requirements of the Resident and Nationalisation Authorities.
National airline: Etihad Airways (www.etihadairways.com)
Airports: Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Flight time: Approximately 7 hours
Israa & Miaraj Night – July 20
Ramadan expected to begin – August 21 (lasts 30 days)
Eid Al Fitr – September 20
Arafat – November 26
Eid Al Adha – November 27
UAE National Day – December 2-3
Hijri New year’s Day – Dec 18
New Year – Jan 1
Prophet Mohammeds Birthday – February 10 (2010)
UK Tourist Office details: Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, 1 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LY
Tel: 0207 201 6400 .Website: www.visitabudhabi.com