The capital city of the UAE offers so much more beyond luxury hotels, all of it competing to attract your interest from the moment you land.
Aloft Abu Dhabi
Featuring a trendy design twist, Aloft attracts more younger travelers compared with other contemporary luxury hotels. It sits atop the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center, is within proximity of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Khalifa Park, and is perfect for those coming to town for both business and leisure. The rooms come with modern amenities and allow you to see the river and the city; but for a sweeping panoramic view, go for a fabulous night out at the rooftop bar, Club So-Hi, while treating yourself to exotic bites, refreshing drinks and a buzzing music scene.
Arabian Nights Village
Your Emirati cultural experience doesn’t get more seamless than a stay at Arabian Nights Village, nestled in the dunes of Abu Dhabi like an oasis waiting to welcome you with fresh cardamom-spiced Arabic coffee, dates and the fragrance of Bakhoor. The rooms comprise private detached houses with different interiors that tell the stories of past Arabian lifestyles, from woven walls inspired by traditional desert tents to the most opulent fort tower suite that seems to come straight out of the tales of war. Each stay is complemented with numerous activities and entertainment such as falconry, quad biking, camel riding and belly dance.
With diverse products and destination options, shopping is a national pastime in Abu Dhabi. Traditional souks or markets can give you an authentic experience of daily local life, but those who prefer to abide comfort zones can visit the contemporary adaptation such as The Souk Qaryat at Al Beri or The Souk at Central Market. Both designer goods and traditional handcrafts are worth a look, given especially that the prices of certain products are bargains compared to their prices abroad. Household goods and fashion accessories with Arabian themes are the typical souvenirs. Distinct treats such as Lebanese sweets, camel milk chocolates, Iranian caviar and a wide range of date fruit variants might not last long, but who can resist delicacies that are rarely found elsewhere?
Looking through the glass façade of Hotel Capital Grand Abu Dhabi, Blue Bar is architecturally and visually fascinating, appearing to be floating in the atrium. The elegant yet laidback cocktail bar features panoramic views of the city and expertly-prepared drinks, making it the perfect spot for socializing before or after dinner. Wine lovers will also be pleased with the selection of vintages from around the world. Blue Bar gained its name from the dramatic, lit bar spanning 15 meters made of wild agate stone which sports the color. Rich fabrics and soft leathers in shades of blue and purple enhance the lavish ambience.
This spot might be the odd one out among the luxurious dining options in Abu Dhabi, but the word-of-mouth magic works like a charm in keeping the place popular among locals and tourists alike. It’s a café and restaurant with a boutique concept, aiming for a comfortable look with the distinct character of a warm Arabian home that might just spark inspiration for your own home decorating. The menu is as personal as its interior, with the owner’s grandmother’s favorite salad as well as recipes from friends and families alongside more common European and local options.
Marrying Lebanese cuisine with European tastes is not an easy task, and Li Beirut’s success secures its spot among Abu Dhabi’s favorite dining hubs. The items on the menu are foreign yet intriguing, from a foie gras kebbeh starter to the signature main course of zaatar crusted rack of lamb accompanied with sweet potato and truffle. Scrumptious traditional dishes such as umm ali or bread pudding are also available, but not without creative reinterpretations and sophisticated presentation. The service is known to be impeccable and Li Beirut’s chic, contemporary interior further adds to the class.
Just outside Abu Dhabi, Jabal Hafeet is a towering 1,240 meter mountain made of craggy limestone. To reach the top, you can drive along a winding highway famous as one of the world’s greatest roads for driving. The reward is an impressive, unbeatable view over the city and Al Ain, the largest oasis in the UAE. Not too fond of outdoor adventure? The Observation Deck at 300 in the Etihad Towers complex is the highest vantage point in the capital to see the cityscape and surrounding islands.
International influences might feature strongly, but the commitment to local heritage keeps the city prolific and thriving. Al Jahili Fort, the former headquarters of the Oman Trucial Scouts, the force that protected the mountain passes and kept inter-tribal peace, might be one of the most picturesque, with a beautifully landscaped garden and committed restoration works. But in the heart of Abu Dhabi, 200 years old Al Maqtaa Fort is proof that the legacy of the past can live in harmony alongside modern structures.
In contrast to its serene nature, Abu Dhabi boasts a lot of high-speed action. The Formula 1 Grand Prix is the dream of every racing enthusiast and a thrilling excitement that attracts even the most casual viewer. Experience the speed of Yas Marina Circuit in person through one of the racing packages that allows you to drive dream cars such as the Formula Yas 3000. Still in Yas Island, Ferrari World is an indoor themed amusement park famous for housing the world’s fastest rollercoaster, the Formula Rossa.
It would only fit the capital city to have so many exciting and innovative architectural gems, some of which have been recognized with prestigious awards. Among the buildings with contemporary visions are the five soaring skyscrapers of Etihad Towers, Yas Viceroy with a grid shell structure and an environmentally-responsive exterior, and the striking dune-like structure that forms the UAE Pavilion. In contrast, Arabic design in its entire splendor can be seen from the iconic Emirates Palace and one of the world’s largest mosques featuring endless custom-designed elements, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Future development plans look promising with more out-of-the-box projects in the pipeline.
Adrenaline-seekers will discover a whole new kind of adventure on the sandy valleys. In the cooler months, simply rent a four-wheel drive, a map and locate another group of eager drivers to be safe as you go dune-bashing to your heart’s content. Many tour companies also offer desert safari packages with guided tours to natural landmarks and nomadic desert settlements. Sand boarding brings forth another kind of challenge, an activity similar to snowboarding where you sashay down the blazing red slope instead of a white snowy expanse. Just remember to take precautionary action and go early in the morning to avoid the blazing temperatures during the day.