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Abu Dhabi ©Wadiia
The brash, bold city of Abu Dhabi is a modern marvel, capital of the wealthy United Arab Emirates and headquarters of the world's richest oil operating companies. The pulsating city, with futuristic skyscrapers and wide tree-lined boulevards, is capitalising on its sophistication, amazing duty-free shopping zone, its luxury hotels and top class transport and communication infrastructure to attract tourists. They come not only for the 'retail therapy' and glitz, but also to explore the fascinating culture of the vast Abu Dhabi Emirate itself (it is the largest of the seven Emirates), with its miles of desert and interesting oases.
The city is almost an island, jutting into the Persian Gulf, with land having been reclaimed from the sea to make way for a long seafront Corniche, lined with lush gardens and gushing fountains. It is a relatively young city, the area having been first settled by nomadic tribesmen in the mid-18th century; it remained little more than a fishing village until oil was discovered in the 1950s, and the financial and trading boom began.
Today the international airport and deep water port bring in visitors from around the world, most clutching credit cards and cash, set on spending as much as possible in the enticing shopping malls and buzzing souk (market). Limousines are a common sight in the congested streets, and restaurants offering the cuisine of many nations do a roaring trade, especially along the waterfront. Shopping fever is at its height during the annual Shopping Festival held in early March. Those taking a break from modern luxury can escape to the desert for a Bedouin feast under the stars, or a camel ride through the dunes.
Sunshine and blue skies are guaranteed almost every day in Abu Dhabi. Temperatures between June and September can be unbearably hot for most Westerners, exacerbated by high humidity and ranging between 85ºF (29ºC) and 109ºF (43ºC) in July and August. Air-conditioning is the norm in all buildings, however. The best time to travel to Abu Dhabi is between October and May, and in January and February it becomes cool enough to warrant wearing a cardigan outdoors with temperatures ranging between 55ºF (13ºC) and 75ºF (24ºC). Rainfall is almost non-existent.
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Abu Dhabi is well-supplied with a vast number of metered taxis offering very reasonable fares; these are the best way of getting around in town, and outside of it. There are unmetered taxis too, and when using these it is best to agree on a fare up front. Most taxi drivers speak English. It is worth noting that a surcharge can be added for air-conditioning in the taxi. But as temperatures in summer are sweltering, this may still be a better option than walking. There is a limited bus system, but it does not follow fixed routes. Most hotels offer bus services to principal destinations, including the airport. Car and limousine rental is slightly more expensive than in the West, but of course petrol is cheap! Driving in the Emirates, however, is a hair-raising experience, with an established hierarchy as to who has right of way, so unless you are fearless and aggressive behind the wheel, it is best to hire a vehicle with a local driver. There is also the Abu Dhabi Metro Rail system which is convenient and aims to relieve traffic congestion. It provides optimal connectivity between Abu Dhabi Island and the suburbs.
Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH)
Al Ain International Airport (AAN)
Shopping in Abu Dhabi is a very rewarding experience with souks, malls and the airport duty free shops offering some of the lowest prices in the world on a wide range of goods, thanks to very low import duties. Most shopping malls are open Saturday to Wednesday from 10am to 10pm, on Thursdays from 10am to 11pm, and on Fridays from 2pm until late. Independent shops close for lunch from 2pm to 4pm, and then stay open until at least 9pm.
There are a number of souks (markets) in Abu Dhabi offering a vast selection of oriental carpets, gold and antique jewellery, electronic gadgets, designer clothes, cosmetics, spices and souvenirs. The Al Nasr Street, Sheikh Hamdan, Sheikh Khalifa, Iranian and Al Meena souks are among the most popular in Abu Dhabi. Local souvenirs include items such as traditional coffee pots, Bedouin jewellery and antique chests.
There are more than 18 shopping malls and centres in Abu Dhabi offering a variety of brand-name outlets, hypermarkets, cinemas, cafés, restaurants and fast-food joints for shoppers to enjoy; two of the biggest are the Marina and Abu Dhabi malls. Some of the international outlets at these malls are IKEA, Woolworths, Body Shop, Virgin Megastores, Versace, Burberry and Gucci. The Abu Dhabi Shopping Festival is held each March in malls throughout the city and consumers can find excellent bargains and win a number of shopping prizes.
While quieter than Dubai, Abu Dhabi has a very festive nightlife; most of the bars and clubs located in the city's upmarket hotels, which are allowed to serve alcohol under UAE law. The nightlife only really kicks off at around 11pm; many venues have a strict dress code to adhere to but an otherwise relaxed and safe atmosphere to enjoy. There are a number of English, Mexican and American-style bars and pubs in Abu Dhabi; some of the most popular including the Harvester's Pub at Sands Hotel, the Jazz Bar at Hemingway's and the Irish pub at the Abu Dhabi Grand. Live performances, happy hour, ladies nights and quiz evenings are regular events in Abu Dhabi bars. The local nightclubs feature international and local DJs, as well as live performances from Arab singers and belly dancers. Exotic cocktails, vintage brandies and Arabic mezzes (snacks) are also offered by most venues. Popular Abu Dhabi nightclubs include Le Meridien's Gauloises Club, and the Tequilana Discotheque at the Hemingway's complex.
Beach Rotana Brunch City
Friday brunch is an institution in Abu Dhabi and this five star hotel sets the bar very high with an epic brunch spread, combining the food selection of a number of its restaurants to provide customers with a dazzling array of culinary choice. Beach Rotana's relatively high prices are offset by the exceptional food and complimentary champagne.
Food Type: Brunch Style: Price: 4
Address: 10th Street, Al Zahiya Area
Al Mina is a relaxed restaurant on the harbour serving traditional Iranian cuisine, with a special focus on local seafood like lobster and squid. Try one of the starter platters, overflowing with hummus, tabbouleh, and dolmades. The restaurant has both an Arabian-style indoor section and an outdoor patio with waterfront views. Open daily from 4-11pm.
Food Type: Local Style: Price: 3
Address: Al Dhafra, Dhow Harbor
Automatic and Lebanese Flower
These restaurant chains offer a good local variety of fast food at a low price. They do shawarmas (roast meat rapped in pita bread), hummus, falafels and roast chicken. The mouth-watering fare and local cultural inspiration makes them a must try.
Food Type: Middle Eastern Style: Price: 1
Address: Near the corner of Hamdan & 4th Streets, Al-Manhal, Khalidia
Considered the best place to eat Persian food in Abu Dhabi, Pars Palace is tucked away in a small backstreet behind Corniche Towers, near the marina. A wide selection of authentic Middle Eastern dishes, including saffron chicken and spicy kebabs, is accompanied by complementary fresh loaves of flat bread with sheeps-milk cheese. One of the best-value restaurants in Abu Dhabi, Pars Palace is busy for lunch and dinner. Open 11am to 3:30pm and 6pm to midnight.
Food Type: Local Style: Price: 2
This elegant French patisserie is popular over lunch for its excellent people-watching and relaxed environment. Linger over a cup of coffee and a petit four, or indulge in a leisurely meal of French fusion cuisine. Located in the Marin Mall, Hediard is open daily from 9am to midnight.
Food Type: French Style: Price:
Address: Marina Mall, Ras Al Akhdar
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