5 Must-Dos: Abu Dhabi
November 1, 2010
The essential quick guide for discerning travellers
BY MIKE MACEACHERAN
1. DESERT DREAMS
If your dreams of desert vacations involve a lavish Arabic tent pitched against a backdrop of endless sand dunes, Abu Dhabi fits the bill perfectly. Fringed by Rub’ al Khali (Empty Quarter) – one of the world’s largest deserts – Abu Dhabi fulfils the modern-day explorer’s fantasies. Budding Indiana Joneses can sign up with Arabian Adventures (arabian-adventures.com) for dune-bashing desert safaris and sundowner trips ranging from three-hour drives to full-day tours. For an overnight stay worthy of a sheikh, the new Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort (qasralsarab.anantara.com) is a luxe oasis surrounded by towering dunes and the odd camel. Be sure to pack a copy of the classic One Thousand and One Nights to complete the desert fairy tale.
2. ISLAND THRILLS
Boasting a thrilling race track and home to the last F1 leg, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (yasmarinacircuit.com) will be held from November 12-14 on Yas Island (yasisland.ae), the UAE capital’s favourite new multi-billion-dirham pleasure ground. This autumn sees the addition of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the world’s largest indoor theme park (ferrariworldabudhabi.com). Attractions include Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest rollercoaster, which accelerates up to 240km/h with a force of 1.7 Gs. It’s so fast that you’ll need safety goggles. Alternatively, savour the slower pace of island life at golf legend Gary Player’s first 18-hole signature links course on nearby Saadiyat Island (sbgolfclub.ae).
3. FALCON FASCINATION
Established as the world’s first public falcon hospital in October 1999, the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital (falconhospital.com) is not your average tourist experience. While vets perform life or death surgery – anaesthetised birds are even given miniature gas masks – tourists on a two-hour behind-the-scenes tour can enjoy an eagle’s eye view of the proceedings. Continue with a visit to the Falconry Museum and after that, the free-flight aviary for a chance to have one of these majestic creatures perch on your arm. Located on the outskirts of the Emirati capital, the Falcon Hospital has won six international awards for its education initiatives.
4. PEARL OF THE GULF
Welcoming an influx of new restaurants – which includes Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse and Grill (fairmont.com/babalbahr) – Abu Dhabi is now positioning itself as the region’s food capital. Flavour of the month is Sardinia, a bastion of fine dining and experimental gastronomy at the Abu Dhabi Health and Fitness Club (sardinia.adhfc.com), headed by chef Fabrice Canelle, a much-feted Michelin star restaurateur. Meanwhile, Pearls and Caviar (pearlsandcaviar.com) at the Shangri-La’s Qaryat Al Beri also offers lavish encounters with haute cuisine. Located across the water from the iconic ‘onion’ dome of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (visitabudhabi.ae/en/szm.aspx), the signature dishes here are Caramelised Figs with Goat’s Cheese served with Roasted Beets and Leaves and a splash of Truffle Honey or the Lobster Sambousek served with Spiced Mango Salsa.
5. OASIS OF COOL
The best way to mingle with the United Arab Emirates’ increasingly young and funky population of locals and expats is to enjoy a night of hummus, hip-hop and hookah (waterpipe). Top of the price range is the Emirates Palace (emiratespalace.com), home to Etoiles Abu Dhabi (etoilesuae.com), the best place for mixes by international DJs and late-night revelry with the capital’s affluent jet set. For something more low-key, try Left Bank cocktail bar (emiratesleisureretail.com/brands/leftbank.aspx) on Souk Qaryat Al Beri, its interior designed like a spaceship. For Irish fans, there’s PJ O’Reilly’s (leroyalmeridienabudhabi.com), the best place in town for a pint of stout.
Requirements vary. Check with your nearest UAE consulate or visit visitabudhabi.ae for more information.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
From November to March, the city experiences cool to cold weather. May to August is famous for its desert heat.
HOW TO GET THERE
Visit singaporeair.com for schedules and fares.
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