Monday, November 12, 2012

Things to do in Abu Dhabi

There are few places in the world like the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East, financed by oil, they have experienced incredible growth in the relatively recent past. In the past 10 years the Emirates, like Abu Dhabi and Dubai, have become major tourist destinations. And these places don’t just play at it – they go for it big style. They like to hear the word “world’s” in the description of anything they set out to build. It needs to be the world’s biggest, the world’s first, the world’s highest, etc! Which is all great news for visitors to the area!

Abu Dhabi, the largest and richest of the 7 Emirates which make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has taken some incredible tourism leaps in the past few years. So let’s take a look at some of the great things to do in Abu Dhabi.

Before looking at some of the great new attractions, let me set the scene a little with a very biref overview of Abu Dhabi. I have had the pleasure of working in Abu Dhabi 3 or 4 times in the past, probably in the period from about 2000 to 2004, which in terms of Abu Dhabi’s development is ‘eons’ ago! Naive and a little ignorant in those days, with the Internet in its infancy, I did no homework about my destination (I was working away a lot in those days in different locations) so arrived with a pre-conception that I would be turning up in a town of maybe a few hundred whitewashed 3 and 4 story buildings. So it was quite a shock to arrive in the stunning city of Abu Dhabi, on the side of the Persian Gulf, with its shining skyscrapers, and a skyline a little like Hong Kong in terms of the buildings. My hotel on the beautiful beach was opposite the Rolls Royce dealers, which seemed to have the newly released £240,000 Rolls Royce Phantom in stock in the showroom, in every available colour! So let’s knock out any 3rd world desrt town preconceptions. Abu Dhabi is a modern and high tech location. And its not just a Hong Kong type sprawling metropolis, the Emirate is home to 200 natural islands, and over 400km of pristine coastline and stunning desert.

Onto the things to do in Abu Dhabi, with a flavour of the latest additions to the Abu Dhabi experiences.

F1 fans will be aware of Yas Island, as the Yas Marina circuit is home to the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix. A few years ago I remember the Abu Dhabi F1 grand prix being the most exciting of the season, with fans on the edge of their seats wondering ‘what colour will that hotel be on the next lap!’ – Thank god the new F1 rules and regulations have made the racing a little more exciting these days! This year’s Abu Dhabi F1 GP was gripping. The Yas Marina Circuit offers a host of great ‘high octane’ and high adrenalin experiences, including karting, dragster racing, circuit driving, F1 passenger rides and dragster passenger rides!

But Yas Island, just a 20 minute drive from the centre of downtown Abu Dhabi, is far more than just a GP circuit with an amazing chameleon effect hotel. The Island is home to the amazing Ferrari World theme park, the world’s biggest indoor theme park, home to Formula Rossa the world’s fastest roller coaster with speeds up to an amazing 240kmh (149mph!), and the world’s first Ferrari themed theme park. See that’s 3 “world’s” in one park!

Opening at the end of this year Yas Waterworld, a 15 hectare park, next to Ferrari World will be home to the world’s first roller coaster to incorporate on board water and laser special effects, the world’s largest surfable sheet wave and the world’s first 1st hydromagnetic-powered tornado! There’s another 3 “world’s”!

Yas Marina is also home to plenty of great things to do including stand up paddleboarding (SUP) and Sea Plane Flights. There’s also a pretty good Golf Course too, but golf not my thing, so I won’t go into the details!

So quite a bit to do and we have not left Yas Island yet! Let’s get further into Abu Dhabi. For those willing to travel there are two excellent new accommodation based experiences, based outside of the city. The Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort is built right in the middle of the Liwa desert in region of Abu Dhabi known as the Empty Quarter. An amazing luxury hotel set right in the desert, with unique opportunities for activities like traversing towering sand dunes, 4x4 desert safaris, camel riding and archery. A unique place to escape to!

The Desert Islands Resort and Spa, is another luxurious development, this time located on the Sir Bani Yas Island, a nature reserve. A few hours drive from Abu Dhabi, or a short plane ride. Here you can step out from the luxury of the hotel and experience kayaking, sailing, mountain biking, wildlife safaris, horse riding and snorkelling within the nature reserve, which is home to thousands of free roaming animals from around the globe, including one of the world´s largest populations of the Arabian Oryx.

Back in to the centre of Abu Dhabi and there are plenty of great activities to keep visitors entertained. Pop into the traditional souks for a spot of people watching and haggling while looking at the stunning displays of shiny gold, of for those who prefer the shopping without the fun of haggling visit the city’s amazing shopping malls, try dining with a difference in one of the city’s two revolving rooftop restaurants, escape the sun with a spot of ice skating or bowling, take to the waters with a kayak, get into the waters and experience scuba diving, or stay on top and try a spot of sport fishing, or blast across the waters of the Gulf on a high speed speedboat ride, fly out over the gulf and the city and see Abu Dhabi from the air with a sea plane or helicopter flight, or take a relaxing hot air ballooning flight out over the desert.

For those wanting to try something really unusual learn to freedive in the gulf, or for those wanting to see something really unusual visit the Emirate National Auto Museum and see the collection of Rainbow Coloured cars from some of the world’s best vehicle manufacturers.

Those looking for culture can discover more about the history of hunting within the region at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, marvel at the amazing Sheik Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, one of the world’s largest mosques with capacity for 40,000 worshippers, or visit former palaces and forts and the above mentioned souks.

Numerous tour operators are on hand to offer you, and your group, tours into the desert for 4x4 safaris, camel riding, overnight camping in traditional Bedouin tents, or short tours and day trips to locations like Dubai (about 90 minutes up the road), the inland town of Al Ain, the Mosque, the Empty Quarter and more.

It’s a great place with plenty of great things to do. In fact it’s so good I have booked to take the family this Christmas. Watch out for the updates in the New Year!

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