My trip to Abu Dhabi marked my first visit to the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East. I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and I tried not to form any sort of expectations, which is near impossible for someone with a very overactive imagination. So every time “Arabian Nights” from Aladdin popped into my head, I quickly popped it back out and looked forward to arriving in Abu Dhabi.
I left Glasgow, Scotland at around 4.00pm on a cold, grey, dreich day. I arrived in Schipol Airport in Amsterdam around 6.00pm to be greeted by a pleasant and moderate early evening. Touching down in Abu Dhabi International Airport the following morning, I was welcomed by temperatures in the mid 20’s, palm trees and a great deal of haze amidst my snoozy state. I have never been very good at sleeping on airplanes due to a mixture of excitement, nausea, tiredness and/or hunger. I definitely think my abnormally long neck plays a role too (despite my best efforts I can never seem to wind it in enought to rest my head comfortably).
So for the first time in 2016, I popped on my sunglasses, kicked off my shoes in place of some flip flops and made my way from the airport to my accommodation in Khalidiya.
On the drive from the airport, I was impressed by the clean and efficient highways and roads, the well-kept road side gardens and the urban skyline in the distance which I could just make out through the morning haze.
I have to say that my initial impression of the Middle East was, well, that Abu Dhabi looked like any other big urban, developed city – clean, modern and full of skyscrapers. At this point I was pretty glad I had popped that image of “Arabian Nights” out of my head. But secretly I was still hoping for some traditional souks, trips to the desert and chats with some local Emiratis.
From the outset, I wanted to make sure that I used my limited time in Abu Dhabi wisely. Before I left Glasgow, I researched things to do in Abu Dhabi and had compiled quite an extensive list of places to see and experiences to be had whilst there.
But there really are a lot of things to do in Abu Dhabi, so I didn’t quite get around to ticking everything off the list but managed the majority nonetheless. The list below is the 10 things to do in Abu Dhabi that I would personally recommend:
1) Visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
It’s an impressive building and it should be considering that it is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and the 8th largest mosque in the world.
Built only 7 years ago, and home to the world’s largest carpet I would recommend a visit to admire the Moorish architecture of the building which aims to ‘unite the world’, by taking inspiration and materials from many countries across the world.
2) Kayak through the mangroves
This was my first experience of kayaking and it was a really enjoyable experience. Our guide Carl was highly informed about the mangroves themselves, the flora and fauna and the environmental impact of those pesky jet skis and motorised boats. For the health-conscious, it also worked the guns pretty well too.
3) Experience Arabian nights in the desert
So my one “demand” while in Abu Dhabi was that I visit the desert for the first time. And, what a first time! Spending one night in the Qasr Al Sarab was an experience that I will never forget – in three words, I would sum up the 5 star resort as luxurious, relaxing and…sandy. Make sure to bring a good pair of boots with you, see wahoohiker.com.
4) Go camel trekking
You can’t go to the desert and not hop on a camel. Led by Bedouin guides, I would highly recommend a sunset camel trek which was the highlight of my trip and one of my most treasured experiences.
5) Visit the Falcon Hospital
If you are anything like me, a visit to a falcon hospital may seem like an odd activity to seek out and one that perhaps wouldn’t be at the top of a list of things to do in Abu Dhabi. However it actually turned out to be a really interesting day where we learned about the differences between breeds of falcon, the status of falcons across United Arab Emirates and their popularity as pets (who have their own passports and can fly in airplane carriages). We even watched a minor operation!
6) Eat as many dates as humanly possible
Seriously. I don’t care if you like them or not, I have never tasted dates like the ones I had at the ‘date souk’; a street of pop-up fruit and veg stalls. With each mouthful, I fell a little more in love with what has come to be my number one snack of choice. The dates from Palestine tasted exactly like a mouthful of sweet, sticky toffee pudding, while the dates from Saudi Arabia were slightly less sweet, yet more indulgent. And that was only the tip of the date iceberg. I will never look at dates in the same way…
7) Go wild at Wadi Adventure
Wadi Adventure is a man-made facility in Al Ain where you can go white water rafting, kayaking or surfing in the world’s largest man-made surf wave. Surfing Magazine ranked the surf pool as the 41st best surfing beach in the world- the only man-made attraction on the list.
8) Stroll along the Corniche
The Corniche runs parallel to the coast and stretches 8 kilometres long. Enjoy a picturesque stroll along the promenade, past the Corniche beach, surrounded by an array of restaurants and fellow pedestrians and cyclists.
9) Climb the Marina Tower
The Marine Tower is situated in Marina Mall which is worth a visit if you enjoy no 10 below. However even if shopping isn’t your thing, the Marina Tower is worth a visit for the best view of Abu Dhabi. I ate in the revolving restaurant at the top of the tower in the early evening and enjoyed spectacular views of Abu Dhabi’s landscapes as the sun set.
10) Go shopping
Well if shopping is your thing, you will be able to knock yourself out in Abu Dhabi. There are more malls than you can count, all of which are full of the best high street and designer shops. As I am currently trying to squirrel away all of my pennies for travelling to South East Asia this summer, I sadly didn’t buy anything in the shops – oh wait, I bought a coconut water from one mall and at 11 Derums, that was quite the indulgence.Have you been to Abu Dhabi? Would you add anything else to the list above? Let me know below!