They say that New York City has it all: the best museums, stores, cuisine and entertainment in the world. Well, Abu Dhabi is definitely giving Manhattan a run for its money! With its pulsating cosmopolitan lifestyle, pristine white beaches and spectacular sand dunes, the United Arab Emirates capital has become the hautest destination in the Middle East.
WHERE TO PLAY
Tour the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which can hold an astonishing 40,000 worshippers, and prepare to be mystified by the seamless fusion of marble, stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramic. Inspired by Persian, Mughal and Moorish architecture, the mosque features 82 domes, 1,000 columns, gilded chandeliers and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. For the best photos, take the complimentary “sunset tour” that departs daily at 5 PM.
To learn more about traditional Emirati culture, take a day trip to Al Ain and visit the Palace Museum, the former home of late UAE founder, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Visit the nearby Al Ain Oasis and get an inside look at a working palm plantation featuring 100 different varieties of date palm trees. On the way back, be sure to stop off at the famous Camel Market. A word of caution: locals often try to sell tourists guided tours around the pens, but feel free to walk around unaccompanied—just be sure to ask permission before snapping photos.
Take a break from sightseeing and spend a leisurely afternoon sailing along the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf in an authentic pearling vessel called a Jalboot. Learn about the storied past of Abu Dhabi’s pearling industry while enjoying traditional Arabic tea and dates. The best part: each guest gets to crack open an oyster and keep the pearl as a souvenir.
For a more thrilling and adrenaline-pumping experience, drive to the desert and try sand surfing and dune bashing. Ride over steep sand dunes in a Land Cruiser (don’t worry, they deflate the tires for better grip!) and prepare to scream and squeal with the sharp dips and turns. Midway through, the fearless driver will pull over and allow guests to strap on a skateboard-like contraption and surf down the steep sand dunes. Falling doesn’t hurt, but the sand is scorching as temperatures often reach the triple digits. Looking for something more low key? Climb aboard a camel (careful, they do spit!) and travel along the incredible desert landscape the traditional way.
Camels aren’t the only prized animals in Abu Dhabi. Falcons are even more highly regarded in Emirati culture—they even fly business class with their own passport! Get an up-close view of the magnificent birds at the world-renowned Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. Visitors are able to tour the facility, which treats more than 4,400 falcons each year, and gain insight into the traditional desert sport of falconry.
Thanks to year-round sunny skies and an abundance of activities, Abu Dhabi has become a tourism mecca, attracting A-list clientele from all over the world. And there are only more developments on the horizon. Next year, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will open its doors and showcase international collections aimed at bridging the gap between Eastern and Western art. In 2017, the 450,000-square-foot Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be completed in the cultural district of Saadiyat Island. Designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry, the highly anticipated museum will house its own major modern and contemporary art collection.
WHERE TO STAY
The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand Canal
+971 2 818 8888
Inspired by Renaissance architecture, the luxury hotel boasts 447 guest rooms and suites, 85 private one and two bedroom villas, meticulously landscaped gardens, plus a private beach overlooking the Grand Canal. The 57-acre property features multiple award-winning restaurants, offering a variety of fare from succulent seafood to local Lebanese cuisine. Be sure to stop by Dolce, the decadent Italian-style dessert cafe that would make even Willy Wonka green with envy. For a true taste of the Middle East, visit the hotel’s Arabic restaurant, Mijana, and sip camel milk cocktails prepared by the hotel’s in-house camel milk mixologist.
+971 2 690 9000
Modeled after an Arabian Palace rising from the desert sand, this $3 billion property blends Middle Eastern grandeur with modern indulgences. Featuring 302 guest rooms, 92 suites, 114 domes, 1,002 crystal chandeliers, plus 10.5 million square feet of dramatic buildings, beaches and gardens, it’s no wonder the property has a seven-star rating. It even has its own marina and helipad! Spend a peaceful afternoon floating along the rock-lined lazy river or basking in the shade of a palm tree at the Las Brisas pool. The hotel also offers several enticing restaurants, perfect for pleasing even the pickiest palate. Experience the authentic flavours of traditional Emirati food in a fine dining atmosphere at Mezlai, or enjoy char-grilled meats and seafood in the beachside setting of BBQ Al Qasr.
HOW TO GET THERE
For seamless travel, book a direct flight from New York City to Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE. Ranked “the world’s best first class” for two consecutive years, Etihad’s Diamond First Class suites feature Poltrona Frau leather seats (the same material used in Ferraris) that convert to fully flat beds, Arabic-styled privacy doors, personal 23-inch entertainment screens, in-seat USB ports and spacious changing rooms.
Each guest also receives a Diamond First Class amenity kit filled with luxurious La Prairie skincare products and a cozy Etihad designed sleeper suit. Female travelers will also walk away with a stylish Swarovski Elements embellished cosmetic purse, perfect for storing passports and travel documents, while males will receive a cufflink-inspired black leather box with jewel-toned lining.
Feast on made-to-order steaks, omelets and local delicacies prepared by Etihad’s onboard gourmet culinary team. Each chef has at least 6 years experience cooking in five-star restaurants and hotels, many of which are Michelin-starred. On the way back to United States, be sure to stop by Etihad’s First Class lounge, which offers travelers complimentary spa services.