‘A NATION without past has neither a present nor a future’ said Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan back in 1970, as the people of the United Arab Emirates’ lives became drenched in black gold and dried off with their new found currency, Dirhams.
Embrace the culture, step on the world’s largest carpet and look upon the mosque’s 80 white marble domes.
A double edged sword for the Islamic country, and in particular its capital Abu Dhabi, it was a time of change from traditional to transitional. Rarely mentioned in the same breath as its attention grabbing sister Emirate, Dubai, Abu Dhabi has thus far managed to maintain an air of dignity despite sitting on the biggest pot of gold. As a result it lacks the drive of Dubai and the wealth of tourism that goes with it, but of late it appears to have stepped up a gear.
The Hyatt Capital Gate Hotel is one such new addition, with its huge leaning presence looming over the cowering old historical grandstand. The whole idea behind the build was to create a challenging piece of architecture rather than a record breaking one. They’ve managed to break one along the way, all the same in the form of its peculiar angle.
Capital Gate leans at an 18 degree angle, five times more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa if you’re after a bit of the Dubai wow factor. If not, you can instead marvel at the subtle spiralling effect it creates out of the ground, coated in diamond shaped shards as it stakes its claim as the first to cut into Abu Dhabi’s skyline so elegantly. But that’s a whole separate article to look out for on Planet Confidential.
In its entirety, Abu Dhabi is a place that doesn’t want for much. So much so, that you can count the amount of things to do as a visitor on one hand – after that it’s yours for the taking.
Among the must-see sites is the jaw-droppingly beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. There are of course mosques all over the place, but this, the closest thing you’ll get to a pure piece of Mecca, is extra special.
Crisp white towers powering out of the landscape, you don’t need to be at religious to appreciate the crowning glory of the Emirate. In fact this was the first mosque in Abu Dhabi to allow non-Muslims to tour the interior so it’d be rude not to.
Embrace the culture, step on the world’s largest carpet and look upon the mosque’s 80 white marble domes. It’s free to visit and there are guided tours nearly every hour although you’ll be hard pressed to work out which party speaks English as hundreds of different nationalities clamber, bright eyed and bushy tailed into the holy place. It’s best not to get too hung up on the tours though – this is a place best taken in neat. Make of it what you will.
Ladies, it’s also to be noted that you will have to wear the provided abayas (full length black gowns with black head scarves) for the duration of your visit. See the picture below.
Taxis are an inescapable part of Abu Dhabi tourism, but at least they’re cheap and honest. What can seem so close on a map and even in actual distance, can be frustratingly hard to get to.
We made the mistake of trying Abu Dhabi by foot which resulted in a whole lot of walking and not much seeing as we made our way from the Al Wahda Mall (probably the most uninspiring place to visit in Abu Dhabi) to Corniche beach.
To briefly touch on Al Wahda Mall, it’s a shopping centre. That's all you need to know. Handy of course, should you experience a holiday wardrobe malfunction, but that’s not what we came away for anyway. Luckily Al Wahda Mall is right by the beach according to the map so we were able to make a run for it.
Two hours later and still appearing to be walking on an Abu Dhabi dual carriageway, the abundance of taxis soon became clear. If all else fails, hail! Corniche beach sits alongside a strip of private beaches and hotels. You’ll know it because it’s the busiest one.
Breezy and tranquil, it adds that strip off and bake aspect to the holiday that sadly many of us Brits love. Here it’s a welcome opportunity to embrace nature in an otherwise modest dressing country – especially for women.
The beach is your place to kick back and afterwards a trip to Emirates Palace - once the world's most expensive hotels - will finish your day off nicely. It's gawdy, yes, but magnificent and the areas which surround it are undergoing major development which you can have a nosey at.
When you’re done with relaxing and enjoying the desert heat, Ferrari World on Yas Island is a mega project to get your teeth into. The Formula One racing circuit has an accompanying Ferrari theme park (home of the world’s fastest rollercoaster) and adds that bit of show-pony spirit you’d only otherwise get in Dubai.
Speaking of Dubai, at just an hour away it’s well worth a trip out. It’ll cost you around 215AED each way (£37) but it really puts Abu Dhabi into perspective. As the marketing lady for the Hyatt Capital Gate Hotel explained, Abu Dhabi wants to become a cultural hub of museums and galleries juxtaposed to Dubai’s glitz and glamour approach.
What Abu Dhabi doesn’t have, it’s building and that includes ideas for its own Guggenheim and Louvre, both larger spin offs of the originals. As counterfeit as it may appear, it’s difficult to stay mad at Abu Dhabi for its interpretation of a ‘cultural capital’ for long. It's found an albeit murky, middle ground.
By and large, Abu Dhabi can still be somewhat of an anti-climax to tourists and it's easy to see why. There’s little to do on a two week break yet it’s almost too far to travel for a long weekend. Surrounded by desert, some of which is in development, it’s a thoughtful place that’s perhaps intimidated by Dubai’s dominance.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em goes the saying, but in Abu Dhabi’s case they’re trying a softer approach. It will certainly be a long time before any of the Emirates really understand the meaning of style over substance, but if any of them stands a fighting chance, it's Abu Dhabi. These next ten years are going to be really interesting for the capital.
Etihad flies twice daily between Manchester and Abu Dhabi and current fares on the route are available from just £399pp return. To book your flight, or for further information, visit www.etihad.com or call 020 3450 7300.
Etihad also offers free chauffeur limousine services between Abu Dhabi and Dubai for Pearl Business Class and Diamond First Class guests, or a luxury coach service between the two cities for Coral Economy class guests.
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