The United Arab Emirates consists of 7 emirates, including Abu Dhabi (the capital), Dubai, Fujiarah, Sharjah, and Ras Al Khaimah. Tourism in this part of the world has been in steady progression for many years now, mainly thanks to Dubai and its multi-billion Dollar ‘city in the desert’ infrastructure. But the likes of Ras Al Khaimah and Abu Dhabi are perhaps (albeit under the radar) contributing almost as much as Dubai to the tourism industry.
While some people will describe Abu Dhabi as being “Dubai without the Bling”, this is in fact quite unfair, as Abu Dhabi is much richer than Dubai and even bankrolled the construction of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa skyscraper, which remains even now the tallest building in the world. It’s true that Abu Dhabi does things differently to Dubai, though. To me, it seems like people (and corporations) in Abu Dhabi don’t like to show off as much as their Emirati cousins across the border, and as such as a much more refined emirate is apparent.
Just walking down the streets of Abu Dhabi, especially in the search for some food (traditional Arabic food, or even fast food/drink from America!), can be a much more serene affair than trying to do the same in Dubai – although, remember that everything shuts down during prayer time, even shops!
One of the ultimate highlights for anybody to see in Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The brainchild of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the mosque was designed to represent the cultural diversity of the Islamic world. It must surely be one of the largest mosques in the world. You can go inside the mosque as a visitor, as long as you observe Islamic protocol regarding dress code. In fact, Sheikh Zayed’s final resting place is in the actual mosque itself. There is a capacity of 40,000 people inside the mosque, which is at its busiest during the EID Festival each year. I am always fascinated by the architecture of this mosque, and I learned that there are over 80 different domes in its design.
Most countries in the Arab World have a seaside location aptly named “The Corniche”, but from my travels I must state that Abu Dhabi has the finest and most scenic Corniche (just ahead of the Doha Corniche in nearby Qatar). The Corniche here in Abu Dhabi is not only a great place to do a spot of sight-seeing, but also a place to get some regular exercise, either before the sun comes up, or late in the afternoon when a cool breeze can normally be felt blowing in from the Arabian Gulf.
Yas Island is known as the playground of Abu Dhabi, a little bit like what Sentosa is to Singapore. Yas Island includes many tourist attractions, including the Ferrari World theme park (home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster) and Yas Waterworld (in my opinion, one of the best waterparks in Asia). There is also an upmarket marina here, known simply as Yas Marina. Yas Marina is the home of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where once a year the Formula One fraternity comes to the emirate and impresses everyone with its speed and sound. The rest of the year, however, you can see hundreds of glitzy and glamorous yachts around here owned by the rich and famous, who will moor their boats and come on land to spend some Emirati Dirham!