We stayed in Abu Dhabi for most of our month in the United Arab Emirates, which was a great opportunity for us to catch up on articles for Travelling Apples, and get ourselves sorted with a few online freelancing gigs to keep a little bit of money coming in. However, we did get out and about to see quite a lot of the city while we were here.
One thing about Abu Dhabi, and the UAE in general, is you need a car to get around. Unless it’s the middle of winter, it’s too hot outside to walk around anywhere for long periods of time, so there’s no chance of exploring the city by foot. Besides, despite being a relatively small city of only 2.35 million people, it’s very spread out with highlights at either end of the island and the surrounding areas. There is a bus network if you wanted to get around that way, and there’s also the Big Bus option where you can hop-on hop-off at the major sights, but there’s no metro system to.
For our month in the UAE we had a hire car for eight days, and in that time we spent a few days in Dubai, a couple of days in Fujairah and a few days getting out and about in Abu Dhabi. The rest of our time was either spent at Sarah’s friends house catching up on work, or taking a taxi to a mall to buy groceries or other essential items. That’s the thing about Abu Dhabi, and to a greater extent Dubai, some of the main attractions are the shopping malls, which to be fair are impressive. But it gives you an insight into what happens when a modern city springs out of the desert within 50 years.
Here’s what we saw and got up to during our stay in Abu Dhabi:
Located just by Emirates Palace, this cluster of buildings are absolutely stunning. If you want a snapshot of what beauty can be found in modern high-rise architecture, then this is it. Designed by Australian architects, you can stay in one of the luxurious hotels, dine in a fine restaurant, go shopping or live there in the residential area. We spent a few hours one night in Ray’s Bar up on the 62nd floor, and while the drinks were a bit expensive, the views were incredible. Located on Level 74 of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers is the Observation Deck at 300, the highest vantage point in Abu Dhabi.. We didn’t do it as the entrance fee is AED 75 each (approx. $AU20), and our budget doesn’t stretch that far, but apparently the views of the city and Arabian Gulf are stunning.
This is the main stretch of water in Abu Dhabi featuring predominantly public beach, and stretches 6km from Etihad Towers almost all the way down to the main port. It’s a beautiful beach overlooking Marina Mall and the world’s tallest flagpole, standing at 123 metres. You can hire bikes that look more like go-karts and ride along the walkways and running tracks that stretch down this long stretch of coastline. At night, when the temperatures drop, you’ll find a lot of people make their way here for a swim or just to relax by the water.
HEAD TO THE FISH MARKET FOR A FEED
Down at Port Zayed you’ll find the Meena Fish Market where fisherman bring their catch and sell to the public from the early hours of the morning until late in the evening. We went down and picked up a few fresh bream and squid straight off the boat, before the waiting fish cleaners took our catch away to gut, slice and scale for us. Then with our bag full of prepped fish, we headed to one of the restaurants by the water who cooked up our fish just the way we wanted it with a serving of salad and rice. It didn’t cost a lot – fish: AED 50 (approx. $AU14); cleaning: AED 10 AED (approx. $AU3); cooking with side dishes: AED 60 (approx. $AU17). All up an absolutely delicious meal, and great experience, for about $AU35 which fed three adults and Jack easily. Money well spent!
WENT IN SEARCH OF AWESOME ICE-CREAM
What better way to spend a day trying to beat the Abu Dhabi heat than find the best ice-cream in town. We did our research and checked out four places that serves absolutely delicious ice-cream. I don’t recommend doing this all in one day like we did, because at the end you can literally feel the sugar floating around your body and into your brain. But if you’re here, and you need some heat relief, check out where we went (and some other places we didn’t go), by clicking HERE.
SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
Without doubt one of the world’s most impressive buildings. We’ve only just visited the Taj Mahal in India, and we were enchanted by the beauty of India’s most famous landmark, but the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is just as beautiful, if not better, and the interior is lightyears ahead. We had our issues with security while we were there with Sarah’s clothing not acceptable and getting told off for putting my arm around her, but apart from the fun police getting involved it was easily the best thing we did while in Abu Dhabi. You can read all about our visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque HERE.
There are plenty of things you can do on Yas Island if you’re willing to spend the money. We drove around but didn’t do much else, however with attractions like Ferrari World, Yas Marina Circuit and Yas Waterworld, you could literally spend a few days here and not go into Abu Dhabi city centre at all. In fact, there are plenty of hotels on Yas Island to do just that! The world’s largest indoor theme park is at Ferrari World, along with the world’s fastest roller coaster that hits speeds in excess of 200km/hr. It’s a great place for the boys (young and old) to spend the day. Yas Waterworld is a full blown mega-waterpark, with 43 different water rides to test out which will take at least a day or two to try them all! Yas Marina Circuit is the official home of the UAE Formula 1 Grand Prix, and every Tuesday evening you can ride your bike, run, or simply take a stroll around the track with your family, FREE of charge!
SPENT A DAY AT A HOTEL SWIMMING POOL
Another way to beat the heat is to head to one of the many, many swimming pools at the hotels dotted around the city. We ended up at the Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana, a beautiful hotel located opposite Emirates Palace, next to the Etihad Towers complex. It’s not cheap, we paid about AED 250 (approx. $AU70) for Sarah and I (Jack was free), and that’s only because we had a Groupon certificate. We made the most of it, arriving early in the day and staying until it was dark, and we took food with us to save on paying, because when you purchase from a hotel, they add service tax and tourist tax on top, plus a tip is expected as well.
The second most expensive hotel ever built (behind the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore), the Emirates Palace Hotel cost AED 11.02 billion (approx. $AU3.15 billion) to build and is a great place to see how the other half live. It’s situated on a prime piece of land with 100 metres of private white beach. It’s also the official guest palace of the UAE government, with 22-three bedroom suites available for heads of state, while the top floor is reserved for exclusive use by UAE royal families. If you fancy staying the night, rooms start at around $US6,000 up to about $US12,300 per night. Alternatively you can just do what we did and go for a walk around inside. One fascinating aspect is a particular ATM inside the hotel that dispenses gold instead of cash!
For a look into how future cities may function, head out to Masdar City. While it’s only in its infancy, it is the world’s most eco-friendly sustainable city. It seems strange that an oil obsessed nation like the UAE wants to build a city that doesn’t require any fossil fuels to function, but they’re clever cookies here. They clearly know the oil bonanza isn’t going to last forever, so they are getting ahead of the game to be world leaders in renewable energy and eco-technologies. The city as it stands at the moment is pretty ugly, but the scale model in the entrance foyer looks awesome and a trip underground in the driverless electric pod cars is great fun. To read all about our visit to Masdar City, click HERE.
There’s plenty of other things to do and see here in Abu Dhabi. There’s great golf courses, a first class race track for all horse racing enthusiasts, and plenty of shows and events to suit everyone’s taste. Plus we did other things that come with the territory here like dine at quality restaurants in shopping malls, have a mocktail at one of the five-star hotels, and let Jack have a run around in the impressive parks, including the splash park on the Corniche that’s FREE of charge.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Abu Dhabi, but will we be back again? Probably not. We had a chance to settle here for 12 months as I was offered a job teaching at a school in Dubai (click HERE to read how easy it is to get teaching work in the UAE), but at the end of the day it’s not for us. It’s extremely hot for 7-8 months of the year, with the only respite during winter, and it’s a place where malls are the place to hang out rather than city squares and parks. But if you’ve got money to spend and want to make a bit of cash as well, then this could be the place for you.
Click the link below to see a photo gallery of our stay here…