The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is the proud holder of many a world record, from the Burj Khalifa’s gleaming spire in Dubai still holding title as the world’s tallest building, to the Ferrari-themed Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi, the world’s fastest roller coaster, it is a nation of firsts that is always raring for a challenge.
What used to be a quiet backwater is now the beating heart of the Middle East, welcoming more people than ever and securing a spot on the world tourism map.
The glitzy Dubai is often touted as the tourist city of the UAE, attracting in hordes of international visitors all year round. An impressive skyline of skyscrapers and miles upon miles of shopping pavements make it a major draw for business travelers and tourists with a knack for spending. A recent study also showed it is one of the most attractive cities in the world for expats.
However, to experience the real UAE, the capital city of Abu Dhabi is where you want to be.
Located on a T-shaped island surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf, a mere 147 kilometers from Dubai, Abu Dhabi’s wealth is built from the oil boom. It has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world and is currently the federation’s richest of seven emirates. It is no wonder why it has become a playground for the Gulf’s rich and famous.
Although no less slick and modern than its flashy neighbor, Abu Dhabi seems the more mature cousin in appearance and pace, its streets a seamless blend of progression and tradition. Beyond the walls of glass and steel that crowd its center lies a city steeped in history and culture, and that’s the charming appeal of Abu Dhabi.
The city may be growing at dizzying speeds but has remained firmly rooted to its heritage. Known as the cultural heart of the UAE, its intriguing culture is strongly embedded within Arabia’s Islamic traditions.
From the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, an architectural work of art with a capacity for an astonishing 40,000 worshippers, to the recently opened Louvre Abu Dhabi, a beacon bridging cultures and civilizations through art and history, the city has a bountiful of attractions to offer.
Even as you stroll down The Corniche, a lengthy stretch of beach that sweeps into a cinematic curve on the western side of the main Abu Dhabi island, you are bound to spot an establishment, a building, an activity, the odd thirsty camel, or a face that is sure to pique your curiosity.
Here, it is not uncommon to see fishermen passing the time with card games or to hear their laughter fill the early morning air as you jog along the dhow harbor. For them, each fishing trip to haul in the catch of the day is an adventure, and when the job is done, they simply like to kick back and relax, activities reminiscent of Abu Dhabi’s ancient past as a fishing village.
At midday, as you navigate its busy streets shaded by leafy date palm trees, make a pitstop at one of the many cafes to enjoy an afternoon ritual of traditional tea, a legacy of the UAE’s long-standing trade and cultural relationship with India.
Treat yourself to a refreshing glass of jallab, made from grape molasses, dates, and rose water, sure to cool you off on a hot day. Be sure to pair it with a side of sweet treats or savory bites to complete your afternoon tea experience.
If you have time to spare and souvenirs to buy, try your hand at haggling at one of its many souqs, a traditional open-air marketplace often bursting at seams with color and chatter, an unmistakable trait. Apart from giving you a taste of local life, Abu Dhabi’s souqs offer an eclectic variety of goods such as spices, silks, and perfumes, but also electronic goods, trinkets and bobs, clothing, and household items.
There is no better way to engage with the Gulf culture and observe how traditional business is done.
Abu Dhabi may be a little conservative, but it also has a healthy nightlife and a handful of fancy watering holes. So, when night falls, and the air cools to a soothing, balmy breeze, head out to one of the hidden gem bars in the sprawling city for a tasty happy hour tipple.
And if you would like, enjoy the aromatic shisha, a popular social activity in the Middle East. It is identifiable by its often-colorful pipe and glass bottle set, the trail of smoke it leaves behind, and the faint seductive whiff of fruity goodness in the air.
As you exhale, immerse yourself in the vibe of the mystical Arabian Nights before you retire for the day.
With so much to offer and an abundance of activities to do, it comes as no surprise that Time magazine has named it one of Asia’s greatest places to visit.
But no Abu Dhabi exploration would be complete without the perfect stay. Swanky luxury hotels are aplenty, but our Editor’s pick are Hilton’s properties in Abu Dhabi.
Hilton is dedicated to fulfilling its mission to be the world’s most hospitable company by delivering exceptional experiences – every hotel, every guest, every time.
In Abu Dhabi, Hilton has two great properties to cater to all tastes, Hilton Abu Dhabi and Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi:
Regardless of where your day takes you, this stunning beachside property in the heart of Abu Dhabi has all the trimmings to make you feel like you are on a dreamy island getaway.
Located on the vibrant The Corniche, Hilton Abu Dhabi offers stunning views of the Arabian Gulf and 11,000 square meters of private beach, the perfect base from which to explore Abu Dhabi.
Every one of its stylish rooms and suites is furnished with special touches to make you feel right at home, including flat-screen TVs, plush bathrobes, minibars, and complimentary tea/coffee facilities so you can simply lounge at your leisure. And with WiFi access, you will always stay connected no matter the time of day.
Whether it is work or play, Hilton Abu Dhabi, the recipient of the MENA Award for Best Conference and Convention Centre three years in a row, will assist you in maximizing efficiency with the expertise of its Conference and Events team.
The forward-thinking hotel boasts 14 meetings rooms furnished with state-of-the-art A/V equipment, two ballrooms, and a range of outdoor venues which can host anything from intimate business meetings for 10 to large events for up to 2,000 guests.
In addition to that, not only will Hilton Abu Dhabi’s Conference and Events team be on hand to ensure your event is managed to the highest level of professionalism, its dedicated chefs will also deliver personalized menus that reflect your guests’ tastes – a checklist for success.
The stylish Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi, which occupies a striking contemporary building with a colorful, curving façade, enjoys a great location in the affluent Abu Dhabi commercial district. It is close to the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center and the Zayd Sport City, and the Abu Dhabi International Airport is just a short 20 minutes’ drive away.
Its 281 elegant rooms and suites have been kitted out with a host of amenities including flat-screen TVs and minibars, plus walk-in rainfall showers and high-thread-count sheets to soothe you after a long day. All rooms come with WiFi access, offering comfort and convenience for both relaxation and work.
With a selection of eight meeting rooms including a divisible grand ballroom all fully equipped with the latest A/V equipment at your disposal, Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi is also perfectly equipped for anything from small and intimate business for 10 to large events for up to 700 guests.
Coupled with bespoke planning services right down to the very last detail and personalized menus to suit every palate, Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi has all the resources you need to make your next event a memorable success.
And no perfect stay in Abu Dhabi would be complete without first getting on the perfect flight.
Taking inspiration from its home city to reinvent air travel, Etihad Airways, the flag carrier of the UAE, offers anything and everything to make your flight to the UAE as memorable as your stay.
No matter if you are up front in first class or seated a little further back in the cabin, the airline caters the latest in-flight entertainment systems, the finest dining, and impeccable service to all travelers on board. Because for Etihad, its guests are at the heart of everything it does.
Stretch out in comfort in Etihad Airways’ generously spacious seats as you enjoy its signature travel experiences.
If you are particularly conscious about your food, the airline recently introduced Weqaya, which means “prevention,” a health-focused menu for long-haul and ultra-long-haul flights. Alternatively, a Food and Beverage Manager is ready to guide you through the menu options and recommend accompanying drinks for your meal.
Once you have savored Etihad Airways’ delectable in-flight offerings, climb into the luxurious sleepwear provided, specifically designed for flying.
Thanks to its perfect geographical position, Etihad Airways seamlessly connects you and the rest of the world to Abu Dhabi via a network of over 110 passenger and cargo destinations across six continents, with a young and environmentally friendly fleet of more than 120 aircraft.
True to its mottos, “From Abu Dhabi to the World; The World Is Our Home, You Are Our Guest; Flying Reimagined,” this innovative airline embodies the values of Arabian warmth and hospitality.
Change the way you fly. Get on board with Etihad Airways.
Immerse yourself in the true Gulf culture and invoke all your senses as you discover what makes this otherwise mysterious desert destination one of Asia’s best. You may just find more reasons to keep coming back.