Everything I thought I knew about Abu Dhabi turned out to be completely wrong. Well, not entirely everything. Abu Dhabi is scorching hot (weather/temperature-wise) and extremely wealthy (money-wise). Apart from those two things, I didn’t really know any better until I set foot in the city itself and stayed for all of three days with our very gracious hosts, Mamoun and Chemsih.
But let’s back up a little. I was in the UAE sometime in September for a company event in Dubai, followed by a junket trip to this luxurious resort spa called Anantara Desert Islands Resort at Sir Bani Yas island. It being my first trip to the UAE (there were two travels to certain parts of Africa years ago that had me staying at the Dubai Airport for a few hours’ worth of layover, that was it, which hardly qualifies as visit) and knowing for certain that a second visit is probably not going to happen so soon, we planned for Hubby to travel to Abu Dhabi so we can explore the city together, even for just a few days.
Abu Dhabi is ahhh-may-zing! Forget that it’s often referred to as the shy and conservative, plain Jane sister of the more flamboyant Dubai, Abu Dhabi is finally coming to its own and the city is beginning to show more of its innate beauty – and is making no apologies for it! Though we only had two full days, we count ourselves lucky to have been in the great company of our hosts who really took time out of their own schedule to show us around. Merci beaucoup les amis!
And what makes Abu Dhabi special? Here are nine wildly fantastic experiences I will not soon forget:
- Anantara Desert Islands Resort — Anantara Resort and Spa at Sir Bani Yas Island is one of those places that, once experienced, will tease and taunt you for the rest of your life. Knowing that this luxurious resort sits on top of an arid desert makes it even more impressive. Everything about this place is luxurious, beautiful and elegant. I was lucky to have been assigned a room overlooking the gorgeous infinity pool and the incredible turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf. Anantara offers a ton of activities for their guests to choose from and my favourite was the early morning wildlife safari ride where you get to see animals roaming freely on this section of the island. Arabian oryxes, giraffes, cheetahs, different bird species, and horses are only some of the animals we’ve seen during our two-hour safari drive.
- Make a pitstop at Ferrari World — A dream destination for petrolheads and especially, the rabid fans of the prancing horse, Ferrari World is the biggest indoor theme park in the world. Visitors can take their pick from rides, restaurants, shops, and some sort of Ferrari museum which this large establishment houses. Formula Rossa, said to be the world’s fastest roller coaster, is their most popular ride, which sadly, I did not get to experience because I just hate, hate, HATE roller coasters. And I’m pretty sure they hate me right back.
- Go sky-high at Ray’s Bar — Whether or not you consider yourself a party animal, a visit to Ray’s Bar should be on your list when visiting Abu Dhabi. Located at the 62nd floor of the towering Etihad Tower, Ray’s Bar is so stylish and chic that it’s so easy to see why all the beautiful and loaded people love to converge here. With its prime location, Ray’s Bar gives you the best view in Abu Dhabi. Looking down on The Corniche and the Emirates Palace was an exceedingly breathtaking experience for me. I was mesmerised by the pretty lights pulsating from the establishments below, while having a sip of Cabernet.
- Get seriously carnivorous at Chamas — Chamas is not for the fainthearted. For someone like me who only eats fish, chicken, and occasionally pork, the whole experience was both daunting and provocative at the same time. But for those with an insatiable appetite for meat of all types, cuts, and manner of cooking, Chamas will definitely hold a massive appeal. After our big carnivorous meal, accompanied by live salsa band, we headed across to the Yacht Club for our cocktail fix.
- Sun-worshipping at Saadiyat Public Beach — Now ranking high on my list of favourite beaches in the world, Saadiyat captivated me with its beautiful white sand and gorgeous blue water that is almost similar in hue and temperature with Maldives. Despite being a public beach, Saadiyat is kept very clean and you only pay a small fee, if you want to use the umbrella and beach chair. Don’t forget to bring and coat yourself with the strongest sunblock in your arsenal as the sun can get pretty nasty here – and pretty much anywhere in the region.
- High Tea at Shakespeare and Co. — Located at The Collection, right across the luxurious St. Regis Hotel in Saadiyat, Shakespeare & Co. is a great place to hangout at, especially if you are looking to cool-off a bit, after a day spent suntanning at the nearby beach. The restaurant itself has been designed beautifully with very colourful interior and exterior decor; food is great and they come in bigger-than-average portion.
7. Take a stroll at The Corniche — If it weren’t extremely hot outside, I would’ve loved to walk the whole stretch of The Corniche and back. I did, however, manage to walk close to 2kms – just long enough to see a nice section of the beach and some cafés dotting a portion of the shoreline. I saw some runners and cyclists plying the Corniche in the late afternoon on our way back from the Saadiyat Beach, and I‘ve been told that they have some yoga sessions on certain days, so there’s definitely something for every fit Tom, Dick and Harriett.
8. Visit Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque — The first thing that struck me as we were walking along the elegant hallways of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque was the sheer serenity of the place. There is so much beauty and peace inside and outside of the mosque that one can’t help but fall in love with it, regardless of religion. While everything is pristine white outside, the interior of the mosque shows a stark contrast with the cacophony of bright and glittering colours of the gigantic chandeliers incorporating millions of Swarovski crystals. The columns inside the main prayer hall with mother or pearl inlays also look very beautiful. Truly, it’s not called the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque for nothing.
9. Shisha at the Souk — Any trip to the Middle East is incomplete without the shisha experience and we had our fix a few times in Abu Dhabi and Dubai as well. On our last night in Abu Dhabi, our hosts took us to the shisha bar on the rooftop of the downtown souk. Don’t expect much from the view because there isn’t any, save for the buildings surrounding the area, but it’s still a worthwhile experience especially when shared with good people.
What are your best memories of Abu Dhabi?