Abu Dhabi, the capital of
the United Arab Emirates, is a prime example of the “build it and they will
come” strategy that is sweeping across the Arabian Peninsula, from Riyadh to
Dubai. And the strategy appears to be working. The number of nights booked at
Abu Dhabi hotels jumped 25% in the first half of 2013 compared to the same time
in 2012, plus passenger arrivals at Abu Dhabi International Airport and
revenues for national carrier Etihad Airways were both up 13% in the same time
In the last
decade, nearly every global hotel chain has opened four- or five-star hotels in
the central business district or on the Corniche, the city’s glittering waterfront.
In 10 short years, Etihad Airways has grown to operate 1,300
flights a week to 86 destinations around the world. By late 2017 the enormous Midfield Terminal Complex (currently under
construction) will open at Abu Dhabi International Airport, built to handle 20
to 30 million passengers per year. Globally recognised hospitals such as the Cleveland Clinic, and universities such as Paris-Sorbonne and New York University are opening satellite
campuses here, too, helping the local economy diversify from its reliance on
is still very much a work in progress. The master-planned cultural enclave of Saadiyat Island, located about 10km north of the city centre, is currently a beehive of
construction as a flurry of luxury hotels are built and multimillion-dollar outposts
of international museums rise up alongside the Sheikh Zayed National Museum. Architect Jean Nouvel designed the unusual
laced-dome Louvre Abu Dhabi, which will open in 2015. The contemporary,
visually arresting, Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi opens in 2017.
is home to the most expensive hotel ever built – the 11 billion dirham, 394-room
Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2005 at the south
end of the Corniche with its its own marina and helipad. Even if you are not
staying there, visit to enjoy a lavish high tea at Le Café or to gawk at the marble, crystal,
gold and silver.
street is the stunning, sculptural 382-room Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, which opened in late 2011. Guests
rave about the modern rooms, 12 restaurants and bars, dramatic water views,
expansive pool/beach area and the courteous, helpful staff.
new 283-room St Regis Abu Dhabi, opened August 2013, offers the luxury chain’s
famous butler service and has soaring views from its perch between the 33rd
and 50th floors of one of the two Nation Towers office buildings.
inland near the iconic Sheikh Zayed Mosque, is the 447-room, Venetian-inspired
Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, opened March 2013, where the most well-appointed
(and expensive) rooms are located on the 7th floor club level
overlooking the canal. These rooms have access to a stunning, glassed-in Club
Lounge where guests enjoy breakfast and a regularly restocked buffet of snacks
and canapés, plus views over the historic Al Maqtaa Fort.
visually stunning 499-room Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi is situated on the edge of the Yas Marina – with half of it built on land, half over water. The
entire structure, which includes the hotel and 12 dining and lounging venues,
is covered by a gorgeous, curvilinear steel-and-glass canopy that mimics the
look of a fishing net thrown over water. At night, its neon glow can be seen
from all over the city. The hotel is located on the eastern side of town near
the airport and Ferrari World – the largest indoor amusement park in the
not believe your eyes when you see the new 189-room Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi hotel, located in a glass tower
that leans at a record-breaking 18 degrees – more than Italy’s leaning tower of
Pisa. The sleek five-star hotel is part of the Abu
Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, located near the capital’s embassy and government district on the
southern side of the central business district.
dining scene in Abu Dhabi revolves around the big international hotels, each of
which offers multiple restaurants that specialise in cuisine from all corners
of the globe.
But there are
only a few that focus on local Emirati dishes, of which the most popular is Mezlai, tucked into the cavernous Emirates Palace
hotel. Sit indoors or out and sample local seafood specialties such as jasheed (shark braised with tomatoes,
onions, spices and lemon juice) or tender lamb medfoun, which is cooked slowly in a banana leaf and served with
camel-milk mashed potatoes.
celebrate a deal, reserve a table on the water at Pearls & Caviar at the Shangri-La hotel on the
eastern edge of downtown. Stylish and eclectic, the menu includes Mediterranean-inspired
dishes such as grilled sea bass served with sweet potatoes, Sicilian figs and
wild mushrooms. When you have finished eating, head upstairs to the all-white
Pearls Bar which has a live DJ on weekend nights.
For a casually chic
business lunch, check out popular Nahaam, situated poolside at the chic Jumeirah At
Etihad Towers hotel. The diverse international menu ranges from pizza and
salads to sushi, grilled seafood or burgers. Consider packing your bathing suit
as you will likely be tempted to indulge in a post-prandial dip in the pool.
Off the clock
After a day
of meetings or a long flight, join locals during the cooler evening hours on a
stroll along the Corniche, which stretches for 8km along the western edge of
the city. Sometimes it seems as though every resident and visitor has come out
of the nearby hotels and residential towers to take in the sunset, cycle on the
dedicated bike paths, splash in the warm waters of the Persian Gulf (know
locally as the Arabian Gulf) and enjoy the lush gardens. It is especially
popular among locals on Thursdays and Fridays, which are weekend nights in Abu
in the UAE, it is difficult to miss the richly fragrant aroma of oud, an expensive resin harvested from the
agarwood tree that is burned as incense or worn as perfume or cologne. You can purchase
oud as blocks or chips along with a special burner, or buy the distilled oil,
which is popular as a distinctive, long lasting fragrance. Ask for it at local
perfume stores such as YAS perfumes (multiple locations) or Arabian Oud in the Marina Mall.
Don’t do this
In Abu Dhabi you will likely find more traditional adherence
to Islamic customs around dress, gender roles and alcohol consumption than in
Dubai, its flashy neighbour to the north. While Abu Dhabi sees itself as the
protector of traditional Muslim values, Western ways are making inroads in the
capital. It is best to rely on experienced colleagues or hotel concierge staff
for help with cultural nuances around alcohol consumption and dress codes.