While you won’t find the tallest building in the world in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates has a unique charm that sets it apart from the hustle and bustle of the more commonly visited emirate of Dubai. Abu Dhabi is an island that corners the Persian Gulf, and is surrounded by almost 200 islands – one of them being Happiness Island. Pristine beaches, a rich cultural heritage, the Middle East’s location of the Louvre, and a beautiful coastline make this emirate a must-see on your next visit to the UAE.
Stop by Lebanese Flower for Lunch
With two locations in Abu Dhabi, the casual restaurant is almost always full of hungry crowds looking for reasonably priced grilled meats, fresh juices, and authentic middle eastern cuisine. While you are deciding on what to order from the meat-heavy menu, snack on the freshly baked pita bread brought hot to your table. Be sure to order the garlic sauce and hummus as a delicious accompaniment to the soft bread. The mixed grilled platter is big enough to feed a small family and comes as a platter of chicken kababs, beef kababs, shish taouk, grilled chicken and grilled veggies. For the veggie lovers, the fattoush salad is one of the best in the city- fresh salad topped with crunchy fried bread and a tangy tamarind-like dressing. If you are in a rush, you can always pull your car up to the restaurant and order freshly prepared juices such as the Fruit Cocktail- basically a meal on its own, filled with various fresh juices and pistachios- delivered right to your car door!
Visit a Stunning Private Island
One whole day could be spent island hopping around the various accessible islands surrounding Abu Dhabi. If you are looking to indulge, there is no better place than the beautiful resort on Zaya Nurai island. The resort boasts a ‘Maldive’ like feel with its turquoise waters, secluded resorts and swings in the ocean. When staying the night may not fit your budget, the island is a short boat ride away from Saadiyat Island, with departures leaving every hour and can be visited for brunch at the hotel, or simply a day at the beach. The island itself is quite small, and is walkable within an hour. There are no cars on the island, and it truly feels like a separate vacation within a vacation. The island has various beachside restaurants and bars, two pools that can be accessed for the day, and a luxurious spa on the resort. Be sure to plan ahead though - the last boat departs back to Abu Dhabi at 11pm!
Challenge Yourself on the Floating Obstacle Course
You don’t need to wander to surrounding islands to enjoy the beach life in Abu Dhabi. A trip to the Corniche (waterfront) in central Abu Dhabi is a beautiful way to enjoy the coastline of the island. The Corniche has an extensive walking and cycling path for visitors to rent bikes, roller blade or stroll, while enjoying the many cafes, ice cream shops and restaurants along the way. The latest addition to the Corniche is the inflatable waterpark, Aqua Fun, which features an obstacle course with slides, monkey bars, bridges, steps and jumps, all in the water, and in the shape of ‘I <3 AD”. The course is open to children and adults, and promises to be a serious workout, even for the athletes out there.
Enjoy Dinner with a View
After challenging yourself on the obstacle course and working up an appetite, head over to Byblos Sur Mer for authentic and delicious Middle Eastern cuisine with a great view. Attached to the Intercontinental Hotel, the Lebanese restaurant is consistently voted as one of the best in the Emirate. The menu caters to all tastes and has a variety of vegetarian and meat dishes, including over 20 vegetarian salads and appetizers, as well as the customer favorites of lamb kebab and lamb chops. Choose to sit on the rooftop terrace and watch the yachts enter the marina as you indulge in Middle Eastern treats and meats.
While Abu Dhabi may not have the same cache as its more popular cousin, Dubai, the emirate has so much to offer the discerning traveler. While we focused on a lot of the beautiful islands, the surrounding desert and dunes are incredible, filled with wildlife, and are a must-see. The Sheikh Zayed Masjid is a stunning piece of architecture that will leave you inspired by its tranquility and beauty. If you are looking for a slightly slower paced alternative to the city life of Dubai, while still enjoying the beauty of an island within a dessert- Abu Dhabi is the perfect option.