“You don’t remember the gifts you are given; you remember the giver and how their love made you feel.” – Toni Sorenson
I flew to Abu Dhabi to surprise my sister. She lived in Dubai and Mum lived in Abu Dhabi (quite the globetrotting family!) so one weekend when she thought she was simply going to visit our Mum, she was greeted at the door by yours truly. So, because of that, I think Abu Dhabi will always hold a special place in my heart. It was such a joyful time. It was definitely the most epic surprise I’ve ever pulled off. We got the whole thing on video which was even better because we could relive the moment over and over and over again. It was the second time I successfully tricked her. I surprised her on her 21st birthday too – I flew home from Nerja for a weekend and just turned up at her 21st dinner party! Unfortunately, we don’t have that on camera or we could compare and contrast the breakdown that follows when these sister-surprises occur! Anyway, moving on from all of that excitement… I would like to share my favourite things to do in Abu Dhabi, having visited the extravagant city twice now.
Sheik Zhayed Grand Mosque
One thing you cannot miss when you visit Abu Dhabi is the Sheik Zhayed Grand Mosque. You physically can’t miss it as you can see it from the highway from the airport to the city but also, it’s definitely a must see. I went once in the middle of the day which was fabulous and we got a tour and the second time I went, we went at sunset. I would definitely recommend going at sunset, you get to see the Mosque in the daylight sun but the you also get to see it with a desert sunset as a backdrop. Its outstanding! I’d also recommend the tour, I think it’s free and they tell you so many astonishing facts about it, like where the materials were sourced and the fact that the carpet inside is the largest carpet in the world! When you arrive you can go downstairs and they will provide you with an abaya and a shayla if you are not dressed appropriately for a Mosque – so no need to worry about covering up too much before you get there.
Emirates Palace is a 5 star hotel in Abu Dhabi which was built to show case the Emirati culture. It is the most exorbitant place I think I have ever been. Everything you see is gold. You can order a gold cappuccino there (cappuccino topped with gold leaf flakes) and there is even a gold ATM where you can withdraw your gold… As you do! It cost $3 billion to build, making it the second most expensive hotel in the world only surpassed by the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore (understandable!) I couldn’t get over the excess while I was there having afternoon tea. It is out of this world. Make sure to dress formally if you go to see it, there are security guards on the gate that won’t let you in if men are wearing shorts or women are wearing skirts above their knees or their shoulders/elbows are showing. Sexy elbows!
Ferrari World is on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi and it is home to the fastest roller coast in the world, the Formula Rossa. It goes from 0 to 240 km/hr in 4.9 seconds. It’s actually faster than a Formula One race car. It was so thrilling – we did it 3 or 4 times. We were also lucky enough to go on a weekday morning, so it was quite quiet and we didn’t have to queue for long at all. But other than the Formula Rossa, there are loads of other things to do in Ferrari World, there are shows, other adrenaline-inducing rides and museum areas where you can learn loads about Formula One. It’s well worth a visit. Ferrari World was also voted the Middle East’s number one tourist attraction. Fancy that!
This one is a little bit obscure but it was a restaurant near my Mum’s apartment and it was where my love of Lebanese food was born. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. It is a very local restaurant where nothing is very fancy but you get an authentic experience. The staff are also the kindest people in the world. And you can be sure that you won’t go home hungry – I left every time with a belly full of hummus and falafel!
Like in Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi boasts a beautiful promenade along the water’s edge where you can see the jaw-dropping skyline of Abu Dhabi and people watch until your heart’s content. It’s also located across from Marina Mall which just one of the ginormous shopping malls you can find in Abu Dhabi. As I’ve previously mentioned, I don’t fancy shopping all that much – but if you do, you can peruse the Corniche and end up in the mall where they have a Paul’s Café and Paul’s Café is always a good idea for their delicious French onion soup. Another cool place to eat near the Corniche is Tiara Revolving Restaurant. As it says on the tin, it is a restaurant that provides a 360 degree view of Abu Dhabi – because the restaurant revolves as you eat. It was an amazing experience.
Last but not least, this isn’t so much a recommendation or one of my favourite places in Abu Dhabi but where I presume would have been my favourite place if it had been fully open when I was there. Saadiyat Island has been dubbed the Cultural District of Abu Dhabi and there you can find the Abu Dhabi Louvre and the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim. I am a huge fan of both the Louvre in Paris and the Guggenheim in Bilbao (I’m yet to go to the Guggenheim‘s in Venice or New York, but all in good time). Both museums had a section open in the front of the buildings with small exhibitions on. However, the Louvre doesn’t officially open until late 2016 and the Guggenheim’s completion date is now expected to be in 2017. So, what I’m trying to say is… if you go to Abu Dhabi in 2017 – let me know what Saadiyat Island is like!
Thank you so much for reading, this is the last Emirate I have to speak about in the UAE series. I will definitely do more posts on Dubai though considering my sister is a fountain of knowledge on all things Dubai (or the UAE for that matter) and I’d love to share some of it with you. If you do go to Abu Dhabi and get to see Saadiyat Island in full swing, I’d love if you could share your stories with me – I’m so disappointed I didn’t get to see it properly – in its prime. You can get in contact with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter of Snapchat (imperfectlyfree) as ever!