Amazing Abu Dhabi: Ten things to do in the up-and-coming emirate

Amazing Abu Dhabi: Ten things to do in the underrated emirate


We're always on the lookout for up-and-coming holiday destinations and think Abu Dhabi has the credentials for a sunshine city break without the crowds.

The emirate boasts beautiful untouched beaches, striking skyscrapers and state-of-the-art attractions. It's glamorous and luxurious - but not in a showy way like its neighbour Dubai.

Abu Dhabi is turning itself into a centre for arts and culture with the likes of the Guggenheim and Louvre in construction. But what we love most is that there's something for everyone.

Adventurers can go kayaking in the mangroves, shopaholics will love the unique markets and foodies won't want to miss Friday brunch.

Relaxed and cool while exuberant and wild, the Middle Eastern city is where you can watch the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, reach 150mph on the world's fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World and sip high tea 300 metres above at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers.

Whether you'd like to splash out on a no-expense-spared getaway or enjoy an affordable escape in the sun, we've selected a few of the best things to see and do in Abu Dhabi...

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Amazing Abu Dhabi: Ten things to do in the up-and-coming emirate

Whether you're into haute couture or traditional souvenirs, Abu Dhabi is a shopping haven, with  huge malls and souks. For a unique shopping experience, visit the Date Market and sample a variety of dried dates from across Arabia. There are plump and juicy, chocolate-covered and almond-filled dates among many others to browse and buy. Opposite lies the Iranian Souk with its colourful carpets, beautiful pottery and souvenirs. If you want a truly lavish shopping experience, visit Miraj with its museum-like displays of gold carpets (yes - carpets made of gold!), marble-topped tables and Arabic calligraphy-engraved vases. Here you'll find items fit for a royal - we spotted an intricate Iranian carpet made using real gold, worth a whopping £25k!

Fancy spending a day among fast cars and rollercoasters? Of course you do! At the wonderfully wacky Ferrari World, the whole family can enjoy thrilling rides, theatrical shows and Ferraris galore. The indoor theme park is filled with all things Ferrari and Italian, with rustic family dining options, travels through Italy in a miniature 1958 Ferrari 250 California on the Bell'Italia ride and simulator experiences. Learn all there is to know about the history of the supercar manufacturer on the Made in Maranello tour and get up close to beautiful Ferraris in Galleria Ferrari. Thrill-seekers won't want to miss a ride on Formula Rossa, the world's fastest rollercoaster, which accelerates 240km/h in less than five seconds. Adults AED 225 (£40); children AED 185 (£33).

Brunch is big in the UAE and Fairmont Bab Al Bahr is one of the most favoured spots in Abu Dhabi for the decadent experience. There are 18 different food stations, including a Marco Pierre White Carvery, freshly rolled sushi and a room filled with all kinds of desserts, from pancakes to a chocolate fountain. After indulging in brunch, relax in the hotel's Beach Club, with a poolside Jacuzzi, temperature-controlled swimming pools and two private sandy beaches to choose from. Fridays 12-4pm; from AED 249 (£45).

Built as an iconic landmark in Abu Dhabi, Emirates Palace certainly lives up to its grand promise, offering visitors and guests unrivalled luxury, hospitality at its finest and a truly memorable experience in the emirate. Whether you're checking in to the lavish hotel or dining at one of its fine restaurants, a trip to Abu Dhabi won't be complete without visiting Emirates Palace. The Palace sits within 240 acres of manicured gardens and features 114 domes, 1,002 chandeliers and 394 luxury rooms and suites. Be sure to look up at the main patterned dome, walking across the expansive marble floor beneath it and check out the world's first gold vending machine, which dispenses 1g, 5g and 10g gold bars!

Abu Dhabi is home to modern architecture and skyscrapers but a visit to the Heritage Village will give you a glimpse of the emirate's past and allow you to see how it looked before it became a hub for high-rise hotels and broad boulevards. The open-air museum displays the traditional aspects of desert life, with craftsmen demonstrating skills, such as metal work and pottery, falconry demos and stalls selling everything from pottery to perfumes and leather to spices. Free.

We've seen a few mosques in our time but Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one that truly lives up to its name. The striking white mosque is one of the world's largest, featuring 82 domes, 1,000 columns and 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers. It's where you'll find the world's largest hand-knotted carpet, as well as a massive chandelier weighing 12 tonnes. Visit in the late afternoon in time for the sunset tour, where you will be taken in and around the architectural landmark by a guide. Conservative clothing is recommended, although abayas are provided for women - the perfect opportunity to try on the local dress. Free.

For the most magnificent views over Abu Dhabi head to the 74th level of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers to the Observation Deck at 300 and experience the uninterrupted bird's eye perspective of the city's skyline, the Corniche and Arabian Gulf. Enjoy the 360-degree panoramic vistas in detail with the observation binoculars and when you've taken in the views from the dizzying height of 300 metres, relax in one of the designer leather seats with the city's highest high tea. Entrance AED 75 (£13).

For a decadent day at the beach, look no further than Monte Carlo Beach Club in Saadiyat, offering laidback lounging spaces, excellent Mediterranean dishes at restaurant Le Deck and a spectacular pool flanked by cabanas for lazy days in the sun. The beach club protects its stunning surroundings, preserving the sand dunes that attract nesting hawksbill turtles. For children, there is a kids' club and pool, and adults looking to do more than relax can indulge in spa treatments or work out in the fitness suite. From AED 250 (£44) for a day pass.

Looking for a hotel that's trendy, luxurious and great value for money? Traders Hotel Qaryat Al Beri is a contemporary gem located across from the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and boasting bold decor, open spaces and a fresh ambiance. The rooms are spacious and stylish, there are superb cocktails and lounging at the pool and the hotel has its own private beach. We love the Lobby Lounge, with its cool colours, relaxing atmosphere and stunning glass roof. Double rooms from AED 464 (£77) per room per night.

The sleek and sophisticated Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi offers guests an exciting hotel experience in Abu Dhabi. The luxury architectural landmark is located within the Yas Marina Formula 1 Circuit and its design and contemporary style reflect its fast-speed setting. Watch motor racing as you dine at Arabic restaurant Atayeb, chill out in the blissful spa and soak up the sunshine from the rooftop pool. Deluxe rooms from AED 550 (£100) per night. Read our review of Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi

Believe it or not, oil-rich Abu Dhabi has green credentials and one of the most magnificent ways to see how the city preserves the natural environment is by kayaking through the mangroves. Tour operator Noukhada offers guided paddling tours deep in the heart of the mangroves, where guests can escape the busy city and kayak through beautiful lagoons, narrow channels and under a full canopy of mangroves. Noukhada promotes awareness of the region's vital eco-system while providing a unique adventure for visitors to the emirate. AED 150 (£27).

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