Abu Dhabi is fast becoming a fascinating cultural capital, the upmarket answer to nearby Dubai. A beautiful All Inclusive beach destination and an action-packed place to take the kids, it’s also a gateway to the desert: the enigmatically named ‘Empty Quarter’.
The capital of the United Arab Emirates is a modern wonder. A town founded on pearl-diving, it’s now a city made rich from oil. The landscape is a blank canvas: manmade islands sculpt the coast and the horizon is carved up by inspirational skyscrapers. Visit giant mosques and water parks and a hotel in a new £2 billion palace. In a land built from riches: oil, gold, pearls, jewels and oud, book flights to Abu Dhabi and you’ll find that the most precious experiences you’ll have will be those that move you: contemplating the huge, mosaic-clad mosque, and finding yourself humbled by the famous Arabian hospitality.
Tourists and locals alike are drawn to the Corniche, a long crescent of waterfront perfect for promenading. With cycle tracks, parks and fountains, it’s a well-kept, popular meeting place. Enjoy the view of a high-tech city across the water whilst dhows cross the bay. The Blue Flag beach is divided into zones for groups and families. Nearby, the Marina Mall is a popular hangout, out of the sun. It even has its own indoor clouds… just because.
Saadiyat Island, or the ‘Island of Happiness’, still under construction, is already the place for high-end resort life. Go for a day trip to the pristine beach on a protected coast. The nine hotels here enjoy the Saadiyat Beach Golf course and club. Stay at the St Regis Saadiyat Island hotel or Park Hyatt. On the cultural horizon, an ambitious new Louvre art gallery is in the offing and the island plans to house a significant culture centre to sit within its already beautiful and privileged location.
Yas Island is the last word in entertainment in Abu Dhabi. With two theme parks and a race track, it’s an island devoted to wild rides and fast living. The Marina Circuit proves Abu Dhabi’s motorsport reputation is as good as their word: you can go-kart or try out something a little more powerful. Else, the Ferrari Rosso rollercoaster at Ferrari World is the fastest ever built. At Yas Waterworld, don your swimsuit and take the Jebel Drop - a waterslide where you’ll experience freefall speeds.
Get away from the city and experience the Liwa Oasis region in the south of the UAE, known enigmatically as the ‘Empty Quarter’. The desert of the interior is a place to experience true peace. Off-roading on the large Moreeb dune is done by many, but the drive there, through an amphitheatre of silent sand, is as good as the destination. Organise ballooning or dune bashing, making the desert your playground sandpit. Stay at the Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort.
A civilised retreat, the Al Ain oasis is part of a garden city, an old settlement grown on an impressive underground cache of water. The gardens are full of shady palms, thanks to the falaj, a centuries-old irrigation system. The old fort is full of history, too. Indeed, in this sanctuary from the hostile desert, there’s evidence of settlers from nearly 4,000 years ago. Traditional stalls and a camel market bring you a step closer to discovering authentic Arabian culture.