Navigating Abu Dhabi’s Delights with this Comprehensive Guide

Post originally Published February 21, 2024 || Last Updated February 22, 2024

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Navigating Abu Dhabi’s Delights with this Comprehensive Guide

No trip to Abu Dhabi is complete without a visit to the breathtaking Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. As the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates, this Islamic place of worship is nothing short of spectacular. From its blindingly white façade to its ornate interiors, the Grand Mosque showcases astonishing artistry and craftsmanship.

Once you pass through security, pause for a moment to take in the sheer scale of the mosque’s exterior. Spanning over 12 hectares, its design combines influences from Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt along with more contemporary styles. Four 107-meter minarets mark each corner, their heights representing the year the mosque was established.

Walking inside, your eyes will be drawn upward to the world's largest chandelier. This jaw-dropping centerpiece is made up of thousands of Swarovski crystals and gleaming metalwork. Suspended over the center of the main prayer hall, it weighs a staggering nine tons! Along with two smaller chandeliers, it illuminates the room in a soft glow.
The hand-knotted wool carpeting lining the floors adds vibrant pops of color. Traditional geometric and floral motifs are woven throughout. Fun fact: the largest single carpet measures 60,570 square feet! That's larger than five basketball courts.

While roaming the halls, make time to admire the intricate motifs and verses from the Quran etched into the white marble walls. Delicate patterns swirl across columns and arches in a mesmerizing display. The delicate details incorporate semiprecious stones like lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, abalone shell and mother-of-pearl.

Before you leave, join one of the free guided mosque tours for insight into its design. Your guide will point out highlights like the world's largest Quran, handwritten with gold ink. They'll also share interesting facts about the materials used and the master artisans who crafted every inch of the mosque.

What else is in this post?

  1. Navigating Abu Dhabi's Delights with this Comprehensive Guide - Experience the Magnificence of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
  2. Navigating Abu Dhabi's Delights with this Comprehensive Guide - Wander Through the Labyrinth of Old Abu Dhabi
  3. Navigating Abu Dhabi's Delights with this Comprehensive Guide - Marvel at the Falconry Display at the Emirates Palace
  4. Navigating Abu Dhabi's Delights with this Comprehensive Guide - Shop Till You Drop at the Abu Dhabi Mall
  5. Navigating Abu Dhabi's Delights with this Comprehensive Guide - Lounge on the Beach at Corniche Road
  6. Navigating Abu Dhabi's Delights with this Comprehensive Guide - Indulge in Luxury at the Emirates Palace Hotel
  7. Navigating Abu Dhabi's Delights with this Comprehensive Guide - Take in Panoramic Views from the Observation Deck at Etihad Towers
  8. Navigating Abu Dhabi's Delights with this Comprehensive Guide - Explore the Oasis City of Al Ain

Venture beyond the skyscrapers of modern Abu Dhabi to discover the city's historical heart. Wandering through the winding alleyways of Old Abu Dhabi is like stepping into a different era, the past coming alive around every bend. Here lies the city's cultural soul, with its early 20th century architecture and traditional Emirati way of life still intact.

As you stroll through this neighborhood, keep an eye out for details that take you back in time. Spot arched doorways and wind towers jutting above whitewashed buildings. These natural ventilation systems were crucial before the days of air conditioning. Their tapering designs catch even the faintest of breezes to circulate air indoors.

The alleys may seem a bewildering maze at first, but losing your way is part of the fun. Trust your feet to find new secrets down unmarked side paths. Look up to admire ornate window lattices and protruding balconies shading the narrow lanes below. These exterior features give a peek into daily Emirati living, with locals often spotted behind screened facades.

Eventually you'll happen upon the bustling lanes of the souq. This labyrinthine market feels a world apart, transporting you straight to the days when Old Abu Dhabi thrived as a trading hub. Dive in and become swallowed by the commotion of merchants hawking their wares. Baskets stuffed high with fragrant spice pyramids jostle for space beside glittering jewelry. Let the synergistic symphony of sales pitches wash over you as you browse.

Be sure to seek out artisans plying traditional crafts like silverwork and carpentry. Watching skills passed through generations keeps culture and heritage alive. Appreciating their works gives back by supporting community roots. Perhaps you'll be inspired to commission a special souvenir of your own.

An age-old tradition lives on at the luxurious Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi—falconry. Marvel as these spectacular birds of prey take flight during the complimentary displays. Far more than a tourist spectacle, falconry offers a window into the Emirati past and present.

On approach, the outdoor arena's desert backdrop transports you from urban hotel grounds to Dubai's historic expanses. As you take a seat, a myriad of facts about falconry swirl through your mind. How it's been practiced here for centuries. The meticulous training involved. The regal esteem granted to the birds. But nothing prepares you for that first dramatic moment a falcon swoops overhead. Its immense wings cut through the air with astonishing power and speed.
The Falconer first showcases each bird in turn, pointing out identifying features. Their names suit their noble bearing—fighters like "Silver Arrow" and "Excalibur". He handles them with an obvious bond built on trust and routine. They step obediently onto his gloved hand or perch upon his forearm when called.

Yet they are far from tame. The Falconer soon releases one aloft, its tethered line playing out as it climbs towards the sun. Your breath catches watching it climb higher and higher. Then suddenly it folds its wings and dives straight down, tail fanned wide. Mere feet from the ground it unfurls and glides back up. The Falconer's whistles guide it through swooping passes and nimble direction changes. Its aerial acrobatics are nothing short of astounding.
The piece de resistance comes when the Falconer conceals a lure then launches a bird forth. It circles in search before making a beeline for the hidden target in a blur of motion. The strike, when it comes, is fierce and sure. You can't help but let loose a cheer at its success.

For diehard shopaholics, no trip to Abu Dhabi is complete without a full day getting lost in the labyrinth of stores at Abu Dhabi Mall. As the emirate’s largest shopping center, this sprawling complex houses over 200 outlets to satisfy even the most dedicated retail therapy fanatics.

Walking through the doors, the sheer scale is overwhelming. Three floors and over 1 million square feet contain everything you can imagine needing, wanting, or even just dreaming about. Name brands like Burberry, Dior, and Louis Vuitton rub shoulders with local boutiques. Trendy fashion sits alongside more traditional Emirati styles.

Don’t know where to start? Head straight for the expansive luxury wing. Brands like Versace, Valentino, and Kate Spade cluster together to pamper you in high-end heaven. Work your way along display after gleaming display of leather goods, shoes, accessories and top-tier clothing. Keep a close eye out for sales too - with so much competition luxury brands often slash prices to lure customers.

Once your hands are too full of glossy bags, take a break at one of the Mall’s 65 dining options. Choices range from food court grab-and-go to elegant eat-in restaurants. For a local flavor try Lebanese delicacies at Awtar. Their mixed grills paired with fresh hummus and pita are mouthwatering. Or sip a mango juice cocktail on the patio at Jones the Grocer, a popular Australian-style café.

Reenergized, dive back into the retail maze. Let your inner child run free in the enormous toy store on the second floor. Giggles and wide eyes accompany browsing the latest from LEGO, Barbie, and more. Don’t miss out on the life-size dollhouses and ride-on toys either.

Ready for more grown-up fun? The Mall’s dedicated electronics wing boasts every device imaginable. Test drive headphones, play with the newest smartphones, or drool over giant flatscreens. Techies can debate specs and features to their heart’s content without any spouses rolling their eyes.

Before complete retail fatigue sets in, make time for some of Abu Dhabi Mall’s unique touches. An entire section called “Emirati Traditions” spotlights local artists and craftsmen. Watch a Sadu weaver demonstrate Bedouin textile skills passed down generations. Browse stalls piled high with handmade wool carpets in vibrant geometric patterns.

Let the kids run wild at Fun City, an enormous indoor play center with everything from trampolines to electric go-karts. Adults can get in some recreation too at the Olympic-length ice skating rink.

Stretching for 7 kilometers along the Arabian Gulf coastline, Corniche Road in Abu Dhabi is one of the city's playgrounds for relaxing or recreation. On any given afternoon, the promenade is lively with activity as residents unwind along its tranquil shores. The walking and cycling paths draw exercise enthusiasts, friends meet for casual strolls, and families let toddlers burn off steam in the soft sand. Yet for many, the simplest pleasure comes from doing nothing at all.

Countless beachgoers find their seaside happy place simply by planting themselves on a patch of pale sand. Swathes of fluffy towels appear like fleeting communities as the day wears on. Some sit shoulder-to-shoulder in convivial groups, yet others prefer solitary solitude. No matter their choice of company or lack thereof, almost all share the same vacation mentality. Phones lie discarded, books rest unused on laps, and conversations drift wherever the breeze carries them rather than following schedules. The ocean's rhythmic pulses and cries of seabirds become the only soundtrack as minds empty of responsibility.

Spread across 1.3km of private beach fronting the Gulf, the palatial Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi raises luxury hospitality to an opulent art form. Grandiosely heralded as the most expensive hotel ever built, a single night within its splendid crown-topped minarets costs a small fortune. Though such extravagance may seem beyond reach for common travelers, I found an evening spent within its sumptuous domains provides an experience like no other.

Arriving through 17-foot high gates, the true spectacle of Emirates Palace commences with a red carpet welcome and chilled scented towels proffered by doormen in embroidered livery. Though most book long in advance, a single standard room begins from $1,000 upwards. But within lies a private oasis more akin to a lavish estate. Honey-colored marble floors inlayed with mother-of-pearl stretch throughout, warmed by chandeliers dripping with crystal. Thoughtful amenities anticipate every whim, from Bulgari bath products to fresh floral bouquets. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame the private lagoon and dhow-dotted sea beyond.

Dinner that evening commenced with gastronomic adventures at one of the hotel's 25 restaurants. At Al Mahara, a menu of ocean delicacies is prepared tableside by a master chef in a three-story aquarium tank teeming with marine life. Lobsters and fish swim past as mouthwatering creations arrive. Puddings follow in ornate domed platters, crafted works of edible art. With coffees and petits fours, live chamber music played in the dimly-lit cocktail lounge. No detail is spared in fueling the senses in such profligate yet polished surroundings.

For those seeking the ultimate in rejuvenating decadence, indulgence need not end with dinner. The hotel's spa provides 5000sqm of holistic bliss, from therapists trained in ancient healing techniques to a private ladies' hammam. A swimming pool seemingly flows to the horizon, framed by majestic wind towers. Those still restless after dark find entertainment in shows by prestigious artists, or games of chance in an opulent casino eclipsed only by its generosity of spirit.

Perched 276 meters above sea level on the 74th floor of Tower 2, the observation deck at Etihad Towers treats visitors to a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of Abu Dhabi. From this lofty vantage point, the city unfolds before you in all its modern grandeur against the glistening Arabian Gulf beyond. Let your gaze sweep across the skyline, picking out landmarks dotted among the high-rises. Start from the sprawling Emirates Palace Hotel, its gold-topped domes unmistakable even from afar. Next scan across to find Yas Island's unmissable Ferrari World Abu Dhabi theme park with its iconic sleek red roof. Then pan along the Corniche's graceful curve hugging the coastal road below.

Turning inland reveals Abu Dhabi's expanding urban developments. Marvel at the scale of master-planned communities like Al Reem Island's forest of glass towers clustered off the mainland. Watch cars glide along wide boulevards, looking like ants from such a height. Pick out patches of greenery that break up the concrete, oases of palms and gardens.
As the sun dips lower, Abu Dhabi transforms before your eyes. The Observation Deck's ideal west-facing aspect means you're perfectly positioned to soak up mesmerizing sunsets. Warm golden light floods across the skyline silhouetting buildings in dramatic relief. Deepening dusky hues soon give way to inky night as the city lights begin flickering alight. Abu Dhabi takes on an entirely different allure seen under a blanket of stars.
Day or night, don't forget to look straight down through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls too. Spot the intricate patterns of roads and pathways surrounding the Towers. The North Park's symmetrical gardens centered around a fountain offer a pleasing burst of green against the urban backdrop. Let your vision trace along the coast to watch vessels plying the waters offshore.

If gazing at such splendid vistas starts your stomach grumbling, satiate it without sacrificing the views. The Observation Deck's stylish café serves up contemporary fare and hand-crafted coffees. Sip an iced latte on the patio with the tower tops at your feet, a singular experience. Or schedule a visit to coincide with sunset dinner, when the deck transforms into a romantic restaurant. Gazing out at the darkening panorama over expertly plated cuisine makes for an unforgettable evening.

Nestled in Abu Dhabi's Western Region bordering Oman lies the lush oasis city of Al Ain. Often referred to as the "Garden City" for its over 700,000 date palms that line boulevards and sprinkle parklands, the verdant vibe is a stark contrast to neighboring desertscapes. Despite a population surpassing 700,000 today, Al Ain retains a laidback essence echoing its traditional Bedouin roots. Meandering the shaded paths of its botanical gardens and Unesco World Heritage sites provides a glimpse into both its agricultural past and commitment to environmental stewardship for the future.

Any visit to Al Ain commences at the 61-square-kilometer Hili Archaeological Park scattered with ruins encompassing five millennia of human settlement. Walking among crumbling mudbrick fortresses gives shape to how communities evolved to survive the arid climate. Now restored and protecting rare desert flora within, the park fosters an appreciation for adaptability passed down generations. From there, the serenely picturesque Al Ain Oasis gardens spread their emerald charms. Planted during the early 20th century, the oasis provides both a sanctuary from the heat and point of pride in nurturing over 150,000 trees from around the globe. Families stroll leisurely along crescents of citrus and flowering bushes serenaded by birds, a portrait of harmony between nature and civilization.

Nearby also awaits the date-palm studded Al Jahili Fort, where traditional folktales play out nightly against its historic backdrop. Further along winding lanes beyond palms swaying like sentinels, the Al Ain Palace Museum reveals the simple yet sumptuous royal quarters of Sheikh Zayed. His modest tastes and emphasis on education still permeate throughout Al Ain today. And no trip is complete without a stop at the stunning Qasr Al Muwaiji, a nine-domed sandcastle of a structure that stands as a tribute to innovation under pressure. Its architecture defied the desert's attempts to reclaim, sheltering generations with its winding corridors open to the resident Barbary falcons soaring overhead.

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