The time when Abu Dhabi was in the shadow of Dubai has passed away. The Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf is considered a futuristic mosaic of cultures, sophisticated experiences, towering skyscrapers, impressive buildings and endless deserts.
A few words about the city
Abu Dhabi is the capital and second largest city of the United Arab Emirates, after Dubai. The town extends along a long coastal islet in the Persian Gulf, which is surrounded by other smaller islands and inlets. The etymology of Abu Dhabi's name is relatively unclear, although there are several theories surrounding it. The most prevalent one is that the name comes from the presence of many deer in the region, which are called "Dhabi" in Arabic. The population of the city exceeds 945,268 inhabitants, while the area of the metropolitan area is 67,340 square km. Abu Dhabi has one of the largest per capita incomes in the world and is considered the third most expensive city in the region and the 26th in the world. It is a center of political, industrial, cultural and commercial activities and produces 15% of the country'S GDP! The city is also home to the local stock exchange, the Central Bank of the UAE, as well as many multinational companies such as the Arab airline Etihad. Ultimately, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is one of the largest oil producers in the world, but at the same time its economy is multidimensional, with the development of financial services and tourism! So I will try to introduce you to Abu Dhabi through my own eyes and share with you what I think anyone who visits it for the first time should see.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates and the eighth largest in the world. It is undoubtedly the most significant attraction of the city, which attracts many tourists from all over the world, who rush to admire it. The founder and visionary was the country's first president Zeid bin Sultan Al Nayan, who envisioned the creation of a welcoming and cultural haven, inspiring people from every background. In fact, the sheikh is buried on the left side of the mosque. It is a relatively new construction, having opened its gates only in 2007 and is inspired by the Badshahi Mosque, located in Lahore, Pakistan. It has a central prayer hall and two other rooms adjacent to it, with one having been configured for the exclusive use of women! To understand its size, it is enough to consider that it can accommodate up to 40,000 believers! It also has four minarets at the four corners of the mosque, which reach 106 meters high and a total of 57 domes covering the areas of the outer courtyard and the main building, made of all-white marble. Its interior is decorated with unique treasures, such as gilded columns, impressive chandeliers with Swarovski crystals and the largest carpet in the world, measuring 5,627 meters, consisting of 2,268,000,000 knots! The courtyard, forbidden to step on, is paved with colorful mosaic works of art, made of marble and covers about 17,000 square meters! The mosque is visitable and admission is free, but you must have filled out a form online in advance to get a special barcode. Finally, you must be dressed according to the protocols, otherwise you will not be allowed in!
Corniche Avenue runs along the northwest coast of Abu Dhabi for about eight kilometres. It starts at the Sheraton Hotel and goes all the way to the Hilton Hotel. It is a glorious place, which includes parks, fountains, play areas for children, separate cycle paths and walkways, cafes and restaurants and the stunning Corniche Beach. It is the main beach of the city, which is two kilometers long and divided into three sections. The first is called Al Sahil and is considered an ideal place for young people and large groups, the second section is ideal for families and has its own quiet zone, while the third section is also suitable for families and children. The beach has been awarded many times with the coveted blue flag, while it will impress you with its turquoise waters and soft white sand. Finally, Corniche is considered the perfect place to see the sunset, overlooking the picturesque Persian Gulf.
Apart from endless opulence, towering skyscrapers, impressive buildings and huge bridges, Abu Dhabi also has traditional corners. The best place to experience the traditional way of life of the Bedouins and other cultures of the desert region is the Heritage Village. It is located in the center of the city, on an area of 1600 square meters and looks like a time capsule, featuring brick houses, an old bazaar, a mosque and a camp, which present life in the country before it became what we see today. We are essentially talking about a living museum, where one can ride a camel, watch artisans make glass vessels and women weave traditional clothes. Also, be sure to visit the village's small spice shop, which offers an array of dried herbs, handmade soaps and plenty of souvenirs to take home to family and friends. Finally, an important incentive for a visit to the Cultural Heritage Village is the magnificent view towards the Persian Gulf. Entrance to the village is free.
Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental
The Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental is more than just a luxury hotel. It is a palace, spread over 100 hectares and is plucked from the traditional Arabic fairy tales. It is considered one of the major attractions in Abu Dhabi and this is due to its architecture and magnificence. It has 114 domes, with the central dome of the palace reaching 72.6 meters above the ground and is meticulously constructed with gold, pearl and crystals! The building also boasts 1,002 chandeliers, a private beach, stunning swimming pools, a private marina and natural bay, a beautiful spa and dining areas. During the day, the golden exterior of the palace contrasts with the lush green landscape, silver fountains and clear blue sky. And at night, the hotel's lighting subtly changes, with an ethereal rainbow effect appearing on the main dome. The truth is that a night in this five-star hotel costs more than 500e, nevertheless it is worth visiting just to see it up close.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Yes, you read that right; Abu Dhabi also has its Louvre (Louvre Abu Dhabi). It is the first global museum in the Arab world, which aims to cultivate the spirit of diversity and unity among cultures. It is located on the natural island of Saadiyat and covers an area of 9,200 square meters. Most of the exhibits in this particular museum are on loan from famous art venues from around the world, such as the Louvre in Paris, Musée d'Orsay, Center Pompidou, and many more. Apart from the hundreds of remarkable works of art it houses, the building is an attraction in itself. This architectural masterpiece was designed by award-winning architect Jean Nouvel and is inspired by the architectural traditions of the region, with the architect playing with the elements of nature and more specifically light and water. The hallmark of the building is its impressive silver dome, which defies gravity, since it weighs approximately 7,500 tons (!), as much as the Eiffel Tower in Paris! Ever since this iconic museum opened its doors in Abu Dhabi, the city's art scene has risen on a global scale, instilling a strong sense of pride in locals and residents alike. Entrance to the museum costs 60 dirhams, which is about 15.5e.
Qasr Al Watan- Qasr al-Hosn
Qasr Al Watan is the Presidential Palace of the United Arab Emirates, located in Abu Dhabi. The construction of the palace was completed in 2017 and opened to the public two years later. It is a grand cultural landmark, inviting you to discover the rich heritage of knowledge and tradition, as well as enhancing the cultural understanding of the nation and highlighting its incredible history. Architecturally speaking, it features an impressive facade of white granite and limestone, while the main palace is elaborately designed and masterfully decorated. It includes a dome with a diameter of 37 meters, a chandelier with 350,000 pieces of crystal and a considerable number of compartments. Furthermore, the dome is located at the top of the central chamber known as "the Great Hall", which is surrounded by two wings to the East and West. The East Wing has the "House of knowledge", where numerous artifacts and other important objects are kept. On the other hand, the West Wing has halls used for official purposes. There, there is also a room known as the "spirit of cooperation", where meetings of the UAE Cabinet and Federal Supreme Council will be hosted. Entrance to the Presidential Palace costs 65 dirhams, which is about 17e.
On the other hand, Qasr al-Hosn is the oldest stone building in the city! Also known as the White Fort, it was constructed in the 1790s and was once the home of the ruling family. Its original use was a conical observatory, to defend the only fresh water well on the island of Abu Dhabi! The building also housed the National Advisory Council, established by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the UAE. It was converted into a museum in 2018 after a decade of intensive maintenance and very delicate restoration work. Entering the palace grounds, the first iconic buildings you will see are the Inner Fort, built in 1795, and the Outer Palace, built between 1939 and 45. There you will get a sense of the history of the UAE capital, looking at artifacts and archival material from 6,000 years ago! Of particular interest is the Qasr al-Hosn Festival, which is organized every year within its walls and lasts 11 days. Entrance to the palace costs 30 dirhams, which is about 8e.
If you are fans of Formula 1 and more specifically Ferrari, then this particular theme park will fascinate you. Ferrari World is located on Yas Island and is the company's first park of its kind. There you will experience many unique experiences, such as taking a ride on the world's highest roller coaster, which reaches 63 meters at an angle of 51 degrees! You will also be able to enter a simulator to feel what it is like to accelerate from 0 to 240 km/h in just 4.9 seconds, change tires as a Ferrari pit stop crew and feel the unique power of an epic crash zero gravity. Plus, in the park there are simulators from tracks from all over the world, electric go-karts and halls that show historical races. Finally, if you're brave enough there's the option to climb the park's impressive red roof and admire the Abu Dhabi skyline from above. Entrance to the Ferrari Park costs 345 dirhams, which is about 90e and it is advisable to book them in advance online!
Of course, a trip to the United Arab Emirates is not complete without a visit to a shopping center (mall). In the city there are dozens of shopping centers, which play a large part in the social culture of the town and the country in general. We are not just talking about concentrated stores where you go to shop, but about a place that can fulfill your every desire. In addition to luxury brand shops, you will find restaurants, cafes, cinemas, museums, amusement parks, spas, gyms and much, much more. The top ten of them are first Khalidiyah Mall, which I would describe as a modern bazaar, and Marina Mall, which is considered the most popular in the city. Equally interesting are My City Center Masdar Mall, Al Jimi Mall, Mall at World Trade Centre, Al Wahda Mall, Abu Dhabi Mall, Yas Mall, Mall Galleria Al Maryah Island and Dalma Mall.
Al Jahili Fort
Al Jahili Fort is one of the largest forts in the United Arab Emirates, dating back to the late 19th century. It was erected by Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, also known as Zayed the first (1855-1909), both as a symbol of power and as his royal summer residence. The original fort consisted of a square enclosure and a characteristic four-story circular tower. Of course, this has changed over the years, with the end result being what we see today. The Al-Jahili Fort is located about an hour and a half away from Abu Dhabi, in the green city of Al Ain and was a focus of activities related to Abu Dhabi's philosophy, culture and heritage. The fact that it was built of sun-dried mud bricks necessitated restoration work, with the first of these being carried out in 1985! This was followed by a major restoration project by the Abu Dhabi Ministry of Culture and tourism between 2007 and 2008. The fortress is surrounded by a green park and has received the prestigious Terra award in 2016 for its interior design and layout. It has now been transformed into a cultural centre and tourist attraction, housing a gallery of temporary exhibitions, as well as a permanent exhibition dedicated to Sir Wilfred Teziger. This is an intrepid explorer, travel writer and photographer who, with his companions in the Emirates and Oman, traversed the world's largest mass of sand, the Empty Quarter (Rub' al Khali), twice in the 1940s. Finally, close enough you can see the historic Jahili Mosque, built around the same time as the fortress. Entrance to the fortress and mosque is free!
How to go
At the moment, Thessaloniki is not directly connected by air to Abu Dhabi. But there are direct flights of many companies via Athens! With proper planning one can find tickets starting from €180 round trip, with a combination of SKY express and Wizzair flights!
Where to stay
Although Abu Dhabi is considered a luxury and expensive destination, accommodation prices are perfectly normal. Of course, there are options for all tastes and all budgets, but in general you will not have trouble finding somewhere to stay. The proposals I have to make are two. If you plan to stay a while in the city and want something relatively close to the airport and the mosque, then you should choose the Millennium Al Rawdah Hotel. It is a wonderful five star hotel, which offers everything the visitor may need. If on the other hand you are looking for something in the center, then I recommend Ramada by Wyndham Abu Dhabi Downtown. It is very close to the commercial center of the city and has clean, spacious and fully decorated rooms.
How to move
The heat in Abu Dhabi is unbearable almost all year round, so you don't see many people walking outside. Local transport and taxis will become your best friend. The city has public buses, which run all the lengths and widths of the city, fully air-conditioned, as well as the stops on the road! Of course, it is a means that is not used much, as most locals have a car, while tourists prefer taxis. Taxis are relatively cheap and can be found everywhere in the urban area. They all have a taximeter, and you can also pay with a card. Finally, a good solution is to rent your own car, which can be somewhat expensive, but in the country gasoline is very cheap and in the end I think it is advantageous.
What to eat
Emirati cuisine is considered multicultural. It shares similarities with cuisines from neighboring countries, such as Omani and Saudi cuisine, and has influences from various Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines. Meat, fish and rice are the staple foods of the locals. Lamb and mutton are the most favorite meats, while, of course, pork is not consumed because of religion. The country's trademark is dates, usually eaten after every meal. As for drinks, the most popular are coffee and tea, to which cardamom, saffron or mint are added to give them a distinct flavor. Some of the most famous dishes of the country are Khuzi (lamb with rice, garnished with nuts, raisins and vegetables), Al Machboos (various types of meat or seafood with rice, onions, vegetables, spices and lemon), Al Harees (porridge from wheat and various types of meat), the famous Shawarma (resembling our own pitogyro), Mammar (fish with spices), stuffed camel (!), Balaleet (sweet-savory dish with vermicelli with sugar, nuts, saffron, rose water, cardamom, cinnamon, pistachios and topped with scrambled eggs) and finally Mahalabiya (pudding flavored with rose water and sprinkled with pistachios).
In Abu Dhabi we travel with a Passport valid for at least 6 months. You do not need a Visa to enter the country.
In the United Arab Emirates the language used is, of course, Arabic and more specifically Gulf Arabic. For tourist reasons, most people know English, while everyone is willing to help if they know it.
The country's currency is the United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED) and its current exchange rate is €1 = AED 3.89.
I suggest you change your money into a bank within the city, where they keep the smallest commission, and not into exchange markets! However, the card is used everywhere, even in taxis, so you can not even change money.
For your journey to and from Abu Dhabi airport, I suggest you choose a taxi, since the prices are particularly low. Also, there are public buses, more specifically the A10, A19, A20, and A40, which, however, are rarely used!
The Embassy of Greece in Abu Dhabi is located at Villa 1, 6-14 Ghbaynah Str., Al Bateen and its telephone number is +971 (0) 2449250.
The best time to go to Abu Dhabi is either autumn or winter when the temperatures are at normal levels.
Recommended excursions → Dubai, Al-Ain