It maybe is “the most wonderful time of the year” but often is the time when you start missing summer the most if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. This is why Abu Dhabi is the best city trip destination, if you’re looking for some sun and good food, all sprinkled with a ‘wow’ factor. The UAE’s capital maybe less cosmopolitan than its neighbour Dubai, but it certainly has got a lot going on for it. Every November, car enthusiasts and party goers gather on the island for the AD Formula 1, while since the 11th November art aficionados can’t get enough of the newly inaugurated Louvre Abu Dhabi.
To me, Abu Dhabi was a very pleasant surprise. After spending a few days in Dubai for work, I headed to Abu Dhabi to spend a long weekend with one of my dearest friends, whom I had neglected to visit. While I initially thought I’d find a soulless city with not that much to do, I got totally hooked on Abu Dhabi’s vibe. More relaxed that Dubai, even in a country as young as the UAE, I found Abu Dhabi had a story to tell. A purpose that extended maybe a bit further from corporate ambitions. Locals are always keen to explain the UAE’s vision to become a link between East and West; while in Dubai one feels this only extends to business, Abu Dhabi seems to want to do more, especially in the arts and sports arena. One has to wonder though what will happen should oil reserves run out, given the majority of sectors and activities are either directly or indirectly linked to oil revenues. But we’ll leave the Sheikh to worry about that for now… As a visitor, what really made a difference was the easy access to the sea. Abu Dhabi is built on multiple islands and access to the beach is easier than one would think. However, as my friend explained all islands have a different character. Reem island is home to all financial institutions and some of the best restaurants, Yass island hosts the Formula one, as well as a Universal Studios theme park and some of the city’s best clubs, Saadiyat is “home of the arts” with the Louvre and the NYU campus, while the main island is filled with the local hustle and bustle. After spending an afternoon walking on a beach where sea turtles come to hatch their eggs, being mind blown by the Louvre’s aesthetics, dining with an amazing urban landscape view in the backdrop and dancing my night away in an outdoor club, I can safely say: Abu Dhabi I’ll be back.
- Sheikh Zayed Mosque – completed in 2007, the mosque is one of Abu Dhabi’s most majestic buildings. It is testament to the ambition of its founder and reflects the UAE’s efforts to link muslims traditions with modernity
- Louvre AD – from is sumptuous architecture to its selective collection the newly inaugurated museum is in my opinion the best museum I have been to. It tells the story of the world in a non-linear way, making a good case for the benefits of globalisation
- Islet boat hoping – small islets are sprinkled around Abu Dhabi (some are visible from the corniche). Spend an afternoon diving around and exploring these natural oases
- Every year, the Formula one weekend attracts famous artists and car aficionados. The whole city is buzzing with parties and concerts in the sidelines of the main race. Not to be missed
- Beach at Saadiyat – watch the sunset from the beach at Saadiyat Island. The sand is fine and water is warm, making you reminisce of summer. If you want to spend the afternoon the Saadiyat club is a good place to go and relax
- Golfing – if you’re into golf, Abu Dhabi has some amazing course. Especially in November and December as the weather cools down, a game of golf can be a good activity
- Desert ride – you may be surrounded by water, but don’t forget that the desert is never very far. Rent a 4×4 and go ride on the dunes; it’ll be an experience you’ll never forget
- Emirates Palace Hotel – from its private beach to breathtaking views, this historic hotel is where you want to stay if you want some old school bling
- Yas Viceroy – centrepiece of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, this modern hotel is in the middle of the Formula one track
- St. Regis Saadiyat Island – if you want to be closer to the Louvre, yet a ten minute car ride from Reem island or the city centre, the St. Regis is for you. Great brunch spot over the weekend as well
Beachfront at the Emirates Palace Hotel
- Tasha’s – a cosy breakfast spot with a beautiful terrace and fresh food
- Zuma – one of my favourite sushi restaurants. Good place to combine fine dining with a bit of partying
- Nolus – this cosy cafe provides an Afghani take on healthy eating. Our review here.
- Eat Greek – even though I’m very picky about eating Greek food abroad, this restaurant lives up to very demanding expectations
- BU! – Argentinian restaurant with an amazing outdoor terrace, perfect for dining al fresco
- Tamba – dimmed lights and metallic design details really elevate the indian inspired experience.
- ShoCho – on Friday night this is the place to be if you’re into oldies music and sushi (unlikely combination but it works!)
- Almayass – if you’re looking for arab food, their cherry kebab will not disappoint you
- Nusret – the quality of the meat makes it worth the hype. However, be mindful, it’s on the (bloody) expensive side
Iris, Abu Dhabi
Tasha, Abu Dhabi
Zuma, Abu Dhabi Party
- Mad – indoor club hosting some of Abu Dhabi’s most notorious parties
- Iris – outdoor club with a view of the Yass marina
- Asia de Cuba – the place to go for good drinks by the beach