Abu Dhabi: The Cultural Heart of the UAE
Welcome to an exciting city where nothing stands still. Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second most populous city of the UAE (Dubai being the first). It is considered as the hub of tourists and the home of the world’s largest hand-loomed carpet, the fastest roller coaster, the highest high tea, the tower with greatest lean, the largest cluster of cultural buildings of 21st century and much more.
If you are looking to get engaged with Gulf’s culture, this perfect place called Abu Dhabi offers opportunities to understand the UAE’s history through its rich museums, surprising exhibitions and tours. Abu Dhabi also attracts travellers through a range of activities like wedding & honeymoon, golfing, soft adventure, MICE and sports.
The name Abu Dhabi means ‘Father of the Gazelle’ when literally translated from Arabic. It probably referred to the few gazelles that inhabit the emirate. Sometimes it is said that the area had a lot of dhibaa (deer) and an old tale says that there was a man who used to chase dhibaa and was named the ‘father’ of the animals. The name Abu Dhabi was first used more than 300 years ago. The first word of Abu Dhabi is pronounced “Bu” by inhabitants on the city’s western coast. In the eastern part of the city, the pronunciation is “Abu”.
Settlements can be traced back as far as over 5000 years ago and the most significant settlement was those of the Bani Yas Bedoiun tribe in the 16th Century. Under the rule of Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa, Abu Dhabi thoroughly developed through the trading of peals and was later badly hit by the intervention of Japan’s pearl industry and also by global recession in 1930.
Later came the Trucial Coast Development Oil Company (later named as Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company, ADPC in 1962) in 1939 with the British support under the rule of Sheikh Shakhbut.
Sheikh Zayed was known as the ‘Father of the Nation’.
The emirate’s culture is strongly embedded within the Islamic traditions of Arabia, with many mosques scattered around the city amongst the modern architecture. Abu Dhabi consists of many nationalities and cultures. Abu Dhabi is known as the Cultural Heart of the UAE, enthusiastically marketing its cultural and sporting events that represent its past. Sports include camel racing, dhow sailing, and cultural events include Arabic poetry, dances and music.
Many locals dress traditionally, men in their full length shirt-dress (dishdasha) with a white or red checked head dress (gutra), whilst women wear a black abaya – a long black robe and a headscarf (sheyla).
The official national language of Abu Dhabi is Arabic, although English, Hindi and Urdu are also widely spoken in and around the city.
Abu Dhabi has a hot desert climate. Sunny blue skies can be expected throughout the year. The months of June through September are generally extremely hot and humid with maximum temperatures averaging above 38 °C. During this time, sandstorms occur intermittently, in some cases reducing visibility to a few meters.
The cooler season is from November to March, which ranges between moderately hot to cold. This period also sees dense fog on some days. On average, January is the coolest month in the year, while August is the hottest.
The best time to visit Abu Dhabi is between April and May or from September to October. For the best weather — not too hot and not to humid — you’ll want to visit in the wintertime (December through March).
What to do in Abu Dhabi : Top 10 Picks
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: Clad in Macedonian marble, the beautiful and absolutely mammoth Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is Abu Dhabi’s landmark building and by far the most popular sightseeing attraction in the city.
- Mangrove Kayaking Tours: To see a different side of Abu Dhabi’s steel and glass exterior, head into the mangrove forests that still ring the islands along the shore surrounding the city.
- Ferrari World: This branded theme park brings the thrill of Formula One racing to Abu Dhabi and is one of the city’s top things to do for thrill seekers and families alike.
- Boat Tours: For the best views of Abu Dhabi’s glittering skyscrapers, you need to head out onto the water. The views of the high rises are quite spectacular as you drift out from the marina.
- Observation Deck at 300: Abu Dhabi’s answer to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is this observation deck, offering skyline views from the highest point in the city, on the 74th floor of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers hotel.
- Qasr Al-Hosn: Al-Hosn Fort, also known as the Old Fort or the White Fort, is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi and one of its major historical points of interest. The palace was built in 1793 as the residence of the ruling family and the seat of government.
- Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital: The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is a working veterinary hospital for ill and injured falcons, but it also provides guided tours of its facilities for interested visitors.
- Yas Waterworld: If the heat is grinding you down, head to Yas Island to cool off at the waterpark. Yas Waterworld is a mammoth theme park, with waterslides and an inner-tube river ride, as well as the world’s first hydromagnetic tornado water rafting ride; the world’s largest surfable sheet wave; and the Jebel Drop, a free-fall speed water slide.
- Yas Island: Yas Island is one of Abu Dhabi’s top luxury hotel destinations, with stretches of sandy beach that are perfect for spending the day sunbathing on.
- Emirates Park Zoo: If you have little ones in tow, this excellent zoo makes a fun day out, only a short drive from Abu Dhabi. There is a host of animals at the wildlife park, including rare white tigers, giraffes, elephants, a herd of zebras, and a Siberian bear.
Abu Dhabi has numerous dining options and visitors are often bewildered by the sheer volume and diversity of choice across the emirate. Cuisine from around the world mingles in Abu Dhabi with restaurants offering a vibrant and varied mix of international flavours and impressive culinary standards.
Top 5 Must Try Traditional Dishes:
1) Stuffed Camel: Stuffed Camel is one of the very amazing dishes of UAE. It is also mentioned in Guiness Book of World Records as one of the biggest dishes served in this world.
2) Al Harees: Al Harees is a famous dish of UAE with highly exotic taste. It has made up of meat and wheat. It is very simple and elegant dish with very few ingredients but with longer cooking duration.
3) Shawarma: Shawarma is the most eaten food across this country. Even it has also become famous in Asian countries as well. It can be made with lamb or chicken.
4) Al Machboos: It is also a very famous traditional dish of UAE. Important ingredients are rice, meat, onion and dried lemon (Loomy). Other seasoning includes spices and salt.
5) Hummus: It is not actually a dish, rather it is a famous dip made from chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, tahini paste, salt and garlic. It is served with other dishes like Shawarma and pita bread.
Transportation in Abu Dhabi
In 2008, public buses entered the roads of Abu Dhabi. The Department of Public Transportation offers commuters new, modern buses with air-conditioning and access for passengers with disabilities. The buses serve the city of Abu Dhabi with its suburbs, as well as Al Ain and Madinat Zayed.
The fares vary, depending on frequency and distance of travel. Passengers have to purchase a so-called Ojra bus pass before they get on the bus. It is available at the main office of the Abu Dhabi bus station, as well as at Emirates Red Crescent branches. There are four different kinds of bus passes, ranging from weekly to monthly passes, as well as special tickets for students, senior citizens, and people with special needs.
Taking a Taxi in Abu Dhabi
There are six authorized national companies which have the permission to run the new silver taxi models:
- Al Ghazal Transport
- Arabia Taxi
- Cars Taxi
- Emirates Taxis
- National Taxi
- Tawasul Taxi
As of November 2013, taxi vans replaced silver taxis at the airport, slightly increasing the price of a trip from the airport. The fixed starting fee for use of these black Mercedes vans is 25 AED; however, the rate is the same – 1.6 AED per kilometer. All in all, visitors of the airport may pay up to 21 AED extra for their trip.
In the cities of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, passengers can also order pink taxis. These come with a female driver and ensure safe transportation for women and children younger than 10 years of age. They operate for the usual fare.
Long-distance taxis which travel to other emirates are available as well. You will find them at the main bus station at the intersection of Al Muroor and Defense Road. The fare is determined by the meter.
The Best Area to Stay
The best area to stay in Abu Dhabi is the downtown area near the beach. That’s where the main tourist neighbourhood is based. In this area, there are numerous luxurious hotels overlooking the sandy beaches, offering the most awesome vista in Abu Dhabi as well as being home to the best selection of restaurants, pubs, clubs and shopping malls in the city. There are also parks, gardens and a port where you can see fishermen going out and coming in with their catch and there are opportunities for you to have a go on a fishing boat trip.