One of the wealthiest cities in the world, Abu Dhabi is the capital of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates. Though sometimes overshadowed by neighboring Dubai and its ambitious architectural projects, this city of just under a million has plenty to offer the jet-setting visitor. Towering skyscrapers, numerous parks and green spaces, and extensive public beaches make this slickly modern city an attractive tourist destination.
The UAE has a reputation as one of the most tolerant, cosmopolitan countries in the Middle East, free of much of the ethnic and sectarian strife that plagues the region. Substantial enclaves of Indian, Pakistani, Iranian and Bangladeshi expatriates give Abu Dhabi a distinctly multicultural flavor. The call to prayer issues 5 times a day from the minarets that dot the city, but you’ll also find Christian churches, Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras in close proximity to the mosques (though it’s worth noting there are no synagogues in the country).
Motorsports are very popular in the UAE, with racing events like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Red Bull Air Race World Series commonplace occurrences in the city. Saadiyat Island, currently under development just off the city’s coast, is slated to be Abu Dhabi’s cultural center when completed in 2020. It will hold a variety of museums and other attractions.
Must see: The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the 8th-largest mosque in the world, is the country’s religious center and a spectacular example of modern Islamic architecture. The mosque offers guided tours and is very welcoming to visitors, though tourists are asked to adhere to standards of dress and decorum, since it is an active place of worship for tens of thousands of Muslims.
Lodging: The Yas Viceroy–With its brightly lit, gridded shell visible from miles around, this unique, modern hotel was constructed half on land and half on water. It overlooks the Yas Marina Circuit, host of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Cuisine: Traditional Emirati cuisine commonly features single-pot dishes with saffron, cardamom, turmeric and thyme.
Ground Transportation: Once your private jet lands in Abu Dhabi International Airport, one of the busiest in the UAE, you’ll find that taxis are plentiful. Official taxis are either yellow and white (older) or silver (newer). While cabs are metered, you may be able to negotiate a fare in advance, particularly in an older taxi.
Packing Tips: If you’re traveling during the summer, be prepared to move between sweltering heat outside and well-air-conditioned interiors. Conservative dress is appropriate; women wearing tight or short clothing may receive unwanted attention.
Recommended Books: Dubai native Maha Gargash’s The Sand Fish is the story of a woman living in the 1950s in the area that became the UAE, navigating the expectations her society has set for her.
Currency: The dirham is the local currency. Each dirham is divided into 100 fils.
Calling Code United Arab Emirates: 971
Best Travel Dates: Consider chartering a private jet to the United Arab Emirates during the months of November–April. Those months brings cool weather, making it an ideal time to see the city. The day-night Abu Dhabi Grand Prix generally takes place in October or November.