Everybody knows that getting a handle on the specific areas of the place you’re visiting can make or break a holiday. Where will you find the buzzy restaurants with bar seating and hip playlists? Where will you find the coolest culture, or the best shopping?
If you’re heading to Abu Dhabi, consult our guide for where to go to find what -w and spend your days the UAE capital like a boss.
Downtown Abu Dhabi
If it’s lively street life you’re after: this is the place to hone in on. The area to the east of Sheikh Rashid Street (2nd Street) is rammed full of cafes, shops and restaurants. Lebanese Flower is obsessed over by locals, and there’s always a queue outside their several outposts in the city. It’s worth the wait: rich, lamb shawarmas, pillowy-soft flatbreads and super-sweet, sticky pastries will make this a meal to remember. Once you’ve filled up on a feast, head over to Qasr Al Hosn, a fort and palace that’s said to be the oldest building in the UAE.
Yassss queen: this man-made island is just 25 km squared, but it’s got more fun and entertainment packed into it than a week in Las Vegas. If you’re a petrol-head, pull up to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, where you can put pedal to the metal with the designer Italian cars - or try out the world’s fastest rollercoaster, Formula Rossa. Kids (and big kids) will want to stop by Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi - basically the Disneyland of the UAE - or get splashing at Yas Waterworld, which boasts some of the most technologically advanced waterslides and rides in the world. Finally, see how the other half live and have a gawp at some super-yachts in the Marina, or, kick back and relax with a fresh fruit smoothie on the pristine beach.
This island is the cultural quarter of Abu Dhabi, with a side order of some seriously luxurious living. Of course, the Louvre Abu Dhabi here is the place to check out - it’s the only other outpost of the iconic Parisian gallery in the world. Spend a morning or even a full day here and soak up some the work of some of the greatest artists to ever have lived: Van Gogh, Monet and da Vinci. Translated, Saadiyat means “island of happiness” and we can see why, especially when you stop by Saadiyat public beach. Stunning aquamarine waves lap gently on a bright white beach and dolphins can often be seen off the shore - no wonder the turtles choose this spot as their nesting place in the spring.
This is the main strip of Abu Dhabi, with a five kilometres beautiful stretch of beach, surrounded by modern hotels, restaurants, parks and generally public spaces for visitors to explore. On one side of the boulevard, there’s the high-rise towers and skyscrapers that the city has become famous for and on the other, there’s lush, expansive gardens to enjoy - stop by the family park to the east of the area on a weekend and get stuck into the public barbecuing pit for an alfresco lunch to remember.
Afterwards, hop across to the breakwater opposite the beach and check out the Heritage Village, a step back in time with a little mock village with barasti huts that are set up to show what life before modernisation was like in the area.
All neophiles get ready to go back to the future, as this district was designed to be the world’s first eco-friendly, zero-carbon city. The coolest bit about a trip out here though? A ride in an electric, driverless car. Several PRTs (Personal Rapid Transit vehicles) scoot around, picking up passengers, all controlled by computers and a highly detailed GPS system. For those with more of an interest in design and architecture, a tour round some of the epic buildings - like the Knowledge Centre of The Incubator building - is truly eye-opening.
If you want to weekend like a local, then head to the Eastern Mangroves. Away from the searing heat and the buzziness of downtown, Abu Dhabians love to while away a day here, idly floating along the network of waterways, stopping maybe to snap a picture of some flamingos, kingfishers - and perhaps even a dolphin. Shhhh...this is where city dwellers come for some R&R - you can join them, just don’t tell everybody.