Abu Dhabi beckons with its year-round sunshine, classy hotels and thoroughly contemporary lifestyle shining like a beacon of modern luxury in a desert of gold. Infused with international flair yet laden with homegrown cultural encounters, here tradition meets the future with exotic grace. A stopover is the perfect way to enjoy a sneak peak. In as little as 24 hours it is possible to squeeze the essence out of this burgeoning Emirate gem.
Emirates Palace is reputedly the most expensive hotel ever built, and while the breakfast alone can be pricey, it’s worth it for the chance to ogle at the impeccable grandeur on display: boundless swathes of gold, beautiful patterned domes and sweeping marble floors. Of course, the food is top notch too. And when your coffee is served, expect it on a beautiful silver tray complete with a plump date, as per Emirate tradition. Afterwards, marvel at the palace’s 60-metre-high central atrium and the sweep of glistening Swarovski crystal chandeliers; there are 1002 throughout the entire hotel.
Jump in a cab and head to the port of Al Meena, a hive of activity with a number of colourful souks to get lost in. The Al Mina Fruit and Vegetable Souk is always abuzz and offers incredible photo opportunities. The Fish Souk, just across the road, is equally as interesting and the nearby Carpet Souk is a must for beautiful, traditional designs and textiles.
Next stop: the beautiful beaches of the Corniche. Eight kilometres of manicured waterfront and the clear, sparkling waters of the Arabian Gulf make this the perfect spot for pristine views, a stroll along the boardwalk and shimmering sands and if you brought your bathers, a dip too.
The only way to really appreciate the true splendour of this magnificently modern marvel is to get a falcon’s-eye view. That’s where the Le Royal Meridien hotel comes in. One of Abu Dhabi’s most stylish hotels and with a prime location on the Corniche, here you can take a lift to the 25th floor revolving restaurant Stratos, where non-diners are welcome to enjoy 360-degree city panoramas.
Don’t leave the Le Royal Meridien before indulging in lunch. If the revolving views and fancy menu at Stratos seems a little over-the-top, opt for one of the myriad of other notable establishments including the Italian restaurant Amalfi and the sophisticated fare at Market Kitchen. For a more casual meal and snacks, drop into Wheat artisan bakery and bistro or to Cafe Palmier.
Got 48 hours to spare? 48 Hours in Abu Dhabi
Other stopovers. Alternative Stopovers En Route to Europe
En route to your next stop briefly pull in to Qasr al Hosn, the iconic fort featured on the back of the Dh1000 note. It is both the birthplace of Abu Dhabi and the Emirate’s first permanent structure. Inside the free-to-enter Qasr al Hosn Centre, explore fascinating oral testimonies and historic photographs for insight into Emirate heritage and culture.
No visit to Abu Dhabi is complete without witnessing with your own two eyes the grand marble mirages of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is a marvellous masterpiece of modern Islamic architecture and design and one of the few mosques in the UAE that welcomes non-Muslim visitors. At a cost of over $1 billion to construct it is, unsurprisingly, extravagant. There are more than 80 marble domes, over 1000 pillars and four 107-metre-high minarets. It’s also home to the world’s largest carpet and the world’s largest light fitting – an enormous gold-plated Swarovski crystal chandelier that is 15 metres high and 10 metres wide.
To gain entry to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque dress modestly. This means loose-fitting long skirts and trousers, long sleeves and head scarves for women. Abayas are also available at no charge. Also, be sure to take sunglasses – the marble is so white and reflective that on a sunny day it is almost impossible to keep your eyes open.
Abu Dhabi’s appeal isn’t confined to its modern malls, towering skyscrapers and cultural landmarks; this gleaming metropolis hails an extraordinary location on the cusp of not only sweeping shores but also vast stretches of desert punctuated only by limitless rolling dunes. A desert safari is the best way to experience it firsthand. Scale those rolling highs and lows on a 4WD dune bashing drive followed by a traditional desert camp dinner in a replica Bedouin camp complete with camel rides and henna tattoos. This is one experience you won’t soon forget.
End the night back where you started – this time, just across the road from Emirates Palace, at Ray’s Bar at Jumeirah Etihad Towers. If you still have a little fire to burn, that is. Stylishly luxurious and infused with a chic ambiance, this level 62 drinking hole is renowned for its gorgeous cocktails and from that height, unbeatable sparkling city views to end the night on a top note.
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