In the midst of Abu Dhabi’s bustling malls lurk tantalising traces of the city’s traditional culture. Methil Renuka dons her sunglasses for a whirlwind tour of the UAE capital.
1. Grand Mosque
Start at the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, known locally as the Grand Mosque, for an insight into Arab culture. A stunning landmark near Al Maqtaa, at 22,000 sqm it is the third-largest mosque in the world, and can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers. It also houses the mausoleum of HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s first president and founder. The mosque is grand in every sense – look out for a large, exquisite chandelier in the prayer halls and a 5,627-sqm Persian rug. Built of Italian marble, the mosque boasts grand minarets, and domes and columns adorned with thousands of semi-precious stones. Open to all nationalities 9-11.30am Sun-Thurs, but remember to dress appropriately. Visit exploreabudhabi.ae.
2. ADNEC and ice skating
The Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) is a large events facility close to the Grand Mosque. It is at the heart of Capital Centre, an up-and-coming 148,000-sqm business and leisure district that, when complete, will include a Hyatt property (in an iconic, gravity-defying tower) and a 408-unit Starwood Aloft hotel. If you want to do something a little more energetic, then there is afternoon ice skating at Zayed Sports City nearby. A huge complex boasting a football stadium, bowling alley and an ice rink, it’s one of the best places to beat the heat. The ice rink is open daily 10am-10pm and costs Dhs20 (£3) for a skating session of up to two hours. Visit adnec.ae, capitalcentre.ae.
3. Abu Dhabi Mall
The Tourist Club Area is a short drive away and the Abu Dhabi Mall here is one of the emirate’s largest shopping venues, selling top international brands. The glitzy mall is home to more than 220 stores (Kenneth Cole, Massimo Dutti, Tommy Hilfiger, Virgin Megastore and The Body Shop, to name but a few), as well as a multiplex and scores of cafés. Abu Dhabi Mall (open 10am-10pm) is attached to the five-star Beach Rotana, a busy business hotel with 413 sea-facing rooms and 11 food and beverage outlets. If you are in the mood for some traditional shopping and haggling, the Iranian Souq, a short distance from the mall, is a great option. Visit abudhabi-mall.com, rotana.com.
4. Qasr Al-Hosn and the Cultural Foundation
Next, head to Al Khalidiyah and take some memorable pictures of Qasr Al-Hosn, one of the oldest buildings in Abu Dhabi. Built in the late 18th century as the official palace of the ruling family, it’s known locally as the Old Fort and has a beautiful courtyard with intricately designed details. Located within its grounds is the Cultural Foundation, which highlights the heritage of the emirate and contains the National Library, home to many rare manuscripts. The foundation hosts recitals, cultural shows, film screenings and arts festivals throughout the year. It also includes an exhibition hall, an auditorium and an amphitheatre. Open Sun-Thurs 8am-10pm (Friday 5-8pm and Saturday 9am-9pm).
5. The Corniche
If you don’t want to hit the hotel gym and instead fancy a quick jog at the end of the day, there is no better place than Abu Dhabi’s iconic six-kilometre Corniche, which has undergone massive redevelopment over the last few years and has its fair share of attractive walkways, cycle paths and new parks. In the evenings, this tranquil stretch overlooking a gleaming city of tall towers and modern highways is where many of the city’s residents meet to relax and recharge, making it a great place to hang out and exchange cultural notes.
6. Emirates Palace
Abu Dhabi is in the process of classifying its hotels, but the most extravagant of them all is undoubtedly the 394-room Emirates Palace. Managed by Kempinski, it’s an Arabesque citadel of luxury, boasting 1,002 Swarovski-crystal chandeliers and a grand atrium. The hotel’s Anantara Spa is now offering a Diamond Experience Ritual costing Dhs1,400 (£190), a treatment using real diamond dust to stimulate and soothe the skin. For a Middle Eastern meal, the hotel’s Diwan L’Auberge restaurant offers live oud music and shisha evenings. Visit emiratespalace.com.