Abu Dhabi

أبو ظبي‎



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An island city in the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and the largest emirate making up the federation of seven. It is the centre of the country's oil industry, and reflects more the serious working side of the UAE, in contrast to the leisure and tourism draws of Dubai. That said, Abu Dhabi itself is building up its reputation as a destination, with a slew of five star hotels, new concert venues, an enormous exhibition centre and the Ferrari World indoor theme park going hand in hand with its slot on the F1 circuit.

My first visit to Abu Dhabi was in 1988, whilst I was living in Dubai. Back then there was very little to encourage hanging around, so it wasn't until moving back to the Middle East in 2010 that Abu Dhabi properly opened up for me. I have now driven down that highway from Dubai many times, whether for concert going, theme parks or just a weekend break, and I always find something new.


Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Mosque is the centrepiece place of worship for the UAE. The only other mosque I have seen which comes close to this granduer is the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.



The proportions and style are akin to India's Taj Mahal, with gleaming white towers and domes. It is free and open for non-muslims to explore outside of prayer time, providing the strict dress code is adhered to.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque concourse


Bright white domes

A cacophony of domes adorn the main prayer hall.



Detail of some of the 82 domes which festoon the mosque, these ones along one of the corridors surrounding the concourse.

Dome detail


White and gold arches

Columns topped with gold leaf support the brilliant white arches, stretching away to the east.



Inside the mosque giant chandeliers inlaid with Swarovski crystals hang over the world's largest Persian carpet which covers the prayer hall, providing space for over 7000 worshippers.

Inside Sheikh Zayed Mosque


Abu Dhabi Marina

Down at the coast of the city proper, the marina area has been recently developed together with a new mall and Corniche. Abu Dhabi was a stopping point on the 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race, the round-the-world yacht race.



The Marina Mall or "Markaz al Marina" is one of a number of Abu Dhabi's mega-malls. The observation tower has a café at the top with sweeping views across the Gulf and over the Corniche.

Markaz al Marina Mall


Emirates Palace Hotel

Not to be outdone by Dubai in the opulent hotel stakes, Abu Dhabi opened the Emirates Palace Hotel in 2005, at the time the world's most expensive hotel to build. I found it to be curiously understated however, at least from the outside, it didn't give off the "look at me" vibe you get from many Dubai hotels.



The hotel's central atrium rises to a dome over 70 metres above the marble floor, and played host in 2010 to the world's most expensive Christmas tree.

Inside Emirates Palace Hotel


Gold leaf in the lobby

The hotel is a symphony in gold and marble, this is a detail of the decoration at one of the cafes. You might even find some real gold decorating your dessert.



The Emirates Palace Hotel naturally sits on its own private beach, over a kilometre of pure white sand lapped by the Persian Gulf. The city's new skyline is emerging in the background.

Emirates Palace Hotel private beach


Etihad Towers

Opposite the Emirates Palace are the Etihad Towers, five glass skyscrapers hosting apartments, offices and a Jumeirah Group hotel. Abu Dhabi's skyline has changed markedly since 2005.



On Yas Island Abu Dhabi has developed its homage to the world of motor racing, with the Yas Marina Circuit Formula One track, and the adjacent Ferrari World theme park. A combination of thrill rides, family attractions and unashamed Ferrari marketing, it is the world's largest indoor theme park, and hosts the world's fastest roller coaster, "Formula Rossa".

Ferrari logo


Ferrari F1 car

Yas Marina Circuit entered the Formula One calendar in 2009 with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, part of the city's grand plan to bring in more tourists and diversify beyond the petroleum industry.



Abu Dhabi has also been spawning a raft of five star hotels in recent years, including the Shangri-La on the mainland which faces across the Khor al Maqta channel to Abu Dhabi island.

Shangri-La Hotel, Abu Dhabi


Sheikh Zayed Mosque infinity pool

The Shangri-La has a commanding view across the water to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, as seen here across the waters of the infinity pool at night.



South of the city on the road to Liwa is the Emirates National Auto Museum, a private collection of rare and fantastical vehicles, including this giant Dodge Power Wagon, complete with luxurious accommodation inside.

Giant Dodge Power Wagon


A Mercedes for every colour of the rainbow

The collection is owned by Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, popularly known as "The Rainbow Sheikh". Befitting of such a title is his collection of Mercedes limousines, one for each colour of the rainbow.



Outside the museum we found this monster-truck Mercedes, for getting about the desert in the utmost luxury.

Monster truck Mercedes


Globe trekking caravan

Whilst many vehicles at the museum are oversized, this caravan is built to one-millionth the size of the real earth. Avid fans of Jeremy Clarkson may remember this vehicle from his 1990s series "Motorworld".



A giant Second World War era Jeep sits on the desert sands out the back of the pyramid-shaped museum.

Giant Jeep


Lockheed Tristar in the desert

And for good measure, there is an ex-British Airways Lockheed Tristar passenger jet parked up on the dunes, complete with engines.



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