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 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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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".
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.
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
is the Emirates National Auto Museum, a private collection of
rare and fantastical vehicles, including this giant Dodge Power Wagon, complete with luxurious accommodation
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
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.
And for good measure, there is an ex-British Airways Lockheed Tristar passenger jet parked up on the
dunes, complete with engines.