Last week, we recommended Tibet as a holiday destination. Of course, the frigid temperatures of the Rooftop of the World aren’t for everybody. So this week, we’re looking to the other extreme: the desert, in particular Abu Dhabi.
It often gets overshadowed by the glamour of nearby Dubai, but this capital city of the United Arab Emirates offers a wide variety of cultural attractions along with some frivolous fun thrown in for good measure. Not only that, the temperatures this time of year a pleasantly warm. Here are a few attractions and activities to check out.
An adventure in the UAE’s desert back country to any visit to the UAE, and there are plenty of operators who can take you out there in the comfort of a fully air conditioned SUV. Most desert safari’s start with an exhilarating ‘dune bashing’ session, in which your driver switches on the 4-wheel drive and bounds across the sandy terrain. You can also take part in activities like sandboarding (like snowboarding on sand) or quad-biking. The spare and majestic beauty of the sun setting over the dunes is truly something to behold and after night falls you’ll be treated to dinner and live entertainment at traditional camp under a canopy of stars.
Some countries have theme parks based on cartoon mice. In Abu Dhabi, they have one based on sports cars. Ferrari World is the world’s first Ferrari-themed park. Appropriately, it is also home to some record breaking rollercoasters. There is the fastest, “Formula Rossa”, which reaches staggering speeds of 240 km/hr. There is also “Flying Aces”, which boasts the world’s highest loop 63m.
Built in honor of founder the United Arab Emirates, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest in the U.A.E., the eighth largest in the world, and one of the most visited attractions in Abu Dhabi. The edifice incorporates architectural styles from various Islamic civilizations, and it is absolutely stunning. The bill of materials that went into constructing this mosque is nothing short of astounding: 15 types of marble, countless amounts of gold leaf, mother of pearl, chandeliers made with millions of Swarovski crystals. The main prayer hall features a 5,627 sqm rug made from 35 tons of wool by over 1200 carpet knotters.
One of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements and home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this oasis city 90 minutes’ drive from Abu Dhabi boasts a wealth of cultural and historical attractions. The city abounds with picturesque forts, like Al Jahili Fort. One of the U.A.E.’s largest, this striking earthen structure was built in the late 19th century as a summer residence of Sheikh Zayed the First.
Here you’ll also find the Al Ain National Museum. Housed in the former residence of UAE founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, it’s a great place to get acquainted with Emirati culture through its exhibits on archaeology and ethnography and collections of Bedouin jewelry and traditional music instruments. Be sure not to miss the Al Ain Oasis, where you can take respite from the sun among walkways shaded by date palms and visit one of the few remaining camel markets in the U.A.E. For a view of Al Ain from a higher vantage point, there is Jebel Hafeet, the U.A.E.’s second highest peak.