Sitting on an island in the Persian Arabian Gulf is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi. First inhabited by the nomadic Bani Yas tribe in 1760, the settlement remained a small fishing village until oil was discovered. Today Abu Dhabi is an ultra-modern emirate with modern buildings and shopping malls including both the Abu Dhabi and Marina malls.
The most awe-inspiring landmark in Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, covered in Macedonian marble domes, crystal chandeliers and Persian carpets. The mosque is a mixture of Mameluke, Ottoman and Fatimid design elements to create a harmonious and thoroughly modern mosque that celebrates Islamic architecture.
Shopping in Abu Dhabi is also a real treat, from the Women’s' Handicraft Centre on Karama Street, demonstrating their skills in weaving, embroidery and basketry to the Gold Souq inside Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre. The World Trade Centre Souq is another place to shop for a variety of crafts, carpets, shawls, textiles and spices. The Al Mina fishing harbour with its lively markets is where fresh catches are brought ashore every morning and traded in the traditional style.
Yas Island is home to Abu Dhabi’s three big family fun theme parks including Ferrari World bringing the thrills of Formula One racing to Abu Dhabi, Warner Bros World a dedicated theme park to cartoon, movie and comic book heroes and villains and Yas Waterworld a mammoth theme park with waterslides, inner tube river rides, the world's first hydro magnetic tornado water rafting ride and the Jebel Drop, a free fall speed water slide. The Yas Marina Circuit is also the venue of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the Middle East’s most remarkable museum. As well as its permanent collections, which run over 12 galleries and several temporary exhibitions the Louvre is the first of three planned major museums to open on Saadiyat Island, which is set to become the cultural heartbeat of Abu Dhabi. The other two are the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum, which are still in their planning phases.
The Observation Deck at 300 offers skyline views from the highest point in the city, on the 74th floor of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel. Having high-tea up here, with the city spread below you, is definitely an experience.
Falconry has deep roots in Arabian history that dates back over 2,000 years. The Peregrine Falcon is a symbol of the UAE’s Bedouin culture and owning one today is a great source of pride. The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital has developed into something of an educational institution since opening in 1999, providing interested visitors with up close, personal tours and education with these birds of prey.
Other interesting places to visit include the Emirates Palace where 24 carat gold in abundance. The recently restored Al-Hosn Fort, also known as the Old Fort or the White Fort, is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi and one of the major historical points of interest. Qasr Al Watan, also known as the Palace of the Nation, is a tribute to the city’s heritage and culture and where the UAE cabinet and Federal Supreme Council meet. Abu Dhabi's Heritage Village is an authentic replica of a typical Bedouin village that gives visitors an idea of Emirati life before the oil boom. For the best views of Abu Dhabi's sparkling skyscrapers you need to head out onto the water on either an island hopping, beach or snorkelling boar tour. The sunset cruises let you see the city at its glittering best.
A Desert Safari to the Liwa Oasis situated right on the edge of the Empty Quarter or to the Al Khatim Desert near Al Ain, is a must-do. The Empty Quarter desert contains the largest sand dunes in the world. These fantastic playgrounds are for anyone who wants to ride dune buggies, try sand boarding, go camel trekking or simply soak up the vast starry desert sky after dark at a desert camp.
The Sir Bani Yas Island Wildlife Reserve has indigenous Arabian wildlife such as gazelles and the endangered Arabian Oryx as well as giraffes and leopards that roam free. Book a 4x4 safari, walking safari or a horse ride to view wildlife within the reserve. The island is accessed by boat from Jebel Dhanna, 260 kilometres west of the city.
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