Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven emirates that make up the UAE. The city of Abu Dhabi is the nation’s capital, its center of government, business and finance, and home to its royal family. The name translates as “Father of Deer,” referring to the native gazelles that are important symbols of culture.
The city lies on an island overlooking the Arabian Gulf. Before the discovery of oil, Abu Dhabi was a hub for pearl diving and fishing; the wooden dhows still seen on the harbor were once used for these traditional industries.
Abu Dhabi holds approximately eleven per cent of the world’s oil reserves. The capital is one of the most rapidly developing cities in the world; in just a few decades it has transformed from a small Bedouin village into a multicultural metropolis of 1.5 million people.
The government has several initiatives underway to support Abu Dhabi’s growing role as a global center of art, culture and commerce. Chief among these is Saadiyat Island Cultural District, which will feature an unprecedented array of museums and higher-learning institutions including branches of the Louvre, the Guggenheim and New York University.
Despite the breakneck speed of its development, however, Abu Dhabi is known for its relaxed lifestyle and friendly residents from all over the world, and still displays many aspects of its foundation in traditional Arab society.
Year-round sunshine, crystal-blue waterways, spectacular sand dunes and a cosmopolitan lifestyle await visitors to Abu Dhabi. These, along with a distinctly Arabic hospitality and mystique, are why both Frommer’s and Lonely Planet list it in the top ten destinations of 2010.
The city of Abu Dhabi boasts wide, well-maintained streets and impressive leisure facilities including luxurious hotels, spas, golf courses and theaters. Palatial malls and traditional souqs provide great shopping; culinary delights abound in cool and sophisticated cafés, clubs and restaurants. Abu Dhabi is famous for the charm of its many parks and green spaces – most notably the splendid Corniche, which runs for many kilometers along the city’s waterfront. Nautical activities accessible from the marinas include fishing, jetskiing, wakeboarding and sailing. Kayaking in the indigenous mangrove forests, heritage museums and dune bashing are but a few of the many other attractions.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the eighth-largest in the world, amazes many thousands of visitors each year with its beauty. The Formula One Championship at the Yas Island Circuit heads a roster of sporting and cultural events that focus global attention on Abu Dhabi. Yas Island is also the location of the brand-new Ferrari World theme park.
The capital city is also conveniently close to other destinations in the emirate, including Al Ain – the “Garden City of the Gulf” – the Hajar Mountains and Liwa, the oasis on the frontier of the legendary Rub Al-Khali (the Empty Quarter), home to some of the largest and most beautiful sand dunes in the world.
Explore Abu Dhabi contains more information and advice for visitors to Abu Dhabi.