Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi city gleaming in the evening light.

Abu Dhabi is the federal capital and center of government in the United Arab Emirates. It is the largest city of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and one of the most modern cities in the world.

Understand

With a population of just under 1.5 million, Abu Dhabi is the headquarters of numerous oil companies and embassies. With only 420,000 citizens in the entire emirate, each has an average net worth of $17 million (Dhs. 64M). The city features large gardens and parks, green boulevards lining all the streets and roads, sophisticated high-rise buildings, international luxury hotel chains and opulent shopping malls.

Long viewed as a staid bureaucratic outpost entirely lacking in neighboring Dubai's pizzazz, things started to change radically in 2004 after long-ruler Sheikh Zayed passed away and his son Sheikh Khalifa took over. In a bid to attract tourism and investment, land sales to foreigners were allowed and restrictions on alcohol were loosened.

Homosexuality is currently illegal throughout the United Arab Emirates with possible resulting penalties of deportation, fines, prison time, or the death sentence.

Scale model of Saadiyat Island, with the Guggenheim up front

Several massive projects are also under way. Yas Island hosts Abu Dhabi's Formula 1 track and the Ferrari World theme park, while the upcoming $28 billion cultural zone of Saadiyat Island and its centerpieces the Louvre and Guggenheim museums are scheduled to open in 2015 and 2017 (respectively). It remains to be seen how well the strategy will work but the city is certainly experiencing a construction boom.

Climate

 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 
Daily highs (°C) 24.1 26.0 29.5 34.5 39.3 40.8 42.1 42.9 40.4 36.5 31.1 26.3
Nightly lows (°C) 13.2 14.6 17.5 20.8 23.8 26.1 28.8 29.5 26.6 23.2 18.7 15.8
Precipitation (mm) 7.0 21.2 14.5 6.1 1.3 0 0 1.5 0 0 0.3 5.2

The city has an arid climate, with very hot temperatures in the summer.

Orientation

Most of Abu Dhabi is on a wedged-shaped Island connect by two bridges to the mainland.

Street addresses in Abu Dhabi are simultaneously very logical and hopelessly confusing. Many roads have traditional names, like "Airport Rd", which may not correspond to the official names, like "Maktoum St", and the city is divided into traditional districts like "Khalidiyya". However, by recent decree, the city has been split up into numbered "zones" and "sectors", with all roads in each sector numbered, First St, Second St, etc., and the vast majority of street signs only refer to these. The system of main streets is straight forward enough once you realize that the odd numbered streets run across the island and the even numbers run along it. So First St is in fact the Corniche, and the odd numbers continue out of town to 31st St which is near the new Khalifa Park. Airport Rd is Second St and the even numbers continue to the east through to 10th St by Abu Dhabi Mall. On the west side of Airport Rd, the numbers go from 22nd Street to 32nd St by the new Bateem Marina. Alas, confusion is caused by the local streets, which are on green signs (main streets are on blue signs) and are also called First, Second etc. Most locals opt to ignore the system entirely, and the best way to give instructions is thus navigating by landmarks, if taking a taxi, odds are you will get to "behind the Hilton Baynunah" much faster than "Fifth Street, Sector 2".

Get in

By plane

Abu Dhabi Airport

Abu Dhabi International Airport

Abu Dhabi International Airport (IATA: AUH) is the UAE's second busiest airport (after Dubai) and the home base of Abu Dhabi's flag carrier Etihad Airways. Launched in 2003, Etihad Airways has been expanding rapidly and now flies everywhere from the United States to Australia, and its services (particularly on long-haul flights) are remarkably good in all classes. It received five awards in a row.

The airport is separated into Terminal 1 (the original terminal), Terminal 3 (a new terminal mostly dedicated to Etihad Airways), and a smaller Terminal 2.

Terminal 1 provides a slightly dingy appearance and a spectacularly bizarre blue-lime tiled mushroom canopy that awaits you at the gates.

Terminal 2 has no aerobridges, relying on buses to take passengers to and from their planes.

Terminal 3 is much newer and has improved shopping and gate access. All flights from terminal 3 are Etihad, but not all Etihad flights leave from Terminal 3. In particular flights to and from the US utilize the older terminal.

A fourth, midfield terminal, is under construction.

To/from the airport:

Dubai International Airport

A viable alternative is to fly to Dubai International Airport in the neighbouring emirate of Dubai and continue onward by bus or, if really in a hurry, by taxi.

To/from Dubai airport:

By road

The five-laned E11 highway between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is the country's heaviest-traveled route, and the 130-km journey can be covered in about 1 hour and 20 minutes. While there is a national speed limit of 120km/h, it is allowed to speed up to 140km/h, yet this is often wildly exceeded by some drivers. Stay out of the leftmost lane and drive carefully, especially at night.

If you rent a car in Abu Dhabi, chances are that the car will warn you if go above 120 km/h. Depending on the vehicle, it might just be a flashing light or an accompanying, continuous, shrill beep. If you get annoyed by this, you might not want to exceed 120 km/h.

To travel directly into Abu Dhabi from Dubai on E11, keep to your left at Al Shahama and follow the E10 highway, which passes Yas Island (exit at the E12 highway) and Al Raha Beach on the way to the Sheikh Zayed Bridge into Abu Dhabi. This bridge connects directly to Salam Street (8th Street), a newly widened megahighway along the northern shore of Abu Dhabi Island. As an alternative to the Zayed Bridge, there are ramps off E10 that connect to the Maqta Bridge, which leads to both 2nd Street (Airport Road) and 4th Street (East Road or Muroor Road). During off-peak periods, these routes run fairly quickly into the city.

Parking

Parking within the city is monitored by Mawaqif, which also supply the parking meters. Parking meters have displays in English and Arabic. The minimum fees are usually Dhs. 2-4.

Parking areas in Abu Dhabi are clearly marked; yellow and grey for no parking, blue and black for standard fare, and blue and white for premium fare.

In the central area, there are limited parking garages (some are in malls such as Khalidiya which are generally free of charge).

By bus

You can get into Abu Dhabi from the other Emirates of Dubai, Sharjah, etc., by bus. The Emirates Express between Abu Dhabi and Dubai is operated jointly by the Abu Dhabi and Dubai municipalities. The 130km route takes around two hours. The buses operated by Dubai's RTA are luxury buses that charge Dhs. 25 for the onward journey to Abu Dhabi and Dhs. 25 for the return journey. The Abu Dhabi transport buses charge Dhs. 15 each way. The first bus departs from the Abu Dhabi main bus terminal on the corner of Hazza bin Zayed the First (11th) St and East (4th) Rd at 5:30AM and the last leaves at 11:30PM; they leave at 30 minute intervals, or if the bus gets full sooner. From Dubai, the buses leave from 5:30AM, and run until 11:30PM, from the Al Ghubaiba station in Bur Dubai (opposite Carrefour Shopping). For bus times, see the timetable published on the Government of Dubai's website.

If you hold an Emirates flight ticket and arrive to / depart from Dubai airport, the airline offers a complimentary extension of your trip to/from Abu Dhabi. Busses depart from Dubai airport Terminal 3 and arrive to Emirates Abu Dhabi office located in Al Sawari Tower. Contact Emirates customer service for booking .

By taxi

You can flag down any metered taxi on the street in Dubai or any other place in the UAE and ask to go to Abu Dhabi. The cost between Dubai and Abu Dhabi is about Dhs 250. From Abu Dhabi, taxis cost about Dhs 200 to Dubai.

Get around

Abu Dhabi hasn't got much in terms of public transport; there will be plenty of traffic jams.

By taxi

Taxis are a great way to get around if you don't have a car. Abu Dhabi's taxis are also really cheap, too. The main taxis are silver with yellow signs on the top. Flag fall costs Dhs. 3.50, slightly more at night. You can flag one down from anywhere in Abu Dhabi. Alternatively, you can book a taxi in Abu Dhabi by calling 600535353, for a Dhs. 5 booking fee.

Taxis are monitored using GPS and are not allowed to give above certain speeds. These change depending on where the taxi is.

Newer looking black cabs also go around town sometimes. These are airport taxis, which you can get on at Abu Dhabi airport and get off anywhere in the city for Dhs. 75. You can recognise them with their coloured signs on the top, displaying text in English and Arabic.

You are not expected to tip cab drivers, but gratuity will be extremely appreciated.

By bus

The main Bus station in Abu Dhabi is on Hazaa Bin Zayed Road. You can get buses here going to the different points within the city as well as inter-city buses. The bus stand also serves as a taxi stand, for inter-emirate taxis. The inter-city buses and airport buses are easy to locate at the bus terminal, and well signposted. The route services depart from various stops in the vicinity, and not all enter the bus terminal proper. There is no directional signage or and no maps.

The fare system is simple: Dhs. 2 for a single ride, Dhs. 4 for a day pass, Dhs. 30 for a week pass, or Dhs. 40 for a one-month Ojra pass. Tickets can only be loaded on disposable or reusable smart cards. No cash is accepted by the drivers. The dark bluish green buses are air-conditioned but not wheelchair accessible. Passengers can board and alight at the designated stops along the route. These locations can be identified by the temporary Department of Transport bus stop poles. Beware: bus stops that do not have the DoT bus stop sign may not be served as not all bus stops along the route are used.

Ojra smart cards can be purchased from ticket machines which can be found at the main bus station and in the Abu Dhabi Mall area. Machines are unremarkable and hard to spot, thus ask locals.

The older bus service, operated by the Abu Dhabi Municipality, operates bus routes within city and to the other emirates. The routes within the city are very few. The buses are modern and air-conditioned. The services are as punctual as possible and operate more or less around the clock and charge Dhs. 2 for travel within the capital. The front few seats are reserved for women, men should move towards the back of the bus.

By car

Abu Dhabi has a reputation for reckless drivers. They can pull out in front of you, change lanes at random, or even text and drive. Drunk driving is also very strictly enforced; one glass of wine is enough to land you in jail for a month, or worse, an accident.

If you do decide to take the plunge, beware that the street numbering system is unusual and it can take weeks to get used to it. U-turns are allowed at almost every intersection. When the left lane signal turns green, you simply have to swing a U-turn and come back. Whatever other flaws drivers here may have, they do not run red lights. There are cameras at many intersections, fines are high (about Dhs. 550 or $150 US), and residents who are not citizens can be deported for running too many red lights. When the light starts flashing, that taxi in front of you will jam on the brakes, and you should, too. When the light turns green, however, expect someone behind you to honk at you immediately to get you moving.

Unfortunately, despite excellent roads, and a traffic signal system, vehicle accidents remains the largest cause of deaths in the UAE.

On foot

While walking in Abu Dhabi is not a problem for locals, tourists from colder climates will suffer from the heat and sun. The temperatures can exceed 40° in the summer.

While staying inside or using a vehicle is a good idea, if you have to walk, try to do it night, when it is cooler. Plus, there won't be a sun to give you a wicked sunburn. If you have to go during the day, wear plenty of SPF 50 sunblock, wear a hat and light clothing and try to keep in the shade as much as possible.

By bicycle

There is a separated cycleway that runs almost the entire length of the Corniche, as well as around Yas Island, and other parts.

See

Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE.

Abu Dhabi offers little in the way of historical or cultural sights but it certainly isn’t lacking in attractions and many of them are free.


Abu Dhabi has several large green spaces, many of which include play areas and equipment for children, and the city is studded with lovely fountains, swathes of neon light, and the occasional sculpture.

There are a vast number of projects coming up in Abu Dhabi.

Do

Helicopter Tour Board a luxurious 6-seater Eurocopter EC130 B4 and Discover Abu Dhabi from a birds' eye view with Falcon Aviation Services.Tours operate daily from 9AM to 5PM out of the Marina Mall Terminal. Reservations recommended (tours can be booked on an individual or private basis)

Buy

Abu Dhabi is a compulsive shopper's dream. There are several malls, most of which have the same stores as other malls. Besides establishments aimed at locals, malls also include popular foreign chain stores, as well as designer places. Many visitors will be surprised at the female fashion dichotomy - while local custom calls for women to be covered in public, most stores sell short skirts and halter tops alongside the more sedate floor-length skirts and high-necked shirts.


The turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf along the Corniche, with the Marina Mall in the background


Downstairs there is an extortionate Krispy Kreme and Starbucks, and a what looks to be an Indian/Arabian cuisine restaurant, which seems good but looks to be unpopular.

There are also many small, independent stores around the city. On the bottom floor of one building, a person can purchase fancy chocolates, computer parts, antiques, and clothing. It is better to purchase things like carpets, art, native jewelry, and antiques at the independent or souk-like places than at the malls, as the price will be lower and the shopkeepers more willing to haggle.

Bargaining is a big part of shopping in the Emirates, but be prudent. Don't bargain at Marks and Spencer or Hang Ten. Save your discounting skills for independent shops dealing in antiques and the like.

Shopping in most places can be frustrating, as the clerks will follow you around the store. This is partly due to their concept of what constitutes good service, and partly because there is a shoplifting problem. Most will not be intrusive, but some employees can be very pushy and overly obsequious. Smile and thank them often, and you're more likely to be left alone after a bit.

In carpet stores - or anywhere that sells tapestries, Indian antiques, and the like don't feel too pressured to buy, and don't be shocked if they start unrolling beautiful rug after beautiful rug at your feet. You are under no obligation to buy, no matter how much time they spend with you. However, the pressure will be very steady, and shyer shoppers may want to travel in packs for comfort's sake.

Grocery stores such as Spinney's, Carrefours, and the Abu Dhabi Cooperative Society are inexpensive and usually stocked with Western goods. Be careful to examine all products before purchasing. Visitors wishing to purchase pork products will likely have to enter a separate room to do so, as no nationals are permitted in these sections of the grocery stores.

Prices in Abu Dhabi tend to be very competitive, and there is no tax.

General discount season - end of the year and midyear. These are the time where you can get some branded items with a very low price, maybe last season's stock.

Eat

Although Abu Dhabi hosts to a wide range of palates and ethnicities, there is not much variety when it comes to cuisine. Indian food is relatively cheap, and there are a few Chinese chain restaurants with reasonable prices. Hotel restaurants are usually the most expensive. The city is home to all manner of fast food like McDonald's and Hardees, but there is little call for most people to eat at those places.

The fun thing about Abu Dhabi is that everywhere, literally from tiny falafel shacks to the cushy hotel restaurants to Burger King, delivers to anywhere in the city. Delivery is quick and reliable, and usually doesn't cost extra. All food is certified halal.

Vegetarians will find the city's selection of meals very satisfying. Vegetable and bean-heavy native dishes, the array of splendid pure vegetarian Indian cuisine, and the ready availability of fresh salads make eating in Abu Dhabi a stress-free experience. Strict vegans may have a little difficulty communicating their precise demands, but most places offer vegan dishes and are always willing to accommodate a paying customer. The best choice for pure Vegans would be one of the many Indian veg restaurants like Evergreen, Sangeetha in Tourist Club area.

Visitors should always check the Islamic calendar to determine whether they will be visiting during the month of Ramadan. Since Muslims fast during daylight hours, restaurants are, by law, closed during the day. It is also against the law to eat or drink anything, even water, in public and tourists (and non-Muslim residents) have been arrested and given fines. Large hotels generally have one restaurant open during the day to serve meals to non-Muslims. During the evening, however, it's quite a different story, as the festive atmosphere of iftar (breaking the fast) begins and residents gather for lavish, Thanksgiving-like meals. As long as you don't mind tiding yourself over in private, the evening meals are magnificent.

Budget

Some of the cheapest (but not necessarily good) food in the city can be found at its many Indian restaurants. Portions are almost always generous, prices low, and quality excellent. Set meals of rice, fish curry, lentil curry (dhal), peppery soup (rasam), a vegetable side dish and perhaps a small fried fish, served on a large steel tray (thali) with little steel bowls for the accompaniments, can go for as low as Dhs.5.

Sometimes you will have to wait for 10 mins to get a roti. Dhs.10 per person Eat all you can and various.

Drink

Only restaurants located in hotels are allowed to serve alcohol. Therefore, all nightlife is associated with hotels. The drinking age is 21, but most places don't care. Unlike some other Middle Eastern nations, the bars in Abu Dhabi will be able to accommodate most drink orders.

Technically, you are supposed to purchase a permit to buy alcohol for private storage, although Spinney's and other liquor stores usually take proof that you aren't a local Muslim (a military ID or driver's license.)

Sleep

The over-the-top opulence of the Emirates Palace

Hotels in Abu Dhabi used to be half price compared to Dubai but no longer, with many hotels charging above Dhs. 500 per night. However, all are well-tended and host to first class restaurants, pools and other high-end hotel facilities.

Mid-range

Splurge

Cope

Embassies

Go next


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 24, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.