7 reasons to extend your layover in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi may not be as well known as its glitzy sister, Dubai. However with world renowned galleries like the Louvre and Guggenheim slated to be built in the next few years, and thanks to the citys 30% rebate for filmmakers as incentive for major Hollywood productions to film in the Emirate, its made Abu Dhabi a rich cultural hotspot and one to rival the city of excess.
I’ve been lucky to have visited this Emirate a few times, for work, leisure and during transit and have listed my top 7 things to do. Extend your layover and check out what the cosmopolitan city has to offer.
1. Brunch – the Middle Eastern way
As any expat in the Middle East is familiar with, a weekend brunch is a sacred Friday ritual. If you happen to be in Abu Dhabi on a Friday and a) are super hungry, b) slightly jetlagged and hey, food or c) foooood, then book yourself a table at one of the many Friday brunches in the city.
Brunch is not just a glorified Sizzlers buffet – we’re talking Alaskan King crab legs, caviar, wagyu beef ribs and lots of very fancy cheese. A band sometimes plays covers and towards the end of the buffet or last drinks, brunch patrons will start dancing. Don’t be scared. This is normal.
What to wear you ask? Well, brunch is taken pretty seriously and people are usually dressed to the nines. Floor length gowns, skin tight cocktail dresses and suits are not uncommon especially around the festive holidays. However, if you’re like me and like to hide ‘dem rolls, a smart casual outfit consisting of a baggy top and preferably stretchy pants is a go.
Post brunch activities usually involve either a siesta/food coma or hanging out in a mall to burn off the calories and guilt of overindulgence.
2. Feast like a King
While we’re on the topic of indulging – don’t stop at that! Visit Le Cafe at Emirates Palace and order the famous camel burger with a sprinkling of 23k gold. The camel burger is surprisingly delicious, and no it does not taste like chicken – tastes like beef! Its accompanied with the usual vegetables, caramelised onions, and a side of chick pea fries. The latter was delicious, it was like eating deep fried crumbed hummus. And because yolo, order the sweet potato fries, brownies and coffee with 23k gold.
3. Admire the beauty of Sheikh Zayed Mosque
If there’s only one thing you do in Abu Dhabi, make that a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Where Dubai has the tallest building in the world, Abu Dhabi has the beautiful mosque housing the largest carpet and the third largest chandelier in the world. Its a country of superlatives. The mosque is a popular landmark so try to visit early to avoid the crowds. Entrance is free.
4. Marvel at Emirates Palace
You may recognise the Emirates Palace from the Furious 7 scene when the speed loving heroes pay a visit to Abu Dhabi. The 5 star hotel, managed by Kempinski has swimming pools and private access to the beach which are exclusive to hotel guests only. However, non hotel visitors can still visit the restaurants, bars and cafes inside the grounds of the resort to experience a little bit of luxury and opulence, just like Dominic Turetto.
5. Awaken the Force
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… the Liwa Desert in the Empty Quarter became the film site of the planet of Jakku in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie. Escape the modern side of Abu Dhabi and explore the endless rolling sand dunes of the desert, only 2.5 hours away from the city.
There’s different packages available whether you want to do a half or full day safari with or without meals. Other activities like falcon shows, camel rides, quad biking, tobogganing and henna are usually available at a fee at the camp site.
6. Feel the need for speed – visit Ferrari World
Always wanted to ride a Ferrari but couldn’t afford one? Ferrari World is the next best thing. Ride the Formula Rossa to experience the thrills and g force of 240 km/h in 5 seconds, or immerse yourself in all things Ferrari whilst walking around the theme park pseudo car park/showroom to check out all the cars on display. The downsides are that tickets are pricey starting from 250 AED, and there are only a limited amount of rides with long waiting times. If you can’t justify the cost, you can probably spot a Ferrari or two around the Malls or hotels!
7. You got a fast car, is it fast enough so you can fly away? Visit the F1 tracks
Whilst you’re on Yas Island, pay a visit to Yas Visceroy Hotel and check out the 5.5 km Formula 1 Marina circuit wrapped around the hotel grounds. There’s a host of dining options in the hotel if you want to couple your visit with lunch or dinner as well as bars for a cool sundowner.