While visiting the UAE, my cousin and I took the opportunity to spend a weekend in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven kingdoms that comprise the United Arab Emirates. The capital city (of the same name) is the seat of the UAE’s federal government, home to the country’s ruling family – the Al Nahyans and its President who is also of the same family. While its glamourous neighbour Dubai, specializes in tourism and luxury retail, Abu Dhabi’s mainstay continues to be oil and petroleum exports. The Emirate however, has grown quite popular in recent years as a tourism destination as well as a filming location for both Hollywood and Bollywood blockbuster movies! Here’s how to spend a weekend in Abu Dhabi!
Where To Stay
From our Dubai hotel, we took a hotel taxi to the Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al -Beri, Abu Dhabi for a 2-night stay.
About 1.5 hours later we arrived at our destination. Did I mention that I love Arabic architecture? I chose the Shangri-La for precisely that reason. I felt like we entered an Arabian palace. We were greeted in traditional fashion with strong coffee and dates and proceeded to check in. I was surprised and pleased to see the welcome message on our room’s flat-screen!
The late afternoon and evening were spent enjoying the hotel. We sunbathed, swam in the pool and took in the view of the spectacular Grand Mosque in the distance. For dinner, we chose to eat at the hotel’s Vietnamese restaurant Hoi An. I highly recommend the duck and fish steamed in a banana leaf!
Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
A trip to Abu Dhabi is incomplete without a visit to the Grand Mosque, the largest in the UAE and a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. It was constructed between 1996-2007, its design a brilliant fusion of Islamic styles brought together to create this modern wonder of the world. The Grand Mosque was the vision of the UAE’s former president, HRH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan whose final resting place lies beside the grounds. The complex covers an area of over 22,000 m2 and boasts 82 domes of varying sizes, accommodating 41,000 worshippers. White Greek and Italian marble provide a stunning finish to the structure.
My cousin and I dressed in traditional black abayas (robe-like dresses) and shaylas (headscarves worn in the Gulf region) that we bought in Dubai and caught the hotel’s complimentary shuttle at 8.30 am to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
The interior design of the mosque is equally impressive with the 99 names/ attributes of God (Allah) written in three types of Arabic calligraphy, carved floral inlays and a 5,625 sq.m hand-made Persian carpet in the main prayer hall. Seven massive Swarovski crystal chandeliers complete the interior.
TIP: All visitors to the Grand Mosque are required to dress modestly, i.e. no bare arms and legs, with ladies being required to cover their hair. The mosque provides clothing for visitors as a gesture of goodwill. Free guided tours available but you can also explore at your leisure.
For more information please click here: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center
Take a Desert and Dinner Safari
We arrived back at the Shangri-La after our visit to the Grand Mosque and managed to snag the last 2 spots on that afternoon’s desert safari. We were picked up by our driver in a 4×4 a mere 15 minutes later, and set off for the desert. Our first stop was at a camel farm where we had an up close interaction with the “ships of the desert” and met up with a small crowd of fellow travelers.
Tip – If you decide to participate in a desert safari on your UAE trip, I recommend that you do it here instead of Dubai as the landscape is more untouched, with no extreme amount of tourist traffic.
Next up was dune bashing! Our driver was a young Pakistani with superb driving skills who took us on a high-speed roller coaster ride to the top of the high dunes, then slid us down, always in full control of the 4×4 while we screamed ourselves silly in the back seat during the 45-minute experience. The exhilaration of dune bashing was followed by a short rest to admire the beauty of the desert landscape before we made our way to the Arabian “Village”.
Destination Tidbit – The impressive sand dunes of Abu Dhabi were used as the first shooting location of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and were chosen precisely for their incomparable beauty!
The last stop on the safari was the Arabian “Village”, where I headed to a nearby table and ate some salt to ward off some nausea brought on from the dune bashing and partook of coffee and dates. At the Village, we stopped at the various tents to rest, try on traditional Arab clothing, get henna painted on our hands and take camel rides. As the evening grew dark, a sumptuous feast of Arabic/Indian cuisine was served followed by belly dancing performances and shisha smoking around a fire. Stargazing concluded our safari as all the lights in the “Village” were switched off, giving us an unparalleled view of the desert night sky, free from light pollution.
Tip: Walk with a warm jacket as temperatures plummet in the desert at night!
I got a need… a need…for SPEED!
Ferrari World is a must for racing fans, automobile lovers and families alike. From the Shangri-La Hotel , the shuttle took guests to Yas Island, home of Ferrari World about 20 minutes away. After getting your tickets the thrills begin!
As you enter, be sure to visit the Galleria Ferrari to get up close and personal (no touching!) with Ferrari’s gorgeous collection of classic and contemporary automobiles. You will hear the roar of engines as you pass by each model and learn about:
- The company’s car making history
- Its participation in the Formula 1 circuit since the competition’s inception
- Facts about each car as you go along from one model to the other
After visiting the Galleria, make your way to the fastest roller coaster in the world…the Formula Rossa! Get yourself strapped in, put on your goggles and feel your heart hammer before you get shot like an arrow at 240km/hour in 4.9 seconds! The roller coaster scales heights of 52 metres and you will feel the adrenaline rush of 4.8Gs. I crossed the finish line feeling like a champion and… because it was so nice, I did it twice!
For a leisurely change of pace after all the thrill rides, take some moments to fully appreciate where you are by looking up and recognizing the Legends of Ferrari whose achievements on the F1 circuit made Ferrari great!
Afterward, move over to the nearby Bell’Italia where you can get into a scaled down Ferrari 250 California and explore Italy in miniature! The tour takes you around scenic “Portofino”, “Amalfi Coast”, “Monza Racetrack”, the “Colosseum di Roma”, “Venezia”, and “Maranello”.
On the “Viaggio in Italia”- a simulated ride that utilizes hydraulic technology- you will be taken on a joyride through Italy’s cities, villages and mountains while a member of Ferrari’s team provides narration about the company throughout.
Before leaving, be sure to browse the Ferrari Store and pick up a souvenir item to remember your exciting and action-packed day! My dad loved his red Ferrari World tee. As you can see, he’s worn it quite a bit!
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