The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi may not offer the same level of glitz and glamor as its famous neighbor, Dubai, but this world-class city is brimming with heritage and culture, although this might be a little different than what you are used to. If you have been considering a visit to this Middle Eastern gem, here are eight things that you should know before you go.
You Will Need to Dress Modestly
Locals tend to dress pretty conservatively in Abu Dhabi, with the majority choosing to don traditional wear (a full-length white robe for men, and a full-length black robe with a headscarf for women).
Although tourists aren’t expected to dress in the same way, you will need to pay close attention to the outfits you choose to wear when in Abu Dhabi, and this applies to both men and women.
Form-fitting clothes, as well as anything that shows unnecessary skin, should be avoided. The same goes for shorts, which are only appropriate if you are at the beach. Instead, go for long and loose clothing, picking items made from natural materials. Not only will this enable you to adhere to the customs of Abu Dhabi, but it will also help to keep you cool in the city’s heat.
Save Room in Your Luggage for Shopping
If you are someone who loves to shop, especially when you’re on vacation, then Abu Dhabi will feel like paradise to you. Of course, this does mean that you will need to save quite a bit of room in your luggage for all of your shopping, or you could just buy a new bag too, packing all of your shopping in there.
Now, when it comes to the shopping in Abu Dhabi, you will have your pick from sleek, luxurious shopping malls to bustling markets, along with everything in between.
If you prefer malls, some of the best in the city include:
- Abu Dhabi Mall – this magnificent mall has been running since 2001, and boasts more than 200 different stores. It is also home to cinemas, restaurants and several other amusements
- Yas Mall – located on Corniche Road, one of the most gorgeous areas of the city, Yas Mall offers up even more than the Abu Dhabi Mall, with 400 different stores to browse, including our very own OROGOLD Abu Dhabi store. Once you’ve indulged in your skin care fix, you can try everything from ice skating and bowling to a multiplex movie theater and even a rollercoaster
- Avenue at Etihad – this boutique mall placed a focus on customized luxury, with many of the high-end stores here offering up a personalized service
- The Galleria – this elegant piece of architecture houses some of the most sophisticated brands in the world, along with an exquisite selection of restaurants from all over the globe
While malls are fun, there’s nothing quite like the authentic experience that comes from shopping in one of the city’s traditional markets, known as souks. Here are a few to visit:
- Madinat Zayed Gold Souk – this is the place to go for gold jewelry, with numerous styles available as well as the option to purchase a custom designed piece
- Al Ain Camel Souk – this livestock market guarantees an authentic experience. You will find a vast array of camels here, both old and young, as well as goats and sheep. Be careful that some sellers may demand a payment if you take photos of their animals
- Souk Qaryat Al Beri – with ornate chandeliers, pointed arches and winding canals, this souk almost feels like an Arabian fairytale. Be sure to save time for a meal at one of the waterfront restaurants here
- Abu Dhabi Carpet Souk – although you may not be planning on taking a carpet home with you, the sheer array of colors and patterns at this maze-like souk make it well worth a visit
As you can see, extra room in your luggage will definitely be needed when visiting Abu Dhabi!
The City’s Pink Taxis are for Women Only
Chances are, when visiting Abu Dhabi, you will end up taking a taxi quite a few times. Well, if you happen to hail down a gold, silver or white taxi, there isn’t anything unusual about this. However, if you come across a pink, or even a lavender-colored, taxi, there’s something you should know…
These pink taxis are to be taken by women and children under the age of 10 only, and they are driven by female drivers. Even if you are a man traveling with your family, you would still not be allowed to enter into one of the pink taxis.
This women-only taxi service was introduced in the city in 2010, and has since become extremely popular.
If you decide to give public transport a try…
Keep in mind that the front seats on public buses are reserved for women. This is to enable women to travel safely, without having to worry about unwanted attention from men.
Abu Dhabi Boasts 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
If you appreciate history and heritage, then you will love the fact that Abu Dhabi is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites. From an ancient archaeological park to a desert oasis, be sure to save space on your itinerary for a visit to these four gems:
- Bidaa Bint Saud – this ancient caravan stop is home to numerous tombs from both the Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as a mud-brick hall that has been impressively preserved
- Hili Archaeological Park – dedicated to Al Ain, a Bronze Age site, this archeological park, along with its beautifully-manicured flower gardens, feature a collection of historic monuments that date back to 5000 years ago
- Hafeet Tombs – there are hundreds of beehive-style tombs here, dating back 5000 years, and visitors are allowed to explore each one. This site also happens to be set on the summit of the Jebel Hafeet Mountain, standing at 1160 meters high, giving you an incredible view of the desert that surrounds you
- Al Ain Oasis – this site is located in the heart of the city, and consists of a 1200 acre green desert oasis. The 147,000 date palm grove here makes use of traditional falaj irrigation systems, keeping the area lush even in the harshest of climates
Local Laws May Surprise You
Getting acquainted with local laws isn’t something that many travelers do before visiting a destination, but it would be well worth doing so before heading to Abu Dhabi.
Because some of the local laws here may surprise you, and you do not want to end up finding yourself unexpectedly in trouble.
So, when it comes to a relaxing vacation, chances are that you expect there to be some alcohol involved, whether in the form of a cold beer by the pool or an evening cocktail. Since Abu Dhabi is an Islamic country, it is illegal to drink in public here.
Don’t worry, alcohol is still available at several hotels around the city, so long as they have a legal permit. However, you will still need to watch how much you actually drink, and be sure to sober up before heading out of the hotel bar, since it is also illegal to be intoxicated in public here.
Now, if you’re visiting Abu Dhabi with that special someone, you will need to keep any PDA to a minimum. While married couples are allowed to hold hands in public, pretty much everything else, from kissing to hugging, would be viewed as offensive, and could even cost you some time in jail. Again, don’t worry – you will find signs reminding you of this all over the city!
This Desert City is Home to Several Green Spaces
When you visit a steel-dominated city, located in the middle of a desert, you don’t expect to encounter many green spaces. However, the UAE has recently been focused on a long-term plan of greening the desert, but doing this in a sustainable way that does not place a strain on their important water resources.
As a result, Abu Dhabi is witnessing more and more parks and green spaces emerging throughout the city, providing a lush breath of fresh air for those who need some respite from the hectic chaos of the city. Here are a few to check out:
- The Corniche Parks – these run along the corniche, enabling you to enjoy both greenery and the beach
- Capital Gardens – located in the heart of the city, this park boasts recreation areas, greenery and an incredible fountain
- Khalifa Park – measuring more than 500,000 meters square, this sprawling park provides a train to help visitors get around, as well as an aquarium, history museum, library and children’s water park
- Mangrove National Park – this protected parcel of land is home to some dense palm forests, with a kayaking trip being the best way to explore all that this park offers
There are Hundreds of Fountains in the City
Abu Dhabi is a city that loves fountains, which beautifully juxtaposes with the heat and arid climate that the city experiences. As a result, you will find fountains of all shapes and sizes just about everywhere you go in the city. While some of these are small and simple, others are grand enough to justify a visit just to see them.
Here are some of Abu Dhabi’s most spectacular fountains:
- Yas Marina Musical Water Fountain – this fountain is all about extravagance in the evenings, when it lights up and puts on a stunning musical display for those around
- Cedar Fountain – this was actually a gift to the UAE from Lebanon, and is designed in the shape of Lebanon’s cedar trees. This fountain is one of Abu Dhabi’s oldest landmarks
- Reem Central Park – the statement fountains at this recreational park dot turquoise canals, providing the perfect backdrop for a photo
Of course, if you prefer your fountains to be made from chocolate rather than water, there are also a few spots in the city that are famous for their indulgent chocolate fountains. Try the Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, where you can choose between white, milk and dark, or the Yas Island Rotana, where you will often find seasonal specialties.
Watch What You Photograph
Love taking photos when you’re on vacation?
In this day and age, pretty much everyone does. After all, that perfect Instagram shot may just be one more snap away!
Well, while you will definitely want you camera to hand when exploring Abu Dhabi, you do need to be careful about where you point it…
Usually, if something is in a public area, then you wouldn’t think twice about snapping away. However, in Abu Dhabi, you need to make sure that the photos you take do not contain any people, or anything related to the government, including government buildings.
When it comes to people, if you have their consent, then there isn’t a problem. However, if you snap away at members of the public without their permission, and they are identifiable in your photo, then this would be considered an invasion of personal privacy, which would therefore be an offense.
Abu Dhabi is a rapidly-growing city with so much to offer. Whether you’re into history, heritage and culture or prefer modern day comforts, this is a city that boasts something to appeal to just about everybody.