Brimming with intriguing culture, breath-taking architecture and top-notch luxury, Abu Dhabi keeps drawing travellers from across the globe into the heart of the Emirates, discovers Crystal Leung.
For luxurious accommodation with state-of-the-art technology and warm hospitality, check into the Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island, which has recently opened in the city’s up-and-coming business, leisure and entertainment hub. Designed by London-based PLP Architects, the 34-storey building comprises 200 bright, contemporary guest rooms and suites, each with sweeping views of the city skyline and Arabian Gulf. Stay in one of a handful of Executive Suites, which are elegantly dressed in blue and grey tones and feature 65-inch HDTVs and spa-like marble bathrooms with glass-enclosed showers, deep soak tubs, and Ferragamo amenities. Linger over breakfast at Crust, a market-inspired restaurant, before setting off on a city exploration. www.fourseasons.com/abudhabi
Right next to the hotel is The Galleria, an expansive shopping mall which houses a multitude of luxury and fashion brands, but for a more traditional, Middle Eastern-style shopping experience, make for the souks (marketplace) of the Al Mina port district. You’ll be captivated by the Carpet Souk, with over 100 stores dealing in traditional carpets, rugs, cushions and textiles, many of which are made in Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Central Asia in a mesmerising array of colours and patterns. A ten-minute walk beyond is the Fruit & Vegetable Souk, home to delicious melons from Jordan, giant medjool dates from Saudi Arabia, and a range of other exotic local produce. Be sure to bargain!
After a morning of wheeling and dealing, head over to the emerging Saadiyat Cultural District, perfect for travellers in search of inspiration and stimulation. Enjoy a feast of Mediterranean, European, Indian and traditional Arabic cuisines at Fanr Restaurant in Manarat Al Saadiyat, a 15,400sqm arts and culture centre. Signature dishes include pan-fried sea bream with wilted spinach, raisins, Nicoise-style vegetables and fresh herbs; and stewed chicken with bulgur, tarragon cream, olives, mushrooms and fresh pomegranates.
Manarat Al Saadiyat also contains three major galleries that host a wide range of art exhibitions and educational programmes, as well as a dedicated space for the fascinating Saadiyat Experience, which showcases the history, architecture and culture of Abu Dhabi through various multimedia channels. The thriving district will see the opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first universal art museum in the Arab world; the Zayad National Museum; and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi in 2017. www.saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae
Even if you’re not interested in religion, you don’t want to miss the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque; the largest mosque in the UAE, this beautiful shrine can accommodate over 40,000 worshippers. An architectural marvel, the opulent mosque features seven glistening chandeliers made from millions of Swarovski crystals; 96 columns decorated with delicate marble and mother of pearl; and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet designed by acclaimed Iranian artist Ali Khaliqi. Be sure to join the complimentary 45-minute guided tour at 5pm; available in English and Arabic, the tour gives insight into the arts, culture and architecture of Islam. www.szgmc.ae
Return to the Four Seasons for an indulgent dinner at the new Butcher & Still steak restaurant. Inspired by the Chicago steakhouses of the 1940s, the stylish venue features wooden floors, leather banquettes, and bathroom tiles accented by bullet casings reminiscent of American gangster Al Capone. Stunning waterfront views provide diners with the perfect backdrop for a feast featuring prime beef cuts sourced from selected farms in the United States. www.fourseasons.com/abudhabi
Finish your night off with the city’s in-the-know at Skylite, at the Viceroy Yas Abu Dhabi, a chic, urbane roof deck with its own resident DJ, a comprehensive cocktail and bottle service menu, and a captivating light-filled canopy that seems to reach into the starry night. www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com
Start your second day in style with a visit to the Yas Marina Circuit on Yas Island, home to the annual Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Sit behind the wheel or buckle up in the passenger seat of some of the world’s most impressive racing cars, from the Aston Martin GT4 and Jaguar F-TYPE S, to Mercedes-AMG GTS. If you’re not up for speed, the island also boasts the Yas Links Golf Club, with an eighteen-hole course and a nine-hole academycourse. www.yasmarinacircuit.com