A relatively young city under the ruling of the Al-Nahyan family, Abu Dhabi's urbanisation has led it to become a major cultural and political centre. Although approximately 80% of its population are expatriates, this is a city that still honours and remains true to its deep roots and conventional rituals. With humble beginnings as a fishing village known for its pearl business, the discovery of oil changed its entire socioeconomic landscape. Today, the emirate is home to a myriad of islands that offer entertainment, cultural attractions and a lavish lifestyle experience.
1. Join the sunset desert drive & BBQ
The dune bashing stunts are a fun part of the Desert Sunset Drive & BBQ organised by Hala Abu Dhabi though do notify your guide if you're feeling sick during the bumpy ride. Located about an hour's away from the city centre, take a cruise through the desert in a 4WD vehicle, pass the ever changing dynamic sand dunes. Get your cameras ready as you'll also be making a pit stop at the camel farm owned by local Emiratis to feed the animals and take some photos. Catch the last golden rays of the beautiful sunset while soaking your feet in the plush soft sand and admire the warm glow over the dunes. When darkness descends, you'll arrive at a traditional Arabic themed camp set up in the middle of the desert where activities such as camel riding, sand sledding, shisha and henna painting are available. Indulge in a scrumptious spread of local delights as you sit on large rugs in a communal dining style right under the stars and enjoy the belly dance performance.
2. Indulge in high tea at the Emirates Palace
Acres of perfectly manicured lawns surround the palatial beauty that is Emirates Palace, reputedly the second most expensive hotel ever built. The hotel was built as a landmark to showcase the best in traditional Arabian architecture. Take a moment to soak in the lavish 114 breath-taking 18-meter-high domes, ornate hotel rooms and luxury suites decorated in gold and marble. For a regal experience, indulging in the signature afternoon high-tea is a must, where freshly baked scones and delicate sweet treats are elegantly presented on dainty three-tier stands. The decadent experience is further heightened with edible gold sprinkled on the cakes and coffee offered inside the Palace.
3. Discover the local culture and history at Manarat Al Saadiyat
Paris has the Louvre while Abu Dhabi has Manarat Al Saadiyat. Its literal translation is The Place of Enlightenment, serving as an arts and culture centre housing exhibitions with international collections from around the world. With three major galleries, a central events gallery and 250-seat theatre, the 15,400 square metre space is part of an ongoing cultural programme dedicated to developing awareness and understanding of the local arts and culture. You'll want to allocate at least half a day here to discover the past, present and future of Abu Dhabi. Among some of the upcoming developments you can look out for are the Zayed National Museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
4. Take an aerial excursion across Abu Dhabi
What better way to see the entire city than to charter your own plane and take an aerial excursion. It's the best way to see the ever changing skyline of the emirate as the pilot's flight route covers the modern landmarks, coastline and islands. Seawings Seaplane Air Tours offer a luxury aerial experience that takes off on the pristine waters of Yas Marina before ascending to the skies of Abu Dhabi. The trip takes about 30 minutes in total and you'll want to step into the plane first to grab the co-pilot's seat for the best view. Else, there are personal viewing windows allocated for each passenger on the flight. Two essentials to bring along for this flight - your camera and passport.
5. Ride the world's fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi remains one of Yas Island's biggest attraction, drawing in crowds daily through its theme park doors as there are more than 20 rides to choose from. Though the theme park caters more to the younger kids and families, the Formula Rossa roller coaster ride stands out from the rest. Strap yourself into the world's fastest roller coaster ride with a top speed of 240 km/h in under 5 seconds. You will be launched 52 meters into the sky before zooming past the chicanes that have been modelled after some of the world's famous race track. Safety goggles are provided before the ride though be sure to strap them on tightly else you might risk getting sand into your eyes.