Abu Dhabi: The Pearl of the Persain Gulf

Few cities have come so far in so short a time as has Abu Dhabi. The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi sits on a small island located just off of the Emirati coast. This gem of the Persian Gulf is a fascinating city that features a unique mix of the traditional and the modern.

The traveler’s first impression of Abu Dhabi usually comes the moment he or she sets foot outside of the airport. This part of the world is famous for its hot, dry and unbearably long summers. Luckily, I visited Abu Dhabi in March. Early spring in Abu Dhabi is warm, but it’s not quite as warm as the inferno that is the Arabian summer. Temperatures often rise to 115 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August, but March tends to be relatively mild and pleasant.

While traveling by taxi from Abu Dhabi International Airport to my hotel in the city center, I caught a glimpse of the massive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This impressive temple sits on a large plot of land in the middle of the city’s vast suburbs and features over eighty domes and minarets. When I visited the mosque a few days later, one of its tour guides claimed that the structure could accommodate more than 40,000 worshipers on an especially busy Friday. I don’t know how accurate that figure is, but there’s no doubt that the mosque is an architectural marvel. Although it was only built in the last decade, the mosque’s great whitewashed domes, towering minarets and gigantic courtyard seem to have come straight out of the One Thousand and One Nights.

Abu Dhabi is a Muslim city with fairly conservative values, but it is also a cosmopolitan and international city. Thousands upon thousands of people arrive from the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa and the rest of the Middle East every year to raise families and make money in this oil-rich emirate. Although it is not quite as renowned as its sister city of Dubai, Abu Dhabi has just as much to offer the international traveler. In a single week, I ate some excellent lunches and dinners at Lebanese, Persian, Italian, Thai, Indian and Uzbek restaurants. Eating in Abu Dhabi isn’t cheap, but the incredible variety of the city’s cuisine more than makes up for its cost.

Abu Dhabi also has plenty of aesthetic beauty to offer. The UAE’s late ruler, Sheikh Zayed, almost obsessively planted trees and gardens throughout his capital city. The Corniche is especially beautiful. This long seaside promenade stretches from Abu Dhabi’s port district in the northeast of the island to the end of its beach in the southwest and is spotted with countless parks and abundant greenery.

One of the most intriguing places in Abu Dhabi, strangely enough, is a hotel. Emirates Palace is a five-star hotel located about ten minutes southwest of the city center. The word “hotel” really doesn’t do Emirates Palace justice, though. It looks and feels like a true palace, from its beautiful exterior to its gold- and marble-laden lobby and halls and vast, lush gardens. I’m not a great fan of extreme opulence, but the Palace is so massive and so over the top in its show of wealth that it still impressed me. Visitors who can’t afford a room can instead have a cup of coffee or tea in the Palace’s lobby cafe. If you’re really feeling inspired by your surroundings, you can try the cafe’s specialty, which is a cappuccino sprinkled with gold dust.

Amidst all of the city’s luxury hotels and modern shopping centers, you can still find Abu Dhabi’s traditional side. The gold souk is a large open-air market located in the city’s central Madinat Zayed district. Hundreds of gold jewelry merchants hawk their wares in this traditional marketplace. If you’re thinking of buying some jewelry here, though, be sure to practice your haggling. In the gold souk, customers are expected to try to bid down the merchants’ prices to secure a bargain. If you’re not comfortable with aggressively negotiating a price, you might want to stick with one of Abu Dhabi’s several malls to do your gift shopping.

Abu Dhabi has changed dramatically since its pre-oil boom days as a fishing village. This modern Arab metropolis now welcomes visitors from all over the world. I’m not sure if I’d want to move there and have to live through Abu Dhabi’s infamously hot summer, but I would definitely visit again.

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This article was written by Kevin Caldwell. Click here to learn more about Kevin and the website he built to help travelers find hotels near the Grand Ole Opry.

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Author: Channel Voyager

Channel Voyager is a premium travel blog, where you can read some of the latest tips and news regarding some of the most popular destinations in Europe, Asia, North & South America, Africa, Australia and even the Antarctic!

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