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  • Cityscape Sand dunes and superlatives
  • City life Shopping and sun worshipping

Abu Dhabi may sometimes be seen as playing second fiddle to the limelight-hogging Dubai, but the capital of the UAE – set on islands in the glittering Persian Gulf – is a beguiling modern playground in its own right.

This hyper-modern metropolis has grown on fast-forward for the past 10 years. Once a sleepy fishing village, Abu Dhabi’s black-gold billions have been poured into mammoth development projects both decadent and divine: the Aladdin-esque Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Yas Island’s full-throttle theme parks, and Saadiyat Island’s forthcoming Louvre and Guggenheim incarnations (slated for 2015 and 2017, respectively). Distractions here are diverse to a surreal degree, you can shop in a megamall, hop on a yacht, sunbathe, ice-skate, see the leaning tower of Abu Dhabi (aka the Hyatt Capital Gate) and have a flutter on a camel race in one day. It’s not all full-speed fun; abaya- and dishdash-sporting millionaires spend languid afternoons in the grassy Corniche and the oases at Al Ain and Liwa offer a laid-back glimpse into the Arabia of myth and legend.

Do go/Don’t go

Abu Dhabi is sunny all-year round, but if you don’t want to spend the holiday ducking from one air-conditioned space to the next visit between November and April. The mercury soars from May to September, but if you can take the heat the city’s quieter and the Abu Dhabi Summer Season festival brings a packed programme of theatre, comedy nights, live music and more. During Ramadan, some city attractions close and opening times can vary – the date changes each year, so check before you book.

Getting thereView map

  • Planes Fly in to Abu Dhabi International Airport (, flights arrive direct from Heathrow, or transatlantic flights connect at Frankfurt or Bahrain. Flights across the Pacific arrive via Kuala Lumpur and Colombo Bandaranaike. Dubai International ( is just over an hour’s drive away.
  • Automobiles There’s an Avis car-hire booth at Abu Dhabi airport if you need a set of wheels. You’re far more likely to traverse the city in a taxi – they’re a handy way to avoid walking in the heat and are fairly reasonably priced – however, they can be elusive and the city’s street-naming system is frustratingly convoluted, so make a note of landmarks before arrival and use those to guide your driver.