Must-see places in Abu Dhabi that should be in your itinerary – Times of India

Ushnota Paul, TIMESOFINDIA.COM, TRAVEL TIPS, ABU DHABI Updated : Jun 28, 2022, 12:06 IST
When I thought about visiting Abu Dhabi – that recently hosted the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards 2022 – as a die-hard Carrie Bradshaw stan over the years, the first thought that came to my mind was the movie Sex and the City 2. The four famous friends were seen vacationing at the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital, far away from their comforting New York City.

Situated at the Saadiyat Cultural District on Saadiyat Island, Louvre Abu Dhabi is a breathtaking display of artistic achievement and architectural excellence. In 2007, an agreement was signed between the UAE and France that allows the museum to use Louvre‘s name until 2037. It is an art lovers paradise with artwork from around the world displayed here, of historical, cultural and sociological significance, from ancient times to the contemporary era.

Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Arab world’s first universal museum, was designed by the famous Pritzker-prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel and encompasses 9,200 square metres of galleries. Right at the beginning, it was the pharaoh of Ramesses II that caught my attention. As a lover of all things Egyptian, I was mesmerised looking at the 13th century pharaoh seated on a throne inscribed with his name, wearing a royal headdress with a cobra (which is now broken). Other artefacts that caught my eyes were a sphinx made of limestone from 500-600 BCE Greek civilisation, a painting by Johannes Vermeer called ‘The Astronomer’ made during 1668 Netherland, French painter Frédéric Bazille’s 1864 painting ‘The Pink Dress’ and a Persian carpet called ‘Polonaise carpet’ from the 1600s Iran made of silk, cotton, gold and silver threads.

However, the painting that made me stop in my tracks and stare at it for several minutes was an original Vincent van Gogh called ‘Caravans, Gypsy Camp near Arles’ made in France in 1888. It hung next to another exquisite work of art ‘The Bohemian’ by Édouard Manet. Make sure you keep a good couple of hours in hand before visiting the Louvre so that you have enough time to read up about the pieces and understand the history behind them. The general admission ticket fee for adults is AED 63 and children below 18 get a free entry. The museum stays open from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm everyday, barring Mondays.
One of the largest mosques in the world and the largest in the UAE, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has a welcoming open-door policy that encourages visitors from around the world of all religions and backgrounds, from worshippers to cultural explorers. Modest clothing is necessary while entering the mosque and if you’re a female, your head needs to be covered. We were given a comfortable abaya in the dressing room free of cost, so it wasn’t a big hassle.

The mosque – that took 13 years to be completed – features 1,096 amethyst-and-jasper-embedded columns, 82 white marble domes and opulent gold-plated Swarovski chandeliers. Out of the seven chandeliers in the mosque that were all imported from Germany, the largest one is the third largest chandelier in the world and shines like a thousand suns studded with Swarovski crystals.

Sunset is absolutely the best time to visit the mosque – the place glows as the sun sets and it looks surreal. The reflective pools along the arcades – perfectly designed to capture the light – act as water mirrors and make the place look breathtaking. Even as an atheist, I felt a strong spiritual connection and really peaceful as I walked around this stunning structure. I was curious to see so many floral patterns around the mosque, so our guide explained that it’s the representation of a traditional Islamic garden. The mosque is large enough to accommodate around 40,100 worshippers and also has a courtyard with one of the largest marble mosaic artworks in the world. It was also amusing to find out that the mosque holds a Guinness World Record for the largest hand-woven carpet. It took more than a 1,000 carpet knotters to weave this wool carpet, that took almost two years to complete.

The building of this mosque was started by the late president of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was buried in the courtyard of the mosque after his death in 2004. His resting place is the only area in the mosque where photography is strictly prohibited. There is no admission fee required to enter the mosque and a complimentary guided tour is available.
Located in the heart of Abu Dhabi in Corniche road, the absolutely splendid Emirates Palace, that has served as the backdrop to many movies like Fast and Furious 7, Race 3, Welcome Back and Bunty Aur Babli 2, should be in your itinerary if you want to feel like royalty and take a sip of their iconic gold-flaked cappuccino. Yes, you heard me right. After a sumptuous dinner at one of the restaurants in Emirates Palace, stop by Le Café, one of their lobby lounges, to try out the hotel’s signature 24-carat gold-flaked ‘Palace Cappuccino’.

Indulge in the epitome of luxury while sipping into this delicious cup of fragrant coffee topped with the hotel’s logo and sprinkled with real 24-carat edible gold leaf. The coffee was served with a slice of delicious cake. The lobby also had live music playing and I was enthralled by a woman playing some beautiful pieces on the piano.

Get lost in another world and be one with beautiful Mother Nature as you walk around marvelling at more than 46,000 animals from over 300 species at the National Aquarium Abu Dhabi, the largest aquarium in the Middle East. Expect to see different kinds of fish like Blue Hamlet, Yellowhead Wrasse, Stripped Eel Catfish, Pufferfish to even a Clownfish (the famous fish from the animated film ‘Finding Nemo’). It was fascinating to learn that a Pufferfish can transform and enlarge their body in a split second as a self-defence tactic.

It was particularly interesting to see a huge Western Rock Lobster which is only found in the western coasts of Australia. The aquarium is spread across 10 nautically themed zones and it was fun to see a school of fish inside an old telephone booth and even a car! The aquarium also had other fascinating animals and birds like the Arctic Terns – a migratory bird that travels year round from pole to pole across oceans and and continents, seeking sunlight. It was the Chilean Rose Tarantula that made a shiver run down my spine – the huge spider sat almost camouflaged on top of a rock and all that separated us (thankfully) was a glass wall. I felt excited like a kid looking at other interesting creatures like a Chinese Water Dragon, a Green Tree Frog, Squirrel Monkeys and Capybaras Fun fact: Capybaras are the largest and friendliest rodents in the world.

Though, nothing can compare the feeling that I got looking at different specifies of sharks, including the Bull Sharks, which are considered one of the most dangerous shark species in the ocean. A sign outside one shark tanks read – ‘The Megalodon Shark’s bite was at least six times stronger than that of a Tyrannosaurus Rex’. Phew! The general admission fee for adults is 105 AED while children below three years can enter free of charge. Whether you’re a kid or an adult, The National Aquarium will make you feel like coming back to it again and again – I promise.
If you think this itinerary is missing some real adrenaline rush and thrill, think again. You cannot leave Abu Dhabi without paying a visit to the iconic Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the world’s first Ferrari-branded theme park. The ride you should absolutely not miss is ‘Formula Rossa’ – the world’s fastest roller coaster that goes from zero to 240km per hour in 4.9 seconds, while soaring to heights of 52 metres. The ‘Flying Aces’ comes with the world’s highest roller-coaster loop while ‘Turbo Track’ offers an epic zero-gravity fall.

If you want more of a leisurely experience, then you will love ‘Bell’Italia’, a ride that takes you across Italy’s landmarks like the Amalfi Coast, the Colosseum di Roma in a vintage Ferrari car. I especially enjoyed ‘Driving with the champion’, a cinematic motion-based simulator that makes you feel like you’re driving a F1 car at a lightning speed. Don’t forget to pick up some cool park merchandise from the official shop on your way out.
The three-level Yas Mall on Yas island – the biggest in Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s second-largest shopping centre – is a shopper’s paradise. With more than 370 stores and around 60 indoor and outdoor restaurants and cafés, you can leisurely walk around and spend hours window shopping, sipping a coffee or grabbing a bite. Pro tip: Grab a yummy shawarma from ‘Shish Shawerma’ at the food court, they have some amazing options to choose from.

From an Apple store to brands like Tryano, Kendall+Kylie, Calvin Klein, Lacoste, Victoria’s Secret, Sephora, Bath & Body Works to DKNY, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Go to Carrefour on the ground floor if you want to do some grocery or household shopping. Best part? The mall also has a direct link to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.
If you’re done shopping for high-end brands at Yas Mall, then it’s time to go shopping at the local souks. At Mina Zayed, near Abu Dhabi’s main port area, is the fish souk where wholesalers head to buy fresh prawns, red snapper and blue-shelled crabs. Right across the road, you will find the Al Mina Fruit and Vegetable Souk for some yummy, fresh produce.

You can also swing by the date shop in Mina Market for some affordable and yummy Arabic dates and coffee. Pro tip: Do not shop for souvenirs to take back home at Yas Mall. You will get the same stuff at the World Trade Centre Mall at a much better rate.

If you visit the UAE, make sure that you have a few days reserved for Abu Dhabi after you’re done with the more famous Dubai. This beautiful amalgamation of ancient heritage with a modern, cosmopolitan twist is rare and Abu Dhabi offers you just that.
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When I thought about visiting Abu Dhabi – that recently hosted the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards 2022 – as a die-hard Carrie Bradshaw stan over the years, the first thought that came…


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