Fifty reasons Abu Dhabi is the best Emirate

We celebrate our love of the capital, with amazing reasons why it's the greatest Discuss this article

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Fujairah, you have a beautiful coast. Sharjah, that souk of yours is rather special, Dubai we’ve grown to love your energy and Ras Al Khaimah, well, please never change.

We love our road trips, we really do. But, we think you will all agree that Abu Dhabi is rather incredible. A glance at a map shows it is the biggest as well. More than 15 times the size of Dubai. In this case, we reckon bigger is certainly better. As well as being the nation’s capital we’ve got 50 reasons why Abu Dhabi is, we say with confidence, the best emirate. Your move, Dubai...

1 Marvellous mangroves…

Everybody knows about the desert dunes of the UAE. Not quite so well-known, however, is that it has 70 square kilometres of forest, 19 of which are in the lush mangroves. The protected national park is home to more than 50 bird species, varied vegetation and animal life. Explore them by kayak or paddleboard for eco-friendly, outdoorsy fun. What’s not to love?

2 Dreamy desert escapades…

Let’s not deny the obvious – the vast majority of Abu Dhabi is made up of sand. And it is more beautiful than you could ever imagine. Hundreds and hundreds of miles of barely explored desert is popular for camping, uninterrupted photo shoots and desert driving. If you have never been into the desert, take a look at the stunning Google Street View footage taken from the back of a camel walking through Liwa.

3 We’ve got the F1…

The annual highlight of motorsport’s biggest racing season is held right here on our own Yas Marina circuit. The world’s best drivers in the world’s fastest cars on the world’s fanciest racing track while the whole world, not to mention regional neighbours, look jealously on.

4 Mega concerts…

Grand Prix weekend brings with it the biggest names in pop music to perform on our shores. While the F1 weekend (www.yasalam.ae) has the best concentration of international artists, Abu Dhabi proves year-round that it is the best emirate for major international artists (sorry Ajman, it is true). Pharrell Williams, Paul McCartney, Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, Jay-Z, Eminem, Beyoncé, The Rolling Stones – our fair city has been host to the biggest artists and the best UAE concerts in recent years. Fact.

5 And we can run around the circuit…

As if the F1 races and enormous gigs are not enough, the Yas Marina Circuit (www.yasmarinacircuit.com) is home to the best community sport event in the country. StartYAS (Sunday nights), TrainYAS (Tuesday nights) and GoYAS (ladies-only session on a Wednesday night) are free fitness events wherein the iconic track is opened for you to walk, run and cycle around with likeminded fitness-seekers.

6 Amazing architecture…
What’s that, Dubai? You have the world’s tallest building? That’s nice. Have you seen the Hyatt Capital Gate (www.capitalgate.ae) building? We call it the “Leaning Tower of Abu Dhabi” and it holds the world record for the furthest leaning man-made tower. It swerves 18 degrees to one side and makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like a rocket ship. We’re rather fond of the Aldar Headquarters (www.aldar.ae) as well, it being the first circular building in the Middle East and all. We like to imagine it was (will be?) built and designed in the future.

7Awesome dunes…
Sometimes called the “scary mountain”, Tal Moreeb Dune is the tallest sand dune in the country. At 300 metres high, with a 50-degree angle of descent and a mile in length, it is a beast and a favourite of daring off-road drivers from all over the UAE. Set your GPS for 22.975008, 53.785380.

8 The Garden City…
Abu Dhabi is the buy-one-get-one-free emirate. As well as the capital city, we also have Al Ain in our territory. Heritage, sport, adventure, culture and a good spattering of greenery and low-key, second city-style calm, all combine to make it ideal for staycations and day trips.

9 Paddles up…

White-water rafting and river kayaking should not be possible in the UAE. The other emirates, we’re sure, would all agree on that point. Abu Dhabi doesn’t let the lack of a river stand in its way, though. And Wadi Adventure (www.wadiadventure.ae) is one of the country’s most surprising and fun spots. As the world’s longest manmade white-water channel, there is more than a kilometre of artificial rafting, plus a rucksack full of other adventure ideas.

10 The best zoo…

A safari park and animal education centre that has more than 4,300 animals would make any area more interesting. See leopards, wolves, monkeys, lions, tigers, hippos, crocodiles, rhinos, gorillas and giraffes at the Al Ain Zoo (www.alainzoo.ae) and try experiences such as giraffe feeding, hippo training, reptile encounters and lemur walks. Animal-lovers don’t need to jump on a plane to see fantastic beasts.

11 The first and only UNESCO World Heritage site…

The first location in the UAE to be recognised and protected as an UNESCO World Heritage site, Al Ain Oasis is one of the coolest, shadiest and most tranquil locales. Spread over almost 3,000 acres and featuring around 150,000 date palms, it is a place like no other. Walk the pleasant paths, pop into the eco-centre, sit and listen to the bird song and identify the 100 varieties of tree.

12 The world’s greenest city…
This is not just the best in the UAE, but the whole world when it comes to eco-foresight. Masdar City (www.masdar.ae) is said to be the world’s most sustainable city and is what the future will look like, everywhere. Powered by solar panels and cooled by ancient Arabian architecture, it combines old with new. But what we’re really interested in are the driverless cars that transport visitors and workers around the complex.

13 World-best landmarks…

When TripAdvisor unveiled its ranking of the world’s best landmarks, Abu Dhabians were not in the slightest bit surprised to see the breath-taking Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (www.szgmc.ae) so high on the list. Users of the site voted it number two in the world, behind Machu Picchu in Peru, but ahead of the Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower, Acropolis, Great Wall of China and, well, everywhere else, basically. The mosque is one of few in the region open to non-Muslims and a guided tour is an opportunity to learn about Islam and see the 82 domes, more than one thousand columns, four 107-metre-high minarets and a twelve-ton chandelier.

14 The world’s fastest roller coaster…

We’re delighted to see more theme parks and extra roller coasters popping up in the UAE. More competition, more fun and more great days out are to be had. But some perspective, please. Ferrari World (www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com) is still home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, thank you very much. Reaching speeds of 240kmph, in less than five seconds, it is quicker than any F1 car and more rides are being introduced. The benchmark is set and it is up to the other parks to surpass those claims (well, that is if they can keep up).

15 That hydro-magnetic tornado waterslide (naturally)…

There are waterparks in Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Dubai, and we encourage you to visit as many as you can. Before passing up on the opportunity to visit Yas Waterworld (www.yaswaterworld.com) for the fifth time, however, just ask yourself if any of the others have the world’s first hydro-magnetic tornado waterslide or an interactive water and laser roller coaster? Here’s a clue – they don’t. Nor do the other place’s flumes look like angry snakes.

16 Here be oil…
The oil reserves in the UAE are a finite resource and won’t last forever. While efforts are being made to diversify the economy, the oil industry is far and away the biggest contributor to national coffers. And it is Abu Dhabi that has a significant majority of the reserves.

17 And we’re out-of-this-world…

JJ Abrams picked Abu Dhabi as the filming location for shooting the desert planet of Jakku in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Surely we deserve extra points for that.

18 The most palatial of hotels…

In a country famous around the world for the lavish nature of its hotels, it takes something special to be the fanciest. Burj Al Arab down the road has its fans, but the 114 domes, 1,002 chandeliers, one kilometre of private beach and carpets weighing a ton at the Emirates Palace (www.kempinski.com) are enough for us to declare it a winner after a close contest.

19 10,000 birdie pedicures…

Birds of prey are beloved around the country, but it is only Abu Dhabi that has a hospital dedicated to their medical care and protection. The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital (www.falconhospital.com) is impressive, with more than 10,000 birds treated each year and visitor tours showing off everything from flight demonstrations to birdie pedicures.

20 Free-roaming wildlife…

Thosands of free-roaming animals are grazing around a private conservation site over on Sir Bani Yas Island (www.sirbaniyasisland.com). You will see cheetahs, jackals, hyenas, gazelles, antelope, deer, snakes, geckos and giraffes, but the most impressive is the world’s largest herd of Arabian oryx that call this stunning desert island home. Book your trip now.

21 MAD clubbing experiences…

Regulars at one or two Dubai nightspots might get all defensive, but we’re going to charge right ahead and call this one of the best nightclubs in the country. What is not in doubt is that MAD on Yas Island (www.madonyasisland.com) is the biggest indoor nightlife venue in the UAE and regularly attracts big-name performers such as Ne-Yo, Akon, T-Pain, Tinashe, Jeremih and Tinie Tempah.

22 And Blue Marlin Ibiza…

So good is this beach club and lounge that Dubai’s clubbers try to claim it as their own. It is true that it is down the road towards our little neighbour, but make no mistake – this is all Abu Dhabi. The spiritual home of Blue Marlin (www.bluemarlinibiza-uae.com), though, is Ibiza. From blissed-out sunsets to thumping late-night parties, it is a nightspot any serious party town in the world would be proud to have.

23 We’re skies above…

Look, it is close. We’ll admit it. Etihad (www.etihad.com) versus Emirates (www.emirates.com) is a high-quality comparison. Both are right up there with the best airline service, comfort and wide-ranging route network. What tips the UAE’s national airline in our favour is the residence. We will never be able to afford it, but knowing that the A380 we’re flying on has a three-bedroom suite complete with living room, bedroom and en-suite private shower is enough for us.

24 We’re streets ahead…

There are supercars in every corner of the land. But nowhere in the world has a collection quite like Abu Dhabi’s Emirates National Auto Museum (www.enam.ae). Last time we looked it was closed for temporary maintenance, but any car fanatic that gets a chance to visit His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan’s private car collection has to take it. There are around 230 exhibits, including historic and giant cars.

25 But we’re also still lightyears behind (in a good way)…

The oldest permanent structure in Abu Dhabi, Qasr Al Hosn Fort, is a symbol of the nation’s traditions and culture. It has been standing since 1760 and is home to many cultural activities and an annual heritage festival. Restoration work is ongoing, so while you aren’t able to visit you can always check it out on the back of a Dhs1,000 note (you Abu Dhabi high-lifer, you).

26 There’s that envy-inducing mall…

Colleagues at Time Out Dubai poured scorn on our declaration that Yas Mall (www.yasmall.ae) is the best in the Middle East. Perhaps they banged their head on an indoor ski slope because the credentials here stack up. There is a 20-screen cinema, unique brands, 2.5 million square feet of retail space and did somebody say Ikea? Now, those same Time Out-ers go to Yas Mall just to get away from the crowds at their malls.

27 More fine heritage attractions…
Al Jahili Fort is one of the finest heritage attractions in the UAE because it is so well-maintained. It was built in 1891 to defend Al Ain and the mountain passes, so it is a must-visit. Nowhere has a historic building quite like this anywhere in the UAE, and the close proximity to Al Ain’s Camel Market makes it ideal for a UAE cultural double-feature.

28 The manicured waterfront…

Eight kilometres of stunning waterfront with parks, beaches, cafés, restaurants and oodles of personality runs the length of Abu Dhabi. Other emirates might try and copy our Corniche, but nobody is coming close. Rent one of the bikes and pedal up and down, or take a leisurely stroll along it, smiling at your fellow city-dwellers as you go (it’s a friendly place).

29 An ultimate sports haven…

Sporty types in Abu Dhabi should wake up thankful they’re within easy reaching distance of Zayed Sports City (www.zsc.ae). This incredible facility has 17 football pitches, 60 fitness classes, 26 golf simulators, nine tennis courts, a massive paintball arena and the largest ten-pin bowling centre in the Middle East. Game on!

30 A super-suave island…
Nurai Island (www.zayanuraiisland.com) is the fanciest place in the UAE. Don’t believe us? Name just one that is more jaw-droppingly beautiful if you can. Take the ten-minute speedboat ride to the luxury private island resort and you will arrive at a place of architectural splendour, upscale chic, glamorous beaches and spa treatments that seven-star locations could only dream of.

31 Oh, and it’s the “new Hollywood”…
Abu Dhabi may well become the new Hollywood and it’s all thanks to Image Nation Abu Dhabi (www.imagenationabudhabi.com). The company is reinventing the movie scene here one hit movie at a time, introducing the world to the talent within the UAE, and pouring plenty of money into making more home-grown flicks with substance than wishy-washy summer blockbusters, a trend that dissolved in our US counterpart many years ago. Read our online interview with the studio’s CEO, Michael Garin, if you don’t believe us yet.

32 Then there’s a taste of Paris…

We’re serious. If you are prepared to battle your way through traffic jam central (AKA Hamdan Street), then we recommend a visit to Alliance Française (www.afabudhabi.org) and the Mercure Abu Dhabi, where they screen French films by the pool once a month. It’s awesome.

33 The UAE’s highest mountain…

We have Jebel Hafeet. Enough said.

34 A golfers’ stomping ground…

Yas Links (www.yaslinks.com) is the first Links golf course in the Middle East and it’s simply stunning. The 18-hole course attracts players from all around the world and offers up incredible city views. It’s time to tee off…

35 Island-hoppin’ potential…
Other emirates are forced to make man-made islands because they don’t have enough of their own. On the other hand, Abu Dhabi has more than 200 and many are either developed or reachable by boat tours. Sailing companies like Lulu Boats (www.luluboats.com) will take visitors and residents on island-hopping excursions and even organise overnight camps out to sea.

36 An art-lover’s dream…

There has never been a better time for the arts in the country, with poetry, film-making, theatre, painting and more experiencing a golden age. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Saadiyat Cultural District (www.saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae), where globally renowned art institutions are already exhibiting and/or are coming soon. We’re talking about the likes of the Louvre, Guggenheim and the Zayed National Museum, of course.

37 Because we’re happy…
The UAE has a Happiness Minister. Take that in for a moment. A government-appointed person who has the job of promoting happiness and wellbeing in the country. We all win. But Abu Dhabi takes things a step further by having Happiness Patrols by police. Drive well or do something good on the roads and you might be pulled over and given “happiness vouchers” by the police. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, then nothing will.

38 And we’re kind…

There are dozens of premium bakeries around this fair and pleasant land. Some of them, we can honestly say, are better than Electra Street’s Celebrating Life Bakery (www.facebook.com/CelebratingLifeBakeryAD). But we’re unashamedly putting it on this list as a lesson to cake-makers and businesses in general around the country because of its one-for-one campaign. Every time you buy a special cake, the team here will surprise a less fortunate person with another cake to celebrate their birthday.

39 AND we’re super eco-friendly…
Abu Dhabi is pioneering the care, preservation and education on flora and fauna. The Environment Agency (www.ead.ae) looks after and reports on local wildlife. Current highlights include the second largest dugong population in the world and the imminent re-introduction of a near-extinct Arabian Oryx into the wilds
of the emirate.

40 We’ve got a bona-fide national “hidden gem”…

Abu Dhabi has Shay Madhboot (02 621 7323) and the other emirates do not. By definition we win. This little Muroor-based restaurant only does around five things, but it does them so well, so we’re calling it one of the nation’s great hidden gems. Try the shakshouka and the karak before deciding you don’t need to head to the smaller emirates to find cheap, characterful and tasty budget food.

41 And some exclusive restaurants…

We’re not saying Abu Dhabi is alone in bringing excellent international chains to UAE shores. There are a few, however, that we have exclusively and Time Out Abu Dhabi knows for a fact our neighbours are rather jealous of. Places such as Asian-Latino crossover Asia de Cuba (www.asiadecuba.com) or Café Milano (www.fourseasons.com), which was imported from Washington DC, not Milan.

42 Plus, the ones they have too, we do better…

“Anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything, better than you”. Close your eyes and you can almost hear the wind blowing in the palm trees and singing that song. Case in point – adopting and improving the best restaurants in Dubai. Great names like COYA, Zuma, Hakkasan, Loca and many more are open in both cities. Go to both and just see if the setting and food at our version is better. Oh, and you’re more likely to get a seat here and enjoying sitting in it without being a millimetre away from a stranger...

43 Speaking of more space…
We’re not anti-social sorts here at Time Out Abu Dhabi. Not in the slightest. It is just that we sometimes want a bit of room to ourselves. Thankfully, there are free beaches here with enough room to fling a Frisbee without worrying about clonking a neighbour on the head. We’re big fans of public beach comfort provider BAKE (www.bakeuae.com). It operates five kilometres of public beach space in Al Bateen, Saadiyat and along the Corniche.

44 There are more festivals than you can swing some street food at…

We love a festival here in Abu Dhabi. And our festivals are more varied and captivating than anywhere else in the country. In 2017, there has already been all sorts, including Abu Dhabi Festival (music), Mother of The Nation Festival (heritage), Flavors Festival (food), Truckers Jam (more food), Love Food Festival (and yet more food) – just to name a few. And there’s plenty more to come, recognising everything from poetry and literature to camels and dates.

45 It’s the home of international football…

Although Dubai teams might try and claim they have 20 league titles between them, compared to our 17, but Al Ain’s 12 winners’ trophies are way ahead of what anybody else can muster. Abu Dhabi is also the hub of international football in the UAE, with home games played at Zayed Sports City Stadium, Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium and Al Ain’s Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.

46 And the home of world-class equestrian facilities…
Zayed Sport City is not the only top-notch sports centre in the country. Al Forsan International Sports Resort (www.alforsan.com) has one of the most amazing cable facilities in the world for wakeboarding, custom-built karting tracks and top-of-the-range equestrian facilities.

47 As well as the home of the UAE’s best arena…

Why do we have the UAE’s best concerts in Abu Dhabi? The answer is easy. We have what is hands-down the best concert venue in the country. The du Arena on Yas Island has a capacity of up to 35,000 people in the open air and it has hosted more than seven million concert-goers since opening in 2009.

48 Upscale neighbourhoods to love, like…

Would it be wrong of us to call Al Maryah Island the Manhattan of Abu Dhabi? The upscale island certainly has the requisite mix of premium lifestyle brands (the Four Seasons and Rosewood hotels get a thumbs up from us) and it is a financial centre with high-end executive blocks and commercial activities. Not to mention The Galleria, with all its next-level brands and restaurants.

49 Things are only going to get better…
The best is only going to get better. In 2018 we’re getting a US$100m extreme sports centre on Yas Island. CLYMB (www.miral.ae) will boast an indoor skydiving simulator. Also coming next year is Warner Bros Abu Dhabi theme park, which will have rides themed around Batman, Superman, and more. Plus, we’re going to get the first-ever SeaWorld (www.seaworldabudhabi.ae) outside of America, dedicated to marine-life research, rescue, rehabilitation and return.

50 so, it’s worth sticking around…

A mega airport terminal expansion is in the pipeline, too. The latest reports say we may have to wait a little longer for the Midfield Terminal to open, but when it does start operating there could be as many as 30 million passengers per year through the terminal. This would take Abu Dhabi Airport to a capacity of 45 million per year. It will also be Abu Dhabi’s largest building when it’s finished.

By Will Milner
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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