Twenty things we love about Abu Dhabi

Why 2017 was such a brilliant year for the capital

We don’t envy you 2018 – because terrific 2017 is going to be a hard act to follow. It has been such an incredible twelve months that we can hardly bring ourselves to say goodbye. Just to help the coping process, we’re looking back at 20 fantastic highlights, from the long-awaited opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi to the opening of an array of new restaurants to mega star music acts to the return of club football’s biggest global event. Thanks, 2017, it’s been emotional.

Another fantastic F1 weekend

Lewis Hamilton may have already clinched the world title before the F1 roadshow rolled into Abu Dhabi, but there was more than enough action off the track to make this another spectacular long weekend. Global superstar P!nk stole the show with a fantastic after-race performance, while an all-star cast of musical maestros such as Calvin Harris, Busta Rhymes, Craig David and Tiesto made sure the party stayed in full throttle throughout. Now next year, just try to make the title race a bit more interesting, eh, Lewis?

Brilliant new brunches
Brunch is a dining institution here in Abu Dhabi – and we always excited by the prospect of a fresh Friday feast. Restaurants have been cooking up a storm this year, with the city brimming with new brunches to try. Innovative Indian eatery Tamba, Latin newcomer Toro Toro, perennial favourite SushiSan and Al Maryah Island eateries Coya and Loca have all joined the brunch club, while top steakhouse The Foundry has relaunched its popular Raising the Steaks meal marathon. That Friday feeling just keeps on getting better.

Capital of culture
The opening of Louvre Abu Dhabi is just the icing on the cultural cake that is Abu Dhabi. The city has prided itself for years as being at the forefront of the art and culture movement in the UAE – and 2017 has been another huge year. As well as another successful Abu Dhabi Art festival at Manarat al Saadiyat, Al Ain has played host to a programme celebrating the nation’s rich history and The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi University has brought an eclectic schedule of music, dance and art performances to the capital in recent months as part of its ongoing season of activities. That’s not to mention the wealth of art galleries and creative workshops where people from all over the city can draw inspiration all year long.

Club World Cup scores big
Okay, so we could’ve predicted that Champions League winners Real Madrid would defend their crown, but the return of the FIFA Club World Club to Abu Dhabi for the first time in almost a decade delivered plenty of thrills along the way. The global tournament’s most heart-warming story was written by the emirate’s own Al Jazira, whose fairy-tale run to the semi-final stage was only ended by Spanish giants Real, who were forced to come back from a goal down at half-time to secure a hard-fought 2-1 win thanks to their superstar duo Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Ronaldo again starred in the final as Madrid defeated Brazilian outfit Gremio 1-0 to end up on top of the world again.

Escaping to nature
Life in the big city is lots of fun but now and again you need an urban escape – and you don’t even have to clock up too many miles to do so. So this year we went kayaking in the beautiful Eastern Mangroves and took our binoculars down to Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, where we spotted some of the thousands of exotic birds and mammals and even the Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard, known as a dhub. To really get away from it all, we also plotted a course for The Empty Quarter, the largest continuous sand desert in the world.

Exciting new restaurants
Abu Dhabi’s already impressive roster of restaurants got even tastier in 2017 – with a batch of exciting new eateries fresh on the menu. Super stylish 99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant may have come to the capital by way of Spain, but it serves up fantastic Japanese tastes that deservedly earned it the prestigious Best Newcomer title at our recent restaurant awards. The cool venue saw off stiff competition from fellow new culinary kid on the block, classy continental spot La Petite Maison to claim the gong. Lively Latin restaurant Toro Toro and al fresco Italian Filini Garden also won our hearts (and filled our stomachs) over the past 12 months.

Fantastic food festivals
You might think Abu Dhabi diners might have had their fill of food by now, but we are always hungry for more. This year, foodie fans have been able to sink their teeth into a brace of brilliant festivals. Taste of Abu Dhabi, held at du Arena, sizzled along nicely thanks to a mix of big name chefs, cooking challenges and live music from British pop icon Tony Hadley, of Spandau Ballet fame. Abu Dhabi Food Festival, so big it was held in both Al Ain and Abu Dhabi, dished out a huge plateful of entertainment, including cool Caribbean vibes at Beach Feast (including a live set from Shaggy, no less), a Truckers Carnival filled with a convoy of food trucks, plus the Delicious Cinema, where film lovers were able to try out remakes of the dishes being eaten by Hollywood icons on the big screen.

Generosity all year round
We might be right in the middle of the season of goodwill, but the spirit of giving has been alive and well all year round in the UAE. Not only does the UAE Government encourage residents to support charitable initiatives during Ramadan, but 2017 was also designated as the Year of Giving. The UAE’s President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has encouraged citizens to not only help others through monetary means, but by volunteering their time to helping others. Schemes such as the Ramadan Fridge initiative, which saw fridges located at hotels, offices and apartments stocked with food and drink to support construction workers during the searing summer heat, were all part of the capital’s many acts of kindness

Getting race fit
With scores of top-class restaurants to choose from in Abu Dhabi, it’s easy to pile on the pounds while shedding plenty of dirhams. So it is great that the capital’s F1 track, Yas Marina Circuit, is helping to reduce waistlines while boosting bank balances. Every Tuesday, residents could get fighting fit for free at TrainYas. The circuit opened up to runners, walkers and cyclists of all ages and abilities to have fun while getting in shape. And as if that wasn’t enough, scores of athletes put their best foot forward for TriYas, a fantastic annual triathlon where seasoned competitors and absolute amateurs alike united to swim, run and cycle their way to the finishing line.

Going MAD for it
We were crazier than ever about Yas Island super club, MAD, in 2017. The hip hangout not only brought some top names to the capital, such as Jason Derulo, Jay Sean and Lil Jon for live performances, but also launched a funky new club night, Backdoor, which has made Tuesdays well worth going out for. With brilliant DJs on the decks each and every week and a brilliant urban vibe on show, MAD has to be high on your list of must-do nights out in the city.

Happy days
One thing we will always love about Abu Dhabi is that the concept of time always gets lost, especially at your favourite bar. A happy hour is much more than just 60 minutes of savings here, with many stretching on so long it’s almost a happy day. Park Rotana favourite Cooper’s serves up one of the longest happy hours in town – from noon until midnight – while Velocity is always quick to deliver a top offer, with regular Dh10 hops and grape deals available during the week. There is always a good reason to round up the girls, too, with a bucket load of ladies’ night deals available each and every week. We did, did you?

Hidden gems
In a city as big and bold as Abu Dhabi, with soaring skyscrapers and five-star hotels aplenty, you might not think it is possible to go off the beaten track here. But we explored a bit further and found back streets full of intriguing cuisine at knock-down prices. From experiencing Ethiopian flavours at Bonna Annee near Salam Street and casual Korean at Hankook off Al Wahda Mall, to sipping traditional karak tea at cosy café Shay Madhboot, it wasn’t all about fine dining at top prices. Plus, we found of independent stores where you can pick up trinkets and treasures.

Joining the club
Abu Dhabi really came alive at night in 2017 – after two glamorous new clubs joined the party. Empire Yas Nightclub, based in the glittering Yas Viceroy hotel, has the impressive calling card of being the only venue sitting above an F1 track – but that’s not the only reason it took the fast track to success. The swanky 400-capacity venue is set up to wow, with a huge LED wall, a superb sound system, those panoramic views of the circuit and a wide variety of themed nights, including the Friday Dinner and Show. It wasn’t the only new addition to the social scene, though, as Pop, well, popped up at the Hilton Abu Dhabi hotel. The vibrant spot opened in the summer and has proved a hit with its pop-tastic playlist and great sets from top DJs, such as capital favourite Cliff Townley.

National pride

The UAE may only be a fledgling nation – it celebrated the 46th anniversary of its formation during UAE National Day – but it is a country bursting with pride at its remarkable development in such a short period of time. From a desert land to a world superpower in a matter of decades, built on the vision and industry of its leaders and residents. This sense of achievement is symbolised by the sight of the UAE flag draped over trees, buildings and from homes long after national day has passed. It is a unifying vision that many countries around the world would dearly love to be able to replicate.

Rod lights up Abu Dhabi
The word legend might be overused but it definitely fits the bill when it comes to Sir Rod Stewart. The hugely popular performer – who has been topping the charts for more than 40 years with classic tracks such as Maggie May, The First Cut Is The Deepest, Tonight’s The Night and Sailing – made his Abu Dhabi debut at du Arena in March. It was a rare chance for music lovers to get up closer to one of the true giants of the music scene, and we were there to witness Rod prove he’s certainly still got it.

The Laughter Factory
The joke has been on us all year round thanks to the rip-roaring success of the touring Laughter Factory. An international cast of side-splitting stand-up stars had us rolling in the aisles across the city, including at the Hilton Abu Dhabi and the factory’s favourite haunt of the Park Rotana Abu Dhabi. From witty asides to sharp observations and outrageous hilarity, we were royally entertained by mirth masters such as John Fothergill, The Funny Greek Angelo Tsarouchas, JoJo Smith and Dominic Holland. Don’t worry that we’ve had the last laugh, either, as 2018 will kick off with a hotly awaited set from one of Britain’s best comics, Jason Manford.

The Louvre launches
It was a dream development more than a decade in the making, but 2017 was finally the year that Louvre Abu Dhabi opened to the public. The magnificent museum has attracted worldwide attention since swinging open its doors in November, thanks to its vast collection of hundreds of masterpieces spanning several centuries and civilisations and its own status as an architectural marvel. The striking structure has been designed with an innovative Rain of Light roof, letting in natural light so visitors can enjoy a unique experience whenever they visit. The Louvre Abu Dhabi looks set to have a huge cultural impact in the UAE and beyond for generations to come.

The return of Creamfields
So, absence really does make the heart grow fonder. We were dancing with delight after hearing that the world-famous music festival was returning to Abu Dhabi this December after a three-year break – and it really proved well worth the wait. The massive line-up was led by dance music icons Above & Beyond, Deadmau5 and Axwell^Ingrosso, who served up hours of bone-shaking sounds, combined with dazzling laser displays and incredible pyrotechnics, to keep an amped-up crowd at du Arena up on their feet from the first beat to the last. Creamfields, promise you will never leave us again.

World recognition
We all know that Abu Dhabi is one of the greatest cities on the planet – but it’s always nice to see that everyone else gets it, too. This year saw the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque named the world’s second favourite landmark by users of travel website TripAdvisor, leaving the likes of Peru’s Machu Picchu, India’s iconic Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in its wake. The Emirate was also named the world’s safest city in a poll featuring more than 330 cities. It’s safe to say, Abu Dhabi is one of the best places on Earth.

WWE takes over
“Rope opera” was back in full force as the larger-than-life superstars of the WWE slammed down in the capital for the first time in two years for a double bill of destruction. Crowds of families flocked to Zayed Sport City Tennis Stadium to see world-famous grapplers such as Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe, Kane and Braun Strowman face off in the ring. The tour proved pretty notable, too, with the first-ever women’s title match taking place in the UAE, pitting champion Alexa Bliss against Sasha Banks, and the legendary HHH returning to action in a repeat of his WrestleMania 32 main event against Roman Reigns.

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