Imagine a futuristic island where everything is the boldest, biggest and brightest in the world — the largest hand- loomed carpet, the tallest skyscraper and the first indoor ski slope — and you have described the sophisticated cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Frequented by a diversity of cultures from all over the world which translates into an intriguing mix of art, architecture, adventure, couture and museums, make this the one country you visit in the Middle East.
As part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that is composed of seven domains in the Persian Gulf Coast, the region was under British rule until the l960s and now has its roots in Islam. Thanks to the discovery of oil in 1966, Abu Dhabi and Dubai experienced a major renaissance and soon became the proverbial playground for the rich and famous.
Located on a best seen from the air palm-shaped island, Dubai is the most popular of the two cities. Awash in monolithic skyscrapers, malls that rival the size of small cities and beach resorts that resemble an Arabian palace, the magnificent metropolis represents the best in over- the-top travel. Derived from the Arabic word for locust, the city is a treasure trove of activities from sunning on the pristine unspoiled beaches, “off-roading” in the desert and camel and car racing to haggling for a trinket or two in the Bedouin markets (known as souks) and shopping in what are heralded the best duty-free shops in the world. A fashionista’s dream, be sure to visit the city’s luxurious malls that house every type of store under the Middle Eastern sun.
THE FANTASTICAL WORLD OF THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
There is something for every taste and interest in this 185-year-old city. Epicureans will appreciate the staggering diversity of cuisines from Indian, North Korean, Lebanese and Chinese to Italian, French and American. For local traditional Middle Eastern fare, be sure to sample the camel, bulgur wheat, cous cous, baklava and for a true authentic food experience, sample the street vendors.
For the architecture and design enthusiast, Dubai is a delight. The world’s tallest building (2,722 feet to be exact), the Burj Khalifa offers breathtaking and not- for-the-squeamish views of the city on the 124th-floor observation deck. Coined the most luxurious hotel in the world, check out the Jumeriah’s seven-star Burj Al Abab where revolving beds, gold-plated ipads and chauffeur- driven Rolls Royce’s are the order of the day.
If it’s family activities you are looking for, exceptional playgrounds await. The infamous indoor ski resort at the Mall of the Emirates is ideal for skiing, snowboarding and zip lining with a glimpse of the resident penguin or two. Camping under the stars in the terracotta-colored dunes, reef diving, hiking and sea-kayaking are other ways to explore Dubai’s great outdoors.
Just an hour’s drive away, the capital city of Abu Dhabi offers an architectural array of parliament buildings, ministries and foreign embassies along with more culture, sports and leisure activities. As one of the richest cities, the glittering white domed mosques and date palm gardens feature another look at the local culture. No trip to Abu Dhabi would be complete without a visit to the marble and gilt-filled Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque where you can view the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet along with the 12 of the world’s largest crystal chandeliers.
The views of the skyline and sea are a bonus as you get your exercise by walking, cycling or roller-blading along the architectural marvel that is the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Auto enthusiasts will enjoy Ferrari World, a branded themed park named after the Italian automobile. And be sure to experience the local heritage of falconry at the Abu Dhabi International and Equestrian Exhibition.
Culture can be found an hour and half drive away at the Louvre Abu Dhabi that boasts everything from prehistoric artifacts to contemporary works of art. The first branch of the Louvre to open outside of France, the museum houses 23 state-of-the-art galleries with works on loan from Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet and da Vinci. If time permits, be sure to see the art-rich city of Sharjah where the Bait Al Naboodah and Islamic museums are well worth a visit.
Blissful blue skies and sunshine can be enjoyed year-round with November to April being the prime months to visit (summer can be very humid). No matter when you visit the UAE, experience all the local culture has to offer, ride a camel in the desert, and above all, enjoy.