Posted by: Ciaran | November 6, 2009

Changing places – Abu Dhabi

Why should I go?

It’s a few years since I last visited Abu Dhabi, and from what I have read and seen the expansion – and the opulence – has continued apace.  Dubai’s lesser-known neighbour, Abu Dhabi is a great place for a break at any time of the year, but particularly in the winter.  Its benefits are two-fold; the weather is warm throughout the year (October is an especially good time to go, in my experience) and the flight is only six hours.  The four-hour time difference means you’re not jet-lagged and it’s short enough to get over there for a long weekend.  Perfect.

Its other key advantage lies in the fact that it is not Dubai.  Abu Dhabi has everything Dubai does – the trendy shopping malls with brands like Gucci and Prada; the spectacular five-, six-, and seven-star hotels; beautiful beaches with watersports – but without the tacky, over-commercialised feel that Dubai has.  If Dubai is the playground of the rich and famous, Abu Dhabi is their well-furnished living room; spectacular, fashionable, and oozing glamour and class.


The lobby of one of the Hilton Hotels in Abu Dhabi

What’s it like?

Driving in on the immaculate roads, everything looks a little bit unreal.  That’s because it is; it’s not so long ago that Abu Dhabi was effectively a small fishing port on the outer rim of the desert.  Then the oil was discovered and the rest, as they say, is history.  Palm trees line the streets, and everything is pristine and new.  Most people seem to drive shiny 4x4s (which are, like the petrol, incredibly cheap) and wander about looking like they’ve just stepped out of Vogue.


Relishing the warmth of the sea

The hotels compete with one another to look increasingly spectacular, and they certainly succeed.  But on the inside, they are even better.  Aside from the wonderful facilities, they serve exceptional food.  Each hotel generally has two or three different restaurants and bars, so the variety of choice will suit any palate – Italian, Indian, Chinese, American and English dishes are all on the menu.

But if you go out into the city itself you can eat a sumptuous meal for just a couple of pounds as the restaurants cannot afford an alcohol licence and therefore use rock-bottom prices to tempt in punters.  I went out in a group of eight or nine and I think a very good curry (two courses with sides and soft drinks) set us back £24 altogether.


Holding on for dear life - the seven-star Emirates Palace Hotel is in the background

 What do I do for entertainment?

There are a vast range of watersports such as tubing, parasailing, banana boating and water-skiing to try, and they are exceptionally good fun.  The fact that the sea is warm makes the experience of falling in somewhat less unpleasant…  When I was there last I did have the misfortune to be on a banana boat which broke down about a mile into the middle of the bay and we had no radio, so I spent a long time standing on the front of a speedboat trying to rock it to get the dregs of the fuel through.  We ended up spending about 40 minutes cooking in the sun before someone finally noticed we were missing!

The most unmissable attraction, though, is the opportunity to do a bit of dune-driving.  You pile into a Toyota Landcruiser and a slightly crazy driver takes you out into the desert.  You jump out and visit a camel farmer for 10 minutes while the 4×4 drivers let all the air out of the tyres before you get back in for the ride of your life.  They race up 60 feet high dunes and then just let the jeep slide down sideways – you feel like you’re going to topple, but the flat tyres and the fact that the sand gives means you don’t. 


A new Lawrence of Arabia?

The adrenaline rush is unbelievable, and you can try it out in yourself when you reach the camp in the desert with a bit of quad-biking through the dunes.  At first it’s really hard to trust that it won’t just roll over and crush you but as soon as you get used to the sensation of sliding down the dunes uncontrollably it is absolutely fantastic.  The more timid can be content with the camel riding…

The camp is next to an enormous dune which you can use a snowboard or skis to travel down at breakneck speed (and end up in a sandy heap at the bottom).  The food is lovely, with a range of meats – including the chewy but tasty camel kebab – and curries on offer, as a belly dancer entertains everybody. 


Little does he realise he is dinner...

Then the staff get everyone to lie on their backs and switch off all of the lights in the camp; the view of the stars is just breathtaking, and the feeling of remoteness and solitude is very relaxing.  Then it’s either a retreat to the tents for those who are spending the night in the desert or a trip back in the Landcruisers for those who need a raturn to the creature comforts.


Can you tell by our faces who is enjoying this?

Dubai is a worthwhile day out, but only if you’re in Abu Dhabi for more than four or five days.  The Wild Wadi Water Park at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel (next to the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab) is a great place to spend a few hours, and it is worth getting there as early as possible to avoid the queues.  The interconnected rides in the two-person rings are the most fun, but that is another story altogether…



  1. Fantastic! Sounds like great fun – I want to go!

    • You should work it in to your travel itinerary 😉

      • By the way: you know how your blog avatar is a picture of you, how do you customise that?

  2. Hmm, not sure it’d be feasible, unless I stopped en route to Australia. Worth pondering over …

    To change your image go to your Blog Home (having logged in), then to “My Account” in top left corner, then on “Edit Profile” and you can click “Change your Gravatar” – upload an image from your computer.

  3. hmmm i wonder where these pictures came from?! heehee x

    • Thank you. I accept I have failed to credit Eleanor Toone for the photos in this post and I apologise profusely! x

  4. yeah you should!! haha! only joking! thankyou! x

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