The capital of the United Arab Emirates and its second-largest city, Abu Dhabi sits on the Persian Gulf, about an hour south by car from Dubai. Where the larger and glitzier Dubai impresses with attractions — home to the world’s tallest building and region’s first indoor ski park — Abu Dhabi stands as the nation’s cultural epicenter, according to local tour guide Georgette Farrugia.
She recommends hiring a guide like herself to visit Abu Dhabi’s top site, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (currently closed, but remote live cultural tours are available). A guide for the mosque can advise on appropriate attire, help navigate the large complex and point out highlights like the 24-karat gold leaf accents, Swarovski crystal chandeliers and world’s largest carpet.
You may also want to hire a guide for Qasr Al Watan, the Palace of the People, which receives foreign diplomats on state visits and houses the nation’s treasures, or if you have a special interest such as local crafts. Otherwise, you can explore on your own using taxis, cheaper in Abu Dhabi than rideshare options.
Qasr Al Hosn makes a good place to start a self-guided tour of Abu Dhabi (book tickets in advance online). The ancestral home of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, father of the nation, it is the city’s oldest standing structure. To experience a traditional Bait Al Gahwa coffee ceremony, check in at Qasr Al Hosn’s cultural center when you arrive.
Since the Louvre Abu Dhabi provides audio guides, you can easily tour the museum’s 600 pieces — 300 owned by the royal family and 300 on loan from the Louvre in Paris — on your own. Book tickets online. Although accessible only on a scheduled tour, the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital educates visitors about one of the nation’s favorite pastimes, falconry.
Companies like Kurban Tours and Desert Gate Tourism can provide guided tours of Emirates Palace and other attractions as well as desert safaris for off-roading on sand dunes and dhow dinner cruises. Most also offer trips to Al Ain, a city on the Oman border known for its camel souk (market), and will offer transportation to Expo 2020, the world exhibition held halfway between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The world expo’s opening has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic; it will run Oct. 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, and showcase the cultures, cuisines and innovations of roughly 200 nations.
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