Time difference: GMT +3 hours
Currency: United Arab Emirates Dirham
Flight time: 7 hours 20 minutes
Dubai may be the bigger, shinier little sister of the United Arab Emirates, but Abu Dhabi is actually the country’s capital and is similarly glamorous and competitive. It’s home to the world’s largest hand-loomed carpet, the fastest rollercoaster and possibly one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. While in Dubai you’ll need to seek out the culture, the capital hides pockets of a more traditional culture within its city confines, so you’ll find souks, sheesha cafes and a bustling dhow harbour, too.
The city is almost entirely surrounded by sand, whether it’s the vast dusky horizons of the Empty Quarter stretching away from you in a serious of undulating dunes, or the immaculate beaches of Yas Island that edge the city from the sea. Abu Dhabi is a city of contrasts – where Dubai bustles with constant bettering, Abu Dhabi quietly gets on with improving itself behind the scenes; and it’s all the better for it. The skyscrapers are still here, but there’s also a richer seam of culture running through the city. You can still find locally-harvested pearls, traditionally built dhows and restaurants that offer authentic Emirati cuisine.
That said, Abu Dhabi is still one of the world’s richest cities – you just need to check out Ferrari World to see this in evidence. If you’re looking for luxury you’re in the right place as you’ll find yourself enrapt by the opulent hotels, fine dining establishments and air-conditioned malls dripping with designer labels crying out to be worn to dinner in one of the Michelin-starred restaurants. The best big name hotels have snagged the loveliest beachfront spots, from the St Regis to a palatial Emirates-owned hotel of epic proportions. If you thought only Dubai did glamour, you’d be wrong: Abu Dhabi just does it with more finesse.
And with major transport hub located just outside the city that’s set to rival neighbour Dubai, Abu Dhabi is becoming much more of a long-stay destination as well as a stopover city. Where once people landed for a few hours on their way east, now those in the know are extending their holiday to include a stay in the UAE’s capital to enjoy a stay on the beach or in one of the city’s shimmering towers.