Relieve all your travel stress at a Turkish-style hammam. (Photo: Alamy)
Having 24 hours to kill on a layover may seem like a soul-crushing prospect, but it needn’t be if you find yourself in Abu Dhabi, opulent capital of the United Arab Emirates.
This cosmopolitan city’s status as a travel hub means it is well-served by flights to and from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It’s also the home to Etihad Airways, which has launched a stopover package to entice transit passengers to stay and soak up (albeit briefly) the city’s eclectic ambience.
Over the years Abu Dhabi has undergone a massive facelift, making it an ideal destination for both leisure and business travelers. Most of its attractions are within a short taxi ride of one another, so you can maximize your day-out agenda.
Twenty-four hours is easily gobbled up by the city’s hot spots, which vary from cultural centers to thrill-packed theme parks. You will need to cater your itinerary to your tastes, but you will never run out of things to do. Here are just five suggestions for your day-long adventure in a modern Arabian wonderland.
1. Melt away stress with a relaxing massage or Turkish hammam.
After a day of exploring, slow down, stretch out and switch off at one of Abu Dhabi’s many spas. Saray Spa in the Marriott Hotel Downtown, Abu Dhabi offers a selection of Swedish, Thai and Balinese treatments to loosen up your aching muscles. And if you haven’t experienced a traditional hammam, now is the time to try it. This Turkish bath, offered at Tips and Toes and Al Afiya Bath & Salon, is a revitalizing ritual that involves a steam, body scrub, bubble massage, warm-water rinse, cold-water rinse and oil massage. It’s an invigorating way to recharge before you start another leg of your journey.
Do: Book your spa experience in advance.
2. Work on your tan at Saadiyat Island.
Thinking of just chilling by the beach? No problem. Just five minutes away from downtown Abu Dhabi is Saadiyat Public Beach, a nine-kilometer stretch of powdery white sand facing the Arabian Gulf Sea. Lounge chairs are scattered across the beach. If you forget to bring your own towel, you can rent one. Expect to pay an entrance fee plus additional costs should you join the yoga class held here every Monday.
Do: Observe public decency. Topless bathing and other forms of nudity are strictly prohibited, and swimsuits must not be worn outside the beach.
3. Immerse yourself in culture.
Curious to learn how Bedouins — the original inhabitants of the UAE — survived in the desert sans electricity and air-conditioning? Head to the UAE Heritage Village, a living history museum that replicates a traditional oasis village. Here you can also sample traditional strong Arabic coffee brewed over a campfire. Alternatively, visit Qasr Al Hosn, an 18th-century Arabian castle that doubled as a fortress. Once home to the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, it is now a museum.
Do: Visit early in the day, especially if your layover happens to fall at the height of summer (July and August), when outside temperatures can reach a blood-boiling 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius).
4. Eat your way around the world.
Abu Dhabi’s thriving expatriate community has enriched its culinary scene. Whether you’re into Middle Eastern or Asian fare, European or American cuisine, there is a restaurant in town to whet your appetite.
Do: Plan your dining experience. Book beforehand to avoid disappointment in the more popular venues.
5. Take selfies with falcons at Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital.
Falcons are such a great source of pride for the Emiratis that a hospital dedicated to their care has been set up in the capital. In addition to camels and Arabian horses, falcons played a major role in Bedouins’ desert survival by helping hunt game, which was an important source of protein for the nomadic tribe. Staff at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital are more than happy to give you a guided tour of the facility and introduce you to their patients.
Do: Book your visit in advance. Also, take a photo of the official falcon passport to show your friends and family back home. This is an important document that no jet-setting falcon from the UAE can do without.