Tips + Trends

5 Things to Know About Abu Dhabi Before You Go

The Al Ain Palace Museum and the new Abu Dhabi Louvre, due late 2016, are just two reasons why Abu Dhabi is the cultural capital of the United Arab Emirates. (Photo: Reinhard Schmid/Huber/eStock)

Abu Dhabi is the second most populous city in the United Arab Emirates—but if your main impression is what you saw on “Sex and the City 2,” you’re not alone. Here are five things to know before you dive into Abu Dhabi.

  1. It’s the capital—in more ways than one. As the government seat and capital city, Abu Dhabi is chock-full of brimming with bureaucratic offices and official headquarters. And while it’s not as flashy as Dubai, the city has carved a niche as the Emirates’ cultural capital, boasting offerings like the new arts venue Warehouse421. By the end of 2016, the Abu Dhabi Louvre will be the only branch of the museum outside of France, and there’s a Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim museum on the way, too.
  1. It’s insanely wealthy. Abu Dhabi is one of the richest places in the world; it sits on 9 percent of the world’s oil reserves. That’s a long way from its humble beginnings as a coastal outpost dependent on pearl diving.
  1. It’s not on the mainland. The city sits on an island connected to the rest of the country by bridges. The best way to tap the island vibe is by strolling along the Corniche—roughly five miles of manicured waterfront, cafés and pedestrian paths. Or get some liquid pleasure from the endless array of watersports: wakeboarding, surfing, parasailing, speedboat tours and more.
UAE things to know abu dhabi sign
Traffic signs and Emirates Towers, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo: Huber/Sime/eStock)
  1. It’s easy to navigate. There’s no metro in Abu Dhabi—yet—but taxis are reasonably priced, and more people are using Uber (or Careem, a similar regional service). Modern, air-conditioned buses operate around the clock; just pick up a Hafilat smartcard and hop in. 
  1. Yes, it’s decadent—but it’s still conservative. Don’t pull a Samantha in Abu Dhabi and get arrested for PDA on the beach (“Sex and the City 2”). You’ll want to respect the Islamic culture everywhere in the UAE. Gain some cultural perspective on a free guided tour of the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the world’s largest holy houses.