Meaning ‘Father of the Gazelle’ in Arabic, Abu Dhabi was founded when a young antelope led a wandering tribe to fresh water, on an island with no more than 300 palm (‘barasti’) huts. This simple island settlement has since been transformed into the modern, cosmopolitan city of Abu Dhabi and the high-rise capital of the United Arab Emirates. With the oil predicted to run out sometime after 2100 AD, you would forgive Abu Dhabi for wanting to just sit pretty and count the money. But this attractive, green and distinctly Arab city just appears to be hitting its stride. While not as cosmopolitan or as sophisticated as Dubai, Abu Dhabi also lacks traffic jams and the poseurs that plague its neighbor, making it a much more livable city if you don’t crave clubbing. After closely watching Dubai’s phenomenal growth, Abu Dhabi has chosen its development projects wisely, and while the laid-back feel might eventually change, the local Emirati flavor of the capital appears certain to remain. The emirate of Abu Dhabi is huge in comparison to the other emirates, comprising almost 87% of the country’s total area. Just as 50 years ago Abu Dhabi was little more than a fishing village comprising a fort, a few coral buildings and a smattering of barasti huts; the rest of the emirate is very ‘Arabian Sands’ with its enigmatic empty desert, dotted with oases such as Al-Ain and Liwa. While the ruling Al-Nahyan family may have become rich from what lies beneath, you get the sense that their connection to the desert and the sea is something that remains more important than petrodollars. Find out more about Abu Dhabi’s religion and traditions with a visit to one of the world’s most impressive landmarks, the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This architectural marvel, with a capacity for an astonishing 40,000 worshipers, features; 80 domes, over 1,000 columns, gold plated chandeliers and the world’s largest hand woven carpet.
Head to our landmark Corniche and enjoy an impressive eight kilometers of manicured waterfront that includes children’s play areas, separate cycle and pedestrian pathways, cafes and restaurants, and the Corniche Beach – a lifeguarded beach park. Beach-goers should also spend some time on the stunning Saadiyat and Yas public beaches or for a spot of luxury they can book a day in the uber-luxurious Monte Carlo Beach Club, Saadiyat. While in Abu Dhabi, don’t forget to get on the water! From wake-boarding to surfing and parasailing, from cruising in a traditional pearling boat to kayaking through our natural mangrove forests, from zooming to the pace of a speedboat tour to diving, cruising, snorkeling or swimming, the emirate’s waters are yours to discover. For a 360˚ entertainment experience, head to Yas Island where you can burn rubber at Yas Marina Circuit – home to the annual Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, have a coffee or stay at the iconic Yas Viceroy – the world’s only hotel to straddle an F1 race track. Ride the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, have a giant splash at Yas Water world, play Arabia’s only links course and relax on a white sandy beach.
Shopping is something of a national pastime in Abu Dhabi, perhaps because it’s so diverse and tax-free; everything from luxurious and ultra-modern malls with the latest brands, to small, souk-like shops where you can buy traditional perfumes, handicrafts, spices and carpets. To explore our lifestyle, head to The Collection at The St Regis, Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi and enjoy high-end shops, restaurants and cafés – all within a Mediterranean-style ‘village’ complete with terraces, courtyards and piazzas. Alternatively, visit the Eastern Mangroves Promenade for a mix of restaurants, health & beauty and leisure venues, with an arch-fronted open pedestrian zone and stunning mangroves-view terraces. For a more-community orientated experience, take the family to Al Raha Beach Plazas and shop, dine or relax on the promenade with stunning Arabian Gulf views. If you’re interested in culture and heritage, catch a cab to the Heritage Village on the Corniche Breakwater and step back in time to a traditional desert lifestyle. Bargain with souvenir sellers and watch craftsmen at work producing pottery, weaving and metal work. Diversity of experiences characterize Abu Dhabi’s great golf offering – whether it’s championship-ready parkland, ocean or Links facilities, a gentle urban centre course, the sheer uniqueness of a world-class ‘sand’ course or a country course in our heritage heartland of Al Ain.
- EARLY CIVILIZATIONS
- AL NAHYAN FAMILY
- PEARL TRADE
- TRUCIAL COAST
- FIRST OIL DISCOVERIES
- GEOGRAPHY & CLIMATE
- RELIGION & COMMUNITY
Abu Dhabi is full of archeological evidence that points to civilizations, such as the Umm an-Nar Culture, having been located there from the third millennium BC. Settlements were also found further outside the modern city of Abu Dhabi but closer to the modern city of Al Ain. There is evidence of civilizations around the mountain of Hafeet (Jebel Hafeet). This location is very strategic because it is the UAE’s second tallest mountain, so it would have great visibility. It also contains a lot of moisture in its springs and lakes, which means that there would have been more moisture thousands of years ago.
The Bani Yas bedouin were originally centered on the Liwa Oasis. This tribe was the most significant in the area, having over 20 subsections. In 1793, the Al Bu Falah subsection migrated to the island of Abu Dhabi on the coast of the Persian Gulf due to the discovery of fresh water there. One family within this section was the Al Nahyan family. This family makes up the rulers of Abu Dhabi today.
Abu Dhabi worked in the pearl business and traded with others. According to a source about pearling, the Persian Gulf was the best location for pearls. Pearl divers dove for one to one-and-a-half minutes, and would have dived up to thirty times per day. There were no oxygen tanks and any other sort of mechanical device was forbidden. The divers had a leather nose clip and leather coverings on their fingers and big toes to protect them while they searched for oysters. The divers were not paid for a day’s work but received a portion of the season’s earnings.
In the 19th century, as a result of treaties (known as “truces” which gave the coast its name) entered into between Great Britain and the Sheikhs of the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, Britain became the predominant influence in the area.The main purpose of British interest was to protect the trade route to India from pirates, hence the earlier name for the area, the “Pirate Coast”. After piracy was suppressed other considerations came into play, such as a strategic need of the British to exclude other powers from the region. Following their withdrawal from India in 1947, the British maintained their influence in Abu Dhabi as interest in the oil potential of the Persian Gulf grew.
In the 1930s, as the pearl trade declined, interest grew in the oil possibilities of the region. On 5 January 1936, Petroleum Development (Trucial Coast) Ltd (PDTC), an associate company of the Iraq Petroleum Company, entered into a concession agreement with the ruler, Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan al Nahyan, to explore for oil. This was followed by a seventy-five-year concession signed in January 1939. However, owing to the desert terrain, inland exploration was fraught with difficulties. In 1953, D’Arcy Exploration Company, the exploration arm of BP, obtained an offshore concession which was then transferred to a company created to operate the concession: Abu Dhabi Marine Areas (ADMA) was a joint venture between BP and Compagnie Française des Pétroles (later Total). In 1958, using a marine drilling platform, the ADMA Enterprise, oil was struck in the Umm Shaif field at a depth of about 8,755 feet (2,669 m). This was followed in 1959 by PDTC’s onshore discovery well at Murban No.3. In 1962, the company discovered the Bu Hasa field and ADMA followed in 1965 with the discovery of the Zakum offshore field. Today, in addition to the oil fields mentioned, the main producing fields onshore are Asab, Sahil and Shah, and offshore are al-Bunduq, and Abu al-Bukhoosh.
The city of Abu Dhabi is on the northeastern part of the Persian Gulf in the Arabian Peninsula. It is on an island less than 250 metres (820 ft) from the mainland and is joined to the mainland by the Maqta and Mussafah Bridges. A third, Sheikh Zayed Bridge, designed by Zaha Hadid, opened in late 2010. Abu Dhabi Island is also connected to Saadiyat Island by a five-lane motorway bridge. Al-Mafraq bridge connects the city to Reem Island and was completed in early 2011. This is a multilayer interchange bridge and it has 27 lanes which allow roughly 25,000 automobiles to move per hour. There are three major bridges of the project, the largest has eight lanes, four leaving Abu Dhabi city and four coming in. Most of Abu Dhabi city is located on the island itself, but it has many suburbs on the mainland, for example: Khalifa City A, B, and C; Al Raha Beach; Al Bahia City A, B, and C; Al Shahama; Al Rahba; Between Two Bridges; Baniyas; and Mussafah Residential. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi’s land surface measures 67,340 square kilometers, which is equivalent to about 87% of the UAE’s total land area. Only 30% of the emirate is inhabited, with the remaining vast expanses covered mainly by desert and arid land — constituting about 93% of the total land area. Land cultivation and irrigation for agriculture and forestation over the past decade has increased the size of “green” areas in the emirate to about 5% of the total land area, including parks and roadside plantations. About 1.2% of the total land area is used for agriculture. A small part of the land area is covered by mountains, containing several caves. The coastal area contains pockets of wetland and mangrove colonies. Abu Dhabi also has dozens of islands, mostly small and uninhabited, some of which have been designated as sanctuaries for wildlife. Abu Dhabi has a hot desert climate (Köppen climate classification BWh). Sunny blue skies can be expected throughout the year. The months of June through September are generally extremely hot and humid with maximum temperatures averaging above 38 °C (100 °F). During this time, sandstorms occur intermittently, in some cases reducing visibility to a few meters. The cooler season is from November to March, which ranges between moderately hot to cold. This period also sees dense fog on some days. On average, January is the coolest month in the year, while July and August are the hottest. The oasis city of Al Ain, about 150 km (93 mi) away, bordering Oman, regularly records the highest summer temperatures in the country; however, the dry desert air and cooler evenings make it a traditional retreat from the intense summer heat and year-round humidity of the capital city. Arabian hospitality is the stuff of legends. In Abu Dhabi, it’s a lifestyle. Here, the warmth of welcome and generosity that emerged from encountering travelers in the desert generations ago, is very much a part of life today – from the traditional serving of Arabic coffee to an absolute dedication to the highest standards of modern service. Much of Abu Dhabi’s charm lies in the old-world courtesies lost to many destinations. Here they prevail. Craftsmen will be only too pleased to take you through the intricacies of their centuries-old disciplines, while camel herders and falconers will take an almost unprecedented interest in introducing you to their sports – giving you a chance to try your hand at these most traditional of outdoor pursuits. Henna artists will be eager to demonstrate the intricacies of their ‘art’ and the history of a tradition which emerged from a desire to celebrate festive occasions.
The UAE society is a close-knit and family-oriented society where religious, social and moral values play a central role in everyday life. People in the UAE, inspired by the teachings of Islam, the official religion of the country, show great care and affection to the most vulnerable segments of the society, such as people with special needs and the needy. The UAE also guarantees freedom to practice other religious beliefs.
For a real taste of the UAE’s most adventurous off-road driving and some of its most incredible and dramatic scenery, including the biggest dunes this side of the Sahara, take a trip to Al Gharbia – the emirate’s western region.‘Where the desert meets the sea’, Al Gharbia makes up over two thirds of Abu Dhabi emirate. Along its hundreds of kilometres of coastline are stunning beaches and islands and its history is encompassed in the myriad of ancient forts, set against dramatic landscapes. A great reason to start exploring this vast region is the drive to Liwa – a historic oasis town at the entry to the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter) the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass. Liwa will blow you away with massive expanses of awesome desert and huge dunes. This oasis town sits at the entrance to the famed Rub Al Khali, or the Empty Quarter, the world’s largest single expanse of desert. It’s a landscape of ever-changing endless dunes made famous by the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger and his Emirati and Omani companions in the 1940s and 50s.Almost a fairy tale from ‘1001 nights’, the magnificent Qasr Al Sarab or Mirage Palace is luxurious oasis in the midst of Liwa Desert. Resembling an old Arabian fortress town nestled in the valley of mountainous dunes, this is actually a five-star resort letting you experience lots desert activities – dune dawn walks, camel trekking, dune bashing, falconry shows and camp fire barbecues. To get a real taste of Al Gharbia’s authentic heritage, visit one of the many events and festivals throughout the year such as January’s Tel Moreeb Festival, the pinnacle hill climb event for desert driving enthusiasts, and Al Dhafrah Festival, which includes of the world’s richest camel beauty contests, April’s Al Gharbia Watersports Festival, a 10-day event that pulls in adrenaline seekers from across the world to compete in everything from Dragon boating and kite surfing to dhow racing and swimming, and July’s Liwa Date Festival, a showcase for this valued desert fruit.
A one and a half hour drive from Abu Dhabi city, Al Ain is one of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.The city abounds in picturesque forts. One of the UAE’s most historic buildings, Al Jahili Fort was erected in 1891 to defend the city and protect precious palm groves and is home to a permanent exhibition of the work of British adventurer Sir Wilfred Thesiger and his 1940s crossings of the Rub Al Khali (The Empty Quarter) desert. The redeveloped Al Qattara Fort is now home to a brilliant arts centre and gallery, offering hundreds of modern exhibits within its walls and with spaces for a variety of workshops – from pottery and painting to music and calligraphy. Get to grips with our culture and heritage with a visit to the city’s museums. With three main sections – archaeology, ethnography and gifts, Al Ain National Museum lets you explore various aspects of UAE life, including Bedouin jewellery and traditional musical instrument collections. The former home of the late UAE founder, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Al Ain Palace Museum houses a large collection of material about the ruling family. Visitors can tour the private rooms and gardens once occupied by the ‘Father of the Nation’. For stunning views of the city, drive, take a cab or, if you have the stamina, cycle to the top of Jebel Hafeet – a rocky height dominating the city – via a winding highway. Rising 1,240 metres, this is the emirate’s highest peak, and UAE’s second. Other attractions include the Al Ain oasis with its cool, shady walkways and a 3,000-year-old falaj irrigation system, and the camel market-one of the last few remaining. Families should head to Al Ain Zoo – home to over 4,000 animals, and enjoy giraffe feeding, camel riding and ‘Elezba’ petting zoo. There are plenty of green public spaces for picnics and also playgrounds, a cafeteria and a train tour of the wildlife area. For a fun day out, try the renovated Hili Fun-City, the Gulf’s oldest theme park.