If you’re going to Dubai for the first time, you cannot go back home without paying a quick visit to the big capital, Abu Dhabi. It’s only an hour away (by car) and you can easily do it in one day. If you’re short on time (which I assure you, it is very likely to happen…there’s just way too much for tourists to do in a week) and wouldn’t want to risk getting lost around the city and end up in the desert on your way there, your best option is to book a day trip with one of the thousands of travel agencies you can find in the popular areas of the city, like shopping malls. To save extra time, you can even do it online. Just type something along the lines of “Dubai tours” or “Dubai travel agencies” and you’re going to have an endless list to choose from. In this case, the trip to Abu Dhabi was booked through Arabian Adventures.
To be entirely honest with you guys, the best way to discover a new place it by getting lost, which is usually the result of DIY tours. You get to know places travel guides wouldn’t even think to show you – not because they’re dangerous, but maybe because for the general audience it doesn’t really spike any interest, and you can take all the time you want to take it all in. For instance, if you’re a photography fan or are a photographer, you know 10 minutes won’t be enough to photograph a landscape with difficult lighting or an important monument with people posing in from of it and ruining the view. Some tours take you to so many places in so little time that you can’t help but turn into Asian mode and just click on the shooting button of your camera, from the moment you step outside the bus to the moment you jump back in, and hope for at least one good picture with nobody’s head covering half of it. But like I said, if you’re short on time, a tour is a good option for you to see the most important sites and get ideas for a future DIY tour.
Wow, that was a long intro. Fast-forward.
After you get picked up in Dubai in the morning, you are taken straight away to one of the most famous pieces of architecture the country has to offer: the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, an incredibly beautiful and outstanding piece of art that I will dedicate a special post to – there’s too much to say and to show you for me to post it all at once. I wouldn’t want you to fall asleep on your keyboard.
Once you get back on the bus, you are taken around town and shown a little bit around, until you pass by the magnificent Emirates Palace Hotel (read “pure luxury”), the seven star hotel where napkins are made of gold threads and you get a personal masseur that takes care of your feet while you eat caviar as your mid-morning snack. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but you get what I mean. It definitely wouldn’t surprise me if what I said turned out to be true. Unfortunately I can only speculate, because our tour didn’t include a visit to the hotel itself (many others do), so a quick view from the bus window had to do.
The Heritage Village is just 5 minutes away from there and it is exactly what you might expect it to be. A little village that serves to show tourists what the UAE was like pre oil. There’s a small history museum where you can see old pictures of the city from fifty years ago, as well as a few little shops where they sell local goods and traditional food/snacks, such as dates – that’s where I found out there’s more than the few kinds of dates you might find at Whole Food or at the food market. The village is located on the Corniche of Abu Dhabi, an 8km waterfront that allows you to admire the beautiful skyline of the city as well as the blue water that surrounds it.
For lunch, they take you to one of the city’s modern souks, an old-style market, where you can find restaurants, a supermarket and souvenirs shops. And once you’re done, it’s time for the sport fanatics to wake up and enjoy the Formula 1 grand Prix Circuit in Yas Island (right next to the Ferrari World, the largest indoor theme park in the world…shocking!)- probably the main reason for booking the trip for most people, especially considering that not only you have the chance of witnessing drivers practicing around the circuit (your ears might not appreciate it), but you also get to sit at the circuit’s hotel’s restaurant balcony and sip on your free drink, feeling like your wallet doubled in size and your economic and social status got the ultimate upgrade. Definitely a good self-confidence booster – for a little bit at least.
Last but not least, you get to visit the Manarat Al Saadiyat (“place of enlightenment”), a visitor center designed to show tourists the vision for the future of the island of Saadiyat, right off the coast of Abu Dhabi. You will learn about its history and about how it came to be what it is today and you will see through architectural models of the projects the city has for the next decade – from the world’s second Louvres, to a new addition to the collection of Guggenheim art museums around the globe. Fantastic designs and futuristic projects that you would only expect to see in sci-fi movies. Very impressive.
All in all, despite the little time you get to appreciate all the incredible things Abu Dhabi has to offer, I definitely don’t regret choosing a tour to witness it all in one day. I can’t wait to go back and see with my own eyes the difference a couple of years can make in a country like the UAE, and see all those magnificent projects come to life.