Featured photo credit: Robert Haandrikman
The United Arab Emirates is a country of sheer opulence, and no city embodies this more than Dubai. But Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, offers a much different glimpse into the nation than the fast-paced cosmopolitan of Dubai, despite being just a short distance away.
Abu Dhabi is far more quiet and conservative than Dubai and offers visitors a more authentic glimpse of the regions’s culture. The UAE is much more than the glitz and glam of lavish resorts and manmade islands, and Abu Dhabi offers a better chance to see the real UAE before it became overly commercialised.
Abu Dhabi taxis are a safe, secure, and accessible way to get around the city and are also quite economical. Like Dubai, Abu Dhabi is not the most pedestrian friendly city, and while this is something they are looking to change, for now it’s best to take a taxi.
The following are 5 of the cultural highlights Abu Dhabi has to offer.
5 Things to Do in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital
Falconry, the art of hunting wild game with trained birds of prey, is an important traditional Emirati sport. And Abu Dhabi is home to the world’s largest falcon hospital which is open for public visits.
The award winning hospital offers guided tours, which also includes a visit to the onsite museum. Watch the free flying falcons, learn all there is to know about falconry, and even try your skills at the noble sport.
So important are falcons in the UAE that you may even see them riding beside you on local airplanes with airlines like Etihad and Qatar allowing passengers to bring aboard their beautiful birds!
Photo credit: Robert Haandrikman
The Arabian is one of the most recognizable horse breeds in the world. Built for endurance and long distance races, they are also talented when it comes to show jumping events.
Tourists visiting Abu Dhabi in the cooler winter months can take in a racing event free of charge at The Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club where numerous prestigious races are held each year. Top annual races include The President’s Cup, National Cup, and the Emirates Championship.
The Club also offers pony rides and a riding school where even non members can take lessons for a fee.
Camel racing is a pretty big event in the UAE with people coming from around the world to watch the races.
The main season runs from October to April where races are held several days each week. More than a dozen beautifully maintained race tracks are scattered throughout the country with several conveniently located near Abu Dhabi.
Al Wathba Camel Race Track as well as Al Maqam Track allows visitors to witness this incredible spectacle free of charge where you can watch the sheikh owned camels run for glory and be rewarded with royal treatment.
Photo credit: Robert Haandrikman
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
It is not only the largest mosque in UAE but also one of the largest in the world. It has the ability to cater for over 40,000 worshippers covering some 30 acres. It is a recently built mosque where construction commenced in 1996.
It is here where you will find the world’s largest hand loomed carpet as well as golden chandeliers including one which is 15 meters in height and weighs in at 12 tonnes. The outside surrounding moat-like pools reflect the beauty of the mosques exterior making for incredible photos.
Unlike other mosques, Sheikh Zayed is open to the public daily, with tours available several times throughout the day. Take a complimentary guided tour in the late afternoon for the best photo opportunities.
Bred by Bedouins for centuries, Salukis are highly revered in the UAE and used for hunting. The dogs are incredibly intelligent and excel when it comes to stamina.
The dogs are trained to work with falcons as a team to bring down quarry such as gazelles, hares, foxes, and jackals. Capable of achieving speeds of nearly 70kph, the Salukis are one of the fastest dog breeds out there even outracing greyhounds over long distances. It therefore comes as no surprise that Salukis are also known as Persian greyhounds.
Visit the Saluki Centre near the Abu Dhabi International Airport to learn more about the dogs and how they are trained and bred. Better yet would be to organise a visit to a village on the outskirts of the Rub’ al Khali Desert where masters take the dogs to hunt.
The Rub’ al Khali Desert is actually the largest continuous desert in the world even beating out the mighty Sahara.
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