Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second largest city in the United Arab Emirates. From Dubai, it’s just about a 2 hour drive from the downtown Dubai and the international airport. My journey to the capital starts from from the Ghubaiba bus station, where you can get a regular express bus there for 15AED, which boils down to about 4 dollars. This cross city route is rather popular with the locals too and you won’t see any tourists on this route, with the exception of few travel free & easy savvy travelers who are aware of this route. The buses are rather well equipped, modern with proper air-conditioning. You are even provided under deck storage for bulky items if you should ever have to lug any bulky items or major shopping purchases between the cities.
Abu Dhabi lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf from the central western coast. Soon after we were making our way along Sheikh Zayed Road towards the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway back into the desert wilderness. It was not until an hour or so where you get to see the first signs of life of a city skyline. Abu Dhabi is the financial heart of the UAE and undoubtedly a very busy one too. Traffic is surprisingly much more heavy in the city as well, there was a massive jam on the highway on our way there, adding over an hour to our traveling time there. The crowd of cars persisted into the heart of the city, with at times, making walking seem the faster option on most of the congested streets here.
There are few iconic monuments in the city itself, such as the Al Hosn Fort and cultural center which can be best seen ona pass-by using the public bus transportation. The city is well covered by public transport served from the central bus station itself. A single trip on the bus will set you back only 1 AED and the contact less travel smart cards from Dubai cannot be used here.
You can board the bus on any of the 3 entrances of the bendy articulated buses widely deployed on the streets here and depositing your 1 AED in any of the stainless steel boxes at the entrances on your bus boarding or disembarkation, everything based on trust, evenif the bus driver can’t see you boarding from the rear doors. Why board form the rear? this is so as the front seats of all public buses are reserved for women only. so most guys will board from the back or rear carriage entrances (which are also used as exits), which can be rather misleading to people not familiar with the system here, but catching on is not difficult, just watch, learn and read the signs! Our first stop for the day will be the malls along the Al Markaziyah as well the talked about and locally recommended Marina Mall.
The Marina mall is not obscenely big like most malls in Dubai, let be in general here in the UAE. It is too, one of the rather nicely looking ones in my opinion. The mall is decked to an ocean design theme with dolphin fountains and many canvas roofs spanning all the wide open atrium areas of the mall, not only allowing natural sunlight through but give the place a rather modern sail-like oceanquarium feel.
The marina area is of course, you guessed it home to the southern marina portion of the city, with lots of boat and yacht parking to boot. You can even get views of the Emirates Palace and Eithad Towers from the marina area. Not far off the Marina Village is the Adu Dhabi heritage village. Just a short walk along a straight breakwater off the Havan Cafe it is also home to the Adu Dhabi Theater and you guess it, the world’s tallest free standing flag pole as well.
The heritage center is home to a mini Arabian village, complete with it’s own mini gardens, a mosque and marketplace. The place is kinda touristy looking at the type of wares they have on display here, which the consideration that no locals would actually frequent such a place anyway. There are few eateries, museums (with some requiring payment for entry), otherwise all the attractions there are all free including entrance to the center itself.
The heritage center itself is a nice escape from all the buzz in the city, it’s like it’s own little tranquility spot right in the middle of the marina surrounded by water, complete with man-made parks with shady grass and sandy beaches overlooking the city skyline of Adu Dhabi. This panorama was taken by the marina located on the Breakwater and surrounded by the Persian Gulf.
Abu Dhabi Marina
Besides the nice seaside views, there are even complete replicas of traditional Arabian desert housing, such as outposts and stables, complete with horses and authentic looking livable tents and mud houses, often requiring quite a squeeze into at some occasions. These houses and tents are surprising cool indoors despite the hot surrounding desert heat, that’s desert adaptation and early civil engineering at it’s best!
Thankfully, the heritage center is most of the time, if not always, void of crowds when I was there, which is good so you more or less have the whole place to explore at your own time without the fear of the tourist rush. The place is however designed to take on huge tourist crowds at a go with the large tour bus parking spaces outside the center giving a hint or two on it’s intended crowd capacity.
But otherwise the place is rather quiet most of the time, which is one of the reasons why I like this place. It’s remote location at the end of the marina breakwater and the obvious lack of public transport (with the exception of taxis and the big bus tours) makes it difficult for any traveler getting to the location without transportation. A short hop along the breakwater and it’s not long where we are back at the Marina mall again for our connecting bus back on the road again. This time to another major sight in Adu Dhabi. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest mosque in the UAE and was initiated by the late President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who is fondly thought of as the father of the UAE. His final resting place is located on the grounds beside the same mosque. It was built at a cost of $ 545 million, the mosque features 82 domes of seven different sizes largest dome at 85 m in height.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The mosque is owned by the Government and as the country’s grand mosque, it is the key place of worship for Friday gathering and Eid prayers, able to take on an excess of 40,000 devotees at a go.
As it being a religious area and tourist attraction second, it pays to observe the few basic rules in the mosque itself. Though photography is generally allowed here but pictures of key personnel tombs, such as that of respected Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan are not allowed. Furthermore, do come appropriately dressed if you are intending to enter the indoor areas of the mosque.
The mosque spots a rather distinctive fusion of Arab, Mughal and Moorish architecture, all decked in intricately designed marble all over. there is even no expense spared on the courtyard marble tiles, which all feature this swirly flower pattern which goes with the over look of the mosque. The indoor areas are no different either, it is huge, allowing prayers to be conducted in air-conditioned comfort.
The 99 names of Allah are featured on the Qibla wall in traditional Kufi calligraphy, designed by Mohammed Mandi Al Tamimi, a local calligrapher. The Qibla wall also features subtle fibre-optic lighting which glows along the text on the wall. The grand mosque also spots seven imported chandeliers from Germany that incorporate millions of Swarovski crystals. The largest chandelier is the largest known chandelier inside a mosque with a 10m diameter and 15m height taking center stage in the main prayer hall.
The carpet in the main prayer hall is considered to be the world’s largest carpet, measuring over 60 thousand sq ft, and was made by around 1,300 carpet knotters. Outdoors, the pools are laid in a way along the various mosque arcades that it reflects the tall columns of it’s exterior, allowing mirror image views of the superstructures.
Hilariously at times, security guards here functions as fashion police who will regular kick out tourists dressed too skimpy or not having the appropriate areas (particular the ladies) of their body covered. The general rule of thumb for both men and ladies is to have your shoulders and knees covered as a visitor. Jeans and pants are acceptable including cargo and 3/4 pants like the ones I wore on my visit. If you do not meet any of the dress code and wish to enter the mosque, special full body white robes will be provided from the Mosque’s main office at no charge.
The basement areas of the mosque are where the public wash areas are located, they are all air-conditioned and served by escalators leading into the various underground wings, with the gentlemen and ladies areas located in separate wings. The toilets even have their own personal duty cleaners who will tend to you with footwear in the toilets as well as keeping the place in tip-top condition.
It’s not long after where we are back on the road again exploring the corniche and mangrove areas of the city. The city is surrounded by an assortment of lakes and mangrove corniches which serves as part of the huge public recreational park areas in general.
The swamps north to the main city is home to the region’s mangrove natural reserve, which is home to variety of wildlife such as birds. It is along the Corniche area where you can see natural occurring greenery on this part of the desert. You can have a go at the water sport centers lined along the water bodies here, such as jet sking, speed boating or just taking a simple swim. There are several Corniche broadwalks all lined along the perimeter of the city, with the prominent ones being the 8th street along the eastern ring road and the one along 1th street along the Corniche road towards Al Kjaleej Al Arabi Street.
These mangroves and rivers separates the surrounding region in various “islands” which is what they are known as here too. Long bridges and interconnecting roads serves these islands from the main Adu Dhabi downtown area, usually as long overhead freeways spanning through the mangrove areas.
Situated at the western banks of Adu Dhabi, you will be able to catch the setting sun glowing over the blue horizon of the Persian gulf, with few distinct landmarks such as the Lulu Island, the Marina mall and Mina Dish market in the distance. The Mina market area is also home to the Iranian market and carpet souk, which is essentially a tourist trap and generally not recommended by the people here.
Adu Dhabi is home to a variety of the shopping malls and roadside hawkers server scattered all about the city. They all serve very affordable food, to that which even appeals to the locals and the working class here, so you know that you are not getting ripped off on a tourist deal. Most of the shopping centers here are rather commercialized with hypermarkets which is not in any way very different the the asian-western culture we have back at home.
We spend most of the night hanging around at one of the local malls by the central bus station, checking out on their local food for dinner as well as the Arabian produce such as their pastries and desert sweets.
Surprisingly most of the stores here barely an uncanny resemblance to the stores back home. They even have Bata stores here to begin with. Aren’t these stores from Singapore as well? We caught the express bus back to Dubai again and thankfully, the highway traffic this time was so clear we made it back within the 2 hours with time to spare on the journey back.
- Dubai city sights Part 1 (Dubai city photo album)
- Dubai city sights, creek and souks Part 2
- The Dubai mall, aquarium and zoo (Dubai mall photo album)
- Up the Burj Khalifa (Photo sights up the Burj Khalifa)
- Dubai historical sites and Dhow River cruise (Historical site and Dhow cruise album)
- Dubai Desert Safari (Safari photo album)
- Adu Dhabi (Adu Dhahi photo album)
- Yas island (Yas island photo album)
- Jumeirah, Wadi wadi waterpark (Wadi wadi Photo album)