The 2013 Festive Season has been a very busy one (hence the fact I’m only writing this now!). We’ve had my Mum and my Aunt staying with us, and also some friends from Australia visiting too. It’s been tiring, but great – and it has meant that we have finally had an excuse to get around the tourist trail in Abu Dhabi – much of which we had not yet had time to see…
Highlights have included:
It’s always great to drop in and show visitors the Emirates Palace Hotel. What can you say about it really? It speaks for itself, and love or hate the style, there’s no denying it’s pretty spectacular.
Amid just having a pleasant wander around and a photo opportunity in front of the giant Christmas gingerbread house, the usual tourist attractions were of course on the list: coffee sprinkled with 24 carat gold leaf and the gold bar vending machine!
Visitors who are into cars or driving are always interested to see where the Abu Dhabi Formula One happens. If you plan ahead and time it right you will get to see some cars in action on the track. Sadly, we weren’t so organised for our visitors on this occasion but were still able to have a peek at some of the track cars in the garage by the pit lane.
Despite living so close to the Grand Mosque, for one reason or another we had not yet managed to do the tour! All six of us turned up for the 11am tour on Christmas Eve and waited patiently by the ‘tour starts here’ sign at the main entrance. Due to it being the holiday period the mosque was pretty busy and the group was split down the middle into two smaller, more manageable groups. Mohammed led our tour, and we weren’t disappointed. We found him to be informative, fun and friendly and really added to the whole experience in a positive way. If you are in Abu Dhabi this really is a must do to see the architecture and learn a little about the Muslim culture. It’s also free, and everyone loves a freebie!
You need to book early when deciding to eat Christmas lunch at what is arguably one of the cities best brunches, which we did, especially as we were very specific about wanting a shady spot outside, and happily all our requests were met without any fuss.
As usual, the food was wide ranging and varied, but the quality remained high. Being Christmas, it was much busier than usual – the place was packed and a polite, orderly queuing system seemed to transpire without any need for staff intervention though queuing for too long was avoided by the amount of additional food stations set up outside around the pool area.
Festive entertainment with a band playing, a vocal group singing carols and modern party favourites and appearances by Santa kept the mood fun for young and old alike.
The Heritage Village:
An interesting little open museum which gives an insight into the ways of old in the desert. There’s also a coffee shop with great views back across the Corniche and the city. Visit at the right times and see craftsmen at work and plenty of opportunities to buy souvenirs. Check out the Abu Dhabi tourism website for up to date information.
We had bought tickets for this for ourselves, and as Christmas presents for my Mum and Aunt. None of us have ever managed to get to Wimbledon yet so we thought this would be the next best thing and booked tickets for the final day.
Aside from getting to see Tsonga vs Nadal and Ferrer vs Djokovic play, it was a great day out with plenty of competitions to enter and activities to participate in within the tennis village before the actual matches began in the afternoon. Each day also has a schedule of players signing autographs so try to plan in advance if there’s someone specific you’re after.
Tickets are already on sale for next years event at Ticketmaster which is scheduled to take place on 1st-3rd Jan 2015.
The Souk at Central Market:
Always a fun place for a visit, you can find all manner of goodies here including jewellery, carpets, traditional nick-nacks, souvenirs and of course, my personal favourite – plenty of scarves and pashminas!
Fishmarket, Iranian Souk, Fruit & Vegetable Market and the Plant Souk:
Head into the traditional Mina Port area and once you can find what you’re looking for you won’t be disappointed. It can be a bit of a trial to find some of the markets if you’re not sure where to look, although the Fruit and Vegetable market is simple enough as it is clearly sign posted. The fish market is basically on the opposite side of the road to the fruit and veg market, but a little further back from the road in a roofed building beyond the Dhows. Once you’ve finished at the fruit and vegetable market, get back out onto the one way road – driving ahead, you’ll see a roundabout with giant pots on it – take a left there and you’ll see the plant souk directly in front of you, and the Iranian Souk adjoins the end of that at the far right side towards the Co-op building.
Even if you’re not shopping for fruit and veg, it’s still a great place to stop for visitors as the Dates and Dried Fruit section is worth a look and is a great place to stock up on the variety to take home. Chocolate covered, honey covered, plain, soft, hard, blocks or individual pieces, it’s all there.
The plant souk is an interesting place not only if you are living here and wanting to add some greenery or colour to your home or garden, but is also interesting in terms of what actually grows here in the region. You will probably be surprised at the quality and variety.
I was very excited about the Iranian Souk, just the name conjures up images of exotic and colourful finds and although it was not at all as I had expected, it still made for an interesting visit. All of the products within the souk come from Iran and are shipped here on the nearby Dhows. It’s sort of the Lulu Hypermarket of souks, selling all manner of household goods, and if you can’t find what you want here, you should probably stop looking.
The fish market is one that is hailed as one of the last remaining older parts and traditional way of life of Abu Dhabi, and for that alone is worth a look. Yes, all previous reports are true about the smell, but you get used to it quickly, and it is fish so what did you expect really? Just don’t wear your best shoes. As well as being able to buy all kinds of seafood here you can also have it prepared and even cooked for you.
The carpet souk is the one that we found hardest to find, although it is correctly marked on google maps so use that as your guide if you’re headed there. There are rows of shops selling all different types of carpets from all over the world. If you’re looking for handmade, you won’t find many from Iran here, but they do have the cheaper handmade ones from Afghanistan. I think it pays to have an idea of what you’re looking for as every shop you go into will want you to describe your dream carpet so he can go and find it for you, and from another seller if necessary (in this case do be aware the store owners will be doing a deal together to both make money so you may not get the cheapest price). Be prepared to bargain hard and a rough guide is to pay around a third of the offered starting price. And don’t let yourself feel pressured into buying a carpet just because the owner has unrolled every carpet in the shop for you!
This is an arts and culture centre on Saadiyat Island which literally translates as ‘place of enlightenment’. You’ll have to be the judge of that but there are regular rotating exhibitions in permanent galleries showcasing all kinds of local and international talent. The venue also houses TDICs ‘Saadiyat Story’, which is well worth a look to get an insight into the infrastructure and future that is planned and already partially in varying degrees of development and completion on Saadiyat Island.