I love Abu Dhabi, the capital city and one of the seven states that make up the country of the United Arab Emirates. Stunning beaches, expansive deserts, luxury hotels and immaculate mosques—it’s a beautiful mix of ancient tradition and modern marvel.
Culturally, the UAE might be a little different from what you’re used to, but by keeping a few simple things in mind, you’ll feel confident diving right in. Here’s a few things you should know before your trip.
1. Go to the Grand Mosque.
Yep, this place is pretty amazing. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is actually pretty new, with the building opening in 2007. It was designed to highlight the cultural diversity of Islamic world, drawing from historical and modern values of architecture and art. The stark white pillars against the blue sky are simply breathtaking. Just go, go, go!
2. Dress Code
Unless you’re relaxing in your hotel room, ladies need to cover shoulders and knees. This has a benefit beyond just being culturally respectful—all that sun can easily lead to sunburn city! It’s good to protect your skin with breathable, lightweight fabrics. And while temperatures outdoors may be scorching hot, when you head inside it’s FAH-REEEEZING! I brought a large, lightweight scarf that I could wrap around my neck, shoulders or use as a headscarf.
3. Mosque Manners
Women aren’t expected to cover their heads all the time, but it’s a must at the Grand Mosque. Women are also prohibited from wearing tight clothing (sorry, yoga pants). Both men and women are prohibited from wearing anything sleeveless, like tanks tops, tee and polo shirts. Leave your cargo short and jorts at the hotel, too—they’re banned for all mosque visitors.
4. Photo Faux Pas
Does a trip count if you don’t have the selfie to prove you were there? In this case, yes. While at the Grand Mosque, it’s natural to want to snap a selfie with your group. However, that means you’re touching, which is a big no-no!
5. Get on the Water
When we hear on the news about the “Persian Gulf”, it’s rarely good events. And yet the gulf’s waters are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The view is spectacular, the sailing is fantastic and invigorating. A few hours spent here undoes a decade of nightly newscasts.
6. Eat with an Open Mind
In China you eat Chinese, in Italy Italian and so on, but in Abu Dhabi you’ll find it’s not so easy to find a place that serves authentic Emirati food. Struggle not and head to Shaikha Al Kaabi’s food truck Meylas. She’s the first person to run a food truck in the UAE. Meyeylas means a gathering place and it features food from the recipes of Ms. Al Kabbi’s mother and grandmother. Shaikha’s smile and hospitality is singular to none, and it’s one of those food experiences you’ll remember for a lifetime.
7. Take a Walk
When the sun finally sets, all of Abu Dhabi heads to the waterfront for a long stroll. Head to the Corniche, a walkway along the seacoast, for a leisurely walk teeming with local color.
8. Road Trip to Dubai!
If Rome and Paris were an hour from each other would you pass on going to them both? Of course not, so make sure you take in two of the most futuristic cities one trip. Head to the top of the Burj Khalifa the tallest building in the world for obvious bragging rights.