Although the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is still a must-do, the capital has much more to offer – and it keeps upping the ante with new destinations and places to stay.
THE FOUNDERS MEMORIAL
The Founders Memorial has attracted 28,000 visitors since opened to the public in April. At its centerpiece, best viewed at night, is a magical likeness of Sheikh Zayed dubbed The Constellation, which was designed by the American sculptor and public artist Ralph Helmick. The three-dimensional exhibit features 1,327 illuminated shapes hanging from 1,110 cables. It took Helmick six years to create the image, which he conceptualised after first picturing Sheikh Zayed as a little boy in Al Ain, before oil. “A constellation is how we humans… translate an abstract bunch of stars into a significant form,” he said.
In addition to the long-term favourite of Abu Dhabi Golf Club, there are two other challenging courses loved by the capital’s golfers located right on the water: Yas Links, on Yas Island, and the Saadiyat Beach Club, on Saadiyat Island. Yas Island itself has “such a cool vibe, the yachts, the boats, the friendliness”, says Jason Moore, president of the Spanish natural mineral water company Lanjaron Arabia and a resident for 10 years. At Saadiyat Beach Club, says Moore, “you actually have gazelle jumping through the course in the afternoon while you’re playing.”
This 1.5 million, 139,000-sq-metre theme park offers five immersive lands based on DC Super Heroes – Batman, Superman, etc – alongside classic Warner Bros characters including the Road Runner, Scooby-Doo and the Flintstones. They all branch off from the central restaurants-and-shops hub that is Warner Bros Plaza. Cartoon Junction offers hours of fun, including 3D target shooting at Ani-Mayhem and the appropriately scarey Scooby-Doo! The Museum of Mysteries. A partnership between Warner Bros and Miral Asset Management, the park is the result of a $1 billion investment officials believe will help draw tourism to the fast-growing island.
A PLASTIC-FREE HOTEL
Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort, due to open in November, is set on 400 metres of protected sand dunes beside the brilliant turquoise waters of the gulf. And in the spirit of the surroundings, which includes guests who were on the island long before tourists thought about visiting there – namely mangroves, dolphins, fish and turtles – the 293-room hotel will focus on sustainable tourism and be the first in the UAE to be plastic-free. Guests will be given water bottles upon arrival, that they can refill with filtered water offered throughout the hotel.
A DESERT RESORT
Adjacent to the capital is the Empty Quarter Desert. The quiet vastness of the largest sand desert in the world was summed up by the explorer William Thesinger, who wrote about his 1947 journey through the space in his book Arabian Sands. “It was very still,” wrote Thesinger,“with the silence which we have driven from our world.” This month guests will get their own taste of what he was talking about when the new Al Wathba Desert Resort opens. The luxury hotel is spread over more than 20,000 metres, offering 90 hotel rooms, 13 villas, a Talise Spa and an offsite desert camp – all set against a backdrop of pristine sand.
AN ABU DHABI ARTS HUB
In the Mina Zayed, or port area, Warehouse 421 is taking cues from Dubai’s Alserkal Avenue and transforming a once-industrial district into an artistic hub. The centre is due this autumn for another full roster of workshops, film screenings and exhibitions and last year held a number of pivotal events, including the Zayed University Middle East Film Festival, an exhibition by the Palestinian artist Kamal Boullata and an embroidery workshop by the Dubai textile and fabric artist Ola Dajani.