Late last month I had the pleasure to visit the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi. It was a short three-day trip to attend a family function. Amidst the schedule I managed to take a day out to do some sightseeing in the city. It was peak summer and the scorching sun did not give any respite.
The visa process was fairly easy. All one has to do is to visit https://www.ednrd.ae and apply for your UAE e-visa. I received the visa in less than 24 hours. Citizens of the GCC are exempted and there are a few countries who get a visa on arrival. If you have any queries it is always advisable to contact your nearest UAE Embassy or Consulate. In my case, I have an Indian Passport with a GCC residence visa in Bahrain, so the process was quick.
Abu Dhabi in Arabic means the Father of the Gazelle. Ruled by the Al Nahyan family, the well-planned city is the political, economic, cultural centre of the United Arab Emirates. It has a flawless grid-like road system, tall sky scrapers, beautiful green parks and clean public beaches. It is also the largest of all the Emirates. One can see and ponder at the vision of the legendary leader, Sheikh Zayed, while he developed the city from nothing.
Abu Dhabi did not disappoint at all. While Dubai competes with cities like London, Paris and New York, this city preserves the cultural heritage of the country.
Big Bus Abu Dhabi
When researching about the top things to do in Abu Dhabi, I stumbled across the Big Bus Tours online. With the limited time I had, this was the best option for me to explore the city. At AED 240 this convenient service is totally worth it.
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Big Bus Tours is a Hop-On Hop-Off tourist bus service which takes you through the major tourist attractions of the city. The tour includes a Red line which drives through the city and also a Purple line which tours Yas Island, famous for its Formula 1 race track Yas Marina. The buses start at 9 in the morning all the way till 5 in the evening and is available every hour from each stop. You are provided with a pair of earphones which you can plug-in to any seat on the bus and listen to the commentary about each of the spots as the buses passes by. This is available in multiple languages too.
The staff were all very friendly and courteous and the buses were in good condition. You can buy your ticket from any of the stops mentioned on the map. They are also available online with a discount.
I started the tour at it’s starting point – Marina Mall. A friendly host from Big Bus was at the kiosk from whom I bought the ticket and a booklet. She briefed me on all the main attractions that I could stop at. Once the bus arrived I hopped on to the Red line which takes the city tour. The open top double-decker buses are available every hour from each stop. The service garners a lot of tourists in the winter months when the weather is cool and pleasant. It was quite surprising to find some fellow tourists braving the summer sun.
The bus whizzed through spots like the famous Emirates Palace Hotel and the Etihad Towers picking up tourists along. I was totally looking forward to visit the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque after hearing and reading so much about it. Even on a very hot and sunny day, the mosque was packed with visitors from all corners of the world.
The Grand Mosque
This architectural masterpiece was built by the late Sheikh Zayed, the founder and first President of the United Arab Emirates and is named after him. He was also laid to rest in the grounds beside the mosque. It is the largest mosque in the Emirates with 82 marble domes, one of the largest chandeliers in the world studded with Swarovski crystals and also the largest carpet in the world. Tourists are advised to dress moderately and this is strictly scrutinised by the security guards to maintain respect at this religious place.
Built mostly of white marble, gold and other precious stones, the architecture resembles Persian and Mughal designs. Once you enter you see an open courtyard surrounded by columns and pools outside. There is hand painted floral artwork in the courtyard and on each pillar throughout the Mosque. The head of each column has intricate details of palm leaves and is made of pure gold. Every section of the mosque is designed with such detail. The mosque took about 12 years to build and hosts thousands of worshippers on Fridays. It is built-in such a way that it can be seen clearly from all sides both during the day and in the night. The lighting in the night makes the view of the mosque even more beautiful.
Attached along the compound of the mosque is also a souvenir shop and cafe.
If you are looking for a place to stay in Abu Dhabi, directly across the canal from the mosque is the Traders Hotel by Shangri-La. A 4-star hotel with excellent facilities, a private beach and great views of the mosque.
After spending a good two hours staring with wonder at the magnificence of this man-made marvel, I caught the Purple line bus to Yas Island. The bus takes you through a circuit tour of the island including spots such as the Yas Plaza Hotels, Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World and Yas Mall before dropping you back at the Grand Mosque. It was almost noon. With the Sun soaring high, stopping by at these spots was nearly impossible. The air-conditioned buses provide plenty of cold bottled water which is a major plus point. Once I was done with the Yas Island tour, I hopped on to the Red line again back to the city. The bus continues through the natural Eastern Mangroves and then onto the newly reclaimed islands such as Al Reem Island and Al Maryah Islands.
The Main Island
I got off at the Abu Dhabi Mall to grab a quick bite. An hour later, I hopped on to the next bus and continued the tour to Saadiyat Island where the Manaret Al Saadiyat is located. This is an art and culture exhibition centre.
The bus goes back to the main island past the beautiful Abu Dhabi Corniche and then into the commercial district of Abu Dhabi where some of the high-rise buildings are located. I got off at the WTC Souq, a modernised Arabian market with shops that sell traditional jewellery, perfumes, sweets, souvenirs and handicrafts. Here I picked up some memorabilia and sweets to remember of my short visit to Abu Dhabi. The WTC Mall is located adjacent to it.
I caught the next bus and it took me through the Qasr Al Hosn Fort which was on my list to visit but was unfortunately closed for renovation. Right after, the bus passed by the Public beach and the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village where one of the largest UAE flags is located. There is a Dhow cruise from here which is part of the Big Bus Tour but this was not functional due to the harsh weather conditions of the summer. By sunset I had completed the entire tour and was back at Marina Mall enjoying some spectacular views of the Abu Dhabi skyline.
The mall also has a tower which includes an observation deck from where you can get some excellent views of the entire skyline of Abu Dhabi.
At the end of the trip, Abu Dhabi was an exhilarating experience. A short and sweet time at the city that is otherwise eclipsed by its famous neighbour, Dubai. I will be making more trips to this city in the future and will explore some of the other areas such as Al Ain and of course Dubai. This was perhaps the perfect introduction to the United Arab Emirates.
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