The UAE capital is often overshadowed by the famous landmarks and luxury of its neighbour Dubai, but the city has plenty to offer as a hub of art and culture, including some of the most awe-inspiring buildings in the world. There are many outstanding sights to tempt curious visitors, or even those who happen to be on an extra-long stopover between flights.
Opened in 2007, this is easily one of the most awe-inspiring mosques in the world, especially with it’s white marble minarets glimmering against the bright blue desert sky. Capable of holding 41,000 worshippers at a time, the complex includes 82 domes and 1000 columns, inlaid with 24 carat gold. Inside are seven of the largest chandeliers ever created and the world’s largest hand-knitted carpet. It was designed by Sheik Zayed, who is buried on site and whose vision of uniting the world through Persian, Moorish and Moghul architecture took eleven years to build. There are free guided tours in English at various times of day, just make sure you follow the dress code.
When the Emirates Palace was built in 2006, it was the most expensive hotel ever constructed, costing a whopping $3 billion, and it still maintains second place after Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands. Designed by British architect John Elliott, and entirely funded by the government, the self-proclaimed ‘world’s first seven-star hotel’ was intended as a grand statement to the rest of the globe that Abu Dhabi was on the rise. Unfortunately, the price of a room or suite is out of most people’s budget, but you can visit the central lobby to admire the vast dome soaring 72 meters above you. You can also splash out on a 24-carat gold flaked cappuccino or use the ATM for a quick souvenir – it dispenses bars of gold at current market value.
As your plane flies in over the city you might catch a glimpse of the red, curvaceous design of the world’s only Formula One dedicated theme park. The main building adds yet another site to Abu Dhabi’s list of record breakers, being the largest ‘space frame structure’ ever built and capable of expanding and contracting according to the extreme changes of climate. Since it opened seven years ago, this ode to all things Ferrari has grown to be voted the top attraction in the Middle East. As you would expect from the largest indoor amusement park on earth, there are plenty of things to do and more than 20 rides, including the world’s fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa.
The city is in the process of building a five world class museums, including the soon to open Abu Dhabi Louvre, which will provide a unique insight into the history of mankind through art and sculpture from around the globe. The museums have each been designed by some of the most famous architects in the world and include Norman Foster’s Zayed National Museum and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. The design for the massive performing arts center was completed by the late Iraqi-born British architect, Zaha Hadid, who was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize.