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Abu Dhabi can trace its history way back to the Bronze Age and has a long tradition of profitable trading. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s – when oil was found – that it was transformed from its desert landscape into the fabulous city it is today. Designed in a grid-like fashion with wide open spaces and boulevards, this is the second largest city in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, after its neighbour Dubai, and also the seat of government and capital of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Daily life centres around its main thoroughfares, including the busy Sheikh Zayed Street and the paved waterfront Corniche. Always bustling, the Corniche is where visitors can be seen admiring the stunning pink-washed Emirates Palace at the Ras Al Bateen, built as a hotel for visiting royalty, and locals can be seen jogging or cycling with much enthusiasm. Families with children and leisure walkers regularly enjoy the atmosphere. A short walk from the waters edge are streets full of shiny new skyscrapers that house the city’s financial and banking institutions, its world famous company offices and its government buildings. At pavement-level, hotel and restaurants cater for every taste, while shopping malls are full of designer fashions. In contrast, the many souqs offer gold, spices or traditional craft items.
Abu Dhabi’s attractions are diverse and vary from landmark architectural triumphs to centuries-old structures and beaches. The Corniche sweeps along the waterfront from one side of the city to other, passing by the lavishly-planted Al Markaziyah Gardens, one of the many parks in the city, and Lulu Island across the water, which is delightful with its palm trees and nature reserve.
Emirati cuisine is quite cosmopolitan and you can find food from all over the world. The specific food for the United Arab Emirates is a blend of Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. Breakfast is usually bread served with cheese or eggs while the main meals contain plenty of meat, grain and dairy. People often drink a red tea with mint after dinner, as it helps the digestion.
Cafes in Abu Dhabi tend to be sophisticated yet informal, and serve a wide choice of coffees with light snacks and pastries rather than fast food.
Abu Dhabi has a good choice of bars and nightclubs, although almost all of them will be found inside hotels. Hookah lounges are popular, as are rooftop bars and establishments offering stunning views over the shining UAE capital. Alcohol is served freely to non-Muslims.
Whether you choose to haggle for a bargain at a bustling market – otherwise known as a souk – or spend time in a lavish air conditioned mall just off the Corniche, shopping in Abu Dhabi will be a memorable experience. Traditional purchases include carpets, rugs, textiles, gold and spices, all of which can be found in dedicated souks where lots of stalls selling the same thing are grouped together. An example is the Gold Souk, not far from the Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al-Maktoum Street. Such items can be found in general souks too, or in specialist shops. Souks are also good for finding antiques or craft items to take home as souvenirs. In contrast, the shopping malls tend to be full of expensive jewellery and designer fashion.
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