Stopover guide in Abu Dhabi

For many of us, Abu Dhabi only appears in our travel itineraries when we fly Etihad Airways, favoured for its excellent reputation and impressive network of onward flight destinations. Next month, there will be another good reason: the remarkable Louvre Abi Dhabi opens on November 11.

The museum looks like a floating dome, with a very distinctive web pattern covering some 24,000 square metres. It is situated on Saadiyat Island, where a cultural district will also boast a performing arts centre, Zayed National Museum, and the world’s largest — but much delayed — Guggenheim Museum. It has been said that the museum is not just a work of art in itself, but that it is intended to be a cradle for art and culture, and a beacon of knowledge and tolerance.

Abu Dhabi is considered more Arabian than its opulent neighbour, Dubai. One of the most popular places to visit is the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital where you’ll not only get up close and personal with majestic falcons but will discover how spoiled a bird can be: some may be there to have their nails trimmed or perhaps they are in need of a massage. It’s a unique experience.

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The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is a stunning construction and a welcome sight amongst the sea of skyscrapers

Perhaps the defining building in a city of remarkable architecture is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, which reveals how tranquil a floral-themed building can be. It’s one of the largest mosques in the world and it is at its most spectacular at sunset or when illuminated in the evening.

While the flight in may provide a glimpse of the futuristic city, it’s worth seeking some height for a more all-encompassing view. This can be provided by the Observation Deck at 300, at the top of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers. From the 74th floor, you can see the coast, as well as the city and most of its major features from a bird’s eye view. With good food and free wifi, it’s worth spending some time here to watch the changing light over the city, especially at sunset.

Ferrari World at Yas Island is billed as the world’s largest indoor theme park. With everything themed around the iconic Italian car manufacturer, it’s not surprising that it also boasts the world’s fastest roller coaster: you accelerate to 240 km/h in just 4.9 seconds and pull almost 5G. The fine print wisely says it’s not suitable for anyone with a heart condition. You can also try your hand in a race simulator.

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Ferrari World isn't just an amusement park, but also boasts an opulent collection of high performance cars

Of course, Yas Marina Circuit is home to the Abu Dhabi Formula One race each year, so head there for the real thing. You can walk or cycle around the race track and there are also guided tours. True revheads will pre-book a few hot laps in a high performance car, either as the driver or passenger.

If off-road driving is your preference, there’s plenty of sand beyond the city limits. Dune-bashing over endless sand dunes is a lot of fun, but skill is required not to roll the vehicle or get bogged, so you’re probably better off on a guided tour. Many end with a stop to take in the sunset before a romantic dinner and show in the desert setting.

The Corniche is the city’s expansive waterfront with a six kilometre-long park, boasting sandy beaches along many stretches of it. It’s a great — if crowded — place for an evening stroll, and there’s enough shade during the day.

When it comes to hotel options, there’s no shortage of hotels offering everything from very affordable comfort to absolute luxury. Likewise, there’s every possible cuisine available. Alcohol restrictions mean that, effectively, all nightlife is based around the many hotels.

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The walk along the promenade of the Corniche at sunset is the perfect end to a day in Abu Dhabi

There are also many malls and a lot of shopping options. Yas Mall, Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Mall or Al Wadha Mall — take your pick or take a tour of them all. It’s worth checking out the spectacular architecture of the leaning National Exhibition Centre and the coin-like Aldar HQ Building.

If you are contemplating whether to fly Emirates through Dubai or Etihad through Abu Dhabi, it’s worth noting that the two cities are only about 90 minutes apart by road, so there’s no reason why you can’t fly into one and still visit the other. Terminal 3 at Abu Dhabi Airport is dedicated to Etihad flights and can be quite busy with transfers around midnight.

Those flying Business Class automatically have access to the lounge. Economy passengers may be able to simply pay to visit — it’s worthwhile for the comfort, food, and drinks, as well as welcome hot showers or even a massage before your next flight. Those travelling in First Class have access to a truly remarkable lounge.

Have you travelled to the Gulf state? Share your experiences below.

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Image credits: Ritu Manoj Jethani, JoemanjiArts / Shutterstock.com.