Over the year’s the UAE has been transformed from one of the least developed countries in the world to a playhouse for the rich and famous. But, you don’t need to break the bank to head over there! We compared Abu Dhabi and Dubai to see which city has the most to offer, for those seeking something extra special on their gap year.
Petrolheads will love Ferrari World; while those who are slightly less motor mad may appreciate the lovely (and rather calmer) Saadiyat Public Beach. The Yas Mall and Yas Beach are also popular spots for daytime entertainment, as is the Al Forsan International Sports Resort. If you’re looking for an escape from the madness of the city, Mushrif Park offers serene walks, places to picnic, and quiet running routes. Finally, for a bit of culture, the Manarat al Saadiyat is a new museum and exhibition space.
Dining and Entertainment
The perennially popular Chill’o Pool Bar lives up to its name, with palm trees reflected in its cool waters. Serving up tasty quick bites such as hamburgers, as well as more refined lobster dishes, this place is popular with couples. The Jazz and Fizz bar is on the 18th floor of the city’s Sofitel, and provides music and cocktails as well as modern international cuisine. Equally, the Koi Restaurant and Lounge offers up deliciously fresh sushi, and is a favoured weekend brunch spot, in beautiful surroundings at the St Regis Collection on Saadiyat Island.
A trip to Abu Dhabi wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Marina Mall. With designer labels to the food bazaar, this place has it all. People come here for their grocery shopping as much as for their Versace fix, while it’s also an entertainment and leisure destination, complete with massive cinemas and a wide variety of restaurants and eateries, as well as an ice rink.
The Emirates Palace is exceptionally beautiful – it may be a hotel, but it’s a marvel in its own right. Think lavishness and luxury via Disney’s Aladdin and Las Vegas and you’re almost there. Complete with fountains, marble interiors, domes, and Islamic art tiles- and you can come here for Afternoon Tea.
With an estimated 92% of the city’s population originally coming from elsewhere in the world, pretty much the first question you can expect to hear on landing in Dubai Airport is “So where are you from- what are you doing here?” – not in an unfriendly way of course- people just want to “place” you. Accordingly, much of the daytime activities are targeted towards an international crowd. From desert dune bashing to skiing, activities are varied and plentiful. And don’t forget the shopping- literally nowhere does shopping like this corner of the UAE. Dubai Mall is a prerequisite when living or staying in the emirate, while the Dubai fountains; the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest tower); the Burj Al Arab and the Aquaventure Waterpark all draw the crowds.
Dining and Entertainment
No matter what kind of food you like, you’ll find it here. The Armani/Amal restaurant, perched atop a 123 storey building, is one of the most popular in the UAE, offering up international and modern Arabic cuisine, as well as an extensive cocktail list – it’s a popular place to celebrate an anniversary or birthday, but it’s fairly pricey. Equally, the Scotts American Grill and steak restaurant Rhodes Twenty 10 all garner rave reviews.
Dubai Mall is a special destination, and plenty of people visit not just for the shops, but to see the fountains and the world’s tallest building, which are attached. It has all the usual designer labels, at similar prices to those in Europe. You won’t have enough time to see everything on one trip, but that’s OK- you’ll be back! Don’t miss the ice-skating, either.
The Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, is quite literally a prominent feature of the city skyline. Those on a gap year or enjoying their travel time will be relieved to hear that in this expensive city the architecture at least can be viewed for nothing. Check out the beautiful Gurunanak Darbar Sikh Temple too.