Jennifer Garcia-Alonso is co-founder of The Purple Passport, a web-based collection of chic, one-stop-shop guides to experiencing the world’s cities in style. She is a New Yorker who has been living in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, for the past three years (which we think qualifies her as a local at this point). Check out Jennifer’s take on her home away from home, then leave a comment below if you have anything to add.
Abu Dhabi is My City
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, an architectural wonder. It is the largest Mosque outside of Mecca or Medina.
When I crave Indian food I always go to Ushna in The Souk at Qaryat al Beri. Don’t miss the black lentils and the terrace seating with views of the Grand Mosque. Overall, Indian food in Abu Dhabi is exceptional.
To escape the city I head out to the Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara. It is located about 90 minutes outside the city, among the deep desert dunes.
If I want to shop I go to the impressive Marina Mall.
For complete quiet, I can hide away at Yas Links golf course. Even non-golfers can enjoy the luxurious pool and outdoor dining with views of the golf course and water.
If you come to my city, get your picture taken with a camel! You can find them right in town at the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village or, if you book a 4×4 desert safari, you are sure to encounter a few (many of the desert safaris also offer camel rides).
If you have to order one thing off the menu from Hakkasan it has to be the Jasmine-tea-soaked Wagyu beef ribs.
Magrudy’s is my one-stop shop for great books. As an expat, I love a taste of home, and they will order (almost) any book in print for you.
Locals know to skip those boring hotel bars and check out the dramatic Skylite at the Yas Viceroy Hotel, located inside the Formula 1 circuit, instead.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to the beach!
For a huge splurge I go to dessert and coffee at the Emirates Palace hotel. Pricey pastries are dusted in gold, and if you are really adventurous, you can get a cappuccino made with camel milk. The opulent hotel is worth a visit in itself: it cost around $3 billion USD to construct and is an important Abu Dhabi landmark. If you are really splurging, pick up some gold in the lobby vending machine.
Photo ops in my city include the Corniche and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The best vantage points are Heritage Village and The Souk at Qaryat al Beri, respectively (in both spots, you get views from across the water).
If my city were a celebrity it’d be Colin Firth: international, strong and relatively reserved.
The most random thing about my city is the nail salons and spas. They are everywhere, and if you are willing to venture outside your hotel, relatively economical. Women here are especially well groomed.
My city has the most international men and women. While Emirati locals of course play a crucial role in defining the culture and trajectory of the city, most people who live in Abu Dhabi are not from here.
In my city, an active day outdoors involves water sports. Check out the Al Forsan complex for wake boarding and water skiing offerings.
My city’s best museum is yet to come. Abu Dhabi locations of The Louvre and The Guggenheim, as well as an impressive National Museum, are planned for the future.
My favorite jogging/walking route is the Corniche downtown, with views of the Arabian Gulf.
For a night of dancing, go to Allure on Yas Island. Or, for live music, check out the Yas Island Concert Series. Everyone from Guns N’ Roses to Shakira to Janet Jackson to Metallica has performed here.
Maroush is the spot for late-night eats. Shawarma time.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Time Out.
You can tell a lot about my city from a walk downtown. Notice all of the languages and nationalities represented!
You can tell if someone is from my city if they smell wonderful. Perfumes and colognes are a big part of local culture.
In the winter you should play outside! This is when the weather is at its best: water sports, golf, tennis and desert excursions are all perfect winter choices.
In the spring you should see Abu Dhabi from the water. Hire a dhow (traditional wooden boat) for a tour, charter a speedboat to take you to one of the 200 islands off the main island or kayak in the mangroves.
In the summer you should stay inside! Temperatures consistently remain above 105F and the humidity level is quite high.
In the fall you should hit the Formula 1 festivities: the yachts in the Yas Marina, the unbelievable concerts, and of course the races, are all worth seeing.
A hidden gem in my city is India Palace. Another great (and economical) choice for Indian eats.
For a fantastic breakfast try CuiScene at the Fairmont. For about $25 USD you get a full (and I mean full) breakfast buffet. And the restaurant features a lovely terrace to boot. Luxury for less.
Don’t miss the Abu Dhabi Art Fair in November. It brings together contemporary art and design from all over the world.
Just outside my city, you can visit Dubai. It’s about a 60 to 80 minute drive. If you come to the UAE, you get two vacations in one!
With public transportation options at a minimum, the best way to see my city is by car or taxi. The city is increasingly spread out with attractions like Ferrari World amusement park, Yas Marina Circuit (home of the Formula 1), Monte Carlo Beach Club and Saadiyat Beach Golf Club all located a good distance from City Center.
If my city were a pet it would be a bird: small in size but ready to fly.
If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live on the beach somewhere. Warm weather is a big thing for me.
The best book about my city is From Rags to Riches: A Story of Abu Dhabi.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is Movin’ On Up! While growth plans for Abu Dhabi are substantially more conservative than its sibling Dubai, new hotels, malls, office buildings, attractions and high rise apartment buildings (the “deluxe apartment in the sky” bit fits, too!) are quickly appearing and the city has gained critical importance on the world stage.
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the hotel beach and pool clubs. For example, the Hiltonia Beach Club offers day passes and has child and adult pools, a beach, water sports and restaurants.
National Day celebrations could only happen in my city. Emirati locals and non-locals alike celebrate the young country’s birthday (the UAE just turned 40) with flags, fireworks, special parades and lots of driving and honking horns.
My city should be featured on your cover or website because it is cosmopolitan, international, full of wonderful surprises and growing quickly.
What do you love about Abu Dhabi? Tell us in the comments section below.
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