1. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi
Breathtaking, beautiful, awe-inspiring. Those are but a few words to describe this eighth largest mosque in the world. As you drive around Abu Dhabi, you can see the massive and impressive structure from miles away. It gleams in the bright sun and is not easily ignored. People from the world over make the trip (up to 40,000 visitors after Ramadan) to witness the mosque’s beauty and grandeur.
Despite the crowds, it’s never chaotic. Also, lest you forget, the mosque is holy ground and there is plenty of signage to make sure all visitors are appropriately dressed, most importantly before they enter the mosque. If you plan on taking pictures without an abaya (head covering), do so before you get to close to the main entrance of mosque. Also, no shoes are allowed, so there are hundreds of little cubbies to drop off your shoes. Even more spectacular from the inside, marble, gold, crystals, it’s best seen in person. As tour guides walk around with their groups, you realize that this place is special to so many people. In fact, the mosque was built as a symbol that unites the cultural diversity of Islamic world.
2. The Desert
Sand, sand for as far as the eye can see. The desert is a special place and an especially important place for Emiratis. So much of their history, food and culture is from the desert. So although the big cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are all about modern architecture and super tall buildings, much of what makes this region special is the desert and there’s thankfully so many great ways to see it.
There’s a tour for every type from dune bashing, camel riding, sand-boarding or a relaxed dinner in the dessert. Many of the tours even offer packages that include a little bit of everything. But remember, no matter how hot that desert may be in the afternoon heat, temperatures can dip a serious bit when the sun sets. So be smart and pack a sweater, scarf or even a light jacket if you’re visiting in the winter months.
3. Frying Pan Adventures Food Tour, Dubai
I have never been one for a tour. I’m too independent and stubborn to follow any rules and prescribed schedules. The Frying Pan adventures is no ordinary tour. Its’s a culinary education, a history lesson all served with a side of hummus, falafel and goats milk. There’s so much to love about this tour. Our lovely host Arya started as a food blogger and realized her city of Dubai was missing something – a tour that would show the diversity of the people, food and culture, one that would highlight the nuances in Middle Eastern cuisine. Such as the difference between Syrian ice cream and regular ice cream, what makes Iraqi fish special and how Egyptian falafels differ from the rest.
You leave the tour stuffed beyond belief & best of all, you feel like you learned a lot and that somehow you’ve become more aware and more enlightened about your neighbosr.
4. The Gold Souk, Dubai
There’s no organized chaos here – it’s just plain chaotic. It is the good kind of chaos, the kind that makes you feel like a city is alive and moving and supercharged. While the main focus of the gold souk is the sale of gold jewelry (gold so yellow like I have never seen), there are other vendors in the area selling everything from cheap knock-offs to Brazilian and Peruvian hair. People come to buy, stare & partake in the show – and you should too.
5. The Hyatt Capital Gate, Abu Dhabi
It’s not because it is the worlds most lean-ingest manmade structure or because inside looks like it could have come out a futuristic but somehow retro spaceship, it’s because in a region where everything can cost a lot of money, this is one supercool hotel that won’t break your wallet. Top marks in every category from service to decor. Super clean and spacious, its luxury without trying too hard and your wallet will love you for it.
So much elegant detail in everything from the eerie and spaceship-like hollow interior to the massive uber comfortable bed and amazing views. If you’re going to be in the area, this is where you should visit and this is where you should stay.