It has a healthy respect for its past and the Bani Yas Bedouin tribe who settled on the city’s present day site. They added pearl diving, fishing and dhow trading to the traditional nomadic herding and date cultivation of the desert interior.

When oil was discovered in the mid-20th century, the late Sheikh Zayed invested the proceeds wisely to build state-of-the-art infrastructure for future generations. Now his son, Sheikh Khalifa, is “looking into the future and building on the past.”

One of Abu Dhabi’s newest icons is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which boasts 82 gold-capped domes and accommodates 40,000 worshippers. Non-Muslims may view the interior of the world’s sixth largest mosque Saturday through Thursday mornings.
In addition to the existing Emirates Palace Hotel, one of the most exquisite hotels in the world, there are plans to build several remarkable projects financed primarily from their own coffers which still benefit from a substantial supply of oil. (It was Abu Dhabi that helped Dubai through its financial challenges; though some projects in Dubai have been suspended, work in Abu Dhabi continues.)

Two mega projects are in the early stages of construction on the edges of Abu Dhabi proper. The first is Masdar City, a $22-billion development designed by Foster and Partners of London as the world’s first zero-waste city. The second project is Saadiyat Island, a $27-billion development that will provide space for office buildings, housing, golf courses, retail and cultural facilities. Planned museums include a Guggenheim designed by Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry (the Bilbao Guggenheim and the Walt Disney Concert Hall), a branch of the Louvre designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and a maritime museum designed by Japan’s Tadao Ando. The cultural aspects of these aspirations begs the question of how these institutions will acquire and display their holdings or whether cultural openness will pose a problem to the standards of the UAE in regards to artistic freedom. Will viewing of such paintings be restricted? It will be interesting to see how this conundrum develops.

Going Global

Another major PR push on behalf of Abu Dhabi is the public awareness of its outstanding national airline, Etihad, established in 2003 by a royal decree. In only six years, Etihad has increased its destinations to more than 50 in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. By 2020, they plan to fly 25 million passengers a year to at least 100 destinations.

Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) is 30 minutes from the city center and only 45 minutes from the southern part of Dubai. Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC) is benchmarking against international best practices as it progresses towards creating a world-class airport hub. “There are three key areas to consider in design and benchmarking when undertaking such a substantial airport redevelopment project,” says Mrs. Sheikha Al Maskari, vice president of corporate affairs for ADAC. “First, we considered our passengers and how we engineered their journey through the airport. Taking into account everything from walking times to way-finding and immigration, our airport design has ensured the optimal journey. The second consideration was the aircraft. We considered all factors that affect aircraft using the airport such as runway capacity, classifications and taxi times. Thirdly, we took into consideration airport support facilities such as catering and cargo automation. We know demand for facilities at airport will increase exponentially in tandem with the development and growth of Abu Dhabi as outlined in Plan 2030.” “Hospitality is one of the most treasured values of Arab culture and lies at the heart of our desire to open our doors to international travelers,” adds Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. “We believe tourism and business travel can play an important role in promoting friendship, goodwill and understanding.”  

TIME — Greenwich Mean Time + 4.  

EMERGENCY NUMBERS — The US Embassy in Abu Dhabi telephone number is 971 2 414-2200. The Abu Dhabi police may be reached at 446-1461.Canadian Embassy in Abu Dhabi 971 2 694-0300.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS — A passport is required, even for military personnel. For stays of less than 60 days, US citizens may obtain, for no fee, a visitor visa at the port of entry.

CUSTOMS — Duty-free allowance for non-Muslims is 2 liters liquor, 2 liters of wine and 400 cigarettes.

CRIME — One of the safest countries in the world, but take the usual precautions.
CURRENCY — The dirham is the currency of the United Arab Emirates and is divided into 100 fils. It is held constant against the US$ at approximately Dh3.67. Credit cards are widely accepted.

TIPPING — Hotels incorporate 16 percent into the menu tariff, but an additional small tip will be appreciated. Tip 15 to 20 percent in city restaurants. Tip porters $2 per bag, doormen $2 to $3 to hail a taxi and maids $3 per day. Guides get $10 to $20 per day and drivers $5.

GETTING AROUND — Taxis in the city may be hailed, but upscale taxis should be booked. Luxury taxi companies include NTC, Fast Cars and Al Gahzal.

BUSINESS HOURS — As a general rule, offices and government facilities are open Saturday through Wednesday. Banks are open from 8am to 1pm and from 4pm to 7 or 8pm; on Thursday, from 8am to noon.
Abu Dhabi Mall contains 400 shops and is open from 10am to 10pm Saturday through Wednesday; 10am to 11pm on Thursday; and 3:30-10pm on Friday.

RELIGIOUS IMPACT — Prayers take place five times per day and the call to prayer is widely and loudly broadcast. The holy month of Ramadan and other Islamic observances are based upon the lunar calendar and move back by about 11 days per year. Alcohol is available in hotels and clubs, but not elsewhere. International cuisine is features, but pork products are prohibited.

ELECTRICITY — The current is 220 volts in all of the Emirates except Abu Dhabi, which is 240. Adaptor plugs are square 3-pronged UK style.