Though often overshadowed by Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates perhaps offers a better overall travel experience than the federation's largest city. Traditional architectural styles and sustainability principles have informed new development. The city has thus retained a stronger sense of place than its more over-the-top neighbor, and the surrounding desert has sustained less ecological damage in the wake of the country's recent building boom. A lower carbon footprint would have resulted in an even higher score.
Here is a representative sampling of additional anonymous comments from the panelists. They are not necessarily the views of the National Geographic Society:
"A fantastic city with a different and powerful development approach, from the sustainable Masdar City to the island of Saadiyat. Lots of museums designed by world-famous architects."
"Abu Dhabi is a real place, in contrast to Dubai. Visiting it provides insight into contemporary UAE culture."
"Fairly low-key tourism developments, well planned and generally exclusive, based on large hotel chains. Appeals to the wealthy. Well-designed, expensive resorts that sometimes reflect Bedouin traditions (but these are often a pastiche). They cater mostly to Western tastes and rarely employ local residents."
"In comparison to Dubai, Abu Dhabi is taking a conservative and measured approach to development."