10 Cool Things About Abu Dhabi

  1. The vast Rub al Khali, or Empty Quarter desert, made famous by explorer Wilfred Thesiger. Head for Liwa and explore wadis (dry riverbeds) and dunes that are hundreds of feet high.
  2. Al Ain oasis, birthplace of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE. The "Garden City" is also home to Abu Dhabi's highest peak, Jebel Hafeet, and the Al Ain Zoo.
  3. Cheetahs, hyenas, Arabian oryx, and thousands of other animals running wild on Sir Bani Yas Island, once a royal hunting preserve.
  4. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, with its four 350-foot (107-meter) minarets, 82 white marble domes, and what's possibly the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. The mosque and its courtyard are large enough to accommodate more than 40,000 worshippers.
  5. The plan to build a performing arts complex and three stunning museums—including an outpost of the Guggenheim and the Louvre Abu Dhabi—over the next three to eight years. Star architects Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Tadao Ando, and Zaha Hadid are involved.
  6. The $3-billion Emirates Palace hotel, a kilometer (0.6 miles) from end to end, sprawls on a white beach 4,265 feet (1.3 kilometers) long and features 114 domes—the tallest climbs 238 feet (72.5 meters)—and over a thousand Swarovski crystal chandeliers.
  7. The Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is one of the most exciting on the annual Formula 1 circuit (the 2010 race is November 14). The track is part of the $40-billion, 6,000-acre (2,430-hectare) Yas Island development.
  8. Opening in 2010, the huge indoor theme park Ferrari World Abu Dhabi sits under a roof designed in the style of a classic Ferrari GT double-curve body shell. More than 20 rides and attractions include what's expected to be the world’s fastest roller coaster.
  9. Luxury cars such as the Rolls-Royce Phantom convertible are often seen on the streets here long before they are released elsewhere. Other popular makes include Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati.
  10. Long-term planning: By 2030 Abu Dhabi will have heavy and light railroads and unbeatable public transport.
Mary Gostelow is editor at large of WOW.travel, the online magazine of kiwicollection.com, and owner of the monthly Gostelow Report .
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