Here are 10 exciting things to do once you get there
To get a sense of what Abu Dhabi was like when it was a simple fishing village, wander through the old port, Mina Zayed, see the traditional wooden dhows and pop into the bustling indoor fish market to see the catch of the day changing hands. Peckish?
1. Stroll the prom
The Corniche is an epic four-mile promenade with many places to stop off and enjoy a picnic. You can stroll the entire length in an afternoon, or to speed things up, why not hire a bike instead?
Two things catch the eye. The emirate’s flag, as big as a bus, atop a 360ft pole, and the remarkable Capital Gate building, with a built-in lean of 18 degrees (the slant on Pisa’s tower is four degrees).
The Avenue at Etihad Towers is a new mall dedicated to high-end fashion. Then turn in a few blocks to visit Qasr al Hosn fort, the oldest building in the city. As for eating out, the choice is colossal, from Ethiopian, via the kitchens of the Middle East and Europe, to Iran.
2. Island of adventure
Yas Island, near the airport, is a frantic, red-hot centre of adrenaline rides. Sit back, cling on and watch your knuckles turn white. Waterworld, which opened this year, is said to be the world’s biggest water park, with a dizzying choice of raft rides, slides, terrifying ravines and endless wave machines.
Ferrari World is the first theme park dedicated to the illustrious racing car. The outstanding ride is the world’s fastest rollercoaster, Formula Rossa, which touches 150mph.
Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 track is also here. Feel free to run or cycle around it every Tuesday for free. The Du Arena is the island’s other big feature, drawing such stars as Sting recently.
3. The art of surprise
This prosperous emirate’s latest bold plan is to bring some of the world’s greatest art to its new cultural district on Saadiyat Island, a ten-minute taxi ride from the city centre.
Frank Gehry is repeating the gleaming silver sinuosity of his Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, due to open next year. The Louvre Abu Dhabi, showcasing loans from its Paris namesake and other French museums, follows in 2015.
A permanent exhibition, the Saadiyat Island story, explains the vision.
The shock of the new continues in the vast Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, open for free visits. There is room for 40,000 worshippers and the mosque boasts the world’s largest carpet and largest chandelier. The columns are faced with marble panels inlaid with semi-precious stones.
4. Desert blooms
Just an hour from the busy city, we peered over the razor-sharp crest of a 100ft sand dune. There’s a good choice of 4×4 tours into this pristine golden world, empty apart from the odd oil well or power pylon. Al Ain, dubbed the Garden City because of its greenery, is the place to visit in the desert.
And at the Al Jahili Fort, there’s a permanent exhibition to the great British travel writer and explorer Wilfred Thesiger, who crossed the region in the 1940s.
5. Stay on the sands
I stayed in the five-star Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi (www.abudhabi.park.hyatt.com) on Saadiyat Island. It opened in 2011, and is particularly attractive for the European winter market. My villa had a private pool, where I enjoyed that rarest of treats – a pre-breakfast dip in February.
After breakfast I took the boardwalk to reach the beach, thus keeping off the dunes where endangered hawksbill turtles lay eggs.
That evening, after cocktails in the hotel’s Beach House bar, I headed for the Park Bar And Grill, which offers an intriguing mix of Vietnamese starters, Australian beef and French wine.