With the arrival of hotly-anticipated Expo 2020, Abu Dhabi is gearing up to be one of this year’s must-visit destinations. Here’s why you should visit this year.
8 January 2020| Last updated on 9 January 2020
All Credits: PA
Bringing together 192 countries for a six-month high-tech spectacle in a 1,000 acre site, Expo 2020 is going to be a big deal, to put it mildly.
While Dubai is the official host city, the Expo is located just an hour from Abu Dhabi, making the latter an ideal base from which to explore the multicultural event when it opens in October (expo2020dubai.com).
Held every five years, a World Expo is an international festival designed for countries to share ideas, innovations and eye-popping entertainment.
This year, the huge sprawl of 190 participating nation pavilions – from Algeria to Zimbabwe – will offer live performances, cultural experiences, local food flavours, and a glimpse into the future with cutting-edge tech demonstrations.
There’s so much more to this Arabian gem, as I discover when I venture to the largest of the seven emirates.
Despite its size – and popularity with tourists – the site remains a whisper-quiet haven of calm. The silence is broken only by the call to prayer, a melodic recitation broadcast five times a day over loudspeakers.
Inside, I’m surprised to find the pale marble makes way for a colourful, intricately patterned carpet, stretching as far as the eye can see, and a series of humongous crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
It turns out I’m looking at two of the mosque’s three record-breaking features: the world’s biggest chandelier and the largest handwoven carpet (the third is the largest dome of its kind).
Rivalling the Grand Mosque for gasp-inducing architecture is the Great Hall of Qasr Al Watan Palace (AED30 for an adult ticket; qasralwatan.ae), a cavernous room you access through a door big enough to fit an elephant.
A working presidential palace that opened just two years ago, it has the kind of ornate white, gold and blue marble decor that gives the appearance it’s been around for much longer.
When I visit, preparations are underway for the arrival of Vladimir Putin, with TV cameras positioned at the end of red carpets rolled out ready to welcome the Russian president.
Just when I think the architecture can’t get any grander, I find myself gazing up in wonder at the ceiling of the Louvre Abu Dhabi (around AED60 for an adult ticket; louvreabudhabi.ae), the sister museum of the iconic Paris institution.
Above the whitewashed walls of the gallery, a huge domed roof appears to float in mid-air.
After a couple of swift laps, I’m ready for a pitstop of my own, so I head back to my hotel and the appropriately named Hamilton’s Gastropub (mains from AED70) to refuel with a selection of hearty culinary classics, like mac and cheese, juicy burgers and spicy sausages you can order by the metre (yes, really).
Hamilton’s is one of four main restaurants at Saadiyat Rotana, a stunning resort perched on the Persian Gulf that boasts sleek modern decor and its own private beach.
Like all the best hotels, it’s the little touches that make up the exceptional service here, such as the pre-packed coolers filled with ice and bottled water that you grab from the poolside bar before flopping down on a sunlounger.
After my exertions on the F1 track, I round off my night with a couple of refreshing pisco sours at the resort’s Nasma Beachfront Bar. But I don’t linger too long, because I’m up early the next morning for my final activity: kayaking through Eastern Mangrove National Park (AED160 per person)
Taking the back seat in a two-person kayak, I paddle at a leisurely pace through the quiet, winding waterways of the grey mangroves, stopping half-way to take a dip in the warm water and laze on the sandy shore.
It’s a relaxing end to an incredible trip.
Before visiting Abu Dhabi, I thought it was nothing more than a collection of concrete skyscrapers in the middle of a desert. But this diverse and dynamic emirate has so much more going for it, and in 2020, that message will be broadcast to the rest of the world.
For further information about Abu Dhabi, go to visitabudhabi.ae