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Abu Dhabi – Giving Dubai A Run For Its Money

Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor
70 seconds of thrills - Ferrari World's Formula Rossa, the fastest rollercoaster on the planet!

The world’s fastest rollercoaster, an emerging arts scene to die for and an iconic mosque are just three reasons why Abu Dhabi has started to turn heads in the Middle East.

For long enough Dubai has held court in the United Arab Emirates, but some would say that the iconic city’s grip is slowly being loosened, as more of its oil rich neighbours wake up to the benefits of tourism and start to invest accordingly.

First in the queue has to be Abu Dhabi, just seven hours from the UK but, these days, home to some of the Middle East’s strongest tourist draws including YAS Island, a Mecca of entertainment that currently embraces Ferrari World, YAS Waterworld, the iconic F1 YAS Marina Circuit, an enormous shopping mall boasting the region’s largest family entertainment zone, a golf links……..and the list goes on. Oh yes, and a free shuttle service that links them all together!

But for thrill-seekers Ferrari World, the globe’s first Ferrari branded indoor theme park, is rapidly becoming a top 10 attraction.

Ferrari World wowing tourists in Abu Dhabi

It is a must-visit for aficionados of the iconic sports car, as well as families, and features a winning mix of Ferrari inspired rides and attractions for all ages, in addition to Italian delicacies and a unique shopping experience.

And, when you have had your fill of thrills – well almost - jump on the shuttle bus and take the 5-minute ride to YAS Waterworld, the only Emirati themed park of its type in the world, where 40 splashtastic rides, slides and attractions, sit cheek by jowl with the ‘Bandit Bomber’, the longest suspended rollercoaster in the Middle East.

YAS Waterworld's Bandit Bomber, the longest suspended rollercoaster in the Middle East
One thing you quickly learn in these parts is if it ain’t big, beautiful, expensive or iconic, then it doesn’t count!

Which brings me nicely to the stunning, nay breath-taking, Louvre Abu Dhabi. This spectacular white-domed building was designed by legendary architect, Jean Nouvel, and is located in the Saadiyat Cultural district, an area destined to become a global hub for art and culture.

Louvre Abu Dhabi with its billion-dollar price tag
And what a start to this desert nation’s foray into Western and Middle Eastern art!

In this ‘money’s no object’ country, no expense has been spared in designing and building the world’s most expensive gallery - it has a multi-billion-dollar price tag – and bringing together some of history’s finest paintings including Monet’s La Gare Saint-Lazare, a self-portrait by Van Gogh and Da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronniere.

Stylish to the end, Louvre Abu Dhabi is now a major tourist draw
En route back to the city it would be folly not to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which, like the Louvre, is breathtakingly beautiful, costing around £400m when it was constructed between 1996 and 2007.

The iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi
Capable of holding 40,000 worshippers – 7,000 in the main prayer hall - the project to build this iconic structure was launched by the late president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who wanted to establish a structure that would unite the cultural diversity of the Islamic world, with the historical and modern values of architecture and art.

Undoubtedly, Abu Dhabi has a lot to offer but, because it is such a near-neighbour with Dubai, many people still opt for an overnight stay in that most famous of cities which has been expounding the tourist mantra longer than any of its Emirati rivals.

Getting there is fairly straightforward and most easily achieved via a two-hour coach ride from the centrally located Abu Dhabi bus station, and excellent value at £5 each way. As you might imagine, there are a string of top-notch hotels in Dubai although you won’t go far wrong with an overnight stay in the opulent five-star H Hotel and don’t forget to take your best togs!

The 40 Kong rooftop cocktail bar, accessible by lift, not only has spectacular views across the city, but is where all the ‘beautiful people’ of Dubai hang out. Look out for the Ferraris!

Dubai's five-star H-Hotel
Finally, if flowers are your thing, then don’t catch the bus back to Abu Dhabi until you have visited Dubai’s Miracle Garden.

Located in the district of Dubailand, this attraction, visited by around 55,000 people a week, is purported to have something in the region of 100 million blooming flowers crafted into a myriad of shapes with everything from an Airbus A380 through to houses, streets and spires!

Dubai's Miracle Gardens
There is a lot to see in this part of the world and, years ago, it was more about gold, spice and silk souks. However, the UAE has come a long way and there has been a tourist awakening and not just in Dubai. The Abu Dhabi tourist giant is stirring and has been rattling his wallet. Keep watching, there’s more to come!


When I first set off for Abu Dhabi in early March it was snowing so I decided to travel, by train, to Manchester Airport the day before and stay in a hotel so as not to miss my 8.05am flight the following morning.

Here’s a few useful tips:

Make sure you reserve a seat on the train. It was packed and carriage B, which had more than 50 seats, also had around 20 passengers standing all the way to Manchester Piccadilly, the stop before the airport.

Pre-book your train seat to Manchester Airport
Pre-book your train seat to Manchester Airport to avoid standing.
It is also worth noting that the baggage storage area in each carriage holds, at best, 6-8 suitcases.

Consequently, mine had to be ‘parked’ in the automatic door opening area.

Each time we stopped – Huddersfield and Manchester Piccadilly - I felt the need to keep a watchful eye to ensure that no one was trying to pinch my case!

The ticket cost £18.50 out, £16.50 return with the option to upgrade to First Class.

Apparently, there were refreshments available, but an intercom advised that the train was too busy for the attendant to make his way through.

Despite these minor inconveniences, the train is still a practical way of getting to Manchester Airport, dropping you in handy proximity to all terminals and pre-flight night hotels.

Details from where you can get journey times, book and also download the phone app for more convenient ticket purchasing. The app also allows you to cut out station queuing. Don’t forget to take advantage of the price prediction tool and book early, it could save you up to 43%.

Airport Hotels (£75-£125 inc breakfast)

There are lots of them, but my best advice is to check out but, go one step further. Open two tabs on your computer and view Trivago and simultaneously. You’d be amazed to see how two price comparison sites vary in price! Take the best deal. Use them; they use you! And book early for lower prices.

Manchester Airport – Pre-Flight ‘Escape’ Lounge
Consider booking the Airport’s Escape Lounge for £20 on the day of your flight.

Once through Customs you can relax in there with all-inclusive food, hot / cold drinks, internet and newspapers etc. Well worth it. Book in advance online.

Dubai’s H-Hotel
. Visit: for deals and special offers.

In the lap of luxury at Dubai's H-Hotel

General Holiday Advice – Abu Dhabi

Taxis prefer cash so take some Dirhams for day one until you’ve found your feet. They are not geared up to accepting ‘pre-loaded’ currency cards.
Try and get a ‘metered’ cab at the airport, as opposed to a non-metered taxi. One will cost you circa £20, the other (non-metered) around £40!
Make sure you have your UK credit card contact centre details handy. Cards are sometimes locked once they register foreign activity, which can be awkward when you come to use it a second time. Better still, take two credit cards.
Mobile calls from Abu Dhabi to UK are £1.80 a minute with EE unless you pre-load a deal before leaving the UK. My ‘deal’ was £6 a day for unlimited calls and texts, in and out. Well worth it if you still need to conduct any UK business. Be ‘mobile’ aware!

Useful; Links

Louvre Abu Dhabi. Closed Mondays.
Tel +971 600 56 55 66.
Entry fee approx. £12.50 per person. Concessions available.

Ferrari World –
Tel +971 2 496 8000.
Opens 11am-8pm.
Cost £58.£114 per person (bronze, silver & gold passes).

YAS Waterworld
Tel +971 2 414 2000.
Opens 10am-6pm.
£50 per adult. Approx. £42 per child.
One day pass. Concessions and special offers available. Check online.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi.
Full details:- Entry is free.

Dubai Miracle Garden, Al Barsha South 3, Barsha,Dubailand Area, Dubai, UAE. Details:

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Abu Dhabi – Giving Dubai A Run For Its Money
, 12th March 2018, 17:00 PM