HOW TO GET TO ABU DHABI
With more than 52 airlines flying to and from some 85 cities in over 49 countries, Abu Dhabi International Airport holds the 2013 World Airport Awards’ ‘Best Airport in the Middle East’ accolade, for the second year running.
The newly refurbished Terminal 1, with design and architecture reflecting traditional Emirati hospitality elements set in a high-end, ultramodern ambience, delivers a 5-star travel experience.
The home of Etihad Airways – the national airline of the United Arab Emirates – Terminal 3 welcomes travellers to plush Etihad lounges and an awardwinning concierge style check-in. Impressive retail is managed by DFS, the world’s largest luxury retailer, and is complemented by up- market restaurants and cafés.
The planned Midfield Terminal Complex (MTC), the centrepiece of Abu Dhabi Airport’s Company (ADAC)’s multibillion-dollar investment programme, will provide a full terminal building, passenger and cargo facilities, duty-free shops and restaurants for between 27-40 million people a year. Abu Dhabi International Airport is also well connected to the rest of the emirate by numerous bus services.
CURRENCY, EXCHANGE, CREDIT CARDS
The local currency is the UAE dirham (AED or Dhs) which is divided into 100 fils and is pegged against the US $ (US$ 1: AED 3.6725). Credit and debit cards are widely accepted.
Foreign currencies and travellers’ cheques can be exchanged in licenced exchange offices, banks and hotels, a passport is required. Personal cheques can be a bit trickier and many places won’t accept them. If you’re shopping in the souks (markets) or in smaller shops, cash is the best option.
A well structured and expansive network of local and international banks, strictly controlled by the UAE Central Bank, offers a full range of commercial and personal services. Transfers can be made easily as there is no exchange control and the dirham is freely convertible. Banking hours are generally Saturday to Thursday, 8am – 1pm (some banks also
keep later hours). Some banks have small branches based in malls, which are open in the evening.
Most banks operate ATMs, which accept a range of cards. Most ATMs, although linked to a specific bank, are part of a central network so you can transact with a bank card for a nominal charge. Common systems accepted around Abu Dhabi include American Express, Cirrus, Global Access,MasterCard, Plus System and VISA. ATMs can be found in all shopping malls, major supermarkets, most petrol stations and the airport. For international cards, the exchange rates used in transactions are normally competitive and the process is faster and far less hassle than using traditional travellers’ cheques.
‘Bureau de Change’ offices are all over Abu Dhabi and offer rates often better than the banks. You’ll find them in all major malls and popular shopping districts. They are usually open Saturday to Thursday, from 8am – 1pm and 4.30pm to 8.30pm, and on Friday evenings. Many hotels will also exchange money and travellers’ cheques at standard (non-competitive) rates.
SHOPPING IN ABU DHABI
Abu Dhabi is home to a myriad of luxury brands including some regional ‘firsts’. Explore the latest luxury shopping destination – The Galleria on Al Marayah Island – with 130 of the world’s most renowned brand outlets or head over to the Avenue at Etihad Towers for an exclusive VIP treatment in one of the world’s most exclusive boutique collections.
Spacious, modern and air conditioned, Abu Dhabi’s malls are a welcome escape from the summer heat and offer a world of choice when it comes to shopping. In Abu Dhabi, malls are a place to catch up with friends or for a family outing – and the fun can go on until late at night.
With their imaginative designs and wide range of outlets, shopping malls are perennially popular. The bigger malls buzz with activity as people meet, eat, pose and parade. During festive occasions such as Eid or Ramadan, malls are venues for special events such as dance or cultural shows, often featuring international acts. They also hold numerous raffles, often with huge prizes such as luxury cars or cash.
TRADITIONAL MARKETS & SOUK
Souk is Arabic for ‘marketplace.’ Historically, dhows from the Far East and India would offload their cargo and the goods would be haggled over in the nearby souks. Over the years the goods on sale have diversified dramatically; today alongside the spices, silks and perfumes you’ll find electronic goods, souvenirs, clothing and household items. Abu Dhabi’s souks are worth a visit for their bustling atmosphere, eclectic variety of goods, and to observe the traditional way of doing business.
Every morning, fishermen load their catch on to the quayside and prepare for a day of haggling. Take a trip to the Fish Souk at Mina Zayed, near Abu Dhabi’s main port area, and experience a fascinating insight into the way traditional business is done.
Across the road from the Fish Souk, the Al Mina Fruit & Vegetable Souk market is bursting with colour as each seller arranges his produce outside the shops. The choice is amazing, and you can buy by the kilo or the box. Even if you are not buying, this area provides excellent photo opportunities.
Yemeni mattresses and machine made carpets dominate Abu Dhabi’s Carpet Souk, but bargains can be found if you know what you are looking for. Some of the sellers will make up Arabic majlis style cushions for a very reasonable price. The souk is based on Mina Road, near Abu Dhabi’s main port area.
Also known as the Central or Old Souk, the Al Ain Souk is a great place to explore, savour the local atmosphere and practise your bargaining skills. The souk itself is a rather ramshackle affair but it is certainly different from many of the modern, air conditioned markets found elsewhere.
The two outdoor markets – Souk Al Bawadi & Souk Al Qaws are attached to the huge Bawadi Mall in Al Ain. Souk Al Qaws features shops of a practical nature set among unique architecture, with over 40 service outlets including banks, money exchanges and travel agents, while Souk Al Bawadi has more of a heritage feel, with over 50 shops selling traditional items and souvenirs.
Souk Al Zafarana is a jewel of a find which reflects true Emirati culture and tradition while being new. Whether you’re looking for traditional garments, incense or spices, henna or oud, or dallah (Arabian coffee pots) this is the marketplace for you. This is the new home of Al Ain’s old souk and features Mubdia Village, a section exclusively for women that is staffed by female shopkeepers. Around the corner from Al Jimi Mall in Al Ain, the souk is open 10am to 1pm and 8pm until midnight.
This is a destination with almost year round sunshine, little rainfall and near perfect winter temperatures.
Abu Dhabi has a sub-tropical, arid climate. Sunny blue skies and high temperatures can be expected most of the year. Rainfall is sporadic, falling mainly in winter (November to March) and averaging 12 cms per year in most of the emirate. Rain is more common in the ‘Oasis City’ of Al Ain, the emirate’s second largest city, due to its proximity to the Hajar mountains.
Temperatures range from a low of around 13C (50F) on a winter’s night, to a high of around 42C (118F) on a summer’s day. The cooler months, November to April, are the most pleasant time to visit, when temperatures are around 24C (75F) during the day and 13C (56F) at night.
WHAT TO WEAR
Lightweight summer clothing is suitable for most of the year, but something slightly warmer may be needed for the winter months. Be sure to take some sort of jacket or sweater when visiting hotels or the cinema, as the air conditioning can be fierce.
Although the attitude towards dress is fairly liberal throughout the Emirates, a healthy amount of respect for local customs doesn’t go amiss, especially when shopping or sightseeing. Short or tight clothing may be worn, but it will attract attention – most of it unwelcome.
Malls, health clubs and resort facilities are generally more accepting of what’s fashionable, but when visiting government offices it is best to cover your shoulders and legs. It is especially recommended that you dress more conservatively during Ramadan.
In the evenings, restaurants and clubs usually have a mixt of western, Arabic and Asian styles. Again, ladies are advised to take a pashmina or jacket because of cold air conditioning.
CULTURE & LIFESTYLE
The combination of international influences and a strong commitment to local heritage has created an intriguing mix of new and old.
Abu Dhabi’s culture is firmly rooted in Arabia’s Islamic traditions. Islam is more than a religion; it is a way of life that governs everyday events from what to wear to what to eat and drink. The UAE’s culture and heritage is inextricably linked to its religion, and it is a shining example of Islam’s true commitment to tolerance and hospitality.
Foreigners are free to practise their own religion and the dress code is liberal. Women are able to drive and walk around unescorted. Among the most highly prized virtues are courtesy and hospitality, and visitors are sure to be charmed by the genuine friendliness of the people. Despite the speed of economic development over the last 30 years, Abu Dhabi continues to promote traditional cultural and sporting events, such as falconry, camel racing and traditional dhow sailing.
UAE nationals usually wear traditional dress in public. For men, this is the kandura – a white full length shirt-like garment, which is worn with a white or red checkered headdress, known as a ghutra. This is secured with a black cord (agal).
Sheikhs and important businessmen may also wear a thin, gold-trimmed robe (bisht) over their kandura at important events.
In public, women wear a long, loose black robe (abaya) that covers their normal clothes – plus a headscarf (sheyla).
The abaya is often of very sheer, flowing fabric with intricate embroidery and beadwork along the wrists and hemline.
Sheylas are also becoming more elaborate and a statement of individuality, particularly among the young. Headwear varies with some women wearing a thin black veil covering their face and others, generally older women, wearing a leather veil (burka), which covers the nose, brow, cheekbones and lips.
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