Our favourite things to do in the capital revealed
1 Sleep at Qasr Al Sarab Quite possibly the emirate’s most romantic destination, this Bedouin-style resort is nestled deep within the Empty Quarter. Visit on your own or with a partner to relax in the pool and use its spa, followed by dinner at its rooftop grill, Suhail, which is named after the star Bedouins used to navigate through the desert. On our visit, we actually saw a shooting star. You can also eat at Ghadeer on an island accessible via bridges illuminated by flame torches. Despite the low-key atmosphere, there’s still plenty to do in the dunes, including camel treks, archery, sunset yoga and horse riding, as well as full moon desert hikes, dune bashing and cycling on special bikes, which have tyres wide enough to cycle on sand. Camel trek Dhs195 (at sunset Dhs295), archery Dhs140, sunset yoga Dhs150, horse riding Dhs395, desert hike Dhs125, dune bashing Dhs295, fat bikes Dhs175. Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Liwa www.qasralsarab.ae (02 886 2088).
2 Go on safari Even though Sir Bani Yas Island is a short flight or boat trip south of Abu Dhabi, it feels more like Africa as a 4,100-hectare wildlife park covers half of it. The park is home to 15,000 free-roaming animals including giraffes, ostriches, cheetahs and striped hyenas, as well as hundreds of endangered Arabian oryx, gazelles and peacocks. The best way to experience it is on a 90-minute nature drive in a 4x4. You can explore the rest of the island by bike, foot or horse, go kayaking or inspect reefs while snorkelling or scuba diving. You can also try archery. A beach to rival Saadiyat loops around it and chances are you’ll have it to yourself. There are three places to stay, the newest of which is Al Sehel Villa Resort. Dhs840 per night until September 30, minimum five-night stay. Anantara Al Sahel Villa Resort, Sir Bani Yas Island firstname.lastname@example.org, www.anantara.com (02 656 1399).
3 Explore a fort Otherwise known as Al Hosn Palace or White Fort, you might be forgiven for thinking Qasr Al Hosn is called Fort Knox as it’s been boarded up for years while undergoing renovations. Built in the 1700s, it was originally a solitary watchtower designed to protect fresh water sources discovered by the Bani Yas tribes of Liwa Oasis. A settlement grew around it and around 1795, Sheikh Shakhboot bin Diyab added three towers and walls, expanding it into a fort. Cannons were added during the 19th century. When oil was discovered in 1958, the fort was transformed into a palace and it has since been used by the government, as police headquarters and as a research centre. In 2007, Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage closed it and began an extensive renovation project. Last year, the tourist board launched Qasr Al Hosn Festival, an annual event held in the grounds. This year’s ten-day festival saw visitors taking part in embroidery workshops, climbing palm trees, shopping for artisanal crafts, perfume and honey, and learning how to make camel saddles. Check the website for 2015 dates. Hamdan Street, www.qasralhosnfestival.ae (02 666 4442).
4 Free fall at 64km/h Fans of adrenaline rushes should try Liwa Loop at Yas Waterworld, the first looping waterslide in the Middle East. Once you’ve climbed inside the capsule, you’ll hear a countdown before the trapdoor beneath your feet opens. You’ll drop 16.5m – higher than a double decker bus – at 64km/h. Terrifying. The momentum carries you upside down and along the 260ft slide. Dhs240 (adults), Dhs195 (under 1.1m). Yas Island, www.yaswaterworld.com (02 414 2000).
5 Drive the Formula One track Splash out for the chance to tackle the Formula One Grand Prix track at Yas Marina Circuit in a Yas Radical SST sports car. Designed especially for the track, the car produces 210bhp and can reach 100km/h in less than four seconds. When you’re racing around, you’ll soon forget you don’t own the car. Dhs1,200 for a 25-minute drive, Dhs440 as a passenger. Yas Island, www.yasmarinacircuit.com (02 659 9800).
6 Ride the world’s fastest rollercoaster Brave the impressive Formula Rossa, which shoots from zero to 100km/h in less than three seconds, reaching speeds of 240km/h. The 2.07km track peaks at 52m before plummeting to 1.5m and turning a corner at an eye-popping 70 degrees. A ride lasts 90 seconds, but it feels an awful lot longer. While you’re at Ferrari World, check out G-Force, which launches you 62m in the air. Dhs240 (adult), Dhs195 (children below 1.3m), Free (children under three years old). Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com (02 496 8001).
7 Kayak under a full moon Love nature? Then there are few better activities than kayaking at night. Peaceful and calm, if you’ve had a stressful day you’ll appreciate the inky black waters, chirping crickets and occasional crane flapping by. Adventure company Noukhada hosts monthly full moon trips in the mangroves, departing from Yas Beach and E48 next to Eastern Mangroves by Anantara. Dates vary according to the lunar calendar; the next ones are planned for Tuesday September 9, Wednesday October 8, Thursday November 6 and Saturday December 6. It also hosts mystery night paddles. Dhs200. www.noukhada.ae (02 558 1889).
8 Party on a desert island Al Maya Island & Resorts hosts daytime parties, including occasional foam parties, for over 21s every Friday on Al Maya Island, 9km south-west of Khalidiyah Palace. A DJ provides entertainment as revellers frolic on the beach or in the pool, which has two swim-up bars. You can only access the island by boat, which takes 20-30 minutes. Boat trips run every hour or half hour from the jetty next to Khalidiyah Palace Rayhaan by Rotana at the western end of the Corniche. Get there early and secure a good spot near the pool. Dhs100 boat and entry. Noon-9pm, reception. Al Maya Island, www.almayauae.com (02 667 7777 / 056 262 1919 / 050 731 7802)
9 Stay on Nurai Island Just 1km north of Saadiyat Island, Nurai Island is home to an exclusive residential resort made up of 28 beachfront estates that cost a whopping Dhs48million each – as well as 12 water villas that can be rented long-term. Out of your budget? Then from November you can stay a night in the island’s boutique hotel, which is made up of 40 beach bungalows. You’ll arrive by helicopter or boat, which docks at a floating marina, and have access to a beach, pool, spa and gym, cigar lounge, library and three restaurants – one of which, a Mediterranean all-day dining restaurant, is already open. Nurai Island, www.nuraiislandvillas.com (04 887 8750; 050 450 3615).
10 Tour the Grand Mosque Even if you’ve already visited Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, it’s worth taking a tour – especially as they’re free. Your guide encourages you to ask questions about Emirati culture while imparting fascinating facts. Did you know, for example, that the carpet inside is the world’s biggest, weighs 47 tonnes and took two years to make? Or that the mosque took 11 years to build, its pillars are decorated with semi precious stones and the floor is made from white marble because it doesn’t absorb heat? You don’t need to book, just turn up in time for a tour at 10am, 11am and 5pm Sunday to Thursday, 5pm or 7pm on Friday or 10am, 11am, 2pm, 5pm and 7pm on Saturday. www.szgmc.ae (02 419 1919).