So you’re new here. That’s okay – from putting down new roots to finding friends and things to do, we’ve got you covered.
You’ve just touched down, your whole life is stuffed into a few suitcases and you’re ready to begin a new chapter in a desert city that many of your family members might not even be able to point to on a globe.
First things first: Welcome to your new adventure – you’re off to a good start by picking up our mag.
You’ve just landed in an amazingly diverse place where different cultures not so much collide as meld beautifully into a unique expat life experience.
We love it here and we hope you do too, so as you get settled in and acquainted with all Abu Dhabi has to offer, we’ve rounded up the best insider tips to life here.
Let’s start with a basic geography lesson: Abu Dhabi is both a capital city as well as an emirate. It’s the largest of the seven that make up the UAE, and comprises the Western Region and Liwa desert, as well as Al Ain city, which borders Oman.
Here in the capital, the city is divided up into a number of areas and islands. The biggest one houses many of Abu Dhabi’s oldest buildings and areas, such as the former Tourist Club – now known as Al Zahiyah. Here, you’ll find a mix of city life, hole-in-the-wall shawarma shops, hotels and plenty of hubbub. It’s the breathing heart of Abu Dhabi, and each area has its own unique charm and culture.
Head from the heart of the city over the Sheikh Zayed bridge to the mainland, and you’ll find areas including Khalifa City, Al Raha Beach and Al Reef, which are hotspots for families.
Saadiyat Island and its unspoiled coastline has become both a hub of culture, with Louvre Abu Dhabi, Manarat Al Saadiyat and New York University Abu Dhabi providing a steady flow of exhibitions and events, and a picturesque place to stay or visit, with five-star hotels dotting the beach.
Looking for shops or entertainment? You’ll find it all on Yas Island, where there are theme parks, the gargantuan Yas Mall and big box shops like IKEA and Ace Hardware.
Depending on where you’re coming from, life here might be more conservative than you’re used to, but that doesn’t mean you have to make too many changes – just be sure to take heed of local customs and you’ll fit in just fine. Here are the dos and don’ts:
DO dress modestly, especially in public places. That means if you’re heading to the beach, your swimwear isn’t suitable for a trip to the mall afterwards.
DO enjoy taking photos, but make sure you’re careful when posting them online if they feature other people without their permission, as it might be in contravention of UAE privacy laws. Taking photos of government buildings, royal residences and other restricted locations is also prohibited.
DO enjoy some traditional Arabian hospitality and courtesy from your new friends – it’d be rude not to!
DON’T swear or use profanity in public – this includes hand gestures. The same goes for public displays of affection.
Adnoc Distribution: Perfect for finding petrol pumps.
Abu Dhabi Taxi: Need a ride? No need to whistle.
Dubizzle: Buy and sell anything from furniture to cars.
Ministry of Health: Find a doctor or a hospital, stat!
The Entertainer: Scoop discounts on food, fun and more.
Waze: Make the morning commute a breeze by avoiding the pile-ups.
Putting down roots
Family and community
As one of the capital’s biggest community groups, Abu Dhabi Q&A offers both friendship and an answer to your every burning question about our city – no question is too mundane, so ask away and make some new pals. Visit: bit.ly/2KRnK50
Launched in 1994 by four parents,Abu Dhabi Mums connects parents – including dads – from various backgrounds for activities, playtime and more, so the little ones can find their new best bud too. Memberships AED 150 per year. Visit: abudhabimums.ae
For a cultural crossover, join the local contingent of Internations, an online expat forum that hosts regular events and meetups. Visit: internations.org
Whatever your interests, you’re sure to find your tribe on meetup.com. From stargazing groups to trekking and photography, this website connects like-minded people.
If you play a sport, the capital is home to plenty of clubs – competitive and informal – where you can get active and meet new people.
Abu Dhabi Striders is the place for keen runners:
Rugby players can get in on the scrum with Abu Dhabi Harlequins: facebook.com/abudhabiquins
Play well in a team? Stick your oar in with the Beach Rotana Piranhas dragon boat team: facebook.com/beachrotanapiranhas
If you’re good on two wheels, Raha Cycling Club is for you:
Better on four wheels? Try Abu Dhabi Roller Derby: facebook.com/adrollerderby
Looking for your home country clan?
- Australia: Aussies Abroad facebook.com/groups/aussiesabroadad
- England: Royal Society of St George facebook.com/rssgabudhabi
- France: Alliance Française afabudhabi.org
- India: India Social and Cultural Centre iscabudhabi.com
- Ireland: Abu Dhabi Irish Society irishsocietyabudhabi.com
- Pakistan: Pakistani community in UAE facebook.com/dxbpk
- Philippines: Filipino Families and Community facebook.com/groups/filipinofamiliescommunityauh
- Scotland: The Scottish St Andrew’s Society of Abu Dhabi adscots.com
- South Africa: South Africans in Abu Dhabi bit.ly/2MKQttS
- United States of America: American Moms in Abu Dhabi facebook.com/groups/americanmomsinabudhabi
- Wales: St David’s Society bit.ly/2MoZsUJ
With cuisines spanning every continent, whether you feel like a taste of home or trying something new, there’s a whole city here for the eating.
You might not feel like going out right away – so you’ll be glad to know that almost anything can be delivered – and that includes Christmas dinner in December. For takeout, try Zomato, Talabat, FoodonClick, Deliveroo or Uber Eats to get a tasty meal delivered to your door – all available online and in app form.
If you’re going out, there is a plethora of great restaurants – far too many to mention here. Luckily for you, we’ve rounded up the majority on our online directory, which you can check out at adwonline.ae/onlinedirectory
To get recommendations from other local foodies, you need to visit community group Best Bites Abu Dhabi: facebook.com/bestbitesad
For new vegans or vegetarians, you’re going to want to join Abu Dhabi Vegans for all your restaurant and grocery needs: facebook.com/groups/abudhabivegans
The Grand Tour
Ready to venture out? Abu Dhabi has a tonne of attractions, landmarks and more to explore.
For a local experience, head to Mina Zayed, where fishermen ply their trade in a bustling market every day from the early hours of the morning.
While you’re in the area, check out Warehouse 421 (pictured, below), one of the capital’s coolest creative hubs. Free. Near Mina Center. Tue-Sun 10am-8pm. Visit: warehouse421.ae
Just a hop, skip and a jump away over the bridge, you’ll find Manarat Al Saadiyat (pictured, above). From exhibitions to art workshops, music and more, there’s plenty to do for younger culture vultures. Free, workshop prices vary. Saadiyat Island. Daily 9am-8pm.
The falcon is an integral part of Emirati heritage, and at Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, you can learn about the history of the UAE’s relationship with the beautiful bird. Sweihan Road. Sun-Thu 8.30am-2.30pm. Visit: facebook.com/abudhabi.falconhospital
The Great Outdoors
By far one of the most popular strolling spots in Abu Dhabi is the famous Corniche – 8km of beautiful views along the seafront, plus great beaches for a spot of sunbathing. At the end of it, stop off at The Founder’s Memorial, launched this year to commemorate the UAE’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed.
The capital has a number of great parks – but we love Umm Al Emarat Park for its beautiful fountains, children’s garden and lush greenery, as well as the weekly organic RIPE market hosted in the winter. AED 5 for park entry. Al Mushrif. Daily 8am-midnight. Visit: ummalemaratpark.ae
The scenery doesn’t stop there – head to the tranquil Eastern Mangroves Promenade to see a sea of trees rising out of the water. Enjoy dinner as the sun sets for a quieter side to Abu Dhabi’s hustle and bustle.
If you’re missing your nature fix, then Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, located 40km outside of the city, is a perfect place to meander the walking trails and spot local and migratory birds when it reopens after summer. Free. Thu and Sat 8am-4pm. Visit: ead.ae
Fun and games
Yas Island is your destination if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush.
Boasting over 40 rides and slides, Yas Waterworld is the place to go if you need a retreat from the heat. AED 250. Daily 10am-9pm. Visit: yaswaterworld.com
The newest addition to the capital, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi pays homage to our favourite cartoon characters and superheroes with themed rides and entertainment. AED 295. Daily 10am-8pm. Visit: wbworldabudhabi.com
While you’re on the island, take a spin around the iconic Yas Marina Circuit, home to many a Formula One victory over the years. From AED 170. Daily 4pm-11pm. Visit: yasmarinacircuit.com
Only in Abu Dhabi
Looking for a unique experience? Here are five things you can do here, that you won’t find anywhere else.
Fast track: The world’s fastest rollercoaster is here at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. Dubbed Formula Rossa, it hits speeds of 240kph. From AED 295. Yas Island. Daily 11am-8pm. Visit: ferrariworldabudhabi.com
Hump day: With dust flying through the air and tiny robot jockeys, camel racing at Abu Dhabi’s Al Wathba track is something you’ve (probably) never seen before. Free. Al Wathba, off E30. Times vary. Contact: 02 885 8888
Art at heart: The world’s only Louvre museum outside of France is located right here, and from the architecture to its contents, we think it’s quite the masterpiece. AED 63. Saadiyat Island. Sat-Sun and Tue-Wed 10am-8pm, Thu-Fri 10am-10pm.
Cultural threads: Aside from its beautiful white marble structure, striking water features and stunning interiors, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is home to the world’s biggest
carpet – and it’s a sight to behold. Free. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saaed Street. Sat-Thu 9am-10pm, Fri 4.30pm-10pm. Visit: szgmc.gov.ae
WORDS Camille Hogg