The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is the largest and wealthiest of the nation's seven emirates. Covering 80 percent of the land mass of the U.A.E., the emirate of Abu Dhabi is divided into three parts: the city of Abu Dhabi, the historic Al Ain region (centered on a large oasis on an old camel caravan route) and Al Gharbia, part of the world's largest uninterrupted sand desert with towering dunes spreading across the Arabian peninsula.
The city of Abu Dhabi is a rapidly growing cosmopolitan metropolis where glittering skyscrapers pierce the sky and five-star resorts spread across natural islands where you'll find golf courses, beaches, marinas, upscale malls, a Formula 1 race car track, amusement areas and cultural institutions.
Compared with Dubai, the nation's playground and largest city 90 minutes to the north, Abu Dhabi is more family-oriented and, with a population consisting of a higher number of native Emiratis, more traditional in its values.
Abu Dhabi's extreme wealth stems from oil, discovered in 1958. The U.A.E. was formed in 1971 when the head of Abu Dhabi's ruling family, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, persuaded his fellow emirs to form the union and became its first president. Transformation has been swift. Abu Dhabi put its oil money into the development of a modern infrastructure, health care, education, arts and culture. Abu Dhabi grew into a modern, Westernized civilization in a little more than a generation, evolving from a society of fishing villages along the coast and Bedouins living a nomadic life in the desert. Still, you'll find that Arabian traditions and Bedouin hospitality have been preserved. The city is diversifying its stake in oil by developing other industries, including tourism, and is warm and welcoming to visitors.
Abu Dhabi's culture is rooted in Islam, but all faiths are respected and protected by the constitution. The dress code is liberal, and Western wear is common, though native Emiratis often choose to wear their national dress. That said, you'll want to leave your tank tops and short shorts at home. Women should not wear short skirts, strapless or spaghetti-strap tops, or shorts in public places. Men may not wear shorts in mosques. Aside from cultural considerations, a wrap or light jacket might be more comfortable in air-conditioned spaces and outdoors on winter evenings.
--written by Katherine Rodeghier