Abu Dhabi has a mystical sound to its name. Like “Zanzibar” or “Singapore,” there’s something exotic about it, and one can’t help but feel like James Bond while recounting their adventures in this part of the world. In spite of its cool moniker, this emirate has always played second fiddle to one of the world’s most popular destinations, Dubai. However, Abu Dhabi hasn’t just been sitting around on its laurels while its northern neighbor built the tallest building in the world and put a ski resort in a mall.
It’s silently put together brand-new, world-class attractions to inspire you make the hour drive south. With a great line-up of destinations and even more on the way, AD is waiting for you as soon as you’ve tired of Atlantis and all those penguins.
Scratch that. Does anyone ever get tired of penguins?
Warner Brothers World
It’s not Disney, but let’s not kid ourselves—Mickey would be burnt toast in the summer in this part of the world. The folks at Warner Brothers have built an innovative indoor theme park with rides, shops, amazing props and fantastic restaurants—all in the comfort of glorious AC.
Each universe in the park, including Gotham City and Metropolis, has its own photo-worthy building facades and oversized props. The Scooby Doo haunted house might be a little childish, but it’s still a fun ride full of Kodak moments. The Flintstones and cartoon areas are marvelous—shooting Acme products in a 3D cartoon ride? Sheer brilliance. And don't miss the Joker and villain-themed stage show and the superhero 3D ride that nearly rivals Universal’s Spiderman attraction.
The most impressive use of technology, though, is the main entrance area (think Main Street USA) with a multimedia experience that's a sensory overload of movie clips and color-changing skies. There’s nothing that inspires brand loyalty like seeing your favorite movies displayed this way and being reminded that Warner Brothers has been there for you since you were in diapers.
The park just opened in Summer 2018 but it’s already rocking Abu Dhabi. I loved it. Go during the week to avoid the crowds.
Didn't think our desert friends had any European culture? Think again. The Louvre opened this year as a bridge of East-meets-West and is full of art treasures and archaeological finds with an amazing, spacious building to hold everything. There’s Monet, Van Gogh, Magritte, Picasso and even American artists like Gilbert Stuart. Some of the art is on loan and changes throughout the year. I was shocked to see Whistler’s Mother (one of the most recognized paintings in the world) displayed casually on a wall after trying unsuccessfully to see it at the Parisian Orsay museum and the Chicago Art Institute.
The giant Gaudi-esque roof covers the entire complex and futuristic auditorium. Set on the sparkling Persian Gulf, canals are integrated in the design, and the sunset views looking out at the cityscape are as inspiring as the art housed within its walls. There are other art galleries in the area, including a spacious local artist showcase and a Museum of Modern Art that’s being completed early next year.
Many of us will never own a Ferrari, but that mild hindrance hasn’t stopped the Italian company from making us want one with their Ferrari-branded theme park. This mostly indoor park gives us a historical tour of the record-shattering sports car, and fun rides to help us economically challenged folks have a fleeting sense of Ferrari ownership.
There’s a hang-gliding attraction that has us following a vintage Ferrari through beautifully scenic roads of Italy, but the pièce de résistance is the Rosso rollercoaster ride. This isn’t your grandma’s rollercoaster. It’s the fastest one in the world. How fast is fast? 240 kilometers per hour. You can’t take pictures because you’ll drop your camera. I scoffed at the mandatory goggles the attendant made me wear.
Guess what? You need goggles. It’s a moment of pure rocket-launching adrenaline. This one ride is worth the price of admission in my book.
The park is very close to WB World and it’s theoretically possible to do both in a day, if you’re a theme park junkie who doesn’t eat or shop.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one of the most beautiful in the world and shouldn’t be missed. You’ll have to take your shoes off before you enter, but you can’t help but be impressed with this shrine’s unique architecture and desert-inspired beauty.
Technically this gem of a place is on the edge of Dubai and is supposed to be your last chance at “civilization” before you drive through a no-man’s land to the fringes of Abu Dhabi. The creators of this place took inspiration from Mad Max, mixed it with Burning Man, and created the most unique food truck attraction in the world.
Apocalyptic vehicles with machine guns, Russian trucks with tires taller than a person, and insane props and signs from a parallel universe make up this roadside attraction and restaurant. It’s a photographer’s dream as well as a good place to grab a venti Frappuccino from the weirdest Starbucks you’ve ever seen; or a gyro, pizza, whatever. Pick your drive-through and keep going or park and eat your lunch at Last Exit's quirky dining hall. The restroom is beyond wacky and you need to go even if you don’t need to go.
Besides this amazing lineup, Abu Dhabi boasts great malls, the palace hotel—and Seaworld has been announced for 2020.