Canberra-born Kate Midttun grew up in Brisbane and, after stints in North America and London, landed in the United Arab Emirates 13 years ago. She lived in Dubai and now lives in Abu Dhabi with her Norwegian husband and three children, where she runs a global communications agency.
There are many misconceptions about Abu Dhabi and the Middle East, but those who live here or visit it frequently know it as a modern, cosmopolitan city with a deep and rich culture. Far different from the glitz of Dubai, Abu Dhabi has its own offering that serves as a treasure trove for those who take the time to explore. For this reason, one of my favorite things to do is to visit Qasr Al Hosn, known as the birthplace of Abu Dhabi. One of the city’s original stone structures, it houses the history of the city and the nation in a cocoon sheltered from the bustling streets just outside its doors. See qasralhosn.ae
Take a boat from Yas Marina and explore the city by water. Watch the sunset from the mangroves or stop at one of the beaches only accessible by boat and frequented by expats. After the sun sets, return to Yas Bay where dozens of restaurants and bars offer stunning views, and people-watching is the main activity.
There are some old classics known and frequented by locals and expats. If you want to eat like a local, visit Lebanese Flower, a hard-to-beat combination of bakery and shawarma (Global Tower, Zayed The First Street, Al Manhal). There’s also Le Beaujolais, a French cafe that has stood the test of time in the oldest part of town; it’s well-known for its inexpensive fare that packs a tasty punch (danathotels.com). For something more upbeat where you’re guaranteed a great atmosphere with the consistency and high profile of its international brand, Zuma at Al Maryah Island is hard to beat (zumarestaurant.com).
Alcohol is widely available in Abu Dhabi, the only rule you will need to remember is to be respectful to those who do not drink it. My all time favorite is a Ginger Gin from the W Hotel Lounge Bar overlooking Yas Marina and the Yas Marina Circuit. See marriott.com
Avoid thinking that Abu Dhabi is like Dubai or just another glitzy destination that’s only skin deep. There is a soul and a history in Abu Dhabi worth exploring.
Learn the word “inshallah” and embrace it. Inshallah, which means “God willing”, can be used to explain things that are out of our hands: traffic, places that are not open at the times listed on the website, or an unexplained inability to do things. But it also gives you the opportunity to get to know the people and the place better. You’ll also find unexplained acts of hospitality, overt kindness and generosity, and cultural experiences you can’t control in a spreadsheet.