At a time when the world of aviation is struggling, Abu Dhabi seems to be something of a phenomena. While airlines in other parts of the world are cancelling flights and suspending routes, both Air Arabia Abu Dhabi and Wizz Air Abu Dhabi have announced their inaugural flights from the capital.
This is good news for UAE residents, who now have a plethora of low-cost options to explore as soon as travel restrictions in each destination ease.
Wizz Air Abu Dhabi will begin flying to six cities in Egypt, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Greece and Cyprus from October. The new airline is a partnership between the low-cost Hungarian airline and Abu Dhabi state holding company ADQ, and is promising low fares with starting prices from Dh129.
If you're considering booking a flight to one of the airline's first destinations, here's our guide of what to see, when to go and what to expect from each of Abu Dhabi's newest direct connections.
Kutaisi, Georgia: Go for canyons, cathedrals and cable cars
Perhaps not as touristy as Tbilisi or Batumi, Kutaisi in Georgia’s west is a charming city that is carving its niche on the international tourist trail. From Abu Dhabi, flights take four and a half hours to the capital of the Imereti region – an area that’s famous for its beautiful landscapes and ancient heritage. You can visit year-round with August to October being the driest months and summertime a good pick for balmy outdoor evenings.
History buffs will love Kutaisi, which has a wealth of places to discover. Start at the centuries-old Bagrati Cathedral, perched on a hilltop overlooking the city. On the outskirts of the city, Gelati Monastery is also worth checking out. The building was built between the 12th and 13th centuries after it was ordered by King David, Georgia’s most powerful royal. Back in the city, get a bird’s eye view of the glistening Rioni river at sundown as you travel by soviet era-style cable car to the elevated retro-steeped amusement park. The park is nothing special, but the ride up and back is definitely worthwhile. One of the city’s biggest tourist attractions is the Prometheus cave. Located 40 metres below sea level, the 1.8-kilometre cave is a place to go underground boating and visit the ‘hall of love’ – a cavern that’s also used as a local wedding venue. Canyoning trips to Martvili with its waterfalls and Okatse with its skywalks are must-dos for adventure seekers.
Odessa, Ukraine: Go for coastal Black Sea vibes
Ukraine’s Odessa used to be the cultural centre of Soviet Russia and today is a thriving summertime playground filled with fascinating architecture that looks more Mediterranean than eastern European. Flight time from Abu Dhabi is five and half hours and Wizz Air Abu Dhabi’s launch date of October 1 means you'll miss the crowded beaches and inflated hotel prices that the city typically sees from April to September. Plan a visit in March or early October for dry days, plenty of sunshine and the chance to stroll the city and visit the beaches crowd-free.
Odessa is very walkable so pack comfortable footwear and head out to visit the Duke monument, Deribasovskaya Street and the Mother-in-Law footbridge, where you can hang your own love padlock. Don’t miss the city’s most famous landmark - the towering concrete Potemkin Steps, which sweep right down to the Black Sea and sample traditional food, like the vivid purple Ukrainian Borscht. Culture fans will want to check out Odessa Opera House. This Italian baroque-style theatre is the oldest in the country, the original building dates back to 1803.
When it comes to beaches, there’s plenty to choose from. Arcadia is the most famous and located in the nightlife centre of the city. For more laid-back vibes, try Chernomorska Rivyera Beach or Cleaton Beach in the Frantsuz’ky boulevard.
Alexandria, Egypt: Go for history-steeped exploration
The Mediterranean port city of Alexandria has an extraordinary history that is well worth exploring. Flights from Abu Dhabi to Borg El Arab will leave Abu Dhabi on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with the journey taking four and half hours. Visit in summer to escape the Gulf heat or go in spring or autumn for a crowd-free foray.
Founded by Alexander the Great and loved by Queen Cleopatra, the city is home to the Lighthouse of Alexandria, once considered one of the seven wonders of the world. The Great Library in Alexandria – previously torched and rebuilt – was considered the font of human knowledge. There’s archaeological sites, museums and mosques aplenty, but history aside, there’s lots more to do in Egypt’s cultural capital.
Head to the corniche, a waterfront promenade that stretches along the Mediterranean Sea and truly comes alive in the evening. Visit Mamoura Beach for traditional seaside vibes and a stroll along the cobblestone boardwalk. Scuba divers can explore history beneath the waves with dive sites offering ancient wrecks and ruins from the pharaohs, Romans and Greeks. And a trip to Egypt wouldn’t be complete without a shopping stop at the souk. The city’s Souq District offers rows upon rows of stalls, shops and stands selling everything imaginable, just don’t forget to barter.
Athens, Greece: Go for the food and the world famous heritage
An ancient city that is considered the birthplace of Western civilisation, Athens is less than six hours from the UAE by plane. Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is set to fly to the Greek capital three times per week with the inaugural flight departing on October 2.
Athens has something for everyone coupled with a perfect year-round climate. It’s a popular choice for a city break that fuses archaeological sites with contemporary cultural attractions, not to mention some of the world’s best cuisine.
History-laden Athens is home to world-renowned sites like the Acropolis, the Pantheon and the Temple of Poseidon. Hike up Filopappou Hill for sunset views over the Acropolis then head to Lycabettus Hill for views that reach all the way to the ocean.
Athenians also love art and there are plenty of theatres and musical hubs in the city for those craving culture. Wander around Thissio with its street art and wall murals or explore Psiri, an art district thriving with galleries, studios, taverns and coffee shops. Athens is also one of few European capitals to have a coastline. The majority of sun seekers head to the other Greek islands, but there’s lots of sandy coves and pebbled shorelines for travellers that want a day at the seaside in the country’s capital.
Larnaca, Cyprus: Go for the beaches and the Cypriot hospitality
Larnaca is typically used as a jumping off point for the rest of the country, but stay a while and you’ll discover the city has its own charm. Wizz Air Abu Dhabi will fly twice per week to the port city in the south of Cyprus with the first flight scheduled for October 3. Larnaca has some fabulous beaches thanks to a 75-kilometre coastline with sandy spots perfect for family seaside trips as well as beaches ideal for kitesurfing, windsurfing and jet-skiing.
The city is also conveniently compact, which makes sightseeing fun. Visit Larnaca Castle and stop at the Church of Saint Lazarus, don’t miss the Hala Sultan Tekke – an ancient mosque on the west bank of the Larnaca Salt Lake. In fact, this entire region is a good day trip, and consists of four lakes that are a popular feeding ground for pink flamingos in the winter months. The rest of the year, there's good hiking opportunities and worthwhile views across to Stavrovouni Mountain. Divers can also find favor in Larnaca with its pleasant year-round sea temperatures and the Zenobia Wreck, one of the best wreck dives in the Mediterranean. Outside the city boundaries, the region of Larnaca is dotted with picturesque villages and stunning countryside views. And everywhere travellers go, they‘ll be met by warm Cypriot hospitality that typically comes with lashings of traditional cuisine inspired by Arabic, Greek and Turkish fare - eating in Cyprus is serious business.
Yerevan, Armenia: Go for the adventure and the value for money
The pink city, as Yerevan is nicknamed, is Armenia’s intricate capital where alfresco European cafe culture and tree-lined boulevards sit side-by-side with age-old taverns, Soviet-era architecture and a vintage car scene that rivals Havana.
The landlocked city is just over four hours from the UAE capital by air and Wizz Air Abu Dhabi is set to fly there twice weekly from October 3. The busiest tourist season is early autumn, as summer temperatures can hit 40 degrees and winters can go below zero. Spring is a good time to go to see the country’s flowers start to bloom and the landscapes begin to turn verdant.
As far as city breaks in Europe go, Yerevan offers some of the best value for money coupled with an impressively efficient metro system that makes sightseeing around town a breeze. It’s swathed in history with remnants of ancient empires ripe for exploring, but without the crowds many other European cities attract. Visit historical treasures like Republic Square with its pink-toned buildings that earned the city its moniker, or the Matenadaran – home to the world's largest repository of Armenian manuscripts. The Unesco World Heritage listed Geghard Monastery is also worth a trip. Yerevan is a growing contender in Europe’s adventure travel circuit and has plenty to offer those seeking outdoor thrills. From the country’s longest zip-line where visitors can speed through the air at 140 kilometres per hour, to paragliding, mountain biking and hiking. Caving is also on offer at Mozrov Cave which is 700 metres of underground exploration filled with stalactites, stalagmites, columns draperies and rim stone dams.