First-time visitors to Abu Dhabi usually visit at least a handful of the tourist attractions recommended to them by travel guides or friends who have visited the country, told of their experiences and shared their must-see lists. Those lists of Abu Dhabi’s attractions continue to grow, with the Abrahamic Family House being added earlier this year and new museums in Saadiyat Cultural District due to open in the coming years.
The recommendations invariably feature (and rightfully so): the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, its white marble architecture especially lovely as the sun dips (and the gem of a shopping centre under the Mosque), the Louvre Abu Dhabi for the culturally inclined, getting on the world's fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi and watching the Formula One races at Yas Marina Circuit or go-karting there during F1's ongoing off season.
But not resting on its laurels as merely an easy, safe and enjoyable destination, Abu Dhabi has recently made it more affordable for tourists to visit the city, by removing a 6 per cent tourism fee and the 4 per cent municipality fee applied to hotel restaurants. This, as anyone planning a holiday knows, is vital as expenses add up quickly. The removal of certain municipality fees is bound to register among those considering a getaway to the UAE capital. It might persuade visitors to extend their visit.
Such incentives go hand-in-hand with an important aspect of Abu Dhabi, which is its civic pride. There are two programmes under way to conserve the emirate's heritage and to protect more than 60 of its buildings and cultural sites. The Urban Treasures campaign and the Modern Heritage Conservation Initiative speak to the extensive work being done to maintain some of the emirate's landmarks. While residents take pride in such initiatives, and they are part of the government's broader conservation efforts, the beneficial outcomes also attract tourists around the year, including in the summer. The location of the country and its accessible flights to destinations around the world have historically been additional reasons for tourists to stop over in the Emirates – a fact that the UAE tourism campaigns have usually highlighted.
Last year, as many as 18 million tourists visited the capital. And even as the three most visited cultural sites were Louvre Abu Dhabi, Cultural Foundation and Qasr Al Hosn, the aforementioned conservation projects will showcase more and more of the city's lesser-known charms. Those who live in Abu Dhabi have been known to give visiting house guests a tour of the dates market, show them around the brutalist architecture of the bus station in Abu Dhabi or take them for a stroll down the Corniche or along the promenade of the Eastern Mangroves Marina.
Abu Dhabi can appeal to visitors with differing interests – heritage seekers, nature lovers, shoppers, fitness enthusiasts, hobbyists – for the emirate can feel cosmopolitan as well as a heritage destination. The food options are abundant and not everything costs a pretty penny.
In spending a few days in Abu Dhabi taking in its sites, its hospitality and culture, tourists may well realise that perhaps one visit is not enough.