Abu Dhabi’s city centre is a triangular section of an island in the Persian Gulf closely connected to the mainland by the Maqta Bridge and the Musaffah Bridge, which connects Airport Road to the city centre.
The city has been divided into numbered sectors, and the roads in each sector numbered as well. First Street is the Corniche, the coastal road that forms the wide part of the city centre wedge. Airport Road is Second Street.
The city centre is densely populated, with a high concentration of gleaming office skyscrapers and residential mid- and high-rises. The population is greater in this central area and the residential neighbourhoods downtown, and lower in the suburbs.
Airport Road, Al Khalidiya, Al Bateen, Al Karamah, Al Markaziyah, Al Meena, Al Mushrif, Al Ras al Akhdar, Al-Safarat, Breakwater, Corniche, Madinat Zayed, Tourist Club Area
Now called the Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum Street but still more often called by its old name, the Airport Road runs throughout Abu Dhabi’s island capital. A road trip would already take you to just about all the significant areas of the capital, up to the Corniche.
The impressive Grand Mosque, formally called the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque, is on the left side after the Al Maqtaa Bridge. The Airport Road is known for its car dealers near the bridge, and also along 15th and 18th streets.
Al Khalidiya is the location most sought after by Westerners. It has the highest rents for its villas and low-rise residential buildings. The area is close to the Corniche’s refreshing seaside views, and notable buildings in the area include the Hilton Hotel, the Emirates Palace and the Marina Mall.
There are two spacious parks here: the Khalidiya Public Garden and the Khalidiya Children’s Garden (restricted to women and children). These well-landscaped grounds are filled on weekends and holidays with family picnics and outdoor gatherings, especially from October to March.
Al Bateen is slightly a less expensive district than Al Khalidiya. It has an active night life, because of the Intercontinental Hotel, nightclubs, and fine dining areas. Weekends see its parks filled with residents and visitors.
This area has a popular jetty, surrounded by shops selling marine supplies. Traditional boats are still built in its dhow yard. Visitors can interview the craftsmen if they’re not too busy, and relish the heady scent of fragrant African and Indian teak, which is used for making the boats that take part in the boat races near the Corniche. The sailing unit of the Emirates Heritage Club is in Al Bateen.
Al Bateen is also home to one of the UAE’s best private medical facilities, the Gulf Diagnostic Centre.
The popular Al Karama area has some lovely and not-too-expensive villas, some of them in compounds owned by large companies. Al Karama is near schools, and has the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, a state-of-the-art tertiary care medical centre.
Al Markaziyah, the central business district, has a vibrant mix of shops, apartments, hotels, restaurants, cinemas and the amusement park Snow City among its office buildings.
The Emirate’s telecom firm Etisalat has its head office here, and the shopping mall Fatouh Al Khair Centre has a two-storey Marks and Spencer outlet and more fashionable boutiques. There’s also the Vegetable & Fish market, as well as the excellent, private Al Noor Hospital.
This port area is primarily a bustling neighbourhood of residential high-rise apartments. Past the modern skyscrapers is its major landmark, the Club (formerly known as The British Club), which has a private beach and first-class sports and fitness facilities. Not surprisingly it is an expat favourite, but membership applications can take months to process.
Among the many souks in Al Meena’s Port Zayed worth visiting are the Fish Souk, the Vegetable Souk and the Iranian Souk. Dhows are boarded here for dinner cruises, and they provide splendid photo opportunities, especially at sunset.
The shopping mall Mina Centre is known for its furniture and furnishing stores, while further into the warehouse areas are huge hardware and toy shops.
Al Mushrif is a residential community of mainly villas and some high-rises, religious centres, foreign embassies and international schools.
Most residents here are Emiratis. The president of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, lives in Al Mushrif Palace.
There’s convenient access to the Al Mushrif Children’s Garden, the Abu Dhabi Health and Fitness Centre and the Abu Dhabi Golf and Equestrian Club.
Al Ras al Akhdar
A popular tourist hangout because of its lovely public beaches, including one just for women and children, Al Ras al Akhdar is near the Corniche, behind the Emirates Palace hotel, an ultra-luxury hotel that illuminates the cityscape by the sea at night.
Many opulent residential villas are found in Al-Safarat, despite its being close to the Bateen Air Force base. The district features a replica of a Bedouin camp at the Heritage Village, just behind the General Exhibition Centre, the city’s main international conference centre. The area features a grandstand used for major military shows, especially during the biannual International Defence Exhibition.
Near Airport Road are a handful of foreign embassies, including the US and Indian embassies.
To enjoy a stunning city view, as well as do some serious shopping, go to the Breakwater, a reclaimed area in the Persian Gulf turned into a busy commercial and entertainment district. Due to its scenic location, the Breakwater has seen much development over the years, with upscale residential and commercial complexes.
This place provides an excellent glimpse of the Emirates Palace Hotel. Indeed, a special area is set aside for people to park their vehicles and snap photos of this majestic structure at night, when it is colourfully and brilliantly lit.
The attractions of the Breakwater’s Marina Mall includes Snow World, a massive indoor snow park with skiing facilities and a viewing tower. The public beaches of Al Ras Al Akhdar are nearby.
Floating restaurants and pubs offer a variety of cuisine choices, including local food.
Spanning the topmost coast of the island capital from east to west, the Corniche is the city’s loveliest landmark. Its 6-kilometre stretch of broad, paved waterfront and outdoor views is sandwiched between the Sheraton and Hilton hotels.
Landscaped park areas display water fountains and exquisite gardens, and family picnics are often held here, especially during winter season. It is a popular destination for jogging, walking and biking. Rental and purchase prices of residential dwellings are often estimated according to their distance from the Corniche, with the nearest ones costing a lot more than those further inland.
In the heart of the city, the town of Madinat Zayed is best known for having one of the city’s biggest shopping malls, consisting of two major buildings, the Shopping Centre and the Gold Souk. The former has more than 400 retail outlets, and lovers of gold jewellery (popular as dowries for Islamic weddings) congregate at the latter for the wide variety of designs and range of prices.
The mall is surrounded by old family villas and modern high-rises. It is near the Central Post Office as well as many government offices, such as that of the Ministry of Finance. The huge and first privately owned hospital in the emirate, the New Medical Centre Hospital, is also in this area.
Tourist Club Area
As the city’s major commercial and residential neighbourhood, the Tourist Club Area is predictably noisy and vibrant. The place got its name from the Al Diar Tourist Club that has since been razed, leaving behind just its name as its legacy.
Modern residential buildings and hotels for all budgets are near the Abu Dhabi Mall, the emirate’s largest shopping centre, and the Khalifa Centre, a huge building for souvenir shopping.
The classy Le Meridien Hotel and the Abu Dhabi Marina and Yacht Club (known as "Little Europe") are in the Tourist Club Area. There are also some high-end residential sections inhabited mostly by Western expats.