Port Review: Abu Dhabi, UAE

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Bigger than Dubai, Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven emirates that compose the United Arab Emirates, and at its heart this is a very Arab city without the traffic and pretentiousness of its brash neighbour.


Just 50 years ago Abu Dhabi was a sleepy fishing town but these days the oil rich emirate is an attractive and green international city with plenty to explore beyond the city limits. It is the largest of the Emirates taking up 80 per cent of the country’s landmass, and it is also the richest Emirate, possessing nearly 10 per cent of the world’s known oil supply. Abu Dhabi is traditionally more conservative than Dubai, deeply rooted in tradition, but it remains a popular and fascinating destination on Arabian Peninsula cruises during the cooler northern hemisphere winter months for a lineup of reasons. 

The Facts

Location: The Arabian Gulf.

Language: Arabic, but English is widely spoken.

Currency: UAE Dirham. 

Docking/Anchoring: Cruise ships dock at Port Zayed which is 5 kilometres  from the city centre. Cruise lines usually organise shuttle buses and there are metered taxis outside the main port gate. You probably won’t be allowed to walk through the port.

Transport: The port offers free shuttles to local malls, but if you are not taking an excursion you will have to take a taxi (make sure they put the meter on) to get into the city or go sightseeing. It’s not really a walking friendly place. 

Don’t Miss

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the grandest places of worship in the UAE and it can accommodate up to 40,000 worshippers at one time. The white mosque is an overwhelming piece of architecture has more than 80 marble domes on its roofline which is held up by 1,000 pillars.

The Emirates Palace is an ultra luxury hotel which rivals anything that’s been built in Dubai. It cost nearly $4 billion which goes some way towards explaining the amount of marble, gold and crystal (more than 1,000 Swarovski chandeliers) and its 1.3km of private beach. It’s okay to visit without staying and it’s worth taking in an English afternoon tea just to take it all in.

Best Photo Op

It’s hard to beat the grandeur of the Grand Mosque as your must-have photo from Abu Dhabi. The trickiest part is trying to fit the whole complex in. 


Abu Dhabi, like Dubai, has a reputation as a shopper’s paradise and it’s something of a national past time in this part of the world. And like Dubai, it’s helped along by low import duties and an open market status, and as a result, from souks to shopping malls it has it all. The Central Market on Hamdan Street is probably a good place to start as it has a diverse range of local markets and designer stores and plenty of bars so you can take a break from the retail therapy.

Food and Drink

The restaurant scene in Abu Dhabi has evolved into a cosmopolitan collection of sheesha cafes, Middle Eastern specialty joints, and international cuisine from just about every region in the world. For some authentic local food, try the Zyara Cafe (Al Jazeera Tower, Corniche St) which has large windows overlooking the Corniche. If you’re feeling adventurous, try a local sheesha joint, and there’s also the Tché Tché café on Corniche Road West which is geared up for expats which makes it easier to know what you’re ordering. 

Pick of the Excursions

If you are a first-time visitor, a city tour will get you around most of the major sights, including the Grand Mosque, the Corniche, Emirates Palace and other major sights. 

A popular alternative is a desert safari. A 4WD safari offers a real taste of the true heart land of Arabia; even in a half-day tour, you can cover plenty of terrain taking in sights including remote villages and camel farms. 

Further afield, another popular day-long tour is to Al Ain, a charming desert oasis known as "Garden City". It's surrounded by red sand dunes and curiously shaped hills, and is an important stop on caravan trails, with tombs dating back to the Bronze Age.


Joanna Hall


  • 4
    Loved It

    Posted by Olivia on 17th Sep 2018

    We did our first Arab cruise in January as part of a stopover going to England and we loved it. Abu Dhabi was really interesting although they're quiet a bit more strict about things than Dubai. The cruise was good too