From thrill-a-minute theme parks to watersports galore and desert adventures, activities abound
Speed demon or sun seeker, we all get our adrenaline kicks in different ways and a visit to Abu Dhabi sets the pulse racing on all counts. Believe the hype on Yas Island where the action is always fast-paced. This entertainment nirvana is home to the 5.55-kilometre Hermann Tilke-designed Yas Marina Circuit, which hosts the annual Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. Off the track, its post-race concert line-up boasts legendary alumni, such as Prince, Beyoncé, The Rolling Stones and Rihanna. The circuit also hosts a full programme of year-round on-track activities, headlined by in-demand driving experiences behind the wheel of an Aston Martin GT4 or single-seater Formula 3000.
The thrills don’t end there, and petrolheads of all ages are bound to have Ferrari World Abu Dhabi on their bucket list. Home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster – the Formula Rossa, which hits 240km/h in under five seconds, it also has a host of (ahem) gentler rides to try, including the 1.5-kilometre-long Flying Aces rollercoaster, featuring the world’s largest loop and steepest incline.
The latest Yas experience to open, Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi is a world first and home to six immersive lands designed to satisfy all your animation and super hero dreams. Hang out with Tom and Jerry, Wonder Woman, Batman, Scooby-Doo and friends on any one of 29 state-of-the-art rides and hair-raising experiences.
Wet and wild adventures are all the rage at Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi (main image), which has four levels of splash-tastic fun to slip and slide through. Freefall down the super steep Jebel Drop slide, get shot through a giant tunnel on the six-person Falcons Falaj tornado raft ride, or dip your toe in the water at Cinesplash, the region’s first ever water cinema.
Sun worshippers and those looking for quality downtime can check out the local action from the comfort of a sun lounger. Yas Beach, the island’s only private beach club, has cool cabanas, plus stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and windsurfing for those who can’t sit still. Alternatively, glam it up at Saadiyat Beach Club on Saadiyat Island, with its 650-square-metre pool, or, head further out of the city to hang with the pretty party people at Blue Marlin – an all-day Friday brunch meets beach meets international DJ affair.
The water beckons once more in the eastern mangroves, a protected nature reserve where a two-hour Sea Hawk kayaking excursion is both educational and active, plus it’s definitely one non-theme park related trip that the kids will love. Fellow operator, Noukhada, also runs a monthly full moon tour as well as coastal kayaking experiences. A less strenuous experience, but one with serious va-va-voom, is a sightseeing tour with Jalboot, whose fleet of modern craft will zip you along the coast with a trio of tours that take in Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the highlights of Yas Island, or guide you on a romantic sunset cruise along the corniche. If that gives you an appetite for more, then Abu Dhabi Dhow Cruise organises two-hour dinner tours in a traditional dhow – for perfect city coastline views and plenty of delicious Arabic food.
Yas Links is the city’s only links course that benefits from a stunning coastal setting
Al Ain also has its own aquatic adrenaline kicks at Wadi Adventure, the region’s first man-made whitewater rafting, kayaking and surf facility, nestled in the foothills of the rugged Jebel Hafeet. Fab fact: the park’s 1.7-kilometre-long kayaking channel network is the world’s longest. And former private nature reserve turned luxe island community, Sir Bani Yas, offers a full card of kayaking expeditions and other water-bound delights at its Desert Islands Watersports Centre.
Land and water pursuits are the basis for a great day out at Al Forsan International Sports Resort, where wakeboarding, shooting, karting, paintball and horse riding are just a few of the activities on offer. Bowling is also big business in the UAE and Abu Dhabi has its fair share of alleys. The mammoth 40-lane Khalifa International Bowling Centre at Zayed Sports City is the mother of all destinations with bumpers and ramps to help even the score for junior bowlers, plus lane-side restaurant service to stave off those hunger pangs mid-game. The same complex boats the Olympic-sized Zayed Sports City Ice Rink.
Amateur golfers will love the city’s world-class courses and the chance to test themselves on the National Course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, which is where the annual Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship (a European PGA Tour event) is played by some of the sport’s biggest names. Yas Links is the city’s only links course that benefits from a stunning coastal setting – hopefully it won’t distract you from your game. Meanwhile, a beachfront course is yours to play at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club on Saadiyat Island. The captivating course, designed by Gary Player, features three saltwater lakes and 60 bunkers. You may even spot dolphins frolicking in the sea. Lastly, a challenging all-sand 18 holes (and browns instead of greens) make Al Ghazal Golf Club a unique (and often frustrating) course to play. Staying with the brown stuff, the thrill of sandboarding down a desert dune is soon eclipsed by dune driving (effectively hurtling up and down massive sand dunes in a four-wheel drive), camel rides and fascinating falconry demonstrations, which you can experience while on the same desert adventure.
Arabian Adventures is the pick of a number of locally-based companies to offer this and other fun desert experiences, and it’s the rare visitor who turns down an opportunity to go on their Sundowner Safari. This incorporates the full shebang: traverse the dunes of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve to a Bedouin-style camp, where traditional entertainment and a Arabic-style three-course buffet awaits. Then take part in a spot of star-gazing before heading back to your hotel.
On, below and above the smooth surface of the desert sands lies a teeming mass of wildlife. The impressive Al Ain Zoo, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, is all about education and conservation. Visit its sprawling facility and you’ll easily while away a good few hours observing more than 4,000 animals. Furthermore, its highly regarded breeding programme includes a growing Arabian sand cat community and the endangered Dama Gazelle.
Back in Abu Dhabi city, a smaller but equally enchanting experience is to be had at Emirates Park Zoo. The first private zoo in the country it is home to eight distinctive zones including snake alley, a giraffe park, reptile house and primate parade, along with educational experiences like its popular Breakfast with the Parrots.
One of the best ways to appreciate the beauty of the desert landscape is up in the air. Falcon Aviation, which operates out of Marina Mall heliport, offers luxury helicopter tours of the city, while Seawings operates scenic seaplane flights that take off and land back at Yas Marina. A family-friendly alternative to taking flight is a spin on the Marina Eye Ferris wheel. Get a unique perspective on the city skyline in one of its 42 air-conditioned capsules (there’s a VIP option for those after a premium viewing point).
Daredevils of all ages can enjoy a simulated skydive at Spacewalk Indoor Skydiving at Abu Dhabi Country Club where the massive wind tunnel lets you throw some crazy shapes.
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