Leisure & Recreation in UAE
Abu Dhabi features a great variety of leisure activities, both indoor and outdoor. If you’re teaching in Abu Dhabi, there’s no reason to fear boredom in your free time! As a wealthy country where many citizens have disposable income and free time, there is a very wide array of leisure options. Sporty or lazy, in the city or out in the desert, on land or on the water: whatever you feel like doing, you can probably do it in Abu Dhabi.
There are plenty opportunities for sports activities in Abu Dhabi. There are Western chain gyms, golf courses, local sports clubs for every sport from soccer to rugby formed and attended by the many expatriates. Most outdoor sports leagues have games towards the end of the day when the temperature drops to pleasant levels for activity. For those who love to ski and snowboard, or miss the snow from back home, there’s an indoor ski hill with “real” snow in Abu Dhabi City. It features a slope and an ice rink. For those who’d rather watch than play, there are sports bars in the large hotels that will show NHL, MLB, NBA, NFL and Premier League games. Traditional sports include falconry, boat racing and camel racing – inquire with the Abu Dhabi tourism authority on how to witness these traditional events.
The desert provides outdoor space a plenty – it’s a giant playground where you can go off-roading, ride sand buggies, hike up mountains or explore city parks, beaches or a more remote oasis. There are several tour companies that offer packages to go out into the desert in case you didn’t bring your own 4×4. Off the coast of Abu Dhabi are several islands that have been settled since ancient times. They can be reached by ferry, and offer a completely different experience of a country that most people know only as a desert. As usual in countries around the Middle East, the time of day to go outside for a stroll, a run or a bike ride is around dusk, when the temperature is lower and the sunset provides the perfect backdrop. You’ll notice few people outside during the noon hours, especially in summer.
With plenty of coastline and surrounded by water, Abu Dhabi has plenty space for activities on the water. Whether you like to go to the beach and relax or choose a little more action and get out on the water yourself, Abu Dhabi offers it. Jet skis can be rented at most beaches, and sailing is a popular and traditional pastime – you’ll notice the traditional Arab sail boats known as dhow. They are part of Arab history and have been used for centuries as merchant ships and fishing vessels sailing along the coasts of the Arabian peninsula. Today, they are mostly used for recreation as well as races.
There are entertainment options in Abu Dhabi ranging from cinemas to music venues, from malls to museums and even a Ferrari theme park. With too many opportunities to cover here, let’s suffice by saying that every kind of entertainment from home is available here, too. With century old traditions there are options for art and history buffs to explore museums, and for those with kids there are children’s fair grounds and theme parks. Abu Dhabi has two major art museums, Emirates Palace and Ghaf Art Gallery. A visit to the historic Qasr Al-Husn fortress in one of the oldest parts of Abu Dhabi should be part of any trip to the heart of Abu Dhabi City. For more contemporary entertainment, there are several large multiplex style cinemas in town that show Hollywood releases – tickets are typically around AED 30.
Abu Dhabi is the land of malls. Large, air-conditioned, Western malls. Inside you’ll find everything you’d expect from an upscale mall. European fashion, American brands, Western chain stores. Most malls feature restaurants and bars as well. Given the heat in the middle of the day they are great places to spend an afternoon and get away from the heat. With all the glitz and glamour you may want to leave that credit card at home, though.
Unlike it’s larger brother Dubai, Abu Dhabi has taken care of its heritage and for those who care to look there is a lot of traditional Arab and Bedouin culture around. Especially outside the downtown districts of Abu Dhabi City traditional culture is well alive. A visit to a traditional bazaar or souq is a great way to experience traditional culture, feel the commercial heartbeat of the city and feast the senses of sight and smell. If you’re up for a little haggling you can find great bargains on gifts, souvenirs and home decoration like carpets. The souq is also the place to find traditional garments. For those in Al Ain, a visit to the camel market is a great way to see the Bedouin traders haggle over the price of an animal the way they’ve done for hundreds of years. For the more adventurous, horseback riding and falconry are traditional Arab activities that are being kept alive today by Emirati citizens as a fun pastime.
With 80% of the population of the UAE being expats, they have made their mark on the social scene. English-language clubs for everything you can possibly imagine exist both in Abu Dhabi City and Al Ain. The book club, the hiking club, the bird watcher’s club, etc. There are also several chapters of the Hash House Harriers which is a great way to get a little exercise and meet other expats. Every teacher in Abu Dhabi will be provided with a handy guide book that contains a directory of clubs and associations for and by expatriates.
As covered in the food section, there are plenty opportunities to get a good meal. The hotel restaurants will be able to provide you high-quality Western food, while there are many other options for more exotic and local menus. If you happen to find yourself in Abu Dhabi with a partner on Valentine’s Day, perhaps a “dine under the stars” package is for you – several tour operators offer a trip into the desert where you can dine in peace and quiet with a fully catered dinner. After dinner is the perfect time to take a stroll on the waterfront and swing by one of the many hookah bars to sit back in a comfy couch and enjoy a cup of sweet tea.
Unlike some of its neighbours, the UAE has no complete ban on alcohol. However, alcohol can only be served by establishments that are part of foreign hotel chains and drinking requires a permit for resident expats. Permits are easy to obtain, however Western expatriates need to be aware that being intoxicated in public is both a cultural faux-pas and illegal. The hotels allowed to serve alcohol have constructed malls, bars and clubs around their hotel properties, so your experience won’t be impacted by being “in a hotel”. There aren’t as many clubs in Abu Dhabi as there are in Dubai, but with a selection from cocktail bars frequented by expats to a funky Lebanese night with live music there is plenty to do. Bottom line: there’s no problem going for a night out in Abu Dhabi, but be aware that drinking in public, being drunk in public and any amount of alcohol in traffic is illegal.