You don’t have to journey far from Abu Dhabi’s dynamic city center for a serene desert escape.
Abu Dhabi is becoming a destination in its own right, thanks to its energetic art scene, classic cuisine and proximity to nature. The new Jumeirah Al Wathba (jumeirah.com; doubles from
US$299), located a 30-minute drive south, keeps the best of the city within easy reach while offering peace and seclusion with its desert setting. Opening this month, the complex has 103 luxurious rooms and villas, plus courtyards, pools, bars and restaurants, all built in traditional Arabian style.
Venturing into town, start with an art tour at the Jean Nouvel–designed Louvre Abu Dhabi (louvreabudhabi.ae), the latest high-profile addition to this burgeoning cultural capital. Don't miss a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (szgmc.gov.ae), a white-marble behemoth that houses the largest handknotted carpet in the world. Indie gallery Warehouse 421 (warehouse421.ae) has rotating exhibitions and craft workshops, and swing by the Etihad Modern Art Gallery (etihadmodernart.com), a space for U.A.E.-based artists.
Kayaking tours of the city's inner channel islands at Mangrove National Park
(ead.ae) show off the biodiversity of the ecosystem; you'll spot herons, flamingos and even the occasional dolphin. Or stroll along the date-palm-lined paths of the city's new central green space, Umm Al Emarat Park
(ummalemaratpark.ae). After a day of exploring, you'll find that traditional Emirati foods—like lgeimat, the syrupy cardamom doughnuts—at Al Mrzab (almrzab.com; mains
from US$12) hit the spot. So do the options at Jordan ian Lebanese cafeteria Bait el Khetyar (fb.com/b.elkhetyar; mains from US$3). Follow the regulars' lead and order the moutabbel, a smoky eggplant dip, with freshly made pita bread. —
The inner courtyard of Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.