Desert Tours#4 in Best Things To Do in Abu Dhabi
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Surrounding the Liwa Oasis in the western part of the emirate is the Al Gharbia region, home to the Rub Al Khali (Empty Quarter). As the largest uninterrupted sand mass in the world, the Empty Quarter provides the perfect backdrop for a variety of desert excursions. Whether you'd prefer a more traditional camel trek or a wild dune buggy ride (often known as "dune-bashing"), a safari-style jeep ride or a birds-eye balloon tour, you'll find plenty of ways to explore the Arabian desert. A number of companies offer organized tours of the Empty Quarter; some of the more reputable options are Arabian Adventures, Emirates Tours, Abu Dhabi Adventure Tours and Abu Dhabi Desert Safari. Tours can be booked through the companies' websites, and the earlier you try to make reservations, the more likely it is that there will be availability.
Many recent Abu Dhabi visitors say that their desert tour was one of the highlights of their trip. According to one TripAdvisor user (who booked through Abu Dhabi Desert Safari), "[The] Dune-bashing part was the most exhilarating thing I've ever done on vacation. […] Just don't eat a few hours before. It's intense." Tour prices will depend on the company and the type of tour you choose. For more information and ideas on planning your desert excursion, visit the Abu Dhabi tourism board website.
Another way to experience the desert would be to stay at Qasr Al Sarab or the Arabian Nights Village. Both of these resorts sit surrounded by the Empty Quarter dunes, and both offer a variety of desert excursion options for guests.
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#1 Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Constructed between 1996 and 2007 at the request of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder and first president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is by far the most popular of Abu Dhabi's sights, and it's easy to see why. One of the largest mosques in the world, this house of worship features 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns and a white and gold facade. What's more, this is one of only two mosques in the UAE open to non-Muslim tourists. That means that visitors from all around the globe can walk across the world's largest hand-woven rug, gaze up at one of the world's largest chandeliers and admire the fusion of Fatimid, Mamluk and Ottoman architectural styles, representing three different Islamic dynasties.
Although it's not Abu Dhabi's oldest attraction, those who have visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque say that a stop here is a must for those who want a better understanding of the city's religious identity. The site is one of the world's most significant examples of contemporary Islamic architecture. You are welcome to explore the mosque on your own, but many travelers recommend tagging along on one of the free guided tours; tours take between 45 minutes and an hour and can be reserved in advance, or you can simply show up and wait for the next scheduled English tour. "Our guide was outstanding; no religion, just amazing facts and with his commentary we understood the incredible engineering, art [and] workmanship that make this so very special," according to one TripAdvisor user. Previous visitors highly recommend touring the mosque in the evening when the sunset reflects off the marble courtyard.
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