Lifestyle in Abu Dhabi

The expat lifestyle in Abu Dhabi has achieved nearly mythical proportion; many foreigners moving here conjure images of paradise and a life thick with lavish luxury.

And for a good number of expats it’s true that life is centred on shopping, relaxation and socialising. For many, material wealth is much easier to come by in the emirate and, initially, finding new cause to swipe the credit card is invigorating.

Malls abound, an energised nightlife beckons and with such a large community of foreigners there always seems to be something happening for everyone to take part in.

That said, for others with less lucrative salaries or for those who no longer value the pull of the spend, expats will have to be a little more ingenious when it comes to living the good life, especially in summer when the oppressive heat eliminates any opportunity for outdoor fun.

Shopping in Abu Dhabi

There is no doubt that the shopping in Abu Dhabi is excellent. Plenty of souks (markets), malls and airport duty-free shops exist in and around the city.

Souks are the place to go for oriental carpets, gold and antique jewellery, electronic gadgets, designer clothes, cosmetics, spices and souvenirs. Great shopping locations include the Souk at Central Market, the Fish Souk in the Mina Zayed Free Port, the Al Mina fruit and vegetable souk or the modern adaptation of a marketplace at Qaryat Al Beri. Typical gifts for expat family members back home include traditional coffee pots, Bedouin jewellery and antique chests.

Shopping malls open around 10am most days, and close late, even past midnight in some cases. In Abu Dhabi alone, there are more than 10 separate malls or centres, each with familiar Western outlets and cinemas. The two largest are Marina and Abu Dhabi malls. The famous Abu Dhabi Shopping Festival, held in March each year, offers amazing bargains and shopping prizes that lure visitors from all over the world.

Nightlife in Abu Dhabi

The nightlife in Abu Dhabi is surprisingly lively, even if the city claims a reputation as being more 'family friendly' than nearby Dubai. As most expats immediately realise, there are two centres to the Abu Dhabi social scene: the mall and the hotel. Malls are places to see and be seen, to go to the cinema, or to shop. Hotels have everything else, and all under one roof: happy hour, dinner, drinks and nightclubs.  

Local nightclubs tend to feature international DJs as well as traditional Arab singers and belly dancers. Expats can also look out for regular live music, happy hours, quiz nights and ladies' nights to spice up the regular routine.

While hotel bar house bands tend to be the most consistent form of music and theatre in Abu Dhabi, there are some world-class acts that come and go with some regularity. After the summer, the Abu Dhabi Classics season brings in orchestras from around the world, such as the Berlin Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, among others.

Every mall has a cinema playing box office favourites from Holly(and sometimes Bolly)wood and the New York University Abu Dhabi Institute also hosts occasional film screenings that would appeal to a more high-brow crowd. This is in addition to their extensive programme of public lectures given by visiting and local authors, politicians, musicians, and scholars from across the academic spectrum.

For expats who are tired of the clubs and restaurants in Abu Dhabi, Dubai is only 90 minutes away. The nightlife scene is bigger and wilder in Dubai, and plenty of hotels offer weekend specials for those in need of an escape.

Eating out in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is home to a wide range of international cuisine, top-notch restaurants and delivery options.

As a general rule, the best (and most expensive) restaurants in Abu Dhabi are in hotels. They're also the only restaurants allowed to serve alcohol.

Local cuisine largely consists of rice and lamb dishes accompanied by salads, hummus and bread on the side. As Islam frowns upon the consumption of pork, very few restaurants serve the “other white meat”.

Ramadan is a good time to try local food as come Iftar (breaking of the fast) big hearty meals are often the norm. Lots of restaurants re-open after sunset during Ramadan, and the family-oriented vibe can make this a great month to eat out.

Kids in Abu Dhabi

At first glance, many expat parents feel Abu Dhabi has few options to entertain children, and while the hot summer days can certainly limit choice, there is actually plenty to do in the emirate.

Friday brunches are a family favourite, as parents can eat and relax while on-site entertainment occupies the little ones. Evening picnics in one of the city’s parks are also a great way to avoid sunburn while making time for a barbeque and baseball.

Otherwise, check out the Marina Mall Fun City with its great range of cutting-edge arcade games and fun rides. Another reliable option is paintball or table tennis at the Armed Forces Officers Club. The Olympic-size swimming pool is a big hit on hot days.

For an icy day in the desert try out Hili Fun City, nicknamed the 'Disneyland of the Middle East' as it is the biggest theme park in the Gulf. Plenty of rides and attractions will have the whole family coming back for more.

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