Abu Dhabi in August may seem like the city of the damned; the last outpost on a journey to the gates of hell. With temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius during the day and rarely going below 30 degrees at night, you might feel as though you would rather stay inside the cool walls of Sama Tower than step outside to explore. While the student lounge’s air conditioning may feel like heaven, take the chance to explore all the wonders of the city by foot. This is the easiest way to get to know the city, its culture and its people.
Begin with a wander towards Madinat Zayed Shopping Center. Notice the small shops selling flowers and digest the delicious smells of Foodlands, NYUAD’s favorite shawarma spot. Meander around the nearby mosque, noticing the huge piles of sandals and the hundreds of uniquely patterned prayer mats. Perhaps ask if you can have a look inside at the beautiful artwork that adorns the walls and roof of the building. If you walk by on Friday, you will see the Friday prayers up close and get a true sense of how sacred this ritual is.
On your way to Madinat Zayed, you will come across some Chinese restaurants that are cheap and delicious, a smelly fish market and dozens of little shops selling everything from Arabic sweets to cheap kandoras. If you then walk past Crystal Hotel until you get to Airport Road and cross the street, you will come to the busiest bus stop in Abu Dhabi. If you are there at the right time of the day you will see hundreds of people waiting for the bus; it really is a strange and somewhat intimidating sight.
Moving on from there, you will come to a Burger King that, at night, is home to some of the crazier characters of Abu Dhabi. If you go and buy a whopper at around midnight, you will discover that fast food is not the only thing being purchased on this corner block.
Continue to walk down Hamdan Street toward the Central Market. The construction site of the two monstrous market buildings from ground zero is something to behold. It is particularly interesting at around 5pm on a Thursday because all the workers finish work for the week at the same time.
If you now move towards Sama Tower through the superblock, you will walk past one of the oldest buildings in the area. Formerly the Iranian embassy, there is an old dilapidated structure that survives in the shadow of Marks and Spencer. Housing a few hundred migrant workers, the building is definitely something to check out before another shiny hotel replaces it. I encourage you to take a look inside. If you bravely walk in, someone might will probably notice you and give you a free tour.
Next, find your way to the Corniche. On the weekend you will walk past friends playing cricket, families having barbeques and teenagers rolling around on their skateboards and rollerblades. On Thursday nights a local dance crew performs to Britney Spears beats as the sun sets.
Contrary to what your peers might tell you, Abu Dhabi can be a very walkable city with a vibrant street life. Don’t let the heat stop you from going outside and exploring. Just wear your best antiperspirant, take a bottle of water and slap on your sunscreen. And watch out for crazy drivers while crossing the roads.