Abu Dhabi, capital city of the UAE, following on from the rapid development that has taken place over recent years, makes a host of interesting – and diverse – impressions.
The island (referred to as “on-island”) and now reached by 3 bridges still has much of its original charm. Buildings such as the Emirates Palace, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the generally more traditional looking low-rise buildings, wide avenues surrounded by greenery and numerous parks means that Abu Dhabi island has a much more “local” feel – without the glossy glitz and glamour of Dubai.
As a visitor or resident, you know that you are in the Middle East. Access to shopping, restaurants and hotels, beaches and other facilities is relatively straight-forward, though traffic can be an issue. The island is surrounded by water and mangroves and is a really attractive place for these reasons alone.
Aside from the newer tower blocks along the Corniche and those now growing up around the Exhibition Centre, the vast majority of housing is in individual villas or compounds and the traditional areas of the city remain green and attractive, with large palaces hidden around corners and at the end of roads. However, much of the housing stock on the island is pretty out-dated, often owned by members of the royal family or Senior sheikhs and tales of the inflexibility of these landlords in terms of maintenance and rental amounts are legion. If an on-island villa is your goal, be prepared to treat it as your own and to invest in it for updates and repairs!
There are some excellent schools on the island, but since land for school buildings has now apparently been reserved for government schools only, it seems likely that the addition of new private schools will be difficult. To some extent, this issue is being addressed by the new schools opening on Reem Island (located just across a bridge from the heart of Abu Dhabi island) in particular.
Reem, together with Saadiyat Island, have become the new go-to areas for families wanting to live close to Abu Dhabi island and all its charms, but in modern housing (apartment living on Reem, villas on Saadiyat) and close to the numerous cultural developments taking place including NYU Abu Dhabi, the Guggenheim and Louvre Abu Dhabi. Don’t expect this housing to be cheap, but there is a variety of accommodation available. Unfortunately, Abu Dhabi still does not have any form of public transport aside from bus and taxi – which adds to the traffic woes.
Other popular areas for expat residents are located alongside the main highway that runs north-south through the airport area and inland towards Al Ain and the Saudi border.
Areas such as Raha Beach, Khalifa A and B, Baniyas, Mussafah, Fallah and housing close to Yas Island have become popular with many families. Most of the building is new and there is a vast range of types and rents available. Schools and other local facilities (including shopping malls) are being developed rapidly. Many of these areas are originally traditional Emirati areas and there is a much greater degree of integration in Abu Dhabi as a result. Expat children are far more likely to be in school with UAE Nationals in Abu Dhabi than they are in other Emirates. These areas do not have the charm of the island, but do tend to have modern facilities and good transport links with schools located within the communities they serve.
It is very common for families in Abu Dhabi to send their children by bus to school. A historical lack of school places has meant that there has been no option for many. Off-island, schools tend to be organised in zones – with a number of schools located within the same area – sometimes in a long line next to each other. The traffic congestion associated with this arrangement – given that the schools all tend to start and finish at the same time of day – has to be seen to be believed! Do take this into account when choosing a school or home. It is still the case in Abu Dhabi, that the choice of school should ideally be made before a home is determined.