It’s hard to imagine that only 60 years ago, the gleaming seaside oasis now known as Abu Dhabi was nothing more than vast swathes of sand and desert. Once home to a prosperous pearling industry, it wasn’t until 1958 and the discovery of oil that development in the region started to boom thanks in large part to the vision of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan—an enigmatic ruler who is considered to be the U.A.E.’s founding father. He wanted to leave a lasting legacy to his people and decided to build, quite literally from the ground up.
Today, Abu Dhabi sits at a crossroads: Steeped in modernity while fiercely protecting the Bedouin traditions of its past, the capital of the United Arab Emirates has emerged from the towering shadows of neighboring Dubai as the go-to destination for art, entertainment, and seriously over-the-top hotels in the region. So, read on to discover what to see, where to stay, and how to catch the best sunsets in the Middle East’s new crown jewel