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We look closer at Abu Dhabi’s past…and future.  There’s something more to tell besides those high rise buildings and those wonder malls.

Beyond the scultures, the folklore clothing, the glitter, the hype, and the superlatives—the world’s tallest buildings and biggest artificial ski slopes—lie authentic bedouin civilizations.

“Abu Dhabi, the official capital of the U.A.E., had for years been considered the quiet, older (and richer) sister among the three most important Emirati cities,” writes Whitney Robinson in her latest Traveler article, Beyond the Glitz of Abu Dhabi. But not far from the dazzle is a different version of the emirate: a place where the local markets, not the malls, are still the best spots to shop, and where the souks are fragrant with spices

The interior of one of the stunning stained-glass domes at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque.

According to Anissa Helou, a chef, author, and former adviser to the Kuwaiti royal family who has traveled here over the last few years, Abu Dhabi is the place to go to experience true Emirati food and culture. “It’s a lot more genuine than Dubai…Sure, it has glitzy buildings and malls, but alongside them are places like the Mina Zayed Fish Market, where the locals shop.” Here, a fishing boat is docked in the Mina Zayed Port.

Fresh fish at the bustling Mina Zayed Fish Market.

Oranges at the fruit souk.

A carpet seller at the souk.

A two-hour drive south of Abu Dhabi, Anantara’s Qasr Al Sarab Resort is a “true oasis in the desert,” says Helou. “The wonderfully plush rooms have Arabian arches and terraces that look out over the palm-ringed pool toward the dunes.”

“The feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by desert, is magical. And an afternoon of off-roading through the sands is a must.”

Emirates Palace is “total Abu Dhabi opulence,” says Helou. “There are two huge pools (one with waterslides for kids, the other with a swim-up bar for adults), a private beach club, a 167-berth marina.” Kids can also splash through the fountains.

Not-so-traditional (but delicious) macarons at Emirates Palace.

Enjoy a cocktail at the Yas Viceroy Resort, a “futuristic landmark that has views of the Yas Marina and is the first hotel built over a Formula One racetrack,” says Helou.