I recently made a trip to Abu Dhabi and thought I should jot down my thoughts as a woman traveling there as I wish I had known a few more things about the place before I went. The United Arab Emirates is predominately Muslim and with that comes traditions and customs one should abide by. However, the rules aren't quite as strict as you may think.
In Abu Dhabi as a Western woman you do get stared at a lot by men, so you just have to deal with that. As far as dress goes a lot of Muslim women where Western clothing, tight fitting jeans, sky scrapper heels and animal print blouses. It seems as long as no skin is really on show anything goes. You do see women walking around in knee length shorts or skirts so there is no problem if you don't want to completely cover up. The only must do really is to cover your shoulders, perhaps wear a t-shirt rather than a spaghetti strap top.
Be prepared to see Muslim women who, although are covered in a burka, have the heaviest make up on you've ever seen in your life and towering stiletto's on their feet. It's quite odd but you see it a lot.
Yes you can wear a bikini on the beach just as long as you cover up when you go out of the beach area. A lot of what I'm saying is common sense but you do hear of people going out to the Middle East with a complete lack of respect for other people's cultures or just not knowing how to behave.
You can drink alcohol in bars but just don't get off your head otherwise taxi drivers will take you straight to a police station. All the cabs are state run so it's part of their duty if they see anyone behaving inappropriately to report it. You can pay abut £30 for a "cheap" bottle of wine so you may want to drink it slowly anyway rather than gulping it down!
Other than that there is not really anything else to report. If you're going to Abu Dhabi for a cultural break you have got the wrong place. Most of the city is still being built so everywhere you turn there are cranes and building sites. It's not pretty. Plus the roads are wide and busy. It's not the kind of place where you can just go for a pleasant walk. Even by the beach there is a dual carriage way by British standards right next to it! You look one way and there is crystal blue water, you turn around and it's just sprawling tower blocks and roads.
Even the 'souk' in Abu Dhabi is half empty and still being built. Souk is Arabic for open air market, in Abu Dhabi it's more like a standard shopping mall. There are no market stalls as such and everywhere is just very clinical and a bit like shopping at an airport lounge.
It's a strange place, I'm not quite sure why people go to Abu Dhabi on holiday because all you can really do is eat, drink and shop. That may sound perfect for some people but it's not quite my cup of tea. Maybe there is more to the place than I make out and to be fair once I realised it is what it is, I actually enjoyed it more.