The AFC Asian Cup comes to the UAE. This time with a record 24 teams competing for the biggest trophy in Asian football
Attention, football fans: the quadrennial AFC Asian Cup (5 January – 1 February) is back on Arabic soil, with a whopping 51 games scheduled to be played across the four host cities of Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, Dubai and Sharjah. This time, the bar has been raised. It’ll be “the best and biggest-ever tournament to date”, affirms AFC general secretary Dato Windsor John. For one, there’ll be 24 participating countries (up from 16 in 2015) including defending champs Australia. It’ll also see the introduction of a near $15m prize pot, plus VAR (video assistant referees) will now be employed throughout the knockout stages, including the final at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Opening the tournament: the UAE versus local rivals Bahrain, 5 January, 8pm. Go Eyal Zayed!
The concept store
Is this the coolest new space in Abu Dhabi? We think it might be. Part-barbershop, part-cafe, part-consignment store of hard-to-find sneakers, Local has recently opened in Al Zeina (near Yas Island) and is the joint effort of 10-year Abu Dhabi denizen Jack Brett and fellow twenty-something co-founders, UAE national Jasim Alkhouri and younger brother Zayed. The inspiration? Bad haircuts, apparently. So many, they decided to open their own barbershop. But with a difference: as of November last year, the space now also traffics in limited-edition sneakers. There’s a cafe, too, with a Made in UAE ethos that means coffee beans from Seven Fortunes in Dubai and vegan snacks from Wheatfields in Al Rayyana. “We’re trying to build a community,” says Jasim. Where do we sign up?
The new hotel
While many of the capital’s new hotels come freighted with superlatives, not so the new Abu Dhabi Edition: New York hotelier Ian Schrager’s new, minimal-luxe opening at Al Bateen Marina, his first in the Middle East, can’t claim to be the biggest hotel in the city. It’s not the most expensive, either. The tallest? Nope, not even close. Still, who needs big statements when a five-storey, candle-lit lobby, sleek, Le Labo-kitted rooms and a trio of very cool restaurants from star chef Tom Aikens will do just fine? Oh, and how about this for a bar (pictured)?
If you thought the F1 was the only race on Abu Dhabi’s motorsport calendar, well, it isn’t: now in its eighth edition, the epic, Le Mans-style endurance race Gulf 12 Hours returns to Yas Marina Circuit on 13–15 December with both GT3 and GT4 titles in hot contention. And, yes, the teams really do race for 12 hours with #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 the defending champs.
Restaurant of the month
This popular Dubai restaurant now has an outpost at The Mall at World Trade Center. Visit for tropical vibes and guilt-free offerings, such as the vegan-friendly sweet potato and wild rice salad.
Abu Dhabi may be a city that’s setting its sights on the future, but it certainly hasn’t forgotten its past. Case in point: the Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Heritage Festival 2019 (20 January – 2 February) in Sweihan City, on the outskirts of Al Ain, is a two-week celebration of Emirati culture, with the primary aim of safeguarding the age-old tradition of camel sports (pictured). In addition to races, there’s a beauty contest to crown the comeliest camel. But these so-called “ships of the desert” won’t be the only animals on show: other highlights include saluki races, falconry and horse-riding. Visitors can also amble around traditional souqs and take in the heritage village, which features recitals on the rababa (the world’s oldest bowed instrument), pottery exhibitions and more.