Originally from Lake Macquarie in NSW, Emma Cantwell moved to Dubai (via Ireland) for "the famous two-year stint". That was 10 years ago. She has since moved to the neighbouring emirate, Abu Dhabi, where she lives with her husband and two children. "It's been five years, and we're still here."
I'm biased on what to see, as I work at Louvre Abu Dhabi, an architectural masterpiece, a museum surrounded by the sea. We display art works from the beginning of history to contemporary times which explore what it means to be human. We have masterpieces from around the world, including an Australian Indigenous artwork in our final, contemporary gallery. If art isn't your thing, you can come and see a show or take an architectural tour around the museum in a kayak. Underneath the dome at our plaza, it's breezy, breathtaking and transports you to another world – you'll never forget it, louvreabudhabi.ae
I love to dance, but now I have two small children it's less going out and hitting the town and more lounge-room dance parties with them. When the weather is beautiful, I love to swim at a beach that is right on our doorstep. Saadiyat Beach is pristine (sometimes you spot dolphins) and beachwear is standard. I wear a bikini. However, I'm ginger-haired, so do need sunscreen.
If you love dim sum and yum cha – as I do – Dai Pai Dong is a must. They serve a wonderful pot of jasmine tea alongside the best duck pancakes in the city. For Arabic food, my tip is to get it from a shopfront in the city rather than a restaurant, as the street food is always better: order shawarma or kebab complete with barbecued chicken, pickles and fries. Don't forget the garlic sauce. Khalidiya has loads of options, otherwise Zahrat Lebnan (Lebanese Flower) is a trusted favourite, rosewoodhotels.com/en/abu-dhabi/dining/Dai-Pai-Dong, zahratlebnan.com
I recommend starting an evening out with drinks at Buddha Bar – it's got a great vibe, stunning views of the beach and they make great cocktails. I also love the lychee martinis at Zuma (which also does delicious Japanese and a great business lunch) and coffee at LOCAL, a café opened by young Emiratis. Mine's a flat white, buddhabarbeachabudhabi.com, zumarestaurant.com, localco.ae
Come with an open mind and ask lots of questions about the culture here. As well as being surrounded by stunning beaches and crystal-clear waters, Abu Dhabi is a very progressive and accepting place – don't be afraid to learn more about the culture, religion and life here (people here will enjoy the conversation). The city has amazing concerts, talks, art exhibitions and festivals, often free or very reasonably priced which is always a great way to mix with new people. We have 190 nationalities living here, so it's super multicultural.