Abu Dhabi is the somewhat curious cousin of Dubai and the second-most-visible emirate and city in the UAE. It offers a more relaxed pace than Dubai, which one local described to me as "Las Vegas on speed." It's certainly far less Westernized. In fairness to people who prefer Dubai, Abu Dhabi can seem a little slow and perhaps even a bit boring. But its beaches are just as beautiful, there's less traffic and more greenery, and the character is distinctly Emirati, preserving much of the conservative heritage that its northeastern neighbor has begun to toss off.
Although Dubai has firmly established itself as the region's tourist hub, Abu Dhabi is the actual capital of the UAE, as well as the largest and by the far wealthiest emirate. It is the seat of government and the heart of the UAE's oil wealth. Abu Dhabi is both the name of a city and of the larger emirate that surrounds it, and in fact occupies more than 85% of UAE territory.
Although Abu Dhabi doesn't seek to compete directly with Dubai in terms of tourist and entertainment infrastructure, it is making impressive advances. Take a walk along the Corniche, the road that runs along the water's edge, and you'll see a picture-perfect city rising behind it. Construction is booming, skyscrapers are going up everywhere, and more people are visiting. The Emirates Palace hotel sets the standard for unadulterated luxury, the most expensive resort ever built. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the world's third-largest mosque, and the Cultural Foundation is an impressive arts center. The malls are as enticing as any you will find, and Abu Dhabi boasts outstanding beach and sports facilities, as well.