Masdar City

Area in Yas Island

Image by Iain Masterton Getty Images

For architecture with a sci-fi vibe make the trip to Masdar City, near Abu Dhabi Airport, touted as the world's first zero-carbon, zero-waste city powered entirely by renewable energy when plans for it were first unveiled. Although those goals haven't worked out, the city core (the only portion yet finished), where the teflon-coated wind tower, domed knowledge hall and sharp-edged incubator building rub up against wavy terracotta-coloured walls of residential blocks, is a futuristic vision of city-planning.

Although the buildings so far built are working examples of state-of-the-art sustainable architecture and clean tech, the city's initial conception hasn't gone exactly to plan. The zero-carbon vision was quickly shelved, with much of the construction using normal fossil fuels rather than renewable energy. The completion date has also been shuffled back significantly, with plans for a thriving community of 40,000 residents by 2018 now aimed for by 2030. What it has been successful in is as an experiment in sustainable design. The urban planning solutions used here merge cutting-edge clean tech and renewable energy with age-old Middle Eastern architecture design to cope with the harsh environment of the Gulf.

Today, the central hub – sided by a massive construction site stretching across the plains – is nearly always eerily empty, and feels like you've stepped inside a film set.

Pick up a map at the information desk in the Masdar Building (or download it from the website) for a self-guided tour. Several cafes and restaurants provide sustenance.