Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates but often sits in the shade of its glitzier neighbouring city, Dubai.
But whether you’re stopping in Abu Dhabi on a layover for a few hours or a day, or visiting for a longer trip, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Abu Dhabi.
So here’s my guide to Abu Dhabi, hopefully helping you plan your time in this beautiful city. To ensure this guide covers all the best things to do in Abu Dhabi, I’ve enlisted the help of some other travel bloggers who’ve shared their own contributions. Read on to find out more!
Abu Dhabi Guide: Best Things to Do & See
Abu Dhabi City Centre
Visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is probably the most famous landmark in Abu Dhabi, and is unmissable on any visit. Useful to know, visiting the mosque can even be seen on a layover of around 5 hours.
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one of the largest and most opulent mosques in the world and can host more than 40,000 worshippers at any one time! It has 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24 carat-gold gilded chandeliers and the world’s largest handmade carpet (weighing no less than 35 tonnes!)
This has to truly be one of the most spectacular buildings on earth! You can read my full guide to visiting the Sheikh Zayed Mosque here.
Explore the Emirates Palace
This incredible building is located in the heart of the city, and is in fact a Mandarin Oriental hotel that’s open non-guests too. The Palace showcases decadent Emirati architecture and Arabic culture throughout, and is a must-visit.
Having afternoon tea here is a popular, but expensive option and can make for a very special occasion.
The palace is located at the start of the Corniche, a long promenade stretching around the city that offers amazing sunset views.
Drop by Qasr Al Watan Palace
Submitted by Krisztina from shewandersabroad.com
Qasr Al Watan is one of the newest landmarks in Abu Dhabi. It’s a working Presidential palace that has only been opened to the public since March 2019 and it offers a unique insight into the Arab heritage. The palace itself already looks incredible from the outside but the richly decorated majestic hallways inside will surely leave you speechless. If you’re looking for the most instagrammable places in Abu Dhabi, make sure to put Qasr Al Watan on your list!
The easiest way to get to the palace is to take a taxi or a rental car, if you have one. There is a huge car park near the palace where you can leave your car for free and then you can take a golf cart to reach the entrance from the parking lot.
The palace is open between 10am-6pm on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday and from 12pm until 7.30pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (it’s closed on Mondays). If you visit Qasr Al Watan from Thursday to Saturday, you can witness the Palace in Motion event, which is a spectacular light show that takes place after sundown.
You can spend a couple hours exploring the palace and there is also a restaurant inside where you can have a light meal or a few drinks. Make sure to pay attention to the dress code and cover your knees and shoulders, otherwise you won’t be allowed to enter the palace.
Cost: 60 AED (£12.50) for an adult ticket
Stop at the Etihad Towers
Directly opposite the beautiful Emirates Palace are the towering skyscrapers that create the incredible Abu Dhabi skyline. Visitors to Abu Dhabi can even head up to the Etihad Towers Observation Decks for an impressive view of the city.
Cost: Free to visit the buildings (95 AED/£20 to go up to the Observation Deck)
Wander the Corniche
This 8km stretch of manicured waterfront is similar to a European promenade, ideal for long walks and runs. Parellel to the Corniche is a beautiful beach, where you can enjoy a dip in the sea in the centre of Abu Dhabi. It has soft white sand and safe, gentle clear water, as well as children’s play areas, cafes and restaurants.
Visit the Heritage Village
I’m not normally one for mock-ups or tourist-oriented culture centres, but I think the Heritage Village in Abu Dhabi is brilliant. It takes around one hour to explore and is a completely hassle-free experience. There are a number of museums and galleries displaying old artefacts and relics from the past, as well as the opportunity to see locals demonstrating how to make traditional crafts, such as pottery and weaving. You can even give some of them a go yourself, if you like!
There are also examples of typical Emirati campsites, so you can really get a glimpse into desert life, complete with camels, goat-hair tents, wells and campfire coffee.
The Heritage Village is located right by the beach near Marina Mall and there is a restaurant, shops and toilets all on site.
Enjoy the Nation Riviera Beach Club at St. Regis Abu Dhabi
Submitted by Elena from passionforhospitality.net
Another beach club to visit is the Nation Riviera Beach Club which is part of the St. Regis Abu Dhabi. Located on the Corniche, it stretches across 200 metres of pristine beach. The beach is open daily from 08:00 until sunset and is accessed through a marble air-conditioned tunnel.
Facilities include a temperature controlled swimming pool, jacuzzi area, a state of the art gym, a children’s pool and kids club. The Treasure Island area offers supervised facilities for children from 4 to 12 years old, and has indoor and outdoor areas. This offers parents an opportunity to relax and unwind while their little ones enjoy a fun day playing games.
For those wishing to enjoy an action packed day, there are plenty of watersports on offer. And Guests who wish to use the gym facilities may also opt for a special training session packages which are available for Nation Riviera Beach club members, in-house guests and non-members.
The Cabana Beach Bar & Grill enjoys a fantastic beachfront location with stunning views of the Arabian Gulf. It offers a delightful menu that consists of salads, burgers and paninis, also featuring a dedicated menu for the little guests. Come here in the evening and end the day watching the sunset while sipping on a refreshing cocktail.
Cost for a day pass: 160 AED (£33) per adult, 75 AED (£16) per child on weekdays. 230 AED/85 AED on weekend days.
Desert and outdoor activities
Head into the desert
Visiting the nearby desert is a must-visit activity on any trip to Abu Dhabi.
Most companies offer similar trips, starting with dune bashing in a 4×4 vehicle, before arriving at a camp in the desert. Here, you can enjoy several activities all included in the price, such as sand-boarding, camel riding and holding a desert falcon.
You can also try on traditional dress and get a henna art tattoo. There’s a big feast in the evening after dark, accompanied by an amazing performance from local dancers.
The desert trip includes pick-up and drop-off from your hotel.
Cost: 290 AED per person (around £63/$USD80)
Kayak in the Eastern Mangrove Forest
Submitted by Anuradha from countryhoppingcouple.com
When you think of Abu Dhabi, you probably think of the tall skyscrapers, the elegant palace, the exquisite mosques and the huge shopping malls. But beyond this glitz and glamour, Abu Dhabi has raw natural beauty tucked up its sleeve.In fact, it’s possible to relax at the lap of nature without having to escape the city.
Spreading over 110sqkm are the dense mangrove forests and wetlands, home to a biodiversity hotspot in the capital city. These areas provide an important habitat for birds, mammals and marine animals. These mangrove forests are ideal for nature lovers, photographers and adventure seekers.
The best way to experience the mangrove forest park is by paddling in the waters either through a canoe or kayak. Kayaking through the eastern mangroves of Abu Dhabi is certainly one of the offbeat ways to experience the city. As you paddle through the narrow channels of the mangrove forest, you can see the skyline behind. It also makes us wonder how beautifully the concrete jungle co-exists with nature. Visitors can spot herons, crabs, flamingoes, turtles, herons and sea snakes as you paddle through the dense mangrove forest.
The warm climate of Abu Dhabi and sunshine throughout the year makes it a great choice for kayaking. During the summer months, kayaking in the mangrove forest is a great way to beat the scorching heat. In winter, the temperates are still warm and mild, making it comfortable for kayakers.
Our top tip would be to choose a sunset kayak tour. And don’t forget to pack your binoculars!
Cost: For a 2 hour day time with with Noukhada, it is 160 AED (£33) per adult, and 130 AED (£27) per child.
Visit the Falcon Hospital
Submitted by Nisha and Vasu from lemonicks.com
The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital has to be one of the most unique and interesting places to visit in Abu Dhabi, and the award-winning experience you get here is now one of Abu Dhabi’s top attractions.
Falconry is an important traditional sport of the Arabian Gulf. Hawking has been in practice from ancient times by the emirs, and chieftains. The falcon is also the national bird of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and several other countries in the Middle East.
And so a dedicated and modern hospital for the bird was built in Abu Dhabi in 1999. This hospital is the largest and most advanced falcon hospital in the world. Since then it has earned its reputation in the Gulf region.
It bears a remarkable similarity to a facility that treats humans. Once a bird is checked in, it is taken to a triage room where the medical team weighs it and assesses its symptoms. The hospital is unique in the sense that it has all the facilities which you could think of in a normal hospital. For example, an X-ray room, OPD, operation theatre, ophthalmology department are just a few of them.
The falcon patients are regularly brought in from across the UAE and other Arabian Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain.
A tour of the hospital is the best way to explore, plus there is a display museum too, which showcases the history and culture of the region, and varieties and importance of falcons.
Cost: 170 AED (£36) per adult, 60 AED (£12.50) per child for a 2 hour tour
Yas Island and Saadiyat Island
Spend the day at Yas Island Beach Club
Yas Island is located just 20 minutes drive from Abu Dhabi City Centre. The beautiful, sandy island is surrounded by twinkly turquoise waters and is host to a number of world-class attractions.
My favourite thing to do is to spend the day at Yas Island Beach Club.
The water here is perfectly calm, warm and sheltered, making it ideal for an array of watersports. Many of which can be booked on the beach. There are also beach volleyball courts, an infinity pool, a kid’s pool and a number of restaurants and bars.
Cost: 50 AED (£10.50) per person for the day. This is inclusive of a sun lounger and beach towel. If you’re staying at one of the nearby hotels, you will receive free entry.
Experience Ferrari World on Yas Island
Submitted by Shoma from astonishingindia.net
Also located on Yas Island, Ferrari World is the first Ferrari branded theme park in the world. This amusement park, which officially opened in 2010, is mostly indoors, covering an area of 86,000 square meters. In fact, it has the largest space frame in world.
There are 37 rides in the theme park, including the world’s fastest roller coaster ride, Formula Rossa which achieves a speed of 240kmph in 4.9 seconds. Another ride, Flying Aces, is world’s highest roller coaster loop. The theme park is also home to the world’s highest non-inverted loop. If intense G-force or zero gravity fall rides is what gives you a kick, these roller coaster rides are a must do!
However, there are also plenty of kid-friendly and family rides as well like go-karts, and flight and race car simulators.
The theme park also has an ample choice of food joints with cuisines from world over.
Due to the global pandemic, the theme park has taken care of providing sanitiser dispensers every few metres and fabric masks are required for four of the high speed rides. For all other rides, there are disposable masks being provided.
You can book your tickets online here.
Do note that the theme park is closed on Sundays and Mondays, but for Tuesday to Saturday, Ferrari World is open from 12-8pm each day.
Cost: 295 AED per adult, 230 AED per child (£62/£48)
Wander the Louvre Abu Dhabi
Submitted by Monica from thisrareearth.com
Partnering with the world-famous Louvre Museum of Art in Paris France, Abu Dhabi has opened a new local home for prehistoric through present day works of art; The Louvre Abu Dhabi. The impressive art museum opened its doors just three years ago in November 2017, after ten years of coordinating and construction. It is currently the largest art museum of the entire Arabian Peninsula.
While the loaned artwork and exhibitions change over time, the fascinating architecture is a beautiful permanent fixture for visitors to enjoy. French architect Jean Nouvel designed the structure, which has an intricately detailed domed roof based on Arab architecture. The pattern on the roof is actually made of over 7,000 stars repeated in different sizes and overlapping in eight different layers, creating rays of light shooting through the ceiling. Nouvel has stated that the design is inspired by palm trees in Abu Dhabi and the surrounding Arabian Desert.
Besides impressive visual art, the museum hosts other cultural events for both children and adults. A popular offering for adults is an outdoor yoga class under the fabulous dome twice per week. The museum is located on the Saadiyat Island Cultural District.
Cost: between 30-60 AED per visit (£6.30-£12.50)
This excellent tour here takes in both the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi Guide
Are you planning to go to Abu Dhabi soon? I hope this post helps in planning your future trip here or at least inspiring you to visit this incredible city!
If you’re looking for some excellent places to stay then I recommend the Emirates Palace for the most opulent stay in the city. Other excellent options in the city centre including the Conrad Etihad Towers and the St Regis.
Disclaimer: My time in Abu Dhabi was entirely paid for by myself. There was no involvement from the tourism board or any local companies. This is an independent guide.
Enjoyed my guide to Abu Dhabi? Pin it!