Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, often finds itself sitting in the shade of its glitzier neighbour, Dubai.
However, I recently arranged a long layover there on my Etihad flight to the Philippines and was pleasantly surprised. Located in the Arabian Peninsula, the city offers well preserved cultural sites as well as all the adventurous activities we’ve come to love in the Middle East.
It’s definitely a less frenetic city than Dubai, which in my opinion makes it all the more enjoyable. I’ve put together my top things to do in Abu Dhabi in one day (or longer) below so take a look!
Spending One Day in Abu Dhabi
Visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Absolutely unmissable on any trip to the UAE and definitely one of the very top things to do in Abu Dhabi in one day, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque can even be done on any layover that’s at least 5 hours. One of the largest and most opulent mosques in the world, it 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
Another completely incredible building, but this time it’s a hotel that’s open to the public. It showcases decadent Emirati architecture and Arabic culture throughout. Afternoon tea here is an expensive option, but a very special experience should you choose to indulge! It is also located at the start of the Corniche, a long promenade stretching around the city that offers amazing sunset views.
Visit the Heritage Village
I’m not normally one for mock-ups or tourist-oriented culture centres, but I found this one to be brilliant. It took around an hour to explore and was totally hassle-free. They have a number of museums and galleries displaying old artefacts and relics from the past, as well as the opportunity to see local crafts being demonstrated such as pottery and weaving. The craftsman aren’t trying to push their wares at all, and are even happy for you to try it out, if you want.
There are also re-creations of Emirati camps so you can really get a glimpse into desert life, complete with camels, goat-hair tents, wells and campfire coffee – if you like!
It’s located right by the beach and there’s a restaurant, shops and toilets all on site.
Journey into the desert
Again, another activity that shouldn’t be missed on a trip to the Middle East. Whether I go to Dubai or Abu Dhabi, I can’t resist booking onto a dune bashing trip each time.
There are plenty of tours operating this adventure and I went with Emirates Tours & Safari and booked their Half Day Desert Safari. You venture into the dunes at thrilling speed in a 4×4 before arriving at a camp in the desert. There’s the opportunity to sandboard, ride camels, hold a desert falcon, enjoy henna art and tuck into a big desert feast whilst enjoying local dance performances.
Cost: 290 AED (around £63/$USD80)
Spend the day at Yas Island
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.
These include the Yas Marina Circuit, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as well as Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, Yas Links Golf Course, the Yas Mall and the Yas Marina.
These are all brilliant days out of the city.
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 for the day. This is inclusive of a sun lounger and beach towel or FREE if you’re staying at one of the nearby hotels.
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 some of their Observation Decks for an impressive view of the city.
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.
Explore the Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened in 2017, is located in the Jean-Nouvel designed building. Interestingly, it is the first Louvre to open outside of France. This permanent collection displays more than 600 pieces of art across 23 incredible state-of-the art galleries.
Are you planning to go to Abu Dhabi soon? These are definitely all of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi in one day. So I hope this post helps in planning your future trips here or at least inspiring you to visit this incredible place!
If you’ve already visited, let me know in the comments if you have any more top tips or any feedback! I’d love to hear from you ? x
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