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I’m sure you’ve heard about Dubai, but have you heard about it’s cooler little brother Abu Dhabi? Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and is the second most populated emirate after Dubai. It has almost everything you can find in Dubai but costs much less! You’ll love it here because not only will you save money, there are less crowds of tourists and expats so it feels much more authentic. This post will show you just how amazing it is and the best things to do in Abu Dhabi. Let me help you plan your next trip to Abu Dhabi with this guide.
A little background, my name is Naomi and I recently moved to a small town a few hours away from Abu Dhabi so every weekend that we come to Abu Dhabi we always make the most of it. I didn’t expect to fall in love with this city, but it really is amazing.
From adrenaline junkies looking to ride the fastest roller coaster in the world to history buffs marveling at stunning artwork in the Louvre – Abu Dhabi truly has something for everyone.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Best places to stay in Abu Dhabi
- 2 Best things to do in Abu Dhabi:
- 2.1 Culture and History (Abu Dhabi Landmarks)
- 2.2 City Activities and attractions in Abu Dhabi
- 2.3 Adventures and Wildlife in Abu Dhabi:
- 2.4 Best Views in Abu Dhabi:
- 2.5 Theme Parks and More in Abu Dhabi
- 3 Food & Drinks: Where to eat in Abu Dhabi?
Best places to stay in Abu Dhabi
Staying anywhere in the downtown area or near the Corniche will put you in a central location close to most points of interest.
Luxury: The Shangri La, The Fairmont, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, The St. Regis, Emirates Palace
Mid-Range: Holiday Inn Downtown, Beach Rotana, Hotel Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche
Budget: Centro Al Manhal, Golden Tulip, Courtyard by Marriott World Trade Center, Abu Dhabi
Best things to do in Abu Dhabi:
Culture and History (Abu Dhabi Landmarks)
Visit Qasr Al Hosn fort
Qasr Al Hosn was a watch tower built around the 1790’s which the was integral to protecting coastal trade routes. In 2018, after more than eleven years of work to restore and preserve it, it was transformed into a museum.
It’s a real piece of history right in the city where fast cars and tall buildings can make you forget it wasn’t too long ago this was all just a desert. It really shows how Abu Dhabi has transformed from a fishing and pearling city and grown into the metropolis it is today with pieces dating as far back as 6000BC. History buffs will love it.
Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
You can spot this architectural masterpiece (one of the most iconic Abu Dhabi Landmarks) from a mile away and no matter how many times you see it, you’ll stare wide eyed in wonder. It’s one of the largest mosques in the world and is unique because it’s one of the few mosques in the region that allows non-Muslim visitors inside.
There are over 82 domes, reflective pools in the courtyard and landscaping all around. It also has the world’s largest chandelier and carpet, both handmade and literally worth a fortune.
It’s free to enter but make sure you wear conservative clothing. If you aren’t dress appropriately, no worries, they will provide a covering to wear as you explore this beautiful mosque.
Step back in time at the Heritage Village
When you enter the Heritage Village, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. You’ll get a glimpse of Abu Dhabi as it was before it became the second largest city in the UAE. It’s a reconstructed village on the Corniche Breakwater where you can see traditional Emirati crafts, goats’ hair tents and authentic shops. It’s a unique cultural experience only available in Abu Dhabi.
Visit The Louvre without going to Paris
That’s right you don’t have to go to Paris to visit the famous Louvre. You can see many of the famous works of art available in Paris in the temporary galleries of the Louvre Abu Dhabi! It features 9200 sq.m of galleries which have many items on loan from many famous French museums including Musee du Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, and Centre Pompidou.
It was designed by some of the top architects in the world and the museum itself is an absolutely stunning piece of art. Trust me, you’ll want to make sure your camera is charged because it’s a really photogenic place.
City Activities and attractions in Abu Dhabi
Take a break from the city in Umm Al Emarat Park
This isn’t just your average park. It has a botanical garden, a big open field and even an animal barn where you can see a camel, donkeys, llamas and cute baby bunnies if you’re lucky! If it gets too hot, you can always cool off and have a delicious cake at the Home Bakery cafe. They’re seriously AMAZING.
Go for a Ride on the Marina Eye
Now you don’t have to go to coachella to ride a giant ferris wheel in style. Take a ride on the Marina Eye to see stunning views of the city from above. Go for sunset where you’ll be able to watch an amazing red sun disappear on the horizon. They even have private pods for a more intimate ride. RAWR.
Walk along the Corniche during the day or night
The corniche is a board walk the stretches across an 8km. It’s been awarded the most eco-friendly beach in the UAE and has separate pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. It’s no ordinary boardwalk though; there are many children’s play areas, outdoor gyms, restaurants, and cafes all around. Go in the morning to avoid the hot sun or settle in for the evening sunset. No matter when you go, there’s always something going on at the Corniche.
Feel like a queen at the Emirates Palace
Fake it til you make it at the Emirates Palace. It’s a modern day icon of Abu Dhabi and the definition of luxury. During day, it’s beautiful with gardens spread across 100 hectares. It’s absolutely HUGE. At night the lighting changes and it features a gorgeous rainbow effect over the main dome. Dress to impress and have an Instagram photoshoot before stopping by the cafe to have the famous 24-carat gold cappuccino or afternoon tea.
Shop and get lost in Yas Mall
After Dubai Mall, this is the biggest mall I’ve ever been in. With over 2.5m sqft of retail stores, a million different restaurants and a gigantic theatre, you can easily spend a day here. Bonus: If you love IKEA, there’s one right across the street!
Adventures and Wildlife in Abu Dhabi:
Have a truly special adventure camping in the desert
How many of your friends can say they’ve gone camping in the desert? Check this one off the bucket list while visiting Abu Dhabi. If you’re scared (like I would be) don’t worry, there are lots of tours available. The Liwa desert is just a short drive away and offers unparalleled stargazing opportunities.
Experience close encounters with Wildlife at the Emirates Park Zoo
Think you could only have breakfast with giraffes at Giraffe Manor in Africa? Think again! This zoo is a short drive from Abu Dhabi city and offers different wildlife experiences like breakfast with the giraffes, lunch with leopards, various animal shows and even crocodile feedings. It’s a zoo experience unlike any you’ve been to before.
Experience a desert safari
These are available from tons of companies and you can even score some pretty sweet deals for this on Groupon. A desert safari is usually an all day event and includes your pick up and drop off in the city. Most safari’s include: dune bashing, camel riding, Sand boarding, BBQ dinner in the desert, belly dancing/falcon show, Shisha Smoking, coffee, tea, dates, henna painting and soft-drinks. You can even go quad biking for an additional cost. This is not to be missed!
Go on a Falcon Tour
Falcons are the national bird and when you think of the middle east I’m sure you envision these beautiful birds of prey. The Falcon Hospital is a place where they help take care of falcons. During the Falcon tour, you’ll learn about the amazing falcons, the history of falconry and you can even hold one if you want. The tour lasts about 2 hrs and will cost around $50 USD.
Learn to scuba dive
The weather in Abu Dhabi means that the water is warm all year round and makes for really fun and comfortable diving. There are many good dive sites abundant with underwater wildlife and are easily accessible from Abu Dhabi. You can explore ship wrecks, deep water diving and even go on reef dives!
Island-hopping yacht charter
Speaking of water activities, go island hopping and visit some of the most pristine islands Abu Dhabi has to offer. Abu Dhabi is actually made up of over 200 islands and hiring a private yacht is one of the best way to see them.
Go Kayaking in the Mangroves
Seeing these lush trees in the middle of the desert is a sight for sore eyes. You can rent a kayak through the mangroves and explore on your own or go on one of the many tours they offer. If you’re lucky, you can see flamingos, crabs and even turtles.
If you’re not up for the workout (cuz it really is a workout) then you can hire a boat to take you on a ride through the mangroves, you can opt for walking along the boardwalk or dine in one the may restaurants taking in the beautiful view.
I highly recommend BOA Steakhouse for amazing food, service and ambiance.
Best Views in Abu Dhabi:
Take in the city views from above
Located on the 74th floor of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers (the buildings that were featured in the Fast and the Furious 7) – the Observation Deck at 300 offers stunning views from 300m in the sky. It’s absolutely beautiful and features floor-to-ceiling windows and telescopes so you can see everything from above. Day or night, the views are always incredible. It costs about $26 USD but that includes $15 to spend in the cafe.
Get a specialty Martini at Ray’s Bar
Alternatively, you could go to the 62nd floor in the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers to Ray’s bar. It’s an iconic bar in Abu Dhabi which also has great views of the city. Book ahead as the good seats with the best views get reserved quickly. Ray’s bar has an excellent atmosphere and an extremely creative cocktail menu. I bet you never had a gin cocktail served in a bubble bath complete with a yellow ducky before, have you?
See the city from the sky in a plane
If the views from the Observation 300 deck and Ray’s bar weren’t enough to satiate your appetite, then book a trip with Seawings for incredible views of the city from the sky. They offer 30- 45 minute relaxed, scenic tours showing you a side of Abu Dhabi you can only experience from above.
Experience living on a luxury desert island
If you’ve wanted to visit the Maldives but just couldn’t afford it then Nurai Island is a great alternative. Located a quick ten-minute speedboat ride away from the city, you’ll immediately be transported to a deserted private island. This luxurious island has been carefully designed and every detail was well thought out. There are spas,, restaurants and an unbelievable beach. Book a water front villa and you’ll definitely feel like you’re in the Maldives!
Theme Parks and More in Abu Dhabi
Drive around a real F1 Track
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to drive a race car? Well now you can find out at the Yas Marina Circuit. They offer circuit driving in an Aston Martin, drag racing in a Chevrolet Camaro, and even drifting lessons – you can finally audition for Fast & the Furious 8! There are also an assortment of other experiences you can choose from. Adrenaline junkies will love it here!
Warner Brothers World
Whenever you’ve been to a theme park, you’re usually hot and sweaty – but not here. During the summer months it is unbearably hot in the UAE. Warner Brothers World is one of the biggest indoor, air-conditioned theme parks in the world. It’s a perfect place to enjoy all year round.
It features all of the Warner Brothers characters you know and love from Bugs Bunny to the Flintstones within this gigantic theme park. AS soon as you walk in you’ll be transported to another dimension and can choose between six creative portals each featuring their own unique restaurants and design. It’ll be an amazing time and make you feel like a kid again.
Ride the Fastest Roller coaster in the world
Do you have the guts to take a ride on the world’s fastest rollercoaster? It’s called the Formula Rossa and it’s located inside Ferrari World Abu Dhabi – that’s right, a Ferrari theme park with a ferrari store and everything. It has a top speed of 250 km/h in 4.9 seconds. SECONDS.
It features over 35 adrenaline pumping rides, a bunch of international restaurants and of course authentic italian dining options as well. This is a theme park unlike any you’ve been to before.
Beat the heat at Yas Waterworld
This gigantic water park showcases a story of young Emirati girl on a quest to find a legendary pearl. The “lost pearl” theme is a key component in Abu Dhabi’s rich history.
Visitors are encompassed in this story as they visit attractions which include a traditional souk and even pearl-diving exhibits.
Yas Waterworld has over 43 rides, 5 of which are ONLY available here. One of the most unique rides at Yas Waterworld is the world’s first and largest hydro-magnetic-powered, six-person tornado water slide. It’s an incredible experience that is over 235 meters long. You won’t want to miss it.
Food & Drinks: Where to eat in Abu Dhabi?
Drinks at the Shangri La
The Shangri La hotel is interior is stunning but outside at the Pool Bar you’ll enjoy the best views of The Grand Mosque on the horizon. Have a drink or get some shisha and relax while enjoying the perfect views.
Get lost in the Venetian Village
As the name implies, you’ll feel like you’ve left the desert and entered Italy while roaming the Venetian Village. It’s a really unique spot filled with international restaurants offering waterfront views of the canal. It’s located adjacent to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque so you can enjoy views of this architectural masterpiece from a different perspective. There are tons of amazing restaurants to choose from and you won’t be disappointed.
Go for an Epic Friday Brunch
If you’re lucky enough to be in the city on a Friday then you have to go to Brunch! Brunch here does NOT mean what you think it means. It’s an all you can eat and drink event where people come to unwind after the work week and have some fun. There are usually 3 packages available: Soft drinks, house drinks and bubbly. They range in respectively from $70-$200 USD depending on where you go.
Some really great brunch spots I recommend are:
- The St.Regis
There are so many things to do in Abu Dhabi and I’m sure there are many other things that you could add to this list. If you have any suggestions, please comment below!
In my opinion, Abu Dhabi is truly an underrated city in the UAE. It’s beginning to gain popularity and it’s not hard to see why with so many things to see and do. I hope I’ve inspired you to add it to your bucket list!
This is a guest post by Naomi of the blog Eatloveexplore.com
Author’s bio: Hi I’m Naomi! Two years ago, my husband and I saved over $30,000 in one year, quit our jobs and have been travelling ever since. I’ll show you exactly how you can get out of debt, save more money than you ever thought possible, earn money from home and travel longer on a budget.
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