The affluent capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is Abu Dhabi, a modern and ever-growing city on the Arabian Peninsula. Located on an island 250 metres from the mainland, it’s surrounded by the pristine waters of the Arabian Gulf. While the nearby areas date back to the Umm an-Nar Culture over 4,000 years ago, Abu Dhabi only became a modern city in the mid-20th century.
Since the city’s transformation began, almost one-and-a-half million people have flocked here to live and work. Although the official religion is Islam, over 80% of the population are migrants. This makes Abu Dhabi an incredibly diverse and fascinating place to be, with a rare blend of cultures and lifestyles you won’t find anywhere else.
With a plethora of world-class hotels and resorts, this city is a worthwhile destination for those who love to see the world in luxury. Not only that, there are so many fascinating things to do and unique places to visit in Abu Dhabi that never would have crossed your mind! Read on to discover 18 of the most interesting Abu Dhabi attractions and activities.
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Without a doubt, the most luxurious hotel in Abu Dhabi is the Emirates Palace. Yet, this five-star hotel is so much more than a high-end place to stay. Across 85 hectares are almost 400 rooms, scenic landscaped gardens, 14 restaurants and bars, two fitness centres, swimming pools, a spa centre, and walking and cycling trails. Set along the shores of the Arabian Gulf, the property overlooks its own marina and private beach spanning over a kilometre long.
If you’re into luxurious health and wellness travel, you should definitely consider a visit. Emirates Palace has been awarded the title of Abu Dhabi’s Best Hotel Spa at the World Spa Awards for five years in a row. The heated marble spa includes a traditional Moroccan hammam area, two steam rooms, two jacuzzis and even an ice cave. Choose from an array of rejuvenating body therapies, treatments and massages for the ultimate relaxation experience.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The most iconic landmark in Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. The architecture is an amalgamation of multiple cultures, from British and Italian to Moroccan, Turkish, Pakistani and more.
In addition to the iconic bright-white onion-shaped domes, the mosque is also known for its enormous and opulently-decorated prayer hall. Don’t forget to look up and admire the grand chandelier, measuring an impressive 10 metres in diameter. All four minarets are about 107 metres tall, while the central dome reaches a height of 85 metres. The large reflecting pools in the courtyard are another highlight.
As well as free entrance, guided tours lasting up to an hour are offered throughout the day at no cost. A modest dress code is strictly enforced here, although women will be provided with an abaya (a loose robe-like dress) to wear. Even if you decide to walk around on your own, you will never forget your visit to this extraordinary place.
During the summer in Abu Dhabi, temperatures often reach 40 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, there’s a fun way to cool down if you’re visiting during the middle of the year. Yas Waterworld on Yas Island is a famous water park featuring more than 40 different rides and slides.
The most notable attractions here include the 550-metre-long Bandit Bomber, the longest suspended roller coaster in the Middle East, and Dawwama, the largest six-person tornado water coaster in the world.
The park opens daily at 10, with closing times depending on the month. There are free buses to and from Abu Dhabi City covering two different routes, as well as a free shuttle to and from Dubai. The buses depart from various hotels around the city and are super convenient, so check the timetables on the Yas Waterworld website. You can also book your tickets in advance online to save waiting in line.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
A must-visit cultural attraction is the Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island. This outstanding art museum was opened in 2017 in collaboration with the French government. Over 24,000 square metres in size, it is the largest art museum in Arabia. The mesmerising modern architecture creates the illusion of a floating dome and was designed to allow natural light to filter throughout the space. The exhibitions merge Eastern and Western art, with temporary exhibits that currently explore the concept and history of luxury.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is open between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday and until 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. Regular admission costs 63 United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED). A visit here is easily one of the best things to do in Abu Dhabi in 2020!
Malls in the UAE are for far more than shopping. They’re also a place to gather and socialise, and provide a welcome break from the humid heat outside. While there are a ton of great malls in Abu Dhabi, Yas Mall is the largest and the most architecturally stunning. There’s a long reflecting pool leading up to the main entrance, and walking inside feels as though you’re entering the distant future.
The mall offers top international brands and high-end designer labels, from Adidas and Billabong to Calvin Klein and Michael Kors. If you’re not interested in shopping for any new clothes or accessories, there are still plenty of other things to do here. Stop by the tall water feature on the ground level and take a selfie, go rock climbing at Adventure HQ, dine at any of the 60+ restaurants and cafes, or take the whole family to Fun Works for some arcade games and rides.
Located on Yas Island, Yas Mall is open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. daily and until midnight every Thursday and Friday.
Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital
One of the most unique Abu Dhabi tourist places is the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. The falcon is the national symbol of the United Arab Emirates, so it should come as no surprise that these powerful birds play a significant role in Emirati culture.
On average, the Falcon Hospital treats around 11,000 falcons per year. On a two-hour guided tour, you can learn all about the importance of falcons dating back to Bedouin times, view artifacts in the museum, see the rooms where the injured birds are treated, and take a souvenir photograph with a falcon perched on your gloved hand.
If you decide not to book a tour, the hospital is open to tourists between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every day except Friday.
For more adventurous activities in Abu Dhabi, spend a day at Ferrari World. The amusement park has received numerous travel awards since its official opening in 2010 and is considered a leading attraction in the Middle East. As the first Ferrari-themed park in the world, it includes numerous thrill rides, roller coasters and stunt performances, as well as some more relaxed family and children’s rides. The Formula Rossa roller coaster reaches a top speed of 240 kilometres per hour, making it the fastest in the world.
With a trained instructor, take the opportunity to drive around Yas Island in a Ferrari, discover what it takes to become a professional F1 driver, and test your racing skills on the 290-metre-long kart track.
A single-day ticket will set you back 295 AED. The amusement park is conveniently located right by Yas Waterworld, meaning you can take the same shuttle bus to and from Yas Island. Ferrari World closes at 8 p.m. so you could even visit both parks in one action-packed day.
Yas Marina Circuit
A few kilometres away from Ferrari World is the Yas Marina Circuit, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Lovers of motorsports won’t want to skip this opportunity to get behind the wheel and make their way around any of the six thrilling track configurations.
Book an exciting half or full day on the tracks online and select your vehicle of choice. Your options include a Caterham 7, an Aston Martin GT4, a Polaris RZR, and a Mercedes-Benz AMG GT, among others.
Observation Deck at 300
For breathtaking views across the city, head up to Observation Deck at 300. Located on the 74th-floor of the Jumeirah Hotel at Etihad Towers, this lookout deck offers a gorgeous panorama of Abu Dhabi and the Arabian Gulf.
The floor also has a cafe if you want to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee or a snack as you gaze out windows. The entrance ticket costs 95 AED and includes a 55 AED voucher to spend here. Afternoon tea is also offered between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. for an additional cost. Otherwise, the deck is open daily from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. It’s worth visiting towards the end of the day to watch the sun go down.
Eco Donut Boat Ride
A unique way to see Abu Dhabi is on an Eco Donut Boat. These adorable little vessels are named after their round-shape and completely solar-powered engine. There are 16 available to rent from the peaceful Eastern Mangroves Marina until 11 p.m. every day. Each boat fits up to six adults. If you’re travelling in a larger group, you can also rent a 10-person solar catamaran.
An instructor will show you how to drive the boat on your own, making it an ideal outing for couples or groups who prefer their privacy. They don’t go faster than walking speed, however, allowing for a very chilled-out ride past the mangroves. Book for 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or 120 minutes to explore further out.
Qasr Al Watan
Abu Dhabi’s newest addition to the Presidential Palace compound opened in 2019 and is an extraordinary sight to see. Qasr Al Watan is the pinnacle of opulence and is sure to take your breath away. Inside, admire the floor-to-ceiling Islamic mosaics, chandeliers, woodwork and artwork.
While the palace is a true achievement in Arabian craftsmanship, it’s more than just a beautiful place to visit and take photos of. You can also learn about Arab heritage and the UAE’s innovative vision for the future.
The grounds are open to visitors between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. each day. Entrance to both the palace and the garden area cost 60 AED. Guided tours in English run every half an hour for an additional 30 AED. From the ticket office, a shuttle bus will take you to the main entrance.
Mina Zayed Dates Market
A must for any authentic traveller is getting a taste of the local cuisine. Come to the Mina Zayed Dates Market to enjoy one of the region’s top treats. Arabian dates are so delicious that thousands of tourists purchase them in bulk at this market to take home with them.
There are over 400 types of dates sold here throughout the year, with about a dozen staples. Ajwa and Medjool are classic favourites, and the chocolate dates are always popular as well. What makes this market special is that you can sample each type before you make your purchase. Even better, the vendors accept all major currencies.
The market is open daily from 7 a.m. until midnight.
Saadiyat Beach Club
Feel like taking it easy and relaxing seaside in complete comfort and luxury? Saadiyat Beach Club on Saadiyat Island is a superb venue offering day passes for beach-goers. With sparkling clear waters, white sandy shores, cosy private cabanas, and a Mediterranean restaurant and bar, you have everything you need here for a chill yet lavish beach day.
Both the private beach and pool areas are open all day until sunset. Pass prices are determined according to the day, with discounts offered for couples (as well as ladies every Monday).
Mariam Umm Eisa Masjid
Another wonderful religious site to visit is the Mariam Umm Eisa Masjid by the corner of Umm Al Emarat Park. The name, which translates to the Mary, Mother of Jesus Mosque, was an intentional move to bring together worshippers of different religions and highlight the similarities between Islam and Christianity. Come by to appreciate the harmonious sentiment and admire the incredible architectural work.
Women’s Handicraft Centre
Want to pick up some one-of-a-kind souvenirs, or simply learn about the local handicrafts made by Emirati women? Come by the Women’s Handicrafts Centre run by the General Women’s Union and see a display of traditional creations from jewellery to embroidery and weavings. The gift shop is open between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. from Monday to Thursday.
Mangrove National Park
A natural gem in Abu Dhabi is the Mangrove National Park. This protected mangrove forest is home to more than 60 bird species, including the elegant flamingo. Yet, the opportunity for kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding and various other water sports are what really bring visitors here.
A three-hour guided kayak tour is perfect for paddling along the calm channels and spotting some of the fascinating wildlife. Kayaking allows you to get up close to the picturesque mangroves too. Expect a peaceful couple of hours and a newfound appreciation for the natural beauty of Abu Dhabi.
Etihad Modern Art Gallery
An inviting spot to see some independent artwork is the Etihad Modern Art Gallery in the heart of the city. On display are many colourful pieces that blend contemporary concepts with traditional Islamic motifs. In addition to the unique exhibitions, there are regular workshops, music nights and poetry readings held here.
The art gallery is open from 10 until 10 every day except Friday with free admission. The friendly space encourages open discussion, making it a nice environment to meet some interesting new people. If you’re not sure what to do in Abu Dhabi at night, consider stopping by the Etihad Modern for something a little different.
While you’re here, be sure to stop for lunch or dinner at the vibrantly-decorated Art House Cafe. Secluded from the main street, you can enjoy a cup of coffee and a tasty meal in an eclectic haven.
Evening Desert Safari
An evening desert safari is a must while in Abu Dhabi. Hop in a four-wheel drive and make your way across the sandy dunes of the expansive Al Khatim Desert. Dune bashing is an exhilarating experience you will not soon forget! The experienced drivers will ensure you get a rush of adrenaline while remaining as safe as possible.
Depending on the tour you select, you’ll also have the chance to visit a camel farm and go for a camel ride, watch a belly dancing performance, smoke shisha, receive a henna tattoo, and enjoy a barbecue dinner with your fellow travellers.
Recommended tours in Abu Dhabi
- Evening Desert Safari With BBQ Dinner, Henna Painting, Camel Ride and Belly Dance
- Abu Dhabi Guided Sightseeing Boat Tours
- 90-Minute Small-Group Yas Marina Circuit Tour
- Sheikh Zayed Mosque and Falcon Hospital Tour in Abu Dhabi
- Private Hummer Desert Safari Abu Dhabi with Hot BBQ Dinner
- Full day Fujairah city Tour
- Sunrise Desert Safari Tour from Abu Dhabi
- Dubai full day tour without lunch from Abu Dhabi
- Abu Dhabi: 4-Hour Morning Desert Safari with Camel Ride and Sandboarding