World-class cultural gems, elaborate Islamic architecture, adrenaline-packed entertainment, and year-round sunshine? Move over Dubai, Abu Dhabi’s mix of old and new is quietly stealing the show.
The UAE’s capital has long had a reputation for being the calmer and more traditional sibling to fast-paced and flashy Dubai. But things are changing, and quickly. While Abu Dhabi remains the place to glimpse the Arabic way of life now you can combine it with something fantastically modern. Where else can you get lost in the UAE’s last camel market and then hop into the hot seat of an F1 simulator? We show you 6 of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi.
1. Get your heart racing on Yas Island
Visiting Yas Island, the entertainment island, is one of the best things to do in Abu Dhabi. Home to numerous theme parks and attractions, the island also plays host to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix each year. Thrill-seekers and families alike, be sure to head to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the world’s first Ferrari-branded theme park and home to the world’s fastest roller coaster. If you still feel the need for speed, then the nearby Formula 1 Yas Marina Circuit will help get that fixed. Feel like a Formula 1 driver as you gear up to take a spin around the track in the driver’s seat of an actual racecar.
And if an adrenaline rush has caused you to work up a sweat, then head to Yas Waterworld to cool off. With more than 40 rides, a wave pool, water slides, and other attractions, there’s plenty of fun for the whole family. Just when you thought the fun might be over, don’t forget to visit the nearby Warner Bros World. Spread over six themed lands, visitors can meet their favorite childhood movie characters, enjoy exhilarating rides, and even explore their movie sets.
2. Stand in awe of this extravagant mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a must-see landmark that never fails to wow. Its pristine white marble walls and exquisite domes welcome all visitors to the UAE capital. Open to non-Muslims, the Mosque is the eighth largest in the world and features 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers, the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, and 82 domes supported by more than 1,000 columns. Both men and women must cover shoulders and knees when entering. Men may be asked to wear a kandora while women will need to wear a shayla and abaya to enter the mosque. Visitors will need approximately two hours when exploring this majestic palace in order to do it justice
3. Immerse yourself in this art and culture hub
Saadiyat Island is located about one-third of a mile off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Still a work in progress, the island is slated to become the beating pulse of the emirate as well as the UAE’s artistic and cultural hub. Although the island as a whole won’t be completed until 2023, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened its doors back in 2017, attracts quite the crowd. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, the highly anticipated museum recounts the history of humanity through a display of 600 artworks and artifacts from all over the world.
Saadiyat Island will also be home to a multitude of residential, commercial and recreational venues. In addition to the Louvre, seven other museums designed by esteemed architects are in the works! These include the Frank-Gehry-designed Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum from the UK-based Foster + Partners architecture firm.
4. Explore this green former seat of power
Located east of Abu Dhabi, Al Ain is the historical seat of the Sheikhs and where His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan was born. Commonly referred to as the Garden City for its greenery, Al Ain is the most traditional of the UAE’s major cities and is popular in the summer due to its low humidity. The Al Ain Oasis, spread over 1,200 hectares and containing more than 147,000 date palms, is the UAE’s first curated UNESCO World Heritage site traveler experience.
Visiting the Al Ain National Museum and Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum is a must as is the camel race track and the Camel Market. The UAE’s last souk of its kind, the Camel Market offers an excellent opportunity for an up-close look at camels and the effort that goes into their care. The love for these animals runs generations deep, as the nomadic Bedu desert tribes not only used them for transportation, but their milk and meat were necessities for surviving the challenging conditions of the Arabian desert.
At 4,068 feet, Mount Jabel Hafeet in Al-Ain is the UAE’s second-highest peak, and the road to its summit boasts magnificent panoramic vistas. At the base of the mountain, there are hot springs where you can dip your feet in and relax while admiring the streams, man-made lakes, and chalets.
5. Steep yourself in tea and views at this hotel
The Emirates Palace Hotel is a destination in and of itself. The billion-dollar spectacle is not just a hotel but a landmark. Located on Abu Dhabi’s on Corniche, the palace offers an amazing panoramic view of the city from the 910-feet-high Etihad Towers. The vast grounds, private beaches, and ornate interiors will take your breath away. In addition to the breathtaking view, treat yourself to afternoon high tea or 24 carat gold cappuccino at the Emirates Palace Hotel. Sip some of this hot beverage while you indulge in freshly prepared delights like scones, sandwiches, and tarts in an unparalleled atmosphere of the hotel’s tea salon.
6. Dare to hold a falcon at the world’s largest falcon hospital
At the Falcon Hospital in Abu Dhabi, animal lovers will have the chance to hold one of these incredible birds. This working veterinary hospital for ill and injured falcons provides guided tours that give travelers a close-up look at these gorgeous creatures. The on-site museum, on the other hand, explains the history of falconry, one of the oldest and most important traditions in the Persian Gulf.