Top Things to Do in Abu Dhabi

Looking for the top things to do in Abu Dhabi?  Pristine beaches, luxury hotels, rich history and traditions, and one of the most beautiful mosques in the world are a few of the top reasons visit Abu Dhabi. “Everything changed in 1958 when oil was discovered.”  Our guide continued to share the story of how Abu Dhabi came to be….“You see, the old trades of camel herding, fishing, agriculture, pearl diving, gave way to oil production, and now Modern Abu Dhabi is here.
 top things to do in Abu Dhabi  

Abu Dhabi is one of the largest oil producers in the world, holding 8% of the world’s oil reserves.  This city is also the capitol of the United Arab Emirates, and the largest Emirate – occupying 87% of the UAE.  Saddled between Saudi Arabia and Oman, this city is fast becoming a world-class metropolis. Sheik Sultan bin Zayed Al Nuhayyan, is the current ruler leading the vision for this city’s future, by keeping traditional ways rooted, while embracing modernity.
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Abu Dhabi is spread out across 200 natural islands, including the Saadiyat and Yas islands.  With year round sunshine, pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, giant sand dunes, art and culture, here’s our “shortlist” of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi.

Top Things to Do in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi – Main City Area

  • Emirates Palace:  You can’t leave Abu Dhabi without a visit and/or stay at the Emirates.  An iconic Abu Dhabi landmark, this luxurious hotel shines with Arabian regal splendor.  At a price tag of $3 billion usd to build, it is an impressive structure generously decorated with precious materials of gold, mother of pearls, crystal, and marble.  The main building is a half mile from end to end with 114 domes, and 1,002 chandeliers, and 2 handmade carpets that hang on Palace Walls, each weighing a ton!  Be sure to stop by the ATM that dispenses gold bars near the lobby.

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  • The Corniche:  step out and enjoy the 5-mile stretch of seaside fun, with beaches and paths for walking, jogging or cycling.  Or drive along the Corniche passing miles of skyscrapers, “back bending” architectural masterpieces.  Drive down the main street in the heart of the City, and you’ll see large monuments representing the UAE culture – a white coffee pot, incense burner and perfume sprinkler.

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  • Heritage Village:  This reconstructed village allows visitors to experience the Emirati desert way of life, it is a hidden gem on our Top Things to do in Abu Dhabi list.  Resembling a traditional oasis village with a goats’ hair tent, campfire with coffee pots, date palm houses, and a falaj irrigation system.  There are workshops where craftsmen demonstrate traditional skills, such as pottery and weaving.  There’s a spice shop with dried herbs and handmade soaps to buy.  You will find fantastic views of the Corniche skyline from the traditional wooden boats near the shore.

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  • Dhow Harbor:  located near the Mina Fish Market, you can watch the dhows, traditional boats, return from the sea with the catch-of-the-day.
  • Shopping Malls & Souks:  Ready to escape the heat?  Abu Dhabi has air-conditioned shopping malls where you can find some relief.  Head to traditional “souq” markets to find hidden treasures like spices, sweet dates, textiles and gold.  We visited the Marina Mall with over 300 stores and an indoor skating rink.  Warning:  these malls are gigantic!  Don’t get lost and have an exit plan so you don’t spend all your dirhams.

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Saadiyat Island

Just about a 20 min drive from Abu Dhabi City, Saadiyat is a natural island with pristine white sand beaches, world famous art, and luxury residences.  Blissful beach living in a planned utopia-like setting.  A new Cultural District of Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat is destined to be home to some of the world’s famous museums: in 2015 the Louvre, 2017 the Guggenheim, and 2016 Zayed National Museum.
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Visit Manarat Al Saadiyat, a museum with galleries, and a visitor center that presents the history and cultural vision for Saadiyat Island.  We were captivated with the high tech interactive exhibits that share future plans for Saadiyat.

Louvre Abu Dhabi:  one of the highlights on our trip was visiting the Louvre Abu Dhabi.  The museum took us on a journey through time with an impressive collection of treasures.  After visiting the art galleries, we were led to an open-air space with a massive dome designed by architect Jean Novel.  A transformative experience that sheds new light on humanity.  Click here to learn more about the exhibitions, events and more!


Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque

The Grand Mosque (about a 30 min drive from Abu Dhabi City) named after Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is the 8th largest mosque in the world with capacity for up to 41,000 worshippers.  With a huge courtyard, a 12 ton, 30 ft wide chandelier, 82 domes and over 1,000 columns, it is an architectural feat.

   top things to do in Abu Dhabi

Wander the grounds and notice the beautiful reflections in the surrounding pools, or late afternoon sunlight glistening on the mosque’s domes. This is a must on our list of Things to do in Abu Dhabi!

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Masdar (about a 30 min drive from Abu Dhabi City)  literally means “Source City”.  With oil predicted to run out in 50 years, by 2100 AD, solar power is embraced in Masdar City.  One of the World’s first planned “zero carbon” cities, located 11 miles from Abu Dhabi.  Click here for more details on Masdar City.

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Yas Island

  • Yas Waterworld:  Spouting with 43 slides and rides, this waterworld will entertain parents and children for hours.  We heard the six-person waterslide, and the largest Flow Barrel wave ride is a thrill!
  • Ferrari World:  If you fly from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, be sure to look for the iconic red roof of Ferrari theme park, the world’s largest indoor theme park.  There are rides like the “G-Force”, the “Fiorano GT Challenge”, and a Ferrari gallery of cars, shopping, dining – lots to do for all ages.  Be sure to ride the fastest rollercoaster in the world reaching speeds up to 150 miles/hr.!

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  • Yas Viceroy:  We didn’t stay at this 5-star hotel, but we stopped by for a refreshing drink to be amazed by its unique architecture.  This extraordinary masterpiece is even more beautiful when it’s lit up at night.

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  • Yas Marina Circuit:  Sports lovers are drawn to this attraction, where Etihad Airways hosts the annual Abu Dhabi Formula One race.  If you want to put your pedal to the metal, this circuit is open to driver-experience days.

Further Outside the City:

  • Al Ain:  Ail Ain is an UNESCO site with many historical landmarks.  One of the world’s oldest inhabited settlements and on our top things to do in Abu Dhabi list was an oasis to many explorers and travelers caravanning from Oman to the UAE, and is the birthplace to Sheikh Zayed.  There are camel markets, a wildlife park, and historic sites like the Al Jahili Fort, where you can see an exhibition about explorer Wilfred Thesiger’s crossings through the “Empty Quarter” sand desert.  If you are interested in Islamic art, you can visit the Miraj Islamic Center.  For insight into traditional Emirati life, visit the Arabian Nights Heritage Village nearby.

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  • Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter:  Just an hour and a half south of Abu Dhabi, is the world’s largest sand desert, the Empty Quarter with sand dunes reaching as high as 900 ft.

And there’s more…. Al Wathba Camel Race Track, Abu Dhabi’s Equestrian Club, golf courses, hot air balloon trips over the desert, desert safaris and dune bashing trips.

How to Get Around?

SA Transport:  SA Transport provided us with airport and city transfers.  Our chauffeur was professional and knew how to get around Abu Dhabi as well as Dubai with smooth transfers.  If you need a chauffeur for executive meetings, sightseeing, events, weddings and more, we recommend SA Transport.

If you want to rent a economy or luxury vehicle, there’s a variety of vehicles to choose from — sport cars, SUV’s and executive to suit your needs.

Click here to select your car and/or book your chauffeur service.

Where to Stay/Dine/Spa?

  • Emirates Palace:  one of the world’s most majestic and opulent hotels located on the Corniche East.  This is a definitely a top on our list of things to do in Abu Dhabi. You feel like royalty as you enter the grand foyer and then greeted with local hospitality as you are offered a delicious cup of Arabic coffee in the finest china.  This Palace has been adorned with the finest materials from the gold walls to marble floors.   Mohammed Alaoui, Communications Manager, escorted us on the GRAND tour of the Palace, and showed us the exclusive executive suites with the finest furnishings.  Afterwards, we dined at Mezlai, Abu Dhabi’s first Emirati restaurant satisfied all the senses.  Under our cabana, we indulged in the delights of Middle Eastern cuisine.  The warm breeze, flowing fountains, and twinkling skies added to the essence of a magical evening of dining.  For a reservation of a lifetime, email:  To see more images of this hotel, click here!

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  • Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri:  be ready for an enchanting experience as you arrive to this hotel.  Not far from the airport and close to the city center, this Shangri-La opens up to magnificent views of the Grand Mosque.  At the Qaryat Al Beri Complex, there’s even a “Venetian canal” where you can boat to the Souk or the Spa.  We got off at the Chi Spa stop where we experienced the Arabian Date Body Wrap and Asian Blend Massage.  Walk or ride the boat to other properties nearby like Traders Hotel and the Shangri-La Residences where you can choose from several unique dining experiences.  We savored Vietnamese cuisine at Hoi An at the Shangri-La Hotel, where Chef Vu Dang served up oven-baked black cod and wok-fried sliced veal loin.  Hotel reservations can be made at:  To see more images of this hotel, click here!

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  • St. Regis Abu Dhabi:  Newly opened St. Regis Abu Dhabi is elegant and ultra-luxe in every way.   Presenting 283 rooms and suites with 8 restaurants, a spa and rooftop pool that overlooks the Corniche.  Centrally located in Nation Towers, guests are close to Abu Dhabi attractions, major corporate headquarters and embassies, and shopping malls.  The Rémede Spa is a serene sanctuary with a staff ready to pamper you with customized therapies, and champagne, truffles and luxurious throw blankets.  Michelin-starred British chef Gary Rhodes oversees culinary delights at Rhodes 44.  We sampled the scrumptious homemade lobster raviolis at Toscana, an Italian restaurant. Definitely some of the best from our top things to do in Abu Dhabi!  To book a reservation, visit:  To see more images of this hotel, click here!

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Basic Facts:Country – United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi is one of seven Emirates, other sheikhdoms include Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Umm al-Quwain, Fujairah, and Ajman)

Ruler of Abu Dhabi – Sheikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nuhayyan

Languages – Arabic, English, Hindi and Urdu.

Currency – UAE Dirhams (AED)

Climate –Warm days and pleasant evenings from October through May; June through September are hot and humid.  Coolest months are January and February.

Clothing – Lightweight summer clothing.  It’s a good idea to bring a cardigan or wrap for cool evenings or air-conditioned buildings.  IMPORTANT:  Visitors are advised to show respect for the local culture by dressing conservatively – women need to wear a scarf over their heads, and cover their shoulders, arms and knees, especially at Mosques.  Beach wear is acceptable at the hotel pools, resorts and beaches.

Electricity – The domestic supply is 220V, 50 cycles, AC.

By:  Patricia Stone, a travel writer and consultant for

Travel Acknowledgements:  We would like to thank Emirates Palace, Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, and St. Regis Abu Dhabi for hosting us during our stay in Abu Dhabi.  A special thanks to S.A. Transport for hosting our transfers, and EET Tours, , who provided us with a private tour of Abu Dhabi, as well as the Louvre Abu Dhabi for hosting us.  And we appreciate the support of our sponsors – GoPro, providing us with a Go Pro Hero3 to capture the video clips on YouTube, and DK Eyewitness Travel for providing us with a helpful Top 10 Dubai & Abu Dhabi Travel Guide.  Opinions in this article are our own.  Photo Credits:  some photos in this article have been provided by our hosts.

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