Top Tourist Attractions and Things to do in Abu Dhabi (U.A.E)
On the contrary of the fact that shocks many tourists (like myself, at first), Abu Dhabi is the capital city of United Arab Emirates and is the business center of the country in comparison to Dubai, U.A.E‘s most visited luxury filled city. Despite it being the center for companies and western people in fancy suits, there are still indeed a lot of things to do in Abu Dhabi one must not miss if ever they come for a visit.
I’ve personally been in Abu Dhabi three times, and each visit does not disappoint. Many places to see in Abu Dhabi, but of course, that’s because I’m often visiting to see my sister’s family who are expats from Finland. They always find time to show me around the city and introduce me to a lifestyle rather new to me – the life of luxury.
Of course, my family aren’t exactly fancy, they are humble, and they love simple things, but in Abu Dhabi or U.A.E in general, luxury is the usual way of life (for most, at least).
That said, going for brunches, shopping, wearing gold, and seeing people carrying designer stamped clothing is a pretty typical sight when you stroll the higher end streets of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. This is normal and something I’m not used to since living in Finland for ten years downgraded my lifestyle to only owning what I need.
Despite living a somewhat minimalistic life in the Nordics, I’m not going to lie about the fact that I did enjoy having a little luxury in my life from time to time. Thus visiting my family in Abu Dhabi is indeed a rare treat to feed my need to experience life a little bit on the high end.
Mind you, my wallet did not enjoy this little pursuit, but life is short to be a cheapskate forever. So when I was offered to have two lobsters and a steak for dinner, I set a reminder for myself to cry a little when I get back home to Finland.
Table of Contents
- 1 Experiences and top things to do in Abu Dhabi
- 2 Top Landmarks and attractions in Abu Dhabi
- 3 What to eat and restaurants in Abu Dhabi to try
- 4 Have extra time? Look at these day trips from Abu Dhabi!
- 5 Practical information and Abu Dhabi travel tips
- 5.1 Things to remember before you visit Abu Dhabi
- 5.2 When is the best time to visit Abu Dhabi?
- 5.3 How is Abu Dhabi weather like?
- 5.4 Do you need a visa for UAE?
- 5.5 Where to book your flights to Abu Dhabi?
- 5.6 Do you need an insurance?
- 5.7 Where to stay in Abu Dhabi?
- 5.8 How save money sightseeing Abu Dhabi?
- 5.9 What to see in Abu Dhabi? Short on time? Go on a tour in Abu Dhabi!
- 6 What to wear in Abu Dhabi?
- 7 Are you on Pinterest? Pin these for later read!
Experiences and top things to do in Abu Dhabi
Desert safari, dune bashing, and a feast with belly dancing
One of the fun things to do in Abu Dhabi that I did during one of my visits is going on a desert safari. We booked through a local travel company my sister found but you can also book it through here if you prefer to purchase the tour beforehand, they have the same activities as what we did in the tour I participated in. On a personal note, the desert safari is indeed one of the best activities in Abu Dhabi or U.A.E one must participate in, so spare a full-day for this as it will take most of your afternoon and evening.
With that said, what are the things you’ll experience in a desert safari you may ask? The basics include these activities:
- Hotel pick up and drop off
- Dune bashing with a 4-wheel drive
- Camel farm visit
- Camel riding
- Desert camping
- Emirati style feast
- Henna tattoo
- Belly dancing show
- And much more depending on the tour you book!
Apart from all these, they also offered us sand boarding and 4x4 motorbikes to ride around the desert camp. Plus, they had amazing tea and coffee section where they also offered local sweets and delicious local dates! So, all in all, our experience was great and I can’t recommend enough to everyone!
Dune bashing is one of the most interesting and thrilling experience we had and it was exhilarating! It almost feels like you’re riding a roller coaster so if you’re an adventure junkie, this is indeed for you. The food was good, as well, but they weren’t vegetarian-friendly (if you’re one). So make sure you mention your dietary needs for them to meet before you start your Desert Safari Abu Dhabi tour.
Enjoy the warm weather at Corniche Beach
If you’re like me who takes pleasure on escaping the wrath of cold and harsh winters of the north, then you and I can be best friends and travel to Abu Dhabi together and enjoy the sun as it touches your skin and warms your heart. Corniche beach is a long stretch of white sand surrounded by palm trees and the water is clear and blue as the sky. Pretty much what you covet for a beach getaway, really.
Or, go to Saadiyat Island for a luxurious retreat
On an alternative note, Saadiyat Island is not far from Abu Dhabi proper and can be easily reached by taxi without the hefty price. That said, you’ll find a couple of 5-star hotels such as the Saadiyat Beach Club and Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi to lounge around sipping cocktails while overlooking a beautiful view of the beach with a serene atmosphere.
Other than this, Saadiyat also has a public beach you can relax and enjoy the warm weather or dip in the beautiful clear blue Arabian sea. However, if you’re not feeling the beach bum devotion at the moment, there are also other things to do in Saadiyat Island that may interest you! Do you know that U.A.E have their own The Lourve (yes, like the one in Paris)? That might be worth a visit! If not, Zayed National Museum is not far to get in touch and get to know the history and culture of Abu Dhabi and U.A.E.
If you like shopping, Marina Mall is your best friend
I’ll start with a rather interesting fact on this section of this “things to do in Abu Dhabi” blog post by saying that everything you buy in U.A.E is tax-free. Yes, you read that right – tax-free. This is perhaps one of the reasons why they are feeding the consumers all the things they don’t need by building glamorous malls around the country not just to cool down from the heat but also to window shop or shop till you drop.
Plus, malls are open until 2 AM. I can’t even blame jet lag as to why I have to go to the mall at midnight just to buy a package of chips only to come back with a bundle of bags. If I would be sleepwalking, I would literally be bankrupt right now.
Top Landmarks and attractions in Abu Dhabi
Visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque’s fine architecture
If you’re interested in glamorously made structures then you must visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the top places to visit in Abu Dhabi! Named after the former Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, this mosque serves as the key site for worshiping of the whole U.A.E and despite its well-thought architecture and its popularity amongst Abu Dhabi tourist attractions – do not forget that it is still a place of religion, so please respect the premises before you snap photographs.
Also, you’re required to rent a Burka (for the ladies) and men should wear decent clothing that covers your shoulders and legs, plus forget about flipflops – please, wear shoes! Because let’s face it, flipflops belong in the beach.
That said, the Grand Mosque is about 20 minutes taxi ride from the city so reserve about 2-3 hours to see this place. Don’t get me wrong, it will take you literally only one hour to see the whole mosque but sometimes the queue to rent and give back the Burka will take you a long time. It might be worth to come early if you don’t wish to wait in line for a long time! Also, don’t forget your credentials such as drivers license or passport because you’ll need that in order rent the Burka.
Check out Emirates Palace – a 5-star hotel!
Now, are you interested to take a glimpse at one of the world’s most luxurious hotel? Because it is absolutely possible, you know! Emirates Palace is one of Abu Dhabi attractions and must-visit places to see in Abu Dhabi that will make you say wow. At least that did it for me.
Designed by Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo flourished to reflect the Arabian desert without forgetting the roots of the land it stands – Emirates Palace is indeed one of the modern architecture that shouts for a reason to be noticed. Also, you’ll find a gold vending machine inside. And a dome lined with wait-for-it-because-why-not, gold. Yes, it is a 5-star hotel that is indeed over the top.
I personally never stayed in this place because ahem, I’m just a commoner with average salary who recycle olive jars. But hey, who knows, maybe you can afford to stay here and if you can – book it here. However, if you do ask me if I do want to stay here one day, but why of course! The luxuries come in different form and if I’d have thousands of bucks to pay for a night stay and a few other thousand for shopping, you bet your bottoms I’ll stay here. And shop things I don’t need till I drop.
I mean, come one, Emirates Palace is just the best place to stay in Abu Dhabi (if you got the dough, of course)! Otherwise, if you’re like me who enjoys looking at pretty things, just come for a visit and have a cup of tea or coffee at the cafe lounge. You’re still basically at a 5-star hotel, people don’t need to know if you’re a guest or whatever.
See the past at Heritage Village
If there’s a place to visit in Abu Dhabi you must not miss, it has to be the Heritage Village as will show you U.A.E’s humble beginnings to riches. If you don’t know, it hasn’t been fifty years since the British discovered oil in this once mostly desert-covered country and it is impressive how they built everything from nothing to luxury paradise.
At Heritage Village, you’ll see and learn about the culture, traditions, and history of U.A.E and as well their relationship with other countries. I personally think that discovering how they used to live their life such as herding camels and how they use their natural resources to survive is fascinating. It is a small place tho so it is the perfect Abu Dhabi day trip activity if you’re visiting from Dubai.
Buy gold at Madinat Zayed
If you’re living in Abu Dhabi for so long just like my sister’s expat family (for over a decade now) then you certainly know the importance of gold in the locals culture. You’ll notice that a lot of people carry at least one gold jewelry on them and this doesn’t exactly mean that your social status is any better but it’s just that gold is relatively affordable in U.A.E. However, they do still go by the international gold rate but bargaining is always possible to get the price down.
That said, don’t just barge in thinking you can bargain your way down because trust me, even my sister who has been living in Abu Dhabi for so long don’t win over these sellers. And she’s a seller’s worse nightmare – I mean, she knows how to bargain. I really hope she doesn’t read this.
But if you’re interested in browsing around looking at pretty gold necklaces as thick as your finger, then feel free to visit Madinat Zayed – it is pretty much like a Souk but fancier and the place where they sell quality gold.
What to eat and restaurants in Abu Dhabi to try
Try out some local delicacies
After visiting all Abu Dhabi attractions and immersing yourself in their old and modern culture, I’m sure you’ll be famished! I suggest testing out some Emirati’s local cuisine and drown on its rich Arabian flavors and aroma and while you’re at it, maybe some camel milk for refreshments? If you’re lactose intolerant this could be an adventure for you.
Emirati’s local cuisine composes of seafood, meat, dairy and a lot of spices much like what the middle east is known for. They use a lot of cinnamon, turmeric, saffron, nuts, and different dried fruits to incorporate in their cookings, that is, of course, thanks to their culture in trading with other countries – they had the opportunity to enjoy spices from different parts of Asia but most notably the ones from India.
You can check out this post by Visit Abu Dhabi for more information regarding which restaurants to seek after if you want to taste the local delicacies, click here.
Have a delicious (seafood) brunch
When I asked my sister about what to do in Abu Dhabi, she won’t shut up about seafood brunches – she loves seafood, brunch, and unlimited cocktail bar and this is how you can tell we are family. Unfortunately, the last time I was there I didn’t get the opportunity to eat at one but she and her husband often go for a brunch at least two to three times a month. They have three active kids, they deserve these brunch outs.
Anyways, these brunch outs are often during the weekends (Thursday to Saturday) and they do fill up fast so if you’re interested in taking yourself for a lovely mid-day treat after all the Abu Dhabi sightseeing you’ve done during the week then you must book a table stat! You can ask your hotel’s front desk to do this for you.
Here are the restaurants my sister recommend for you guys to try:
- Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort at Corniche Beach have seafood nights at their restaurant called Flavours every Wednesday evenings. Reservation beforehand is needed.
- Intercontinental Abu Dhabi Hotel has seafood nights every Thursdays at their restaurant called Selections. Reservation is needed and dress casual smartly, or so they say.
Have extra time? Look at these day trips from Abu Dhabi!
Visit Dubai for a day
Abu Dhabi points of interest, Dubai is only about two hours away and is the perfect day trip from Abu Dhabi and vice versa. I do suggest to see the sister city for more than few hours though since there’s a lot of things to do in Dubai that might take you more than a day to see.
Here are the things you can see in Dubai for the day:
- Burj Khalifa
- Burj Al Arab
- The Dubai Mall (where you can also watch the dancing fountain at night)
- Palm Jumeirah
- Emirates Tower
And so much more if you stay longer than a day trip. Nevertheless, the option is out there to see the highlights so at least don’t just let it slide off your itinerary. But then again, if you do let it slide, you just have more reason to come back for some luxurious holidays in Dubai for your next trip!
Practical information and Abu Dhabi travel tips
Things to remember before you visit Abu Dhabi
- Wear appropriate and decent clothing.
- If you and your partner are not married, don’t show public display of affection – think about Samantha in Sex and the City when she got in jail because of sex on the beach.
- If you are married, make sure to bring a copy of your marriage certificate.
- United Arab of Emirates main religion is Islam and although it is an open country who accepts all nationalities and faiths – you must bear in mind to be respectful of their beliefs.
- Alcohol is prohibited in public, and you can acquire this mostly in hotels only.
- You’ll need a standard UAE alcohol license to purchase alcohol in designated liquor shops which you’ll likely to find anyways; they are hidden.
- You can’t drink beer on beaches but you can if there’s a bar.
- But you can only drink alcohol in the bar located on the beach.
- Restaurants outside the hotel do not serve alcohol!
- You won’t get proper bacon in your hotel’s breakfast buffet. Sorry. But you’ll get beef bacon which is not the same at all.
- Locals, Pakistani, and Indian men hold hands in public. Don’t stare at them as this is a regular thing! This shows that they are with friends.
- You can’t take a photo of local women and to identify them; they are usually wearing burkas that only shows the eyes. I mean, don’t take a picture of strangers in general without their permission, that’s rude.
- They spit a lot. Again, absolutely normal.
- Malls are open until 2 AM, so if you have a jet lag, you know exactly what to do.
When is the best time to visit Abu Dhabi?
As I’ve mentioned above, U.A.E practices Islam as their main religion thus say hello to Ramadan – Muslim’s holy month where they pray and fast for 30 days straight. That said, this also means one thing: the city will be somewhat dead. Muslims will be praying at least five times a day and there are only specific times they can eat and that is usually after sundown and before sunrise.
What is it for you?
Well, not only the whole country will be preoccupied practicing their religious culture but you might encounter some certain challenges whilst travel around Abu Dhabi such as the closing of the shops during the day and only to open their doors again when the sunset till midnight.
When do they celebrate Ramadan?
Usually, it is from April to May or May to June (check before you book anything!) and they finish the end of Ramadan with a three-day feast called Eid Al Fitr.
Otherwise, U.A.E, in general, is a great place to visit all year round! The weather is always great, hot during the day and chilly in the evenings and there’s a lot of things to do in Abu Dhabi on many occasions. I just highly suggest avoiding the Ramadan season unless you’re a practicing Muslim, as well because otherwise, it is not easy to understand their time schedule.
How is Abu Dhabi weather like?
On the contrary of the popular belief that because Abu Dhabi is in the middle east and is boasting with beautiful desserts as far as the eye can see that it must be scorching hot all day, every day. Well, they are not wrong yet they are not right either. Yes, it gets over 40°C (104°F) during the day but since Abu Dhabi is in a desert and as we learned from Science class (actually I Google it) that sand cannot hold heat thus at night it is chilly because the presence of heat is gone aka there’s no sun.
That said, at its lowest, the weather around December till March, the temperature during the day is between 24-29°C (75°F to 84°F) making this time of the year the coldest months. On the other hand, between April to November, the Abu Dhabi temperature can be between 31°C to 42°C (88°F to 108°F) making this time of the year the summer period.
Do you need a visa for UAE?
There are 42 countries that don’t need a visa prior entry to UAE and if you’re part of EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland – you can enter the country with only your passport and stay for 90 days within 180 days period. UAE also have a freedom of movement alliance with countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia that enables its citizens to travel with just a valid ID (but double check this prior your visit to UAE).
Other than this, countries such as Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Monetengro, and Seychelles passport holders can also enter UAE just with their passports and stay for 90 days while same rules apply for passport holders from countries such as China, Japan and Ukraine can only stay for 30 days.
If your country isn’t mentioned above, you’ll need to apply for a visa before visiting and you can find our useful guide on how to apply for a visa for UAE that will guide you step-by-step.
Where to book your flights to Abu Dhabi?
Check our handy-dandy guide on how to find the cheapest flights around the world – read it here.
Do you need an insurance?
Remember this: anything can happen! Read our take on why you need a travel insurance and how it can save you money when things go unplanned – read it here.
Where to stay in Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi have so many hotels you can stay at and we have compiled the best design and luxury hotels we recommend staying to take advantage during your holiday – you can read it here. If you’re in a hurry, here are the top three we mentioned on the list: YAS Viceroy Abu Dhabi, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, and Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort. On average, price per night in a luxury design hotel in Abu Dhabi will cost you roughly about €150.
If you’re on the budgeted side, no worries! Although UAE is known for its luxury hotels, there are also affordable accommodations to stay at and we recommend either staying in budget hotels (3-stars minimum), in a nutshell, here’re our recommendations: Centro Yas Island-by Rotana, Centro Al Manhal by Rotana, and Centro Capital Centre by Rotana. On average, price per night in a hostel in Abu Dhabi will cost you about €60.
How save money sightseeing Abu Dhabi?
If there’s one thing you need to know about the attractions in Abu Dhabi is that they are not walking distance. In fact, Abu Dhabi, in general, is not a walkable city (note: the heat can be overwhelming). However, it doesn’t mean you’ll miss all things to see in Abu Dhabi in two or three days! This is why there’s an Abu Dhabi City Pass you can buy that will take you to all key tourist attractions in Abu Dhabi and as well get on board to some interesting tours around the city. This ticket will cost you about €58 and will take you to all attractions. Note, however, that paid entrances may not be included in some attractions so check this beforehand!
What to see in Abu Dhabi? Short on time? Go on a tour in Abu Dhabi!
Here are our top things to see in Abu Dhabi:
What to wear in Abu Dhabi?
U.A.E is not exactly strict on dress code, but it is encouraged that you wear decent clothing that doesn’t reveal too much. Here are few things to remember:
- Make sure that your shoulders and most of your legs are covered.
- Shorts are fine but make sure they are not too short that everytime you walk passersby can see your soul.
- Tank tops are fine also but make sure it doesn’t reveal too much. By too much, I meant the honkers.
They are more forgiving to men than it is to women which is unfair of course but understandable at the same time. That said, there are still things you should keep in mind:
- Don’t go topless in public.
- Don’t wear too short shorts (I mean, come on, do they even sell these?)
- Tank tops are fine but make sure it is decent and does not have vulgar images.
- Don’t wear socks and sandals at the same time.
Okay, just kidding on the last one. Or am I?
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- Have you been to Abu Dhabi?
- If yes, which ones of these things to do in Abu Dhabi you enjoyed most?
- If not, would you be interested on visiting one day?
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