Our 24 Favorite Things to Do in Abu Dhabi
Updated: May 1
Our top picks on things to do in the UAE's charming capital of Abu Dhabi.
Giulia and I could not possibly run this blog without including a few posts on Abu Dhabi, which is a city that has had a special role in shaping us both throughout our university journey (see more in the Mission page). In this post, we summarize some of the favorite things we have done in the UAE's capital as well as activities we look forward to trying out.
Sightseeing in Abu Dhabi:
1. Start by visiting Qasr Al Watan, the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi. While occasionally closed for official State visits, the Palace is generally open to the public. We were amazed by the lavish architecture, the likes of which are hard to find anywhere else. Make sure you wear something appropriate that covers both the knees and shoulders - Giulia once had to walk around the Palace wrapped in a golden scarf as her dress was right above the knees...so close, so close.
2. Once done visiting the Palace, stop by the Observation Deck at 300 at Etihad Towers (opposite Qasr Al Watan) for an afternoon tea. This is one of the tallest spots in Abu Dhabi and great to get a view of the whole city while having a fancy afternoon snack.
3. Talking about fancy snacks, as an alternative, try out the gold ice cream also not far away at Emirates Palace, the world's only 8-star hotel. With 40 AED you will get a 23 carat edible gold-sprinkled camel-milk ice cream. Cool, right? Frankly speaking, we have eaten tastier ice creams in our lives, but the experience is worth it. There is also a famous ATM that dispenses gold bars inside the Palace.
4. No visit to Abu Dhabi is complete without stopping by the iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the country and an astonishing architectural landmark. Entrance to the Mosque is free and opening times are regularly between 9:00 AM - 10:00 PM Saturday - Thursday and 4:30 PM to 10:00 PM on Fridays, though these change during Ramadan. To truly appreciate its beauty, we suggest you to take the free guided tour where you will learn more about the world's largest carpet made by Iran's Carpet Company in the main prayer hall, the chandeliers incorporating millions of Swarovski crystals, and the floral design marble courtyard (also the largest example of marble mosaic in the world). Make sure to review the strict dress code before visiting - as with most places of worship, you will need to wear modest and appropriate attire. Women are also required to wear an abaya and a headscarf covering the head.
5. We already touched upon Qasr Al Hosn and the Louvre Museum in our last post on Cultural Activities to Try in the UAE. Pro Tip: you can also schedule a spectacular kayaking trip around the Louvre at sunset.
Outdoors Activities in Abu Dhabi:
6. Go for a long stroll by the Corniche, running through all of Abu Dhabi's central area. You can also rent a bike or go skate-boarding on this promenade. This was one of our main go-to places all throughout Uni.
7. Something we really look forward to trying out but have not yet been able to - go for a walk at the Mangroves on Jubail Island. The park closes at 6pm and it takes approximately an hour to complete a full lap. We will keep you posted on our thoughts once we have been able to visit!
8. Abu Dhabi hosts a variety of theme parks, including Warner Bros or Yas Waterworld or Ferrari World (famous for the world's fastest rollercoaster with a speed of 0 to 240 km/h in 4.9 seconds). These are very close to Yas Mall, where we often used to go for shopping and movies while living in Abu Dhabi.
9. If you're lucky to visit Abu Dhabi towards end of the year and don't mind spending a little more, try getting tickets to the F1 Grand Prix on Yas Marina Circuit. Make sure to get tickets well in advance though as they tend to sell out quickly. Giulia and I can both attest it is a once in a lifetime experience. There are also concerts organised after the races every day, which usually take place in the du Arena and host major artists like Pink, The Weekend, Travis Scott, and other international celebrities.
10. Yas Marina Circuit is not only a great place for motorsport enthusiasts, but also for cyclers: indeed, you can have fun renting a bike and cycling on the track. Check out the schedule before going, as some days are for ladies only.
11. One of the best parks in Abu Dhabi is the Umm Al Emarat Park, where you can go for a walk on sprawling green spaces and get a breath of fresh air. It's basically an oasis in the city, surrounded by cafés and restaurants (our personal favorites there are SALT for burgers and the Home Bakery for pastries). If you are around towards end of the year, there is also a Ripe Market happening where you can enjoy bites from different food stalls, shopping various items from local designers, fitness activities, and live music.
12. Another personal favourite for myself and Giulia - take a walk on Al Maryah Island Promenade. You can reach out to us offline if curious why ;)
Beaches in Abu Dhabi:
13. When roaming around the city centre, the easiest is to visit one of the public beaches by the Corniche - there are both paid and unpaid options available. Entrance usually costs just 10 AED.
14. However, our favorite public beach that we visited a lot in our Uni years is Saadiyat Island Public Beach. Entry costs 26.25 AED and the water is a lot clearer here than on the Corniche.
15. Saadiyat Beach Club or the Park Hyatt Hotel are great options for a more high end beach club experience. If you are not staying at the hotel, be ready to pay as much as 250 AED for a beach day pass (fees vary based on whether it's weekdays or weekends and season of the year).
16. Another option for a beach day is Al Bateen beach, located on the Western side of the city. There is a public section and also a Ladies' only beach. Besides being a good place to swim, you can also go fishing nearby and rent a kayak or a jetski.
Markets in Abu Dhabi:
17. For a contemporary and upscale interpretation of the souk (market) experience, visit the World Trade Center downtown. Essentially, the World Trade Center is a complex of two skyscrapers with a range of shops going from more traditional sellers to international brands. Architecturally, it is quite different from the other malls that you can find in Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
18. If you are fond of seafood, visit the Mina Fish Market and have lunch at one of the nearby restaurants around the Dhow Harbor for some fresh fish. Here, you can also book a Dhow Cruise at night to enjoy dinner while boating around the area.
Food and Drink Tips:
19. As with every city we visit together, Rene and I go on a quest to find our favorite coffee places. In Abu Dhabi, we are fond of Blacksmith, the trendy coffee shop located by our Uni campus on Saadiyat Island, where we used to meet with friends and spend hours doing our coursework.
20. Another coffee & afternoon favourite place is the Al Ulya Portuguese Flavors Cafe downtown. Run by a Portuguese family, this café is perfect to try delicacies like pastéis de nata (Portuguese custard tarts).
21. When it comes to favourite food places, we could go on forever. Our top choices however are Sontaya on Saadiyat Island and Zuma on Al Maryah Island for romantic dinners and Jones The Grocer downtown for a more causal lunch.
22. When it comes to our favourite drink places, we like the cocktails and the stunning panoramic view of Abu Dhabi that you can get from Ray's Bar, located at the 62nd floor of Jumeirah in Etihad Towers.
Getting to Abu Dhabi and Commuting:
23. If you’re coming from Dubai, you could either drive, take the public bus from Ibn Battuta or Al Ghubaiba Bus Stations to the Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station (which will cost you 25 AED one way), or take a cab for more comfort (will cost you 250-300 AED, depending on traffic and exact locations, and is a bit faster than the bus). Getting around in Abu Dhabi is a bit trickier than Dubai as there is no. metro here - public buses and cabs are your friends. Cabs don’t always accept cards in AD, so take cash with you.
24. On a final note, Abu Dhabi is somewhat more conservative than Dubai and feels quieter. This is the perfect place to have a more relaxing time, and we hope you will enjoy it!
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