Abu Dhabi is the federal capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where the government and many oil companies and embassies are located. The city is also the capital of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The emirate is by far the largest in the UAE. It is particularly known among motor racing enthusiasts for the F1 circuit on Yas Island.
Even more than the nearby city of Dubai, Abu Dhabi has large gardens, parks and green boulevards but also stylishly designed (tall) buildings and (international) luxury hotel chains. We think the city is a bit more Arabic than Dubai where the majority of the inhabitants come from countries like India.
Just like many other tourists we visited Abu Dhabi from Dubai. By taxi you can get there in an hour to an hour and a half. Nowadays, however, more and more Western Europeans fly directly to Abu Dhabi. They stay there in the city or go on a trip to Dubai.
Our top 10 places of interest in Abu Dhabi
In general, Abu Dhabi offers few real historical or cultural sights. Yet there is plenty to see and experience. And the great thing is that many of the sights are free.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi is the largest mosque in the UAE and the 6th largest in the world. Apart from the extraordinarily beautiful Mongolian and Moorish design of the mosque, the great thing is that you can also enter it as a non-Muslim.
The mosque has room for no fewer than 40,000 visitors. The largest prayer hall can accommodate 9,000 people. There are four minarets, each 107 metres high. In addition, there are more than 80 white marble domes above both the outdoor garden and the main building.
On both the north and south side you can enter for free. There is a dress code. This is quite strict for women and a little less so for men. At the entrance on the south side you can borrow appropriate clothing.
The mosque is open to visitors every day from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., except during morning prayers on Fridays. From 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. there are guided tours in English every hour. By the way, we did not make use of these ourselves. The visit to the mosque was an absolute highlight of our visit to the capital of the UAE.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
In November 2017, after ten years of construction, the Louvre of Abu Dhabi was inaugurated. It is said that a billion euros were paid just to carry the name of the museum of the same name in Paris. But the end result is definitely worth it. The truly fantastically designed, universal museum on the island of Saadiyat, connects the Eastern and Western worlds in a unique way.
300 works of art have been borrowed from the mother museum in Paris. Various other masterpieces, including works by Mondriaan, Gauguin, Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent van Gogh, have been purchased by the museum itself. But even if you’re not a big art lover, the Louvre in the UAE is more than worth a visit because of its special architecture.
If you are a car enthusiast and can enjoy old and new models of Ferrari, a visit to Ferrari World on the island of Yas during your city trip to Abu Dhabi should not be missing. There is a kind of small museum and shop where you can get various branded items such as model cars and clothing. You can do various activities there too, for example, you can drive around the island of Yas in a real Ferrari under the guidance of an instructor. In addition, you can virtually race in a simulator or in real life by karting.
What most visitors go to, however, is the indoor amusement park. Here you have twenty attractions where speed devils and fans of motor racing can get their adrenaline rush. One of the attractions is the ‘Formula Rossa’, the fastest roller coaster in the world at 150 miles per hour.
What the Burj Al Arab is to Dubai, the Emirates Palace is more or less to Abu Dhabi. The Emirates Palace is situated in a beautiful, natural bay with its own private beach and marina.
The hotel with its beautiful, Arabic interior is partially open to the public. Go there late afternoon to see the splendour of the hotel both in daylight and in the dark (beautifully illuminated!). Recommended: order a cappuccino with gold leaf or a ‘camelcino’: a cappuccino with milk from a camel.
Observation deck restaurant Al Etihad towers
For fantastic views of Abu Dhabi, the Emirates Palace and the Emir’s Palace, head to the observation deck of the highest tower of the five Etihad Towers. The 360-degree viewpoint is located on the 74th floor of the 305-metre-high tower. The observation deck itself is 300 metres high.
In the tower, which by the way is known worldwide from the movie Fast and Furious 7, you can also eat delicious food. There are also several places to lounge and there are several bars.
Although we are not real shoppers ourselves, a visit to the Yas Mall, if you are on the island of Yas, is definitely worth it. The Mall is the largest shopping centre on the island with over 230 thousand square metres.
Apart from the hundreds of shops you will find many forms of entertainment. For example, there is a cinema with 20 theatres where you can even enjoy a luxurious dinner prepared by a chef with a Michelin star during the film! Next to the shopping centre there is also the Yas Waterworld where the real water enthusiasts among us will surely have fun.
Yas Marina Circuit
The Yas Marina Circuit is the Formula 1 circuit of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, located on the island of Yas. Traditionally, the last race of the season is held on this circuit every year. Unfortunately, we have never experienced the free practice, the qualifying races or the race itself. Fortunately however, the circuit also has a lot to offer outside the three days in November.
For instance, you can cycle on the track recreationally in the evenings! And during the day you can race around the track with various sporty cars, including a Chevrolet Camaro, an Aston Martin and some Mercedes models.
In the Viceroy hotel, located directly on the track, you can not only stay overnight, but you can also have lunch with a fantastic view of the track and the nearby marina.
Al Hudayriat beach
If Abu Dhabi’s bustling city life with its abundance of luxury and pricey activities gets you too much, the recently opened beach of Al Hudayriat offers a welcome oasis of tranquillity. From the bridge in particular you have a beautiful view of the sea and the nearby islands. The surroundings are perfect for ‘relaxing’ cycling or swimming or also, for doing nothing for a while. Entrance is free.
Kayaking through the Abu Dhabi mangroves
If you’re looking for a little more adventure and action out of town, consider kayaking in the mangroves of Abu Dhabi instead of a desert safari. In the beautiful Eastern Mangrove Lagoon National Park, you can do fantastic tours through the rugged nature of the UAE.
Although you can, as an experienced kayaker, rent a kayak to explore the mangroves on your own, a tour of about an hour and a half is recommended. The guide knows his way around the natural maze and can also tell you a lot about the unique ecosystem.
There are several providers of tours through the mangroves. One of them is the Al Mahara Diving Center. This organisation offers various options, such as kayaking at sunset when it is cooler, at full moon, etc. Noukhada Adventure Company offers similar tours.
Day trip from Abu Dhabi or Dubai to Al Ain
On the caravan route from the UAE to neighbouring Oman lies Al Ain, the second city of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The city is one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world.
In 2011, several locations in Al Ain were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. These are the six beautiful oases of Al Ain where you can stroll in the shade of the palm trees. You can also visit the archaeological sites of Bida bint Saud, Jebel Hafeet and Hili. These sites still bear witness to the first permanent habitation of desert areas since the Neolithic period (new stone age). You can still find remains of many prehistoric cultures.
The cultural sites can be visited free of charge. The easiest way to get there is by bus from Abu Dhabi bus station. You see a lot of the interesting desert landscape. Once in Al Ain it is best to take a taxi to go to the various sites.
Practical matters for a city break to Abu Dhabi
Hotels in Abu Dhabi were a lot cheaper than those in Dubai for a long time. This is no longer the case. However, the hotels are now of good quality and offer excellent restaurants, swimming pools and other luxury hotel facilities. The offer of hotels in Abu Dhabi is a lot less than in Dubai but still more than enough…
Getting to/from and around the city
There are many ways to get to Abu Dhabi. The most obvious is a direct flight at the emirate’s international airport. Furthermore, many travellers enter the city via Dubai.
From the airport you can take a well-priced taxi to the city. It takes 30 to 35 minutes. Another option is the bus. Travel time to the city centre is 40 minutes.
For the return journey to the airport it is best to check your luggage in at the airport’s city terminal, located in the centre of Abu Dhabi. From here a shuttle bus goes to the airport. By the way, many hotels also offer a bus service to the airport.
Within the city itself, taxis are the best or most comfortable option to get around. Another possibility is by bus. Furthermore, the hop-on hop-off bus is an excellent transport option. However, it runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the latest.