Abu Dhabi, the capital and the second largest city in the United Arab Emirates has now emerged as one of the country's best-value tourist destinations because of its excellent infrastructure and interesting attractions. A city once known for its exhaustive coverage of conventions and exhibitions has gained importance for entertainment and shopping as well. Various areas and islands in Abu Dhabi have been developed to promote tourism. These include the Corniche, Yas and Saadiyat Island, which allow visitors to explore the stunning Arabian Gulf views and wildlife reserves. To provide in-depth information on the various things to do in Abu Dhabi, we have compiled a must visit list of top landmarks, bars and activities.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
(Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque) ( Visit Site )
Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque personifies religious architecture in Abu Dhabi. The largest mosque in the city, it is a key place of worship during Eid when an astonishing 40,000 worshippers gather in the courtyard for prayers. Among its distinctive architectural features is the world's largest carpet, imported 24-carat gold plated chandeliers from Germany made of Swarovski crystals, calligraphy styles on the Qiba wall and unique lighting along the pools arcades. The mosque is open to all religions with complimentary 'walk-in' guided tours available from Saturday to Thursday.
Operated by the Emirates Heritage Club, Heritage Village casts a glance into the bygone traditional Middle Eastern village settled along an oasis. Traditional way of desert life including coffee pots, and tents made of goat's hair, and falaj irrigation system can be observed at this open-air museum. The Village also tries to focus on traditional craft and skills by facilitating live workshops of metalwork, pottery, weaving and spinning. Visitors are encouraged to try their hand at these skills and understand the technique behind them.
The Abu Dhabi Corniche waterfront portrays the many facets of its personality, right from a premium housing location to a lengthy coast of sparkling blue beaches. In the past few years, the area has notably come to the limelight as a high profile entertainment and recreation centre. At one end of the Corniche is the breakwater where many tourists rest and relax on their weekend getaway while the other end boasts of a port and souqs. The Corniche, with lots of green space, international restaurants and elegant walkways welcomes many regular joggers, food aficionados, picnickers and cyclists.
The Emirates Palace is an outstanding luxury hotel and a national landmark of Abu Dhabi. Even though the hotel is owned by the Abu Dhabi government, it is currently managed by the Kempinski Group. Dubbed one of the most expensive hotels in the world, a stay at Emirates Palace is worth a visit for an afternoon tea even if it is unaffordable to stay. One may consider the hotel a mirror image of the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. The hotel features gold plated Swarovski crystal chandeliers, intricate glimmering domes and all the wealth of Abu Dhabi trapped in 302 Grand rooms and 92 magnificent suites.
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Abu Dhabi is a T-shaped island neighboured by almost 200 minor islands, a few of which have been developed for tourism and entertainment purpose. One of them is the Yas Island - home to the Yas Marina Circuit - a cutting-edge F1 motor cross racetrack. It also features attractions like Yas Marina and Abu Dhabi golf course, Warner Bros. Movie World, Ferrari World, Yas Marina Hotel and a water park. This tourist destination is complete with all the amenities and activities, such as hotels, marinas, polo clubs, apartments, villas and food and beverage outlets. The Yas Island is just 30 minutes drive from Abu Dhabi.
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Saadiyat Island ( Visit Site )
Similar to the Yas Island, Saadiyat Island located off the coast of Abu Dhabi, is undergoing remarkable transformation as a tourist destination. The island will serve all, from entrepreneurs to tourists, with its luxury line-up of waterfront residences & hotels, international business hub and beachfront entertainment centres & attractions. It will exclusively feature the Zayed National Museum, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi, a performing arts centre and a maritime museum conceptualized by Pritzker prize winners.
Al Maqtaa Fort & Palace
This 200-year beige coloured fortress, built as a defence against bandits, has all the trappings of traditional Middle Eastern architecture. The fort, once used to keep a close watch on the surrounding area and the waters, is now a well-preserved landmark with a visitor information centre. When visiting do not forget to appreciate the amazing contrast the fort offers to the contemporary Al Maqtaa Bridge. Be careful while clicking photographs since it is a sensitive military zone.
The Women's Handicraft Centre
The Women's Handicraft Centre is a government centre working to promote traditional weaving, embroidery, sewing, basketry items made by Emirati women. Workshops are regularly organized for visitors to demonstrate and display traditional styles of weaving. Here they get to see women artists actually prepare their handicrafts items like Arabian oils, silver thread work and weaving. Photography of women is not allowed without the concerned person's permission. Moreover, it is advisable that tourists concentrate on buying and clicking pictures of items like camel bags, ethnic costumes and other traditional craft items.
Al Bateen Shipyard
Al Bateen Shipyard is an iconic landmark on the coast of Abu Dhabi that illustrates the traditional craft of Arabic boat making. Visitors get to enjoy displays of traditional dhow sailing vessels made by able local artisans. Moreover, Al Bateen Shipyard is one of the few places where dhows are still used to catch fish and prawns from the Gulf. The oldest occupied area of the UAE capital is being developed to include signature waterfront destinations like the Fishermen's Marina and the luxury five-star Al Bateen Wharf Hotel.
Qasr al-Hosn Palace (Royal Palace) ( Wikipedia )
Built in 1761 by the ruling Al-Nahyan family, Qasr al-Hosn is the oldest standing stone building in Abu Dhabi. Also known as 'white fort' due its white walls formed during the early 19th century renovations, it remained the official government seat and royal palace until 1966. The building is presently undergoing restoration and is closed to the public.
Completely submerged in Irish flavour, P.J. O'Reilly's is one of the favourite joints to get hands on true blue bar food. Friday afternoon is an excellent time to visit this place when DJ's play the music of town or better still a football match on weekends with a burger or fish & chips is a great idea as well.
Location: Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa Street, Abu Dhabi
Tel: +971 2 674 2020
Trader Vic's is one of those places where theme plays a large role in attracting crowds. When you have an aesthetic Polynesian décor topped with large cocktail glasses, it is no wonder tourists throng this place to imbibe the exotic atmosphere. Serving heady cocktails with a mixture of glamorous island-style food, the live Cuban band sets the mood for a lively evening.
Address: Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi, Tourist Club Area, Abu Dhabi
Tel: +971 2 697 9000
The Captain's Arms
Captain's Arms location at Le Meridien Abu Dhabi is one of the favourite meeting places of pub goers who like their beers the traditional, English way. With an outdoor seating area overlooking the Centre Garden, the iconic wooden interiors fused with comfy sofas and low-ceiling beams work their way around the hearts of British expats.
Address: Le Meridien Abu Dhabi, Tourist Club Area, Abu Dhabi
Tel: +971 2 644 6666
It is the taste of South America that mesmerizes pub goers at Hemingway's, Hilton Abu Dhabi. Among all the Tex-Mex celebrations happening at lunch and dinner, the guzzlers will find their world inspired by live music from The Newz, and broadcast of sporting events like Premier League and F1.
Address: Hilton Abu Dhabi, Al Khubeirah, Abu Dhabi
Tel: +971 2 681 1900
A classic, award-winning pub at Crowne Plaza, Heroes epitomizes what a bar-pub should be like. Offering a great ambience and an extensive selection of international pub food, Heroes knows how to live it up with pub quizzes, live sports and extended happy hours. The pub may seem to serve regular, classic pub fare but the generous servings of burgers, pies, sandwiches and cheesecakes take it to another level.
Address: Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Hamdan Street, Abu Dhabi
Tel: +971 2 616 6166
A Desert Safari is a must do activity in the land of the Arabs, where the seawaters face up to the might of desert sands. Challenging mountains of sand dunes as you swirl up and down, the adrenalin rushing activity takes place in a four-wheeler or a more sober camel ride. Both rides provide equal thrills but when pooled with true Bedouin-style camping it is a different ball game altogether. If you cannot handle the dune bashing, enjoy other must-do activities like barbecue, falconry demonstration, henna artist, belly dancing and sand boarding. Take your time to decide whether you want to enjoy the soft rays of the morning safari or the cool nights of the evening/overnight safari.
The Corniche is unarguably the most beautiful part of Abu Dhabi; a coastal promenade dotted by twinkling buildings and sandy beaches. The waterfront is impressively decorated with manicured gardens, fountains, entertainment options, state-of-the-art Park and a beach with softer sand. Just come to the Corniche to rest and relax as you watch bicyclers, joggers and the adventurous sea surfers enjoy their day out at the waterfront.
Dhow Cruise ( Visit Site )
Dhow Cruise gives an insight into how Abu Dhabi was before commercialization set in. A trip on a traditional Dhow boat will captivate your senses with various attractions of the city and its skyline. Various Dhow cruise companies organize sunrise and sunset cruises in addition to customized cruises for large parties.
Camel racing is a very prestigious sport for the Arabs and the horse-loving Westerners can identify with the sport since it involves racetracks, farms to train camels and new technologies. Watching the camels gallop at a speed of 20kph/12mph during the camel-racing season is a wonderful sight for the eyes. Visit the Al Wathba Camel Race Track or the Al Maqam Track near Al Ain to enjoy this sport. The rules differ but the fervour is the same.
Falconry - Sport of Kings ( Visit Site )
Falcons were originally used by the Sheikhs as a hunting medium but later on, they assumed the role of a popular sport and status symbol among the ruling class. There are various ways of enjoying the traditional sport of falconry. You can book a tour of the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, the first public falcon hospital in the UAE and the largest falcon hospital in the world. Here visitors are introduced to the history and tradition of falconry in the Middle East as well as they get to see the royal birds for real. In addition, you can visit the Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (ADIHEX), a conglomeration of falconers and hunting and equestrian enthusiasts.
Scuba diving ( Visit Site )
The area around Fujairah and Mussandam, a three-hour drive from Abu Dhabi, is famous for its reefs, wrecks and deep-water trenches. If you are an avid diver who loves to swim amongst attractive marine life, then the Persian Gulf around this area is an excellent topographic point. If you are still unversed with the idea, try joining a diving school.
Al Ain Zoo ( Visit Site )
The Al Ain Zoo and Wildlife Centre is home to more than 4,000 animals, 30% of which are considered to be endangered. Located at Jebel Hafeet, visiting this zoo will keep you in touch with wildlife and nature through various activities comprising of educational centres, park and themed desert safaris. There are special guided programmes for children providing up and close encounters with animals, which includes the indigenous Arabian Oryx and Sand Gazelle. The wildlife area caters to visitors with restaurants, snack kiosks, shops, exhibits and a picnic and playground space.
Yas Links & Marina Circuit
The Yas Links golf course designed by world-renowned architect Kyle Phillips, is a classic golf course on the Yas Island sporting a typical English style golf link. The golf course situated on the west side of the island, features an Andalusian-styled Golf Club, alluring open terraces with sea views, sports lounge and Barranca fine-dining restaurant which opens to two outdoor terraces and a private dining room.
The Yas Marina Circuit designed by Hermann Tilke is a Formula One racetrack situated on the Yas Island. The circuit inaugurated in 2009 hosts the spectacular F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Designed to resemble an Arabian version of Monaco, the motor sports venue boasts of top-notch conference and exhibition venue, a Ferrari theme park, a water park, as well as residential areas, hotels and beaches.
Yas Links ( Visit Site )
Yas Marina Circuit ( Visit Site )
Gold and Carpet Shopping
Visitors would be delighted to known that Abu Dhabi is a "no tax" emirate land, which makes it an obvious safe haven for shopaholics. Abu Dhabi is the trading ground for all crafts and souvenirs arriving from other Mid East countries and Asia. However, if you want to buy something authentic that will remind you good memories then buy Persian carpets from the Carpet Souk at the port end of Mina Road and gold jewellery on 4th Street in Madinat Zayed.
Gold Souk ( Visit Site )
Noukhada Kayaking Tours
Noukhada Kayaking Tours is a tour operator that helps promote eco-tourism in Abu Dhabi through adventure activities like kayaking, sailing, blokarting and trail biking. Their tours include expeditions in the mangroves of Abu Dhabi, island exploring, kayak fishing, sailing, all terrain biking and blokarts. The adventurous ones could test their endurance skills with a kayak challenge to circumnavigate the Yas Island in the fastest time.
Q.1) When is the best time to visit Abu Dhabi?
Ans: Abu Dhabi experiences a cool & temperate climate from December to March when temperatures don’t rise above an average of 22° C. January is the coolest month with an average temperature of 18° C.
Q.2) Abu Dhabi is located in which region of the Gulf?
Ans: Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate and the capital of United Arab Emirates. It is positioned on the north-eastern part of the Persian Gulf in the Arabian Peninsula. Actually Abu Dhabi is an island, 250 meters away from mainland connected by the Maqta and Mussafah Bridges.
Q.3) In which time zone is Abu Dhabi placed? Does it observe daylight saving?
Ans: The UAE standard time zone is UTC +4 i.e. it is 4 hours ahead of GMT. UAE doesn’t observe daylight saving.
Q.4) What is the electric current voltage in Abu Dhabi?
Ans: The electric current voltage in Abu Dhabi is 220/240V at 50 Hz. If one needs to use 110V, 60 Hz, a common practice in US, a transformer (converter) is necessary. Also, since square three-pin sockets are used, an adapter to plug in flat pin appliances is essential. Most hotels will provide you with an adapter.
Q.5) As a Mid East country what is the official language of Abu Dhabi? Will an English speaking tourist face any problems in the city?
Ans: The official language of Abu Dhabi is Arabic, but English is widely spoken and understood by the locals. Besides English and Arabic, many hotels, airlines, restaurants and malls employ staff that is conversant in multiple languages.
Q.6) I am coming to Abu Dhabi with my laptop, do malls and public areas offer wireless internet access?
Ans: Most of the malls, public places, restaurants and hotels offer Wi-Fi access. Otherwise, tourists can check their emails or browse through wired access available at hotel rooms or in internet cafes.
Q.7) If I want to call my family or friends through public pay booths, how efficient are they?
Ans: Public pay phones are available throughout Abu Dhabi where they accept coins of 50 fils and one dirham. Also pre paid phone card are available for Dhs 30 or Dhs 45 at grocery stores, bookshops and Etisalat offices. Phone cards are available for both public phone booth and mobile phones.
Q.8) What is regarded as appropriate dressing for Non-Muslims in Abu Dhabi?
Ans: Abu Dhabi is tolerant towards tourist’s personal style of dressing. However visitors should try and avoid wearing very revealing clothes like shorts, sleeveless tops, short skirts so as to not offend and respect local culture and traditions.
Q.9) In restaurants, what tipping practices are followed?
Ans: Though not required, tipping is commonly practised in Abu Dhabi. Most of the restaurants add 16% service charge to the bill but if they do not do so, 10% of the total bill is expected as gratuities. Hotel porters, helpers at superstores and malls are generally paid a tip of Dhs 2.
Q.10) How safe is Abu Dhabi for tourists?
Ans: Since punishment for crimes in Abu Dhabi is strictly enforced, there are virtually zero crime rates in the city. The emirate is completely safe for tourists who can call the following emergency numbers in distress:
Police: 999 / 02-4461461
Q.11) Do tourists have to follow any restrictions during the month of Ramadan?
Ans: Ramadan is the ninth holy Islamic month when Muslims fast and pray from dawn to dusk. They abstain from food, drinking and smoking and all activities not accepted by Islam. Smoking, eating and drinking in not allowed in public until the fast is broken with an Iftar feast.
Q.12) Is photography restricted in Abu Dhabi?
Ans: There are very few photography restrictions in Abu Dhabi except photos of UAE nationals, Muslim women, military and government buildings are not allowed.
Q.13) What are the visa requirements for UAE?
Ans: Please visit our Visa Requirements page for more details.
Q.14) When I go for shopping, any suggestions on what should I should shop for?
Ans: Abu Dhabi is famous for its gold jewellery, Persian carpets and tax free imported goods. Since sales tax and any other tax are missing on luxury items, shoppers could grab these items at a heavy discount. Also try the local handicrafts and food produces like dates.
Q.15) What are the official working hours in Abu Dhabi?
Ans: Government offices are open from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm – Monday to Thursday while private offices operate from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Some offices have a 3-4 hour break in the afternoon after which they resume work at 4:00 or 5:00 pm until 9:00 pm.
With Abu Dhabi brimming with so many attractions and activities, use of some kind of public transport is essential. While the bus and taxi system is fully competent through a well-networked channel of vehicles, its cars that rule the roads. Moreover, the emirate doesn’t have a rail system plus walking or cycling on the roads in the scorching heat is not possible. Hiring a car and driving around the attractions is a preferred mode by many as it doesn’t bind you within the timetables of government transport system. Car rental company vehicles are the latest & reliable with most offering GPS systems in their cars. Getting around in a car is very easy since the signboards bilingual blue or green signs keep the driver updated on the directions.
The bus system in Abu Dhabi is affordable and easily accessible for any traveller visiting the capital of UAE. Operated by the Department of Transport (DoT), a complex network of bluish, air conditioned buses function around Abu Dhabi city and its suburbs, Al Ain and Madinat Zayed. These handicap friendly means of transport can be accessed from different points of the city, but the main station is on Hazaa Bin Zayed Road. You can catch a bus as well pick up a taxi as the bus stand also serves as a taxi stand for inter emirate taxi services. In Abu Dhabi city, the bus service runs daily between 5:00 AM to midnight and until 2:00 AM on weekends. Passengers can purchase an ‘Ojra’ bus pass classified as one trip ticket, one month pass, senior citizen and special need.
The taxi transportation system in Abu Dhabi is well developed as a result of Centre for Regulation of Transport by Hire Cars (TransAD), the organization who regulates the taxis in the emirate. Travellers will encounter three types of taxis in Abu Dhabi: pink taxis driven by women and specially meant for women and child passengers, gold and white older taxis and silver new taxis. Over a period of time, the silver taxis will scale down the gold and white taxis. The taxis follow a unified metre system, yet there are many who will prefer to decide the fare in advance. Taxis can be hailed from almost any area and at shopping centre taxi stands or booked by calling 600 535353. Inter emirate taxis are available at the main bus station on Hazaa Bin Zayed Road, on the intersection of Al Muroor and Defence road.
There are many car rental companies operating in Abu Dhabi, but it is better to rely on the big ones as their cars are reliable and they offer immediate emergency services. Online booking is a great idea where the car will pick you from the airport, hotel as well drive you to various attractions. Also, rather than driving personally on the congested roads, it’s better to rent a car with a driver. However, if you prefer to drive on your own, then you will need a passport copy, credit card and international driving licence before hiring a vehicle. Furthermore, if you are in Abu Dhabi on a resident visa, then you will need to have a valid UAE driving licence for hiring a car.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of UAE due to which the telecom and networking sector in the emirate is well developed. Travellers in the city can always keep themselves updated through various mediums of communication such as mobile phone, landline phone, newspapers, post, radio and internet. The telecom and internet services across the emirate are provided by The Emirates Telecommunications Company (Etisalat). Etisalat offers various phone services essentially Blackberry, 3G and fixed line services with off-peak hour rates. Internet both fixed and wireless is available across Abu Dhabi and Al Ain in both residences and hotels. Most hotels in Abu Dhabi provide Wi-Fi access areas and conference lounges. Public areas like shopping centres, airports have also started offering Wi-Fi access. One can also visit a nearby internet café to browse the net for a fixed hourly rate.
Emirates Post is the only postal service provider in UAE with 22 offices across the emirate for inter city and international mail and courier services. Post office timings vary as some are open till late in the evening while some close in the afternoon. Hotel desks also aid in post services.
The Abu Dhabi media includes various publishing houses printing both English and Arabic language daily newspapers as well monthly publications. The most famous among them are Gulf News, Khaleej Times and Al Ittihad. Foreign newspapers are also available in Abu Dhabi.