When it comes to traditional Arab hospitality, luxury and culture – no one does it better than Abu Dhabi. The capital of the UAE has a whole different vibe from Dubai and is the best place to truly feel the essence of the UAE. We may live in Dubai, but we LOVE this city. That’s why we’ve put together a list of our must-see places to visit in Abu Dhabi.
A lot of these are tourist spots in Abu Dhabi so do be sure to check in advance and make your bookings, you don’t want to miss these.
1. Qasr Al Watan
If you’ve ever wondered what living like the Sheikhs is like, look no further than Qasr Al Watan – the presidential palace of Abu Dhabi. It’s a working palace, which means it is still in use as a meeting place for high profile government gatherings. As you drive up to the palace, you’ll see it across the water glowing in its traditional Arabic architecture.
You can explore the luxurious palace, its grounds and trace the history of trade in the country. To end your tour, you MUST wait for the Palace in Motion light and sound display. It tells the story of the UAE in three acts that unfold on the walls of the palace. The show takes place 30 minutes after sundown, with the final entry 30 minutes before showtime – so remember to be on time.
2. Abu Dhabi National Aquarium
The National Aquarium Abu Dhabi is the largest aquarium in the Middle East. It houses 46,000 animals across 10 interactive and creatively designed zones. You can get up close and personal with more than 200 sharks and rays, aquatic life from all over the earth and even the world’s biggest snake – the Super Snake. The aquarium is so well designed, with interactive artwork and living exhibitions – it’s hard to not be amazed.
All of the animals are taken care of by a team of 80 experts. The aquarium is located in Al Qana, an iconic tourist and lifestyle destination which has everything one would need to work, live and play.
3. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
You’ve definitely seen pictures of this mosque and it features of every list of the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest in Abu Dhabi, and one of the grandest mosques in the whole world.
The mosque welcomes thousands of visitors from all faiths and cultures, and worshippers who come to revel in its glory and peace. It’s one of the first buildings you’ll see as you drive into the city from Abu Dhabi International Airport – its white marble architecture is truly unmissable.
If that wasn’t enough, the interiors of the mosque are done in Turkish or Moroccan style with gold glass mosaics, etching and beautiful gold leaf quotes covering the mosque.
BONUS: If you’re looking to enhance the cultural immersion on your trip, don’t miss Qasr Al Hosn. Located inside the city , this is a well preserved fort that houses a museum and live shows all throughout winter.
4. Ferrari World
Located on Yas Island, Ferrari World is the first Ferrari-branded theme park in the world, and the home of the world’s fastest roller coaster. There’s no way you can visit Abu Dhabi and not visit the iconic red dome of Ferrari World. To one side, you’ll see the city’s own Formula 1 circuit – the Yas Marina Circuit.
Besides the world’s fastest roller coaster giving you a taste of the adrenaline of a Formula 1 car, there are also numerous other high-adrenaline rides featuring the world’s fastest rollercoaster, family-friendly attractions, the latest simulators, live shows and a racing hall of fame. It is also home to amazing Italian restaurants to really give you a feel of Ferrari.
5. Yas Marina Circuit
Speaking of Yas Island… The whole island itself is a treat. Featuring amazing entertainment, some of the best restaurants, clear and still waters for amazing watersports and even a few theme parks, and an upcoming SeaWorld.
You may know that Abu Dhabi host the season finale of the Formula 1 season every year. The Yas Marina Circuit is the home of the iconic Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The capital first hosted the race in 2009 and has been on the calendar every year since – including the disrupted 2020 season. You can experience the circuit yourself through adrenaline-fuelled experiences that let you drive, drift, drag, kart, ride or tour around the circuit. You can experience the thrill of driving an F3 car yourself or even try out the latest electric Porsche around the track.
6. The Louvre
Yup, THAT Louvre. The one in Paris.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first and only Louvre outside of France, and its every bit as impressive as the original. The Louvre Abu Dhabi was opened in 2017. And though the museum houses a rich and beautifully detailed curation in its permanent collection, and rolling exhibitions – the most iconic part of the museum – is the architecture.
The metal wired dome designed by Jean Nouvel has now become one of Abu Dhabi’s best Instagram spots – offering an enthralling background to anyone who tries to take a photo. At 8,000 square metres, it is also the largest art museum in the Arabian peninsula.
You don’t want to miss this one. It’s worth it! There’s no question why it’s one of the most famous places in Abu Dhabi.
7. Jubail Mangrove Park
Whoever said that the UAE’s only natural landscape was the desert was sorely mistaken. Case in point: Jubail Mangrove Park – the first educational, nature and leisure destination in ABu Dhabi that focuses on ecological preservation.
Mangroves are notorious for being home to some of the most diverse species in the world and the Jubail Mangroves are no different. You can catch a whole host of wildlife and aquatic life milling around the trees.
There are a few ways to experience it – our favorites are either to walk the whole of the footbridge to catch the best views of the mangroves, or take an early morning Kayaking ride to experience it up close and personal. The Jubail Mangroves aim to raise awareness, appreciation and understanding of the important ecological function of the mangrove habitats, protect the Abu Dhabi Coastline and support biodiversity.
8. Emirates Palace Hotel
By now, the Emirates Palace Hotel has been featured in so many movies – its no longer a surprise. But it is STILL worth the visit on your trip to Abu Dhabi. Simply put, this hotel is the epitome of luxury in Abu Dhabi. It’s Arab hospitality at its finest.
While the stunning luxury resort rooms are amazing and even offer 24-hour butler service – you don’t have to stay here to experience the hotel. One of the most popular things to do, is to have a High Tea at the hotel, which is a truly luxurious experience in itself. You can also taste the luxury by trying out a gold leaf latte or ice cream with real gold on it. Or take it up further and buy your next investment piece from the Gold ATM.
Since it is a resort with a lovely beach, you can also experience great watersports like flyboarding, kayaking, doughnuts, jet skiing, and windsurfing. The hotel even offers camel rides along the beach.
Fun fact: The Emirates Palace Hotel was made to mirror Qasr Al Watan across the water.
9. Fossil Dunes, Al Wathba
Al Wathba Fossil Dunes Protected Area is made up of over 1,700 fossil dunes, spread over 7 square kilometres. If you’re unfamiliar with fossil dunes – it’s essentially a hardened dune created by thousands of years of sand blown about and settling. This, when mixed with calcium carbonate starts to harden and forms abstract structures. The Al Wathba Fossil Dunes are the largest collection of these dunes in the Emirate.
It is estimated that the age of fossil formations is over four million years. In the area, you can enjoy the dunes, walk along well-lit trails to explore them, and take a break with regular rest points along the way. It’s like a scene out of a space movie – don’t miss this when you visit Abu Dhabi!
10. Day trip to Al Ain
Al Ain is often thought of as another Emirate, but it’s a beautiful city within Abu Dhabi. A short trip away through the desert will bring you to the “Garden City” of Al Ain. Al Ain was the original home of the founding father of the UAE – the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. And to date, the city has maintained its traditional charm all around.
To one side you’ll see the Hajar Mountains, where you can easily drive up to the top of the highest mountain – Jabal Hafeet. You can admire the whole city from this vantage point. You can also trace the city’s history at Al Ain National Museum, visit the Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum, and even watch the irrigation process for the city’s date palms. As a cultural hub, Al Ain allows you a look into traditional life at the markets and camel race circuit.
But our favorite thing to do in Al Ain is to visit the natural hot springs! You can dip your feet in the relaxing warm flowing water or even take a dip in a pool filled by the natural hot spring. It’s like a relaxing spa treatment – but its completely free!
So if you’ve ever been considering Abu Dhabi and wondering what places to visit in the Emirate – this list could be a great starting point to discovering this amazing city. We love Abu Dhabi, and we’re sure that by the time you’re halfway through this list of the best spots in Abu Dhabi – you will love it too!