Things to do in Abu Dhabi: The 15 Best Places to Visit
Do not miss Abu Dhabi's best attraction sites!
Are you planning on a trip to Abu Dhabi? If you are, I'd say it's a good choice because Abu Dhabi has a lot in store for you.
I recently returned from a week-long trip to Abu Dhabi and believe it is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. That's when I realized Abu Dhabi to be one of the most underrated destinations in the world!
To begin with, you must know Abu Dhabi is one of the United Arab Emirates' seven emirates and is one with the most land area. After my visit to Abu Dhabi, I decided to share my experiences with you to help you make the most out of your trip.
Prior to my visit, I assumed Abu Dhabi to be a typical urban city in the Middle East, but it was more than I expected! Sand dunes, mountains, the ocean, the desert, and wetlands are part of what you'll experience in Abu Dhabi. Here are my recommendations for the best things to do in Abu Dhabi.
Before we dive into the things to do and see in Abu Dhabi, here's a little clarification I'd like to make. People often think Abu Dhabi is either a country or a city in Dubai. However, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are two separate emirates out of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.
Here is my list of the best things to do in Abu Dhabi
Part 1: The best places to visit in the city of Abu Dhabi
Since Abu Dhabi is both a city and a region, I will be discussing both in this article. So, let's begin with the best things to do in Abu Dhabi city. The places listed below are all within city limits, and you can book Uber cabs to get to these locations conveniently.
No. 1: Qasr Al Watan
Located in the city of Abu Dhabi, Qasr Al Watan is the presidential palace of the UAE, and it is also one of the city's newest landmarks. It was constructed in 2017 for official government use but was later declared open to the public in 2019 to give everyone an opportunity to experience its splendor. Qasr Al Watan's architecture is breathtaking! It is definitely worth seeing. You can use this link to reserve a ticket to Qasr Al Watan.
I'd recommend visiting the place later in the evening because there is an incredible light show called the "Palace in Motion" that happens at the palace at 7:15 PM every day. Now that's something that you should not miss!
Tickets for the light show are sold separately from those for the palace. You can use this link to book tickets to the light show.
No. 2: Emirates Palace
Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace is a five-star luxury hotel open to everyone. You don't have to be a guest at the hotel to check it out—anybody is allowed to check this place out for free! The hotel is definitely worth a visit! It has lofty ceilings and gold and marble accents throughout the premises. Also, when you visit the place, don't forget the hotel's extensive gardens—they are not to be missed!
The Emirates Palace offers an array of dining and shopping experiences with several amazing restaurants and shopping stores set within the palace. If you want to feel like you're in one of the most opulent places on the planet, I'd say you should try the 24-karat gold-flecked cappuccino at Le Café!
No. 3 The Founder's Memorial
The Founder's Memorial is a place that honors Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who founded the United Arab Emirates. In 1971, he united the seven emirates to form the UAE. He is also the first president of the country, and his son is now the second president.
At the Founder's Memorial, you can explore the life, legacy, and values of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and also the culture of UAE through the many artworks and stories exhibited. The main focal point of the Founder's Memorial is a monument known as "The Constellation." In order to create the likeness of the late Sheikh, this memorial consists of geometric shapes suspended in the air. The shapes are designed to resemble stars, and combined; they form a constellation of the founding father of the United Arab Emirates. If you can, it's best to go at night when the memorial is lit up; you'll be mesmerized!
No. 4 Cultural Foundation
The Cultural Foundation is the first facility in the United Arab Emirates dedicated to the creation and promotion of Emirati arts and literature. The place was formed by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan in 1971. The Cultural Foundation was declared open to the public in 2018 and can be visited by everyone without having to pay an entrance fee. The place serves many purposes, and I strongly recommend visiting the place, especially if you are someone who loves the Emirati culture and wants to learn more about it.
The Cultural Foundation is known to be the location that's used for community exhibitions, performances, workshops, and other entertaining events. The place houses a 900-seat theatre, an Abu Dhabi Children's Library, and the House of Calligraphy. Additionally, on its premises, you will also find dedicated studio spaces and resources of talented professional artists from across the UAE as an initiative of the Art Residency program.
No. 5 Qasr Al Hosn
Would you like to see Abu Dhabi's oldest stone building? Qasr Al Hosn is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi city and holds the watchtower, the first permanent structure in Abu Dhabi. When the Bani Yas tribe discovered water on the island, which is now Abu Dhabi, they erected Qasr Al Hosn in 1761. The fort was converted into a fortress later and then renovated to house Abu Dhabi's royal family.
You can visit Qasr Al Hosn to discover Abu Dhabi, its history and its transformation from a small village to a contemporary, globalized city. I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing the historic fort that was set against the skyscrapers in the background. It was wonderful to experience both the past and the present set within the same locality. It certainly was a treat to the eyes and the mind!
No. 6 Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is a spectacular art museum found on the Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. In and of itself, the art museum is a masterpiece! This world-class museum, its architecture, and the exhibits inside were certainly among the highlights of my trip to Abu Dhabi. Even if you're not an art museum enthusiast, I think this gallery is undoubtedly worth witnessing.
At the Louvre Abu Dhabi, you can even go kayaking! You can take a tour of the museum by boat, and in doing so, you'll learn more about the museum's architecture from a different perspective.
No. 7 Jubail Mangrove Park
Kayaking in the Jubail Mangrove Park
Jubail Mangrove Park is a very peaceful location and is one of the newest places to visit in Abu Dhabi. When you visit the park, you can take a stroll on the boardwalk and also enjoy the beauty of the mangrove forests. If you want to be a little more adventurous, you can go on a kayak tour through the mangrove swamps.
No. 8 Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is Abu Dhabi's largest mosque and is one of the world's largest! If you are interested in visiting this wonderful place of worship, you can book timed tickets in advance. Once you have visited the location, you are sure to marvel at this architectural masterpiece. This mosque is one-of-a-kind as it combines architectural elements from several Muslim civilizations to commemorate cultural diversity while creating a symbolic safe place for all. The mosque's design is influenced by art and designs from Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, Egypt, and many other Islamic countries in the world.
Before you visit the Grand Mosque, make sure to familiarize yourself with the mosque's dress code and guidelines for visitors well in advance! At the mosque, women are required to wear attire that covers them from head to toe, and nothing too revealing or too tight is permitted. Remember, if you plan to visit a mosque, it is advisable to carry a headscarf and some modest clothing with you.
No. 9 Wahat Al Karama
Wahat Al Karama is located just across the street from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and it serves as a war memorial and memorial monument. It is actually from Wahat Al Karama that one may get the greatest view of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I really recommend watching the sunset from this vantage point and witnessing the mosque's colors change.
No. 10 The National Aquarium
The National Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Middle East and is one of the main attraction sites in Abu Dhabi city. With ten themed zones, 330 different species, and over 46,000 animals, the aquarium is one that's enjoyed by both kids and adults alike. So, make sure to visit the aquarium for one of the most memorable and fun-filled experiences in the Arabian Gulf.
Part 2: The best places to visit outside the city of Abu Dhabi
If you're in Abu Dhabi, make sure you check out these fascinating places outside the city. These sites are located in Al Ain, two hours away from the city of Abu Dhabi. As the founder of the UAE hails from Al Ain, Al Ain holds immense significance to both Abu Dhabi and the UAE. You should consider visiting Al Ain if you want to learn more about Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates' history and culture—I'd certainly recommend it!
No. 11 Jebel Hafit Desert Park
Have you ever heard of glamping in Abu Dhabi? This desert park can be found close to the border of Oman and has a lot of interesting ancient archaeological and historical artefacts in it.
At the Jebel Hafit Desert Park, you can choose from a variety of lodging options, ranging from budget to luxury. During my visit, I stayed in a furnished five-star bubble glamping tent. It was a fantastic experience, and I highly recommend staying here!
At the park, you can also experience a range of other fun activities like hiking, mountain biking, stargazing, dune buggying, and camel trekking! So be sure to make your bookings for these activities to make the most out of your trip to the Jebel Hafit Desert Park.
And oh, my favourites were stargazing and camel trekking!
No. 12 Al Ain Oasis
The Al Ain Oasis is home to more than 147,000 date palms and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can take a scroll through this place and witness the traditional irrigation systems that were used thousands of years ago. These irrigation systems found at the Al Ain Oasis preserve the culture and life of ancient times.
No. 13 Al Ain Palace Museum
The Al Ain Palace Museum is a significant historical site for both Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates. This palace museum was once home to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE's Founding Father. He lived here with his family until the 1960s, before he relocated to Abu Dhabi to become the UAE's first president.
You can visit and explore this palace and the royal family's private residences to learn and observe more about the history of this place and the UAE as a whole. The Al Ain Palace was opened for public viewing as a museum only in 2001 after several restoration projects that were carried out to give the place its original appearance.
No. 14 Al Jahili Fort
The Al Jahili Fort, one of the largest forts in the United Arab Emirates, was built in the late 19th century by the leader of the Bani Yas tribe Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa the First. The place serves as a cultural centre and is a reflection of the significance of Al Ain to Abu Dhabi's rulers and the history of the country. The Al Jahili Fort has become a famous tourist attraction site in Al Ain owing to its cultural value, rotating galleries, and exhibits.
No. 15 Qasr Al Muwaji
Built in the early years of the 20th century, Qasr Al Muwaji or the Muwaiji Fort is yet another important landmark in Al Ain—it is the birthplace of the UAE's current president and has been recognized as a UNESCO site.
The architecture of Qasr Al Muwaji and the numerous exhibits it houses make it a visit-worthy location in Al Ain. I'd definitely recommend visiting this site for its captivating architecture and the historical learning experience it can offer.
Your visit to Qasr Al Muwaji will tell you more about the life of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the United Arab Emirates.