When visiting the United Arab Emirates, you might be tempted to head straight for the bright lights of Dubai, but hold your Arabian horses, why not visit Abu Dhabi? UAE’s capital city is home to immaculate architecture, a string of museums including the innovative Louvre Abu Dhabi and a calendar full of concerts, sporting events and exhibitions!
Prior to the discovery of oil in 1958, Abu Dhabi was a small village whose main industry was the 19th-century pearl trade. When the pearl industry collapsed, Abu Dhabi lost its power in the United Arab Emirates. That all changed when oil was discovered in the region in 1971 allowing Abu Dhabi to set a course to become one of the wealthiest and most comfortable cities in the world.
Feel like Aladdin at Emirates Palace!
Here’s a Pro Tip: The currency used is the UAE dirham. About 5 UAE dirhams is equal to one British Pound, though the rate regularly fluctuates.
Most travellers will touch down at Abu Dhabi International Airport and make their way into the city using public transport or by taxi. One of the most popular forms of public transportation is the airport bus which departs from all three terminals every 40-minutes, 24 hours a day. A one-way ticket costs around £1 and passengers can alight at multiple stops before the ride terminates at the Old Fish Market in central Abu Dhabi (the journey takes 45-minutes depending on traffic). Alternatively, head to the signposted taxi area outside Terminals 1 & 3’s arrival halls. The journey takes around 30-minutes, and prices start at around £20 one way.
Once in the city, most tourists make use of local taxi companies to move from one attraction to the next. These can be hailed from the street or booked in advance using the TransAd Abu Dhabi Taxi App. If you’d prefer public transport, purchase a Hafilat card and ride the Abu Dhabi bus system around town.
Here’s Another Pro Tip: Drinking in public, and being intoxicated in public, is illegal. Make sure you display proper decorum before you leave a bar or your hotel.
Here are some must-see places in Abu Dhabi:
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – I’d like to suggest that this glistening white mosque is the most beautiful of its kind. Marble walls, golden columns, and Swarovski crystal chandeliers add elegance to this spectacular place of worship.
The Grand Mosque is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture
- Ferrari World – Whether you’re travelling with children or not, this thrilling attraction adds a little excitement to your trip. Ride the world’s fastest rollercoaster, experience a Ferrari driving simulator, or tackle the Turbo Track.
- Louvre Abu Dhabi – This unique museum is the largest art museum in the Arabian Peninsula and houses a vast collection of international artwork.
- Corniche Road – The 8km of road curves its way along the west side of Abu Dhabi Island and is lined with parks, cafes, and children’s play areas. Rent a bike, and follow the cycle path to enjoy sea views.
The Grand Prix circuit goes right through the W Hotel!
- The Grand Prix – The Formula One motor race takes place annually at the Yas Marina Circuit and has become a core part of the city. If you’re in town in November/ December, I’d highly recommend booking tickets!
- Red Bull X-Fighters – The city has plenty of year-round festivals and events, but Red Bull’s entertainment is always top draw. This freestyle motocross stunt competition draws thousands to the Corniche Waterfront each year.
Eating in Abu Dhabi provides the chance to sample foods from around the world, including Peruvian specialities, Saudi Arabian cuisine, and local Emirati dishes. There’s a variety of locations to enjoy too from upmarket hotel restaurants to lesser-known street vendors. Check out my restaurant recommendations below:
- Zuma Abu Dhabi – Serving traditional Japanese fare from the robata grill, Zuma is one of Abu Dhabi’s liveliest restaurants.
- Ushna– This fine-dining, multi-award winning, Indian restaurant serves signature Indian cuisine with a contemporary flair.
- Abd el Wahab – Located in the Souk at the St. Regis Saadiyat Island, this cosy restaurant serves traditional Lebanese dishes and Arabic cuisine.
It’s called a ‘Mezze’ but it looks tidy to me!
From A-lister nightclubs to rooftop bars, here are my Abu Dhabi nightlife recommendations:
- Hakkasan – The terrace at Hakkasan restaurant is one of Abu Dhabi’s coolest nightlife spots. Enjoy a cocktail in a rooftop cabana while overlooking the beautiful skyline of Abu Dhabi.
- Carmel – The Carmel Restaurant & Lounge at the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort is perfect for an evening of indulgence. Enjoy drinks in the warm bar area or take to the terrace to enjoy the night sky.
- Allure – Allure by Cipriani offers the very best of Abu Dhabi’s clubbing scene, including resident DJ’s and live music. This stylish lounge and club overlooks the Yas Marina and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix circuit.
Whether you’re keen to spend the night in the desert under the stars or rest your head just steps away from the heart of central Abu Dhabi, there’s a host of accommodation to suit all budgets. Check out my recommendations below:
- Qasr Al Sarab – Anantara’s Abu Dhabi property is one of the most beautiful hotels in the region. Located in the desert 90-minutes out of the city, this secluded hotel encapsulates the spirit of Arabia and offers guests the chance to enjoy desert adventures in comfort.
Enjoy dessert in the desert at Qasr Al Sarab!
- The W Hotel Yas Island – The innovative architecture of the W Hotel is exciting all-year round but it becomes the centre of the world when the Grand Prix is in town because the circuit cuts through the hotel!
- Shangri–La Hotel – 213 luxurious rooms and suites comprise this 5-star hotel. Guests have use of a private beach and enjoy panoramic views of the Abu Dhabi strait.
With its glistening white mosques, modern amusement parks, excellent restaurants and shopping, Abu Dhabi is a glistening gem of a city to visit!