14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Abu Dhabi
Capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is a well-ordered, industrious city with a pretty waterside location. First inhabited by the nomadic Bani Yas tribe in 1760, the settlement remained a small fishing village until oil was discovered. The revenues transformed Abu Dhabi into the modern city of today - a bustling center of government and business.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the major sightseeing attraction and wows all who visit. But the city also makes a good base for excursions to the desert landscapes of Liwa Oasis and the oasis city of Al Ain.
See also: Where to Stay in Abu Dhabi
1 Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Clad in Macedonian marble, the beautiful and absolutely mammoth Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is Abu Dhabi's landmark building and by far the most popular sightseeing attraction in the city. The mosque fuses Mameluke, Ottoman, and Fatimid design elements to create a harmonious and thoroughly modern mosque that celebrates Islamic architecture. Artisans used glass-work, mosaic tiling, and intricate carvings to spectacular effect on both the interior and exterior. It was opened in 2007 after nearly 20 years of construction. Able to hold 40,000 worshippers, it is the biggest mosque in the United Arab Emirates, and like the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Fujairah, it is dedicated to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan. Non-Muslims are allowed into all areas of the mosque (including the vast library), and guided tours are available.
Address: Al Khaleej al Arabi Street, Abu Dhabi
2 Mangrove Kayaking Tours
To see a different side of Abu Dhabi's steel and glass exterior, head into the mangrove forests that still ring the islands along the shore surrounding the city. There's a bundle of kayaking tours available for all levels of experience and age, and ranging from 1.5 hours to three hours of paddling. The Eco Tour allows you to understand the important ecology of mangroves as well as explore these beautiful last remnants of the city's forests. For a really special experience, sign up for the night tours and discover the mangroves by gliding through the waters after dark.
3 Ferrari World
This branded theme park brings the thrill of Formula One racing to Abu Dhabi and is one of the city's top things to do for thrill seekers and families alike. Small children can test out newly learned driving skills on the Junior GT track, while adrenaline junkies can buckle up and ride the Flying Aces rollercoaster, which clocks up speeds of 120 kilometers per hour on a 52-meter loop (the tallest in the world). There's also a collection of Ferrari's cars, with models dating back to 1947, and a Ferrari factory tour and Ferrari knowledge game show for true car nerds.
Address: Yas Leisure Drive, Yas Island
4 Boat Tours
For the best views of Abu Dhabi's glittering skyscrapers, you need to head out onto the water. The views of the high rises are quite spectacular as you drift out from the marina. Several different operators run tours for all types of budgets, but two of the more popular trips with tourists are the island hopping tours, which include some beach and snorkeling time on various islands in the bay, and sunset cruises that let you see the city lights flicker into action as dusk sets over the city - a great choice for an evening activity.
5 Observation Deck at 300
Abu Dhabi's answer to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is this observation deck, offering skyline views from the highest point in the city, on the 74th floor of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers hotel. There is an entry fee for non-guests of the hotel, but the ticket price can be redeemed for food and drink from the observation deck's restaurant, which serves snacks and light bites; soft drinks; and in the afternoon, high-tea. Having high-tea up here, with the city spread below you, is definitely an experience for your Abu Dhabi itinerary.
Address: Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi
6 Qasr Al-Hosn
Al-Hosn Fort, also known as the Old Fort or the White Fort, is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi and one of its major historical points of interest. The palace was built in 1793 as the residence of the ruling family and the seat of government. The interior of the Al Hosn Fort has been renovated and modernized and is now used as a museum that traces the history and culture of Abu Dhabi, with oral histories and plenty of historical photographs on show. The courtyard and the magnificent tile work over the main northern gate are notable features.
Address: Hamdan bin Mohammed Street
7 Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital
The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is a working veterinary hospital for ill and injured falcons, but it also provides guided tours of its facilities for interested visitors. The tours allow you to get up close and personal with these birds of prey in the wards, while an on-site museum explains the history of falconry. If you're up for the challenge, you may also have the chance to hold one of the birds, or even to feed one, depending on the activities the vets are performing at the time of your visit.
Location: Off Sweihan Road, Abu Dhabi
8 Yas Waterworld
If the heat is grinding you down, head to Yas Island to cool off at the waterpark. Yas Waterworld is a mammoth theme park, with waterslides and an inner-tube river ride, as well as the world's first hydromagnetic tornado water rafting ride; the world's largest surfable sheet wave; and the Jebel Drop, a free-fall speed water slide. If that all seems like too much of an adrenaline rush, there are also restaurants, cafés, and shops here for some gentler pursuits. There's also a dedicated water play area for families with small children.
Address: Yas Leisure Driver, Yas Island
9 Yas Island
Yas Island is one of Abu Dhabi's top luxury hotel destinations, with stretches of sandy beach that are perfect for spending the day sunbathing on. This area is also home to the Yas Marina Circuit, which is where Abu Dhabi's Formula One racing takes place every year.
10 Emirates Park Zoo
If you have little ones in tow, this excellent zoo makes a fun day out, only a short drive from Abu Dhabi. There is a host of animals at the wildlife park, including rare white tigers, giraffes, elephants, a herd of zebras, and a Siberian bear. There is also a primate section with many different types of monkeys, and a flamingo park with a sea lion enclosure. At the petting zoo, children can touch and feed domestic breeds of animals.
Location: 30 minutes from Abu Dhabi
11 Saadiyat Cultural District
Saadiyat Island is set to become the cultural heartbeat of Abu Dhabi in the coming years. The Louvre Abu Dhabi (set to open in 2017), the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and Zayed National Museum (both still in early planning and construction phases) will all be located here, turning the island into the UAE's cultural and artistic hub. At the moment, you can come here to check out the art exhibitions of the Manarat al Saadiyat and the next door UAE Pavilion, a culture center with three galleries, a restaurant, and an exhibition space about Saadiyat Island itself.
Address: Sheikh Khalifa Highway, Saadiyat Island
12 Heritage Village
Abu Dhabi's Heritage Village is an authentic replica of a typical Bedouin village that gives visitors an idea of Emirati life before the oil boom. It's located in a pretty beach area of the city, which is a pleasant place to wander after a visit. There are exhibits featuring traditional day-to-day objects, workshops where you can watch craftspeople demonstrate Emirati metalwork and weaving skills, and displays introducing visitors to local agriculture and the pearl diving trade - the main economies here before oil was discovered.
13 Liwa Oasis
In the south of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, beautiful Liwa Oasis is a great escape from the city. The oasis settlement is noted for its date farming, and one of the largest sand dunes in the world is just on the outskirts. This makes it a must-visit attraction for anyone wanting to ride dune buggies, try sand surfing, or go camel trekking. The other top city escape is the oasis city of Al Ain, which has the mighty peak of Jebel Hafeet as its backdrop.
Location: 150 kilometers southwest of Abu Dhabi
14 Women's Handicraft Center
The Women's Handicraft Center is a good place for visitors to see local women demonstrating traditional skills such as weaving, embroidery, and basketry. It is run by the Abu Dhabi Women's Association and supports local female artisans in their work as well as keeping these ancient skills and traditions alive. It's an excellent place to pick up unusual and authentic souvenirs that support the work of the center. Shawls, slippers, bags, carpets and textiles, trays, and baskets are all on display.
Address: Karama Street, Abu Dhabi
Where to Stay in Abu Dhabi for Sightseeing
If you're visiting Abu Dhabi for the first time and plan to see the city's top tourist attractions, the best place to stay is near the Corniche, the city's eight-kilometer seafront promenade, with its bike paths, beaches, parks, playgrounds, and fountains. From here, it's easy to take a taxi to other top attractions such as Heritage Village, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, and the theme parks of family-friendly Yas Island. Below are some highly-rated hotels in convenient locations for sightseeing:
- Luxury Hotels: Near the Corniche, the opulent Emirates Palace is one of Abu Dhabi's top hotels, pampering its guests with plush suites and personal butlers. Nearby, the modern Jumeirah at Etihad Towers offers spectacular views of the Arabian Gulf from its famous Observation Deck, as well as apartment-style accommodation for families. The Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, connected to a souk, is also a top choice, and if you want to stay close to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal is a five-minute drive away.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Popular mid-range options along the Corniche are the Hilton Abu Dhabi, with its own private beach club, about a 15-minute walk from Marina Mall and Heritage Village, and the Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort, with large sparkling pools and a sandy lagoon. The Holiday Inn is another highly-rated mid-range option a short drive from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
- Budget Hotels: Budget accommodation is difficult to find in Abu Dhabi, but many mid-range hotels offer steep discounts - especially during low season. If you're watching your wallet, the Mercure Abu Dhabi Centre Hotel offers excellent value in the heart of the city, just a few minutes' stroll from the Corniche. Also in the city center, the Al Diar Dana is a popular budget option. On Yas Island, the Centro Yas Island Abu Dhabi by Rotana is reasonably-priced and lies within easy access of Ferrari World and Waterworld, the island's famous theme parks.