12 must-see things to do in Abu Dhabi

Visiter Abu Dhabi

Visiting Abu Dhabi: what are the best things to see and do in the capital of the United Arab Emirates?

The capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, attracts less attention than its neighbor, the glitzy, booming city of Dubai. However, Abu Dhabi is actually wealthier than Dubai and has carefully monitored its growth, with an emphasis on the arts and preservation of the city’s heritage. The city has a street layout similar to Manhattan, with wide avenues and plenty of lush green space. Like Dubai, Abu Dhabi has its fair share of beaches, golden souks and international restaurants. Abu Dhabi is an ideal place to enjoy the sun in winter. With its golden beaches, water parks and desert getaways, the emirate is now well established as a tourist destination.

Here are the must-see places to visit in Abu Dhabi:

1. Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum

Musée Louvre Abu Dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Inaugurated on November 8, 2017 and opened to the public on November 11, the Louvre Abu Dhabi was designed by architect Jean Nouvel and is all about creating a « bridge » between the West and the East, bringing cultures and civilizations into dialogue. A visit to the Louvre Abu Dhabi and its vast display of artworks and artefacts has become a must-see destination!

2. Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Mosquée Cheikh Zayed, Abu Dhabi

Flickr – HISHAM BINSUWAIF

Clad in Macedonian marble, the magnificent and absolutely gigantic Sheikh Zayed Mosque is Abu Dhabi’s iconic building. The mosque fuses elements of Mamluk, Ottoman and Fatimid styles to create a harmonious, resolutely modern mosque that celebrates Muslim architecture. International engineers and craftsmen worked on its construction, creating spectacular mosaics, glasswork and intricate sculptures both inside and out. It was inaugurated in 2007 after 12 years of construction.

Capable of holding 40,000 worshippers, it is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates, and is dedicated to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyane. Non-Muslims are allowed in all areas of the mosque (including the huge library), and guided tours are available. The mosque is open (free of charge) every day from 9am to 10pm, except Fridays from 4.30pm to 8pm.

3. Qasr Al-Hosn (palace/fort)

Qasr Al-Hosn, palais Abu Dhabi

Credit – gloholiday.com

The Al-Hosn Palace, also known as the Old Fort or White Fort, is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi. The palace was built in 1793 as the ruling family’s residence and seat of government. The interior of Al Hosn Palace has been renovated and modernized, and is now used by the Cultural Foundation to house the Center for Documentation and Research, which holds a collection of documents on the heritage and history of the United Arab Emirates and the Gulf region. The courtyard and the magnificent mosaic work on the main north gate are a must-see. Within the palace is a museum of traditional artifacts and historical photographs. The exhibition includes a natural history section with desert fauna, and a historical section with exhibits on the history of Abu Dhabi.

4. La Corniche

Corniche Abu Dhabi

Flickr – Achilli Family | Journeys

The Corniche is an epic 6.5 km walk with plenty of places to stop and enjoy a picnic. You can walk the whole length in an afternoon, but why not speed things up by renting a bike instead? Two things stand out. The emirate flag, as big as a bus, atop a 110 m mast, and the remarkable Gate Capital building, with an 18-degree incline (the incline of the Tower of Pisa is just four degrees). For those who wish, The Avenue at Etihad Towers is a shopping mall dedicated to high-end fashion. Along the Corniche, the beach is just waiting for your towel. You’ll also have the opportunity to visit the Qasr Al-Hosn (see above), or be spoilt for choice with restaurants and styles of cuisine from all over the world.

5. Heritage Village

Heritage Village Abu Dhabi

Flickr – Abdulla Al Muhairi

Abu Dhabi’s Heritage Village is an authentic replica of a typical Bedouin encampment, giving an insight into Emirati life before the oil boom. It is located on a pretty beach in the city, near the Marina Mall. There are exhibits featuring traditional everyday objects, as well as a presentation of local agriculture and the pearl-hunting trade, the main economies of yesteryear. Unfortunately, information throughout the museum is rather scarce.

6. Panoramic views of the entire city from the Etihad Towers Hotel

Etihad Towers Abu Dhabi

Flickr – Kathrin Gaißer

Abu Dhabi’s answer to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower is its « Observation Deck at 300 » offering skyline views from the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel, the city’s highest point. There’s an entrance fee of AED 75 (€16) for non-hotel guests, but AED 50 (€10.50) is redeemable as a voucher for food and drink at the observation deck restaurant. So enjoy a « Grand Cru » tea or a mocktail on the 74th floor of this luxury hotel, with the city stretching out just below: an exceptional experience during your stay in Abu Dhabi!

7. Women’s Craft Center

Centre d'artisanat des femmes, Abu Dhabi

Credit – visitabudhabi.ae

TheWomen’s Craft Centre is an ideal place for you to discover traditional local women’s techniques such as weaving, embroidery and basketry. It’s a great place to buy authentic and original souvenirs that support the center’s work. You’ll find shawls, slippers, bags, rugs and textiles, trays and baskets… You can have a henna design painted on your hand, which will last for around two weeks.

8. Falcon Hospital

Hôpital des faucons à Abu Dhabi

Flickr – .EVO.

TheAbu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is a veterinary hospital dedicated to healing sick and injured falcons, but it also provides guided tours for interested visitors. The tours allow you to see these birds of prey up close, and if you’re up for the challenge, you can also have the chance to hold one of these impressive birds.

9. Activities on Yas Island

Plage de l'îlede Yas à Abu Dhabi

Flickr – Sarah Ackerman

Yas Island is one of Abu Dhabi’s top sports and luxury destinations, just 30 minutes away, with beaches perfect for spending the day sunbathing. The island is also home to the Yas Marina circuit, where the Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix is held every year. There’s also the Ferrari World Abu Dhabi theme park, a water park, several golf courses, polo fields, an equestrian center and top-of-the-range hotels.

10. Abu Dhabi souks

Souk d'or à Abu Dhabi

Flickr – Jan Smith

Whether you’re a buyer or not, don’t miss a visit to a local souk, such as the Madinat Zayed gold souk for gold and jewelry, or the renowned Persian carpets at the Iranian souk. For fruit and vegetables, head to the Al Mina souk. The atmosphere at the Al Aïn Souk is excellent. The experience is made all the more interesting if you haggle, as tradition dictates.

Other souks include the open-airAl Bawadi andAl Qaws, as well as the Souk Al Zafarana and the Souk aux Poissons.

11. Visit the city of the future, Masdar

Masdar, near the airport, is well worth a visit. Cars are banned in this pioneering zero-carbon city, which is still the size of a village, but there are plans afoot. The eco-city is powered entirely by the sun, and the hot, strong winds that blow off the desert. Students and researchers are working on this project with the aim of seeing cities like this spring up all over the planet in the near future.

12. Liwa oasis

Oasis de Liwa à Abu Dhabi

Flickr – John Britton

In the south of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the beautiful oasis of Liwa, 150 km from the city, is a great escape from the urban hustle and bustle. The oasis is famous for its date production and for being close to some of the world’s largest sand dunes. If you stay in Abu Dhabi long enough, it’s a must-see attraction for buggy riding, sand surfing and camel riding.

Or escape to the Al Aïn oasis, set against the backdrop of Jebel Hafeet.

How to get to Abu Dhabi and where to stay

Etihad Airways is based in Abu Dhabi, so you may be lucky enough to fly on one of their aircraft. To find a cheap flight to Abu Dhabi, do a search on our partner site Skyscanner.

Where to sleep in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is a gigantic city, and it’s important to choose the right area in which to stay so as not to have to travel long distances to reach one point of the city or another. To find a cheap hotel in Abu Dhabi, carry out a search on our Abu Dhabi hotel comparison service.

Map of hotels and accommodation – Abu Dhabi