WHAT TO DO IN ABU DHABI – BEST PLACES TO VISIT
Are you planning your Abu Dhabi itinerary and wondering about the best things to do in Abu Dhabi? Then read on as this post will help you plan your trip – whether you stay in Abu Dhabi for 1 day, 3 days, 5 days, or longer.
Here you will find out about what to do, the best places to visit, and many more travel tips for your first trip to the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
ABU DHABI TRAVEL TIPS
Before talking about things to do, here are a few important travel tips for your trip.
Abu Dhabi is not as famous as Dubai (both cities/emirates border each other) but it is actually the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
I have written a more detailed post about the differences between Dubai and Abu Dhabi where you can find out about the main differences.
In short: I recommend Abu Dhabi to anyone who enjoys nice beaches and who wants to have a more authentic feeling of the UAE.
Do´s and Don´ts in Abu Dhabi
- Any intimacy between couples should be reduced to a minimum (even holding hands) and is completely forbidden in some places (mosques etc.).
- Do not drink alcohol in public, unless you do it in a licensed restaurant/bar etc. Do not get totally drunk.
- Homosexuality is forbidden in the UAE.
Disclaimer: This post also contains affiliate links. This means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product/service via my links (at no extra cost to you). More about it here.
What to Wear in Abu Dhabi – Dress Code for Females
Though the UAE is an Islamic country, you do not have to cover your head. However, you should be aware that there is a dress code in many places, like shopping malls or public places.
You can wear bikinis at the beach and shorts/skirts in many places, but probably not bring the shortest and tightest clothes you have.
If you want to find out more about the dress code for Abu Dhabi, you can read my post about “What to wear as a female in Dubai”. Though Abu Dhabi is a bit more conservative, the post gives you some great ideas about the dressing behavior in Abu Dhabi as well.
Is Abu Dhabi Safe for Tourists? Solo Female Travel in Abu Dhabi
Keep in mind, that Abu Dhabi (UAE) is not a democracy nor transparent. So, I can just talk about how I felt, as we do not have reliable information about the crime rate.
I think Abu Dhabi, like Dubai, is a great place to visit as a tourist because it is safe. Safe in terms of crime and terror (read more about safety in the UAE here).
As a solo female traveler, it is a great destination and I absolutely loved it. As always, exercise common sense, but you should not be afraid to travel to this Islamic country (as I also think Dubai is great for solo female travel).
Where to Stay in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi has some amazing hotels. The standard is pretty high, but so are the prices. Though hotels here seem a bit more affordable than in Dubai, it is not a budget destination.
Below, you find a summary of my recommendations.
- Here is my detailed accommodation guide for Abu Dhabi.
- 5* Luxury Accommodation in Abu Dhabi: Emirates Palace (one of the most luxurious hotels in the world)
- 3* and 4* Accommodation in Abu Dhabi: Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri (a beautiful 4* hotel with a view of the Grand Mosque)
- Budget Hotels and Hostels in Abu Dhabi: Click here to find budget-friendly hotels and hostels.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN ABU DHABI IN 1-6 DAYS
Let´s talk about the best activities and attractions.
Admire the Grand Mosque
Visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is definitely one of the best things to do in Abu Dhabi. The mosque is one of the most stunning, or probably the most stunning incredible I have ever seen.
It is the largest mosque in the UAE – it can host more than 40,000 people. It was constructed between 1996 and 2007 and has become one of the main attractions in the city.
The beauty is just beyond words! If possible, visit it during the day and at night time as well.
I think it is a great start your trip.
While it is pretty to look at any time of the day, it has a special charm at sunset. Though I am not religious, I love the muezzin´s call for the pray.
- If you have the chance, try to visit during prayer time (5 times a day). However, it is closed on Friday mornings or special occasions.
- The best: it is free, free, free, and totally awesome.
- How to get there: The mosque is located at the “beginning” of Abu Dhabi. Whether you are coming from Dubai or Abu Dhabi airport – it is almost impossible to miss it. There is a bus going from Abu Dhabi Downtown, or you can take a cab.
- Click here to find out more about the most beautiful place in Abu Dhabi and what to know before visiting the Grand Mosque.
Corniche is a beautiful 8-kilometer promenade with access to the public beach.
In my honest opinion, the beaches here are nicer than in Dubai. The water is clearer and the sand finer. And it is less busy than Dubai´s beaches. It is also a nice place to walk, jog, or ride a bike with some nice views of Abu Dhabi.
You can either spend a full day here (strolling and spending time at the beach) and just come here for a quick walk.
- It is free to visit (including the beaches). However, there are some parts that are private beaches that belong to luxury hotels. Those parts cannot be accessed if you are not a hotel guest.
Visit Heritage Village
Abu Dhabi sightseeing is not complete without a stop at Heritage Village. It is a small recreation of a traditional desert village with crafts workshops & monthly cultural festivals.
It is a charming place, though quite small. If you do not visit any workshops, you will not need a lot of time to visit this place.
Heritage Village is located at the “end” of the city, so you can either continue to the Emirates Palace afterward, Marina Mall, or Corniche.
- This is another free activity in Abu Dhabi.
Explore Emirates Palace
The Emirates Palace is one of the most expensive and luxurious hotels in the world and one of the main tourist attractions. Many visitors find their way to this hotel – so it can be “busy” in front of the hotel. At night, the buildings around are illuminated which makes the area even prettier.
I had lunch at one of the restaurants and thus was able to do a bit of sightseeing, but you can visit even without dining there. The guards might ask you what you’re doing there, so be prepared for an answer. However, they were quite nice and if you say, you want to have a coffee, it might be fine.
The access is limited to the lobby (which is stunning) and sometimes certain exhibitions.
After lunch, I headed to the backyard, which was lovely, too. It is a nice way to splurge even if you do not stay overnight at the Emirates Palace. This can only be visited as a restaurant or overnight guest, though.
Whether you use this as an itinerary for Abu Dhabi or just an inspiration, you can do the above-mentioned activities in one day.
Shop Souvenirs or Traditional Clothes
Of course, Abu Dhabi has some big modern shopping centers like Marina Mall. The malls here are not as numerous and big as in Dubai, but (window) shopping is one of the most popular things tourists and travelers do.
If you like to get souvenirs or traditional clothes, I recommend getting them from smaller markets, so-called souks, which you can find in many places. Do not forget to bargain when you buy from the souk.
See Abu Dhabi From Above
To see Abu Dhabi from above, go to Etihad Towers Observation Deck. The deck is part of a luxury hotel and part of the Jumeirah group.
You might remember those views from the Furious 7 movie.
The Observation Deck at 300 is located in Etihad Towers’ second tower (there are two of them) and offers the highest vantage point in the UAE at 300 meters on level 74. To compare: at Burj Khalifa, you can visit levels 124, 125, and 148. However, level 74 should be good enough for some awesome views.
As I have a thing for great views, it was on my list, but I spent too much time on Zaya Nurai Island so I ran out of time.
It was on my list for the second trip to Abu Dhabi. After reading the reviews, a visit seems to be totally worth it, but Abu Dhabi in December can be quite foggy, so I had to postpone my visit again.
However, if you have a clear day, you should visit.
- Hotel guests can get up there for free.
- Other guests have to pay an entrance fee of AED 95. They also get a credit voucher of AED 55 which can be redeemed on the day of your visit at the cafe on the observation deck.
Do a Speed Boat Trip
One of the best things to do – especially on a hot day – is to enjoy a breeze while doing a speed boat tour in Abu Dhabi. As we all know, is that it can get really hot in Abu Dhabi. The best you can do is to combine sightseeing with colling down.
You can forget the heat even in the hottest summer months. Also, it is a nice thrilling activity – especially if you sit in the front. But no worries – it is not as adventurous as a skydive – so even families can hop on a speedboat (minimum age is 5 years).
Depending on the tour you choose they last about 60-100 minutes.
The meeting point depends on the boat tour. Tip: if your boat tour starts from Emirates Palace, you can combine the trip to the Emirates Palace with the boat tour.
DAY 3 IN ABU DHABI
Do a Desert Safari
I have done a couple of desert safaris in Dubai and totally loved them. They were actually one of my travel highlights, and so was the desert safari in Abu Dhabi.
If you have not planned any desert safari in Dubai, you should definitely do a desert safari here. They are some of the most popular UAE activities.
On my last trip, I visited the UAE with my cousin, and I booked the trip for both of us. After asking her about the highlight of the trip to the United Arab Emirates, one of the first things she said was “The desert safari in Abu Dhabi.”
The desert safaris normally include dune bashing and photo stops in the desert. If you do them in the afternoon/evening, you can also expect a nice BBQ (which also cater to vegetarians and vegans).
My top recommendation for a desert safari in Abu Dhabi is the one in the evening with dinner under the stars – what an experience!
- You can click here to find out which tour I did exactly and click here to find out about the latest rates.
- If you like a desert safari and would like to test sandboarding, I recommend this desert safari.
Spend a Day at Ferrari World
Ferrari World is rated as one of the best activities in Abu Dhabi. What could a Ferrari World park be? Well, it is a mostly indoor theme park located on Yas Island. Actually, it was the world’s first Ferrari-themed park and features Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster.
While I am not that much into fast cars or roller coasters, I have never visited so I cannot give you my two cents on it but
While I am not that much into fast cars or roller coasters, I have never visited so I cannot give you my two cents on it but if you are into theme parks and/or interested in cars, it should be on your list.
Plan a full day for that activity. As it is located at “the beginning of Abu Dhabi,” it is great to start coming from Dubai.
Check out Beaches at Saadiyat Island
Relax at Saadiyat Island – probably the most beautiful public beach in Abu Dhabi. It is a natural 27-square-kilometer island about 15- minutes drive from Abu Dhabi Downtown.
The beaches at Corniche are pretty and free, however, the 400-meter Saadiyat public beach is even more beautiful. It is also not very crowded, and it feels safe enough to leave your stuff at the beach while hopping into the water. I admit I tend to be a bit paranoid in some places and never leave my stuff unattended.
I have not figured out how to get there if a public bus is getting there, so I recommend getting there by taxi.
- Though it is a public beach, you have to pay about 25 AED entry (extra fee for renting a lounge and towels).
- If you stay in one of the few hotels on Saadiyat Island, you will have free access to the hotel beach.
Do Cultural Sightseeing (Louvre)
Visit the Louvre. Yes, Abu Dhabi has just gotten its own Louvre!
Once you are on Saadiyat Island, you can visit the Louvre museum which is an art and civilization museum that opened in November 2017. The UAE and France signed an agreement that allows it to use the Louvre’s name until 2037, and has been described by the Louvre as “France’s largest cultural project abroad”.
Of course, they probably just got paid very good money – either way, now Abu Dhabi has its own Louvre.
The museum encompasses 9,200 square meters of galleries, including a permanent gallery and a temporary gallery. It is the largest museum on the Arabian peninsula – with artworks from around the world intending to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western art.
I stopped by, but the lines were quite long, so I did not get into it. This should not have come to a surprise to me as by 2019, the Louvre Abu Dhabi had already attracted 2 million visitors. Thus, I recommend booking your tickets in advance.
- Open from 10:00 am – 6.30 pm from Tuesday – Sunday, closed on Mondays. The last entry time slot is 5:30 pm, and visitors must depart at 6:30 pm.
- Click here to see prices for tickets and tours of the Louvre and get skip-the-line tickets.
Visit Zaya Nurai Island
When in Abu Dhabi, you need to plan a day trip to this private island – beautiful Zaya Nurai Island.
I missed out on some activities because I spent too much time at Zaya Nurai Island Resort. It is a private island that has been voted to one of Conde Nast Traveller UK’s most incredible islands. It is just really beautiful!
Depending on your budget, you could either book one of their incredible villas, or if you are on a budget, you can get a day pass which is surely worth each penny. This will allow you to access their beaches and some pools and more. On the island, you can do watersports, rest & chill at the beach, enjoy a fun day in one of the lounge areas, or get pampered in the spa.
- It is a 15-minute boat ride off the shores of Abu Dhabi.
- Day passes are AED480. AED420 of which is redeemable against food and beverage, spa, and activities. For this price, you have the boat tour and beach and pool access already included.
If you are in Abu Dhabi, consider a day trip to Dubai. I know not everyone likes the idea of a busy city, but I highly suggest at least a day trip to Dubai if you have one week in Abu Dhabi.
There are buses from Abu Dhabi to Dubai for about 10€ ($11) return. However, whenever I wanted to use them, it was still not perfect as I would end up in the middle of nowhere in Dubai.
So, I suggest either doing a guided tour from Abu Dhabi to Dubai or splurging and taking a taxi from Abu Dhabi to Dubai (prices depend on your starting point, but I always paid around 60€).
- In Dubai, there is a lot to do – what exactly? Well, find out here.
- Also, I have written a quite detailed post on whether to visit Abu Dhabi or Dubai to check out if you are unsure which city/emirate to visit.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THINGS TO DO IN ABU DHABI
Abu Dhabi in one day is possible. But with so many fun and interesting things to do in Abu Dhabi, you should try to add a few days to your Abu Dhabi itinerary so you can get a better glimpse of the city.
It is a safe city and has quite a lot to offer – whether you visit by yourself, with friends or family or with your partner. Given its religion and politics, there are things to keep in mind when visiting (as you can see in my do´s and don´ts), but Abu Dhabi is an interesting place to visit.
So, whenever you visit – stay safe and enjoy!