What are the best things to do in Abu Dhabi?

Dalia Hatuqa
  • Dalia Hatuqa

  • Correspondent

  • Ramallah, Palestine, Middle East

In addition to strolling through sprawling megamalls and working up a sweat during any number of outdoor pursuits, Abu Dhabi has a wealth of attractions worth seeking out during your stay, including Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the five best things to do and see in this modern Middle Eastern metropolis:
 
1. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This awe-inspiring, white marble edifice is known for its hand-woven carpets – you’ll find the largest one in the world here – and dazzling chandeliers that sparkle with millions of Swarovski crystals. You’ll be mesmerized by the calligraphy- and flower-adorned walls and columns, but don’t miss the equally amazing reflecting pools on the mosque grounds, too.
 
2. Heritage Village. For a glimpse of what life was like for Emiratis in Abu Dhabi before the oil boom, make your way to Heritage Village, where you’ll be surrounded by palm houses, Bedouin tents and fishing villages. This is the place to go for a short camel ride, and if you’re lucky there’ll also be a falconry demonstration.
 
3. The Corniche. You’l enjoy views of the city skyline on one side and of the Persian Gulf on the other at the Corniche, Abu Dhabi’s well-landscaped waterfront area that has miles of paved bike paths, parks, gardens and beaches. There are even separate areas of the Corniche reserved exclusively for singles and families.
 
4. Manart al Saadiyat. Abu Dhabi’s premier arts and culture venue has a number of galleries and an interactive exhibition showcasing the venue’s future home on Saadiyat Island, which is a five-minute drive from downtown Abu Dhabi and will also be home to satellite locations of the Louvre and Guggenheim.
 
5. Dhow Harbor. Make your way to the harbor during the early evening, when you can watch waves of traditional boats coming back to town for the night. Evening cruises that include buffet dinners and live shows onboard dhow boats are also available nightly.

  • On September 18, 2012
    Dalia Hatuqa answered the question: Dalia Hatuqa

    What are five adventures not to miss in Abu Dhabi?

    From kayaking through peaceful mangrove forests to exploring the city’s underwater world without any diving equipment, here are five adventures our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel are not to be missed during your trip to Abu Dhabi:
     
    1. Mangrove Tour. When you’ve seen enough of the city’s congested streets and taken in plenty of views of its modern, rapidly changing skyline, take an eco-friendly break from the urban jungle by paddling your way through the natural mangrove forests that are just a short ride away from the city center. Guided tours are available by the hour from a number of different companies – ask your hotel concierge for recommendations and assistance booking a tour – with most offering the opportunity to squeeze some fishing into your trip as well as to visit a crab habitat.
     
    2. Dhow Cruise. Plan to spend at least one evening cruising the UAE coastline aboard a traditional dhow. Lasting at least two hours and often including dinner and live entertainment, these cruises are one of our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ favorite ways to take in the Abu Dhabi cityscape and the surrounding islands.
     
    3. Yas Marina Circuit. Racing fans can satisfy their need for speed by booking one of the exhilarating driving experiences available at the Yas Marina Circuit on Yas Island. The Yas KartZone is open to would-be Formula 1 drivers aged 8 and up, while daring adults can take it a few steps further by getting behind the wheel of a real race car for a few spins around the race track.
     
    4. Desert Safari. No trip to Abu Dhabi is complete without embarking on a desert safari, which starts with a thrilling, super-bouncy ride through sand dunes on a 4x4 vehicle. Once you reach your desert camp you’ll enjoy a belly-dancing performance, short camel ride, falconry displays and a buffet of local cuisine served in a large tented area complete with a pit fire.
     
    5. Snorkeling and Diving. In addition to kayaking through mangrove forests, snorkeling and scuba diving are two of the other most popular activities available in the waters surrounding Abu Dhabi. Ever wondered what it’s like to explore aquatic depths without the assistance of an oxygen tank? Free-diving, when divers hold their breath for anywhere from 2 – 5 minutes while swimming with the assistance of a single fin, is one of the most extreme ways to see marine life, but this is one activity that’s obviously not for the faint of heart – and one you’ll need some training for.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Dalia Hatuqa answered the question: Dalia Hatuqa

    What is the best thing to bring home from Abu Dhabi?

    You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to souvenir shopping in Abu Dhabi, but our Forbes Travel Guide editors feel a box of locally grown dates are the best thing to bring home with you from your trip – and those friends and family members lucky enough to share it with you are sure to agree. Whether you prefer them covered in chocolate or soaked in molasses, this sweet fruit makes for a delicious reminder of your time in the capital of the United Arab Emirates. They’re available throughout the city, but our favorite dates seller is Zadina, which is located within Central Market Souk and offers a variety of date goodies such as jam, fudge and truffles.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Dalia Hatuqa answered the question: Dalia Hatuqa

    What are the five best Abu Dhabi food experiences?

    Whether you have an exotic palate or prefer to stick to more familiar Middle Eastern flavors, Abu Dhabi has an abundance of food experiences worth trying, starting with these five picks from our Forbes Travel Guide editors:
     
    1. Camel burgers. If you’ve come to Abu Dhabi feeling a bit gastronomically adventurous, head to Le Café at Emirates Palace for their excellent camel burger. Afterwards, finish your meal with one of the café’s signature cappuccinos or fruit tarts that are sprinkled with edible gold, or try the camelccino, a rich espresso drink made with camel milk.
     
    2. Pomegranate juice. Visit Café Layali Zaman, a seaside restaurant favored by local foodies, early in your trip because once you sip a cup of their fresh pomegranate juice and dig into a few shish tawook (barbecue chicken skewers) you’ll undoubtedly want to make plans for a return visit before heading home. Grab a spot on the outdoor terrace overlooking the boulevard and polish off your meal with a few puffs of grape-flavored shisha.
     
    3. Falafel. Freshly made fruit juices, perfectly crisped falafel, and lamb khisha khash are three of the specialties folks are happy to wait in long lines for at low-key Lebanese Flower, which serves some of the most heavenly Middle Eastern bites in the city. Affordable and casual, this is a perfect spot to enjoy great food in the company of locals.
     
    4. Saudi Cuisine VIP. Don’t leave Abu Dhabi without feasting at Saudi Cuisine VIP, a cozy restaurant where the seating area is adorned with sheepskins and where individual portions of the succulent, slow-roasted meats on the limited menu are enough to feed a small family. Don’t even think about using a spoon or fork here: dining here is very much a hands-on experience.
     
    5. Café Arabia. Whether you come for a cup of tea or for a full dinner, Café Arabia’s elegant surroundings will leave you feeling right at home – and the camel-milk chocolates here ended up being one of the tastiest sweet treats we tried while eating our way through the city.
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  • On September 18, 2012
    Dalia Hatuqa answered the question: Dalia Hatuqa

    Where is the best nightlife in Abu Dhabi?

    Abu Dhabi’s nightlife is much more subdued compared to that of its sibling city, Dubai, but whether you want to puff on fruit-flavored shisha at a hookah bar, sip cocktails at a posh rooftop bar or put your dancing shoes on and hit the clubs you’ll still have plenty of options.
     
    For shisha, our Forbes Travel Guide editors enjoyed spending some time at no-frills Special Café, located by the Corniche, while for an out-of-this-planet bar experience we recommend heading to Skylite on the roof of the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel. Not only are the views of the racetrack and marina here mesmerizing, but the architecture of the place itself – we’re talking open-air space covered with a dome – is also worth every penny you’ll spend on the bar’s refreshing cocktails. Finally, we think Allure, an ultra-chic club on Yas Island with a large open-air terrace and international DJs spinning dancefloor-ready beats into the wee hours of the morning, is your best bet for a wild night kicking up your heels.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Dalia Hatuqa answered the question: Dalia Hatuqa

    What is the best way to see Abu Dhabi in one day?

    If you’re only passing through Abu Dhabi and have just one day to see the sights, Forbes Travel Guide’s editors recommend starting your brief city tour at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, a magnificent architectural wonder of art housing sparkling gold-plated chandeliers, dozens of awe-inspiring domes and minarets and what’s thought to be the largest carpet in the world. Next, get a sense of what Abu Dhabi was like before the oil boom – think tents and fishing villages – by spending an hour or two at lovely Heritage Village.
     
    After lunch take a walk or bike down the Corniche, the city’s signature waterfront area that will eventually lead you to Emirates Palace, a landmark luxury hotel that mesmerizes with its lavish architecture. (If you’re hungry, stop by the hotel’s Le Café for a juicy camel burger, or get a rich – literally – shot of caffeine with a signature espresso topped with flakes of edible gold.) Continue on to Manarat Al Saadiyat, the city’s arts and culture hub, then finish your day by rewarding yourself for a long afternoon exploring on foot with a much-needed drink at the Sea Lounge Monte-Carlo, an outdoor bar at the picturesque Monte-Carlo Beach hotel.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Dalia Hatuqa answered the question: Dalia Hatuqa

    Where is the best shopping in Abu Dhabi?

    Shopping is a favorite pastime in Abu Dhabi, where mammoth, modern malls offer the city’s best upscale shopping opportunities and dozens of dining options. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors particularly enjoyed wandering through Abu Dhabi Mall and Marina Mall, the latter of which houses s*uce, a one-of-a-kind boutique selling clothes and accessories made by local and regional designers. Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre and Gold Centre is chock full of gold and diamond stores, while if its locally produced carpets you’re after, your best bet is the Carpet Souk in the Al Meena district. Bargaining at Madinat Zayed and the Carpet Souk is welcome, if not compulsory. The Souk at Central Market, which once housed a traditional market but has now been rebuilt into a modern shopping behemoth, is also well worth a visit.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Dalia Hatuqa answered the question: Dalia Hatuqa

    What are the best things to do with kids in Abu Dhabi?

    Don’t hesitate about making plans to bring your kids along with you to Abu Dhabi: From theme parks to green parks, you’ll have plenty of options to keep little ones entertained in this modern capital city. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the best things to do with kids in Abu Dhabi:
     
    1. Cycle the Corniche. Kids will love pedaling through the Corniche, Abu Dhabi’s beautiful waterfront area, atop a two- or three-seat bicycle that can be rented right on the boardwalk. There’s also one section of the Corniche that has a beach, park and other facilities specifically catered to families with children.
     
    2. Visit Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. Prepare yourself for an adrenaline-packed family affair at the largest indoor theme park in the world. Located on Yas Island, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi has rides for kids of all ages, including Ferrari-inspired ride simulators, a race car “training camp” and, for those who meet the minimum height requirements, the fastest roller coaster on the planet.
     
    3. Cruise Yas Marina Circuit. Yas Marina Circuit is another action-packed destination on Yas Island where the whole family can indulge some fun-filled motorsports. While adults have the opportunity to zip around a race track in a sports car, kids can grab a helmet and get behind the wheel of a go-kart at the Yas KartZone.
     
    4. Tour the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. This falcon sanctuary began as a simple veterinary clinic, but quickly became an unlikely tourist destination. In addition to visiting the museum and hospital, two-hour tours of the facilities include an opportunity to touch one of the birds and have your picture snapped with one.
     
    5. Play at Sheikh Khalifa Park. Abu Dhabi is renowned for its swing- and slide-filled parks, with Sheikh Khalifa Park particularly popular with families thanks to the miniature railway you and your kids can hop on for a fun tour of the park’s canals and fountains.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Dalia Hatuqa answered the question: Dalia Hatuqa

    What are the best things to do in Abu Dhabi?

    In addition to strolling through sprawling megamalls and working up a sweat during any number of outdoor pursuits, Abu Dhabi has a wealth of attractions worth seeking out during your stay, including Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the five best things to do and see in this modern Middle Eastern metropolis:
     
    1. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This awe-inspiring, white marble edifice is known for its hand-woven carpets – you’ll find the largest one in the world here – and dazzling chandeliers that sparkle with millions of Swarovski crystals. You’ll be mesmerized by the calligraphy- and flower-adorned walls and columns, but don’t miss the equally amazing reflecting pools on the mosque grounds, too.
     
    2. Heritage Village. For a glimpse of what life was like for Emiratis in Abu Dhabi before the oil boom, make your way to Heritage Village, where you’ll be surrounded by palm houses, Bedouin tents and fishing villages. This is the place to go for a short camel ride, and if you’re lucky there’ll also be a falconry demonstration.
     
    3. The Corniche. You’l enjoy views of the city skyline on one side and of the Persian Gulf on the other at the Corniche, Abu Dhabi’s well-landscaped waterfront area that has miles of paved bike paths, parks, gardens and beaches. There are even separate areas of the Corniche reserved exclusively for singles and families.
     
    4. Manart al Saadiyat. Abu Dhabi’s premier arts and culture venue has a number of galleries and an interactive exhibition showcasing the venue’s future home on Saadiyat Island, which is a five-minute drive from downtown Abu Dhabi and will also be home to satellite locations of the Louvre and Guggenheim.
     
    5. Dhow Harbor. Make your way to the harbor during the early evening, when you can watch waves of traditional boats coming back to town for the night. Evening cruises that include buffet dinners and live shows onboard dhow boats are also available nightly.