Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is often compared with its sister emirate Dubai. But as a city of phenomenal growth and dazzling ambitions, Abu Dhabi is a world-class destination in its own right.
It’s amazing to think that what was little more than a fishing village in the 1950s is now home to some of the world’s best restaurants and hotels, which can be found alongside functioning monuments from ancient Arabic culture. It’s a kingdom of traditional Arab customs which has been adapted to accommodate the 21st century pleasure seeker.
A lot of westerners go to Abu Dhabi on a short break, long weekend or as part of a longer tour of the Middle East. While it has a more relaxed atmosphere than Dubai, visitors can still find Abu Dhabi an intense experience, with so many things to do in their time there. If you’re booking a trip to Abu Dhabi, you will be spoilt for choice. But if you can’t decide what to do and where to go in Abu Dhabi, here are five recommendations from our experts.
1. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Abu Dhabi’s most famous landmark is also the centre of worship in the city. With a capacity of over 41,000 worshippers, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the largest religious temples in the world. The best time to visit is in the late afternoon, where you can take a sunset tour of the mosque (last guided tour is at 4.30pm on weekdays and 8pm on Friday and Saturday). Or come by after dark, where the vast white walls and 82 gold domes shine all night in the moonlight.
Tip – The Sunset Tour of the Mosque is the best time to visit, taking place every day at around 5pm. Aim to arrive at around 4.30pm and take the opportunity to take photos in an amazing back drop.
2. Yas Island
Home to the annual United Arab Emirates Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Ferrari World theme park, Yas Island is a treat for any fan of motor sport. But you can take it fast or slow on this multi-million-dollar island. Ferrari World is home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster, Formula Rossa, while on the marina you can see more of the Persian gulf in style, on one of the boat and aeroplane tours, which give you views all the way to Dubai.
3. Abu Dhabi – The Corniche
The Corniche is an 8km promenade that runs along the Abu Dhabi beach front. Ideal for romantic walks and leisurely bike rides, the views along the Corniche have often been likened to those of a Middle Eastern Manhattan. It’s also where a lot of the Abu Dhabi locals spend their time off, relaxing on the beach or socialising in the cafes with views of the marina. Relax in a waterfront restaurant or take the kids to one of the immaculate play areas, or you can take a dip in the Gulf to cool yourself down after a session at the Hilton Abu Dhabi’s very own beach club and gym.
4. Saadiyat Island
Located just 500m off the coast of Abu Dhabi mainland, Saadiyat Island is still under development. But if you’re keen to see the future before it happens, this is the place to come. Attempts at building a new Louvre and Guggenheim museum are well under way and due for completion in the next few years. Some of the structures on Saadiyat Island will be landmarks in architecture, designed by the world’s leading architects Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid, which are already drawing comparisons to the iconic Sydney Opera House. It is expected that when complete in around 2020, Saadiyat Island will become the cultural centre of not only Abu Dhabi, but perhaps the whole of the Middle East.
5. Emirates Palace
The Emirates Palace is a 7-star luxury hotel located on the Corniche, with its own private beach, 85 hectares of sculpted gardens and more domes than the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Built at a cost of £4 billion, the Emirates Palace hotel is one of the most opulent buildings anywhere in the world.