Abu Dhabi is probably most known as a conservative cosmopolitan city. But despite its conservative, traditional culture, this capital of the United Arab Emirates offers luxury, desert safaris, exotic experiences and modern memories. If culture and adventure are what you wish to experience on your next vacation, travel to Abu Dhabi. Here’s what to do in Abu Dhabi, as well as some tips to know before you go to ensure your travel experience is a smooth and enjoyable one.
Use this guide and then search IHG hotels in Abu Dhabi to help plan your vacation.
Local and cultural attractions
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Visiting the largest mosque in the UAE is an absolute must. The sophisticated architecture that uses marble and elements of gold and other precious stones, the gorgeous pools, the prayer hall with the largest carpet in the world and the lighting all put this mosque at the top of our list for must-see Abu Dhabi attractions.
Tips before you go: Visiting times are Saturday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. (can walk through on your own and last entry is 9:30 p.m.). The mosque is closed for tourists on Friday morning, as it’s worship time, but is open for tourism from 4:30 to 11 p.m.
You also can’t take a free guided tour on public holidays. Visitors must also dress modestly when entering the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Men can’t wear shorts, and women’s feet, hands and face are the only things that can be showing so wear clothes that cover your head, midriff, legs, shoulders and arms. Check out their website’s Mosque Manners to see images of what’s allowed and what’s not.
Qasr Al Hosn
The Qasr Al Hosn is Abu Dhabi’s oldest stone building. It’s also viewed as the city’s symbolic birthplace, as it was the first permanent structure the emirates built. You can learn the complete story behind Abu Dhabi and its people through a free exhibition. As you take a historical tour through one of the city’s most significant monuments, you’ll hear intriguing oral testimonies and see historic photographs that bring Abu Dhabi’s history, culture and tradition to life.
Tips before you go: While the exhibit is permanent, the best time to visit is during the annual Qasr Al Hosn Festival. The festival happens every February and includes a variety of fun activities and captivating performances.
Abu Dhabi Corniche
After a day or two of touring and sightseeing in Abu Dhabi, spend an afternoon relaxing at the Abu Dhabi Corniche. Lounge on the beach. Take a dip in the turquoise waters. Cycle or walk along Corniche Road. Whatever you decide to do, you’ll experience great views of the water and Abu Dhabi skyline that won’t disappoint.
Tips before you go: This is a clean and safe beach, so it’s ideal for travellers with children. And while anytime is a scenic time to visit, sunset is when most reviewers have said you get the best views. As far as food, two of the city’s top-rated restaurants are on Corniche Street—Li Beirut (Lebanese food) and Quest (Asian cuisine).
More than 200 islands are a part of Abu Dhabi, some of which are manmade islands. And while you won’t be able to visit each one, here are two worth visiting that offer tourists a variety of entertainment and culture.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
If you feel the need for speed and adventure, Ferrari World is a Ferrari-branded theme park perfect for all ages. Get your heart racing as you race and wind through 20 rides, like Flying Aces, which has the world’s highest rollercoaster loop and flies at speeds up to 120 km/h, or watch the Ferrari brand come to live through dramatic and acrobatic shows. And don’t forget to enjoy an authentic Italian dining experience at one of their restaurants before leaving. Ferrari World is open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Yas Marina Circuit
Continue your fast and furious ways at Yas Marina Circuit, a sporting and entertainment venue. It hosts professional motorsport events and experiences throughout the year, but is most known for being the home to the annual Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Check the events schedule to see what events are happening when you’ll be in town, and if there isn’t, find your personal fast-paced experience by booking a driving or passenger track experience.
When the heat is on, the adrenaline-powered waterslides and surfing attractions at Yas Waterwold will cool you off. With more than 40 rides and slides spanning four thrill levels, each member of your family will have a splashing good time. Yas Waterworld also offers shopping, restaurants and an array of events during the year. The waterpark is open year-round and opens at 10 a.m., but the closing time varies so check the park overview on their website for the correct times during your visit.
Saadiyat Cultural District
Currently undergoing remarkable transformations, the Saadiyat Cultural District is your one stop for a day spent enjoying the arts and engrossing yourself in the history and culture of the UAE. From captivating performances to unique exhibitions and fascinating museums, your mind will be blown with all there is to see and learn. Five museums are set to open in the next few years, but right now you can visit the artistic Manarat Al Saadiyat and the UAE Pavillion.
Saadiyat Beach Golf Club
Whether you’ve hit more holes in one than you can remember or are just getting into the game of golf, this beachfront golf course has the greens, instructors and views you’ve always wanted. With a long practice range, spacious putting green, three short-game areas and a private instructional area, you can get your kind of golf game on. The practice range is open 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and a round of golf is subject to play during the daylight hours and with available tee times.
Know before you go basics
Best travel times
Abu Dhabi sees beautiful sunshine all year round; however, the summer months get uncomfortably hot and humid. For the best temperatures, visit between October and May. Know though that this time is also tourist season, so if you prefer heat to big crowds, then the summer months are your best time to travel.
Also be sure to check when Ramadan starts and ends. This holy month typically isn’t a good travel time for tourists as you’re not allowed to eat or drink in public during the daytime hours to respect those who are fasting, and businesses have reduced operational hours.
The UAE’s official currency is the Emirati dirham. Here’s a travel converter for USD to AED. While credit and debit cards are commonly accepted in Abu Dhabi, many of the local markets and smaller shops only accept cash so you’ll want to make sure you have some of the local currency on you. You can exchange your money at licensed exchange offices, banks and hotels with your passport.
What to wear
While tourists aren’t expected to wear traditional clothing, unless you’re inside a mosque, it is recommended that you wear long and loose clothing made from natural materials, like cotton, since it’s the best way to survive the hot heat of Abu Dhabi. Tight, form-fitting clothes or clothing that could be offensive, i.e. attire that reveals your midriff, thighs, upper arms or cleavage, should not be worn. Long pants, knee-length or longer skirts and short sleeves are allowed. Shorts are only acceptable to wear at the beach, while both one and two-piece swimsuits for ladies are also allowed at the beach.
You cannot consume alcohol outside of hotels, so don’t take alcoholic beverages with you to public places, like parks, beaches, gardens, etc. You also don’t want to display affection with your partner in public—this is seen as offensive to some, and while the police aren’t walking around looking to arrest people kissing or cuddling in public, some locals may report you to the police.