As the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi boasts a host of attractions, catering for adults and children alike, which can help to create a fun experience whether you’re visiting for work, pleasure, or a bit of both.
Ideal for relaxing retreats in a hot, sunny climate, the capital is becoming increasingly popular for those looking for a luxurious mini-break. If you’re travelling with the family, as a couple, or with friends for a special event, our (long) weekend guide will help to ensure that you make the most of what this eclectic city has to offer.
Day One: City exploration
Much like nearby Dubai, Abu Dhabi has enjoyed intense restoration over the past few years, which has created plenty of modern amenities for guests of all ages. This modernity is coupled with historical landmarks and other places of significance, creating a diverse and memorable city experience.
9am-11am: Visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
This imposing building is set in stunningly maintained grounds, making it a truly impressive sight. The sheer size of this mosque allows it to accommodate 41,000 worshippers, and it is open to non-Muslims looking to learn more about Abu Dhabi’s heritage.
Tours of the building are not available during prayer times, which change daily, so be sure to investigate this before your visit, and opening times are limited to the early evening on Fridays.
11am-1pm: Explore Qasr Al Hosn
This fort, which you may recognise from the back of the AED 1000 note, was originally created as a watchtower in 1761 to protect the freshwater well. It eventually became the home of the Al Nahyan family in 1793, and maintained its royal residence status until the mid-1960s. Abu Dhabi beach is close by, so you could take a dip in the cooling sea waters after visiting the fort.
1pm-5pm: Flash your cash at Abu Dhabi Mall
Avoid the heat of the desert sun and experience a shopping experience like no other. Alongside its 200 shops, the mall has a number of cinema screens and children’s activities to keep the little ones happy while you shop. This is an excellent destination to buy gifts for loved ones at home, as well as perfume, sweet treats and men’s and women’s clothing to suit any price range.
8pm-11pm: Indulge in local cuisine
Once you’ve rested, showered and dropped off your shopping bags, it’s time to take on the Abu Dhabi nightlife. Near Qasr Al Hosn is a range of snack and pastry stands that attract locals looking for a quick bite, whilst the Lebanese Flower restaurant is famed for its reasonably priced and delicious food. Afterwards, head to the Belgian Beer Café to enjoy a range of draughts and bottles overlooking the stunning marina.
Day two: Delve into the desert
A trip to Abu Dhabi’s surrounding desert is a full-day affair, and shouldn’t be rushed. Despite the remote and peaceful location, there are lots of activities to be enjoyed by those who take advantage of the best excursions that the city has to offer.
Many trips include activities such as camel rides, sand dune surfing, a safari in an air-conditioned car, and even meals under the open night sky. Traditional entertainment, such as belly dancing, can also be enjoyed as part of the day.
Given the remote and often harsh nature of the desert, it is highly recommended visitors travel with a professional service. That way, all you have to worry about is having fun. Ensure that you take plenty of bottled water… and don’t forget your sunscreen!
Day three: Aquatic adventures
After a day spent in the heat of the desert sun, it’s time to enjoy some water-based adventures. Whether you want to make a splash, enjoy the view or sample fine fishy cuisine, Abu Dhabi is a great location for aquatic activities… even if it is in a desert!
10am-1pm: Make a splash at Yas Waterworld
Ideal for families with children of all ages, Yas Waterworld is renowned for its range of exciting slides. Thrill seekers will love adrenaline-fuelled experiences like the Dawwama and the free-falling Liwa Loop. Meanwhile, those who prefer to take it a little easier will enjoy the park’s lazy rivers, or test your surfing and bodyboarding skills on the Bubbles’ Barrel and Rush Rider.
1pm-4pm: Enjoy a late lunch at Al Mina Fish Market
Open early until late, the Al Mina Fish Market is an unforgettable experience. With a vast range of seafood on offer, you have the opportunity not only to enjoy the bustling market atmosphere, but to choose a fish, and have it gutted, filleted, spiced and cooked exactly to your liking. An absolute must-visit for those who enjoy sea cuisine and want to taste something completely new.
4pm-8pm: Take a stroll on Abu Dhabi Corniche
Stretching the massive length of the north-west coastline, the Abu Dhabi Corniche is a real treat, offering fantastic waterfront views framed by huge sky scrapers. A centre of activity, there is plenty to see and experience. Wander through the beautiful gardens that provide a natural reprieve from city life, and enjoy a relaxing drink on the beach as you watch the sun set over the ocean.
8pm-11pm: Indulge in luxury cuisine
Once you’ve visited the fish market, you’ll want to sample Abu Dhabi’s signature seafood cuisine. Finz is a highly rated restaurant, offering seafood prepared in a vast number of ways. Meanwhile, Sayad is an exclusive and indulgent choice for a special occasion, with the kitchen preparing original and exciting dishes for those lucky enough to get a seat – be sure to book in advance!
You’re never short of things to do in Abu Dhabi. This diverse and exciting city provides plenty of entertainment to be enjoyed by people of all tastes and interests, with its location between the coast and the desert meaning you’re never short of new things to experience.