Abu Dhabi is the United Arab Emirates (UAE) capital and is known for its cultural attractions and family getaways.
From traveling in the fastest roller coaster in the world to having a cappuccino that's sprinkled with gold, Abu Dhabi has the right combination of all experiences.
Travelers enjoy stunning beaches, along with historical and cultural attractions.
Tip: At the end of this article is an infographic (you can download for free) that Adventure Emirates, an Abu Dhabi-based tour company, put together for first-time visitors.
Before you plan your vacation to Abu Dhabi, consider the following.
At a Glance
- The gateway of Emirates – Dubai International Airport
- Languages – Arabic. English is widely spoken.
- Time zone – GMT +3.00 hours
- Religion – Islam, many other religions are practiced by expats
- Telephone Code – +971
The Highlights of Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi is a destination that you can visit year-round.
The must-dos in Abu Dhabi include a visit to the Corniche beach to enjoy the sun, a thrilling ride on the fastest roller-coaster in the world at Ferrari World, a taste of the gold-flecked cappuccino at the Emiratis Palace, and a visit to the archaeological and historical sites of Abu Dhabi.
- A visit to Yas Island – Yas Island is the place to go if you want to enjoy a thrilling drive. The Yas Island is a must-do for speed lovers, featuring Ferrari-themed rides, exciting water slides, and the Formula One Circuit.
- Al Ain – A historical site that features the life of Arabs of the bygone years up until the Stone Age, Al Ain is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – One of the largest mosques in the world, this grand mosque is designed to accommodate 41,000 worshippers at a time. It has 82 domes and is an architectural beauty.
- Louvre Abu Dhabi – An exotic art gallery that will open at the end of 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi will include 23 galleries and over 600 pieces of art.
- The Capital Gate – An architectural marvel, Capital Gate is the furthest-leaning man-made tower. It leans up to 18 degrees.
- The Observation Deck – A great way to enjoy your afternoon drink would be to head up to the observation deck of the Etihad Towers Complex. Located on the 74th floor, this deck offers a stunning view of the surroundings.
The best time to visit Abu Dhabi is from October to April. The potential rains and the wind keep the weather quite cool between 77F (25C) and 82F (28C).
From May to October, the heat and humidity can become unbearable.
Between June and September, the temperature can go up to 104F (40C).
Pack clothing that is comfortable. The temperature may necessitate light clothing, but you might need to cover up once you enter the malls and hotels.
Being a country with Islamic culture, it is advisable to wear clothing covering the body, including the knees and shoulders.
Women might be required to wear a headscarf when visiting the mosques.
The capital of UAE, the city of Abu Dhabi, is the largest city in the region.
Abu Dhabi comprises 200 islands, 400km of coastline, and stretches of deserts and mountains.
The Al-Ain City is Abu Dhabi's hub in the eastern region.
The City of Abu Dhabi
Being the capital of UAE, Abu Dhabi is the country's business center, and the government operates from Abu Dhabi too.
Most of the businesses and international embassies are located in iconic buildings like the Etihad Towers.
Abu Dhabi is comprised of islands that are interconnected to the Persian Gulf from the Central West Coast.
The Saadiyat Island features stunning beaches. The Yas Island is known for its fun-filled activities, the Corniche beach is known for its spectacular sunsets, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is an architectural marvel.
The Al Gharbia
Al Gharbia is the western region of Abu Dhabi. This occupies about two-thirds of the Abu Dhabi land.
Al Gharbia is comprised of remarkable golden dunes, ancient forts, and many miles of coastlines.
Al Gharbia features Liwa, a historic town that opens up to the oasis of Rub al Khali, also known as the Empty Quarter, the most extensive spread of desert in the world.
The Al Gharbia comprises the largest expanse of date plantations, featuring over 100,000 date palms.
The famous Qasr Al Sarab resort is a popular resort in Al Gharbia that offers the following activities:
- Camel trekking
- Dune bashing
- Dune dawn walks
- Falconry shows
- BBQ meals
If you want to take part and enjoy the Arab traditions and culture, then a visit to the Al Gharbia is a must.
Exciting events in Al Gharbia like camel beauty contests, date festivals, and hill climbs are popular Arab traditions.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed – the founding father of UAE, Al Ain means spring, as it once served as a place to find freshwater.
In history, Al-Ain served as a trading post for Arabian tribes.
The main features of Al Ain are the Al Ain Palace, Al Ain National Museum, and the Al Ain Oasis.
The Al Ain Oasis is spread across over 3,000 acres and features over 1,400 date palms.
Another exciting place to visit in Al Ain is the Jahili Fort. This was constructed as a summer residence for Sheikh Zayed in the 1890s, and then in the 1950s, it was expanded by the British.
Exciting activities available at the Jahili Fort include:
- Wadi bashing (i.e., drive in a 4WD exploring the riverbeds of the Fort)
- Hiking up the Jebel Hafeet mountain
- Visiting the busy camel market
- Go-karting racing occurs at Al Ain Raceway, which features a 1.6km go-kart track (making it the biggest in the Arabian region).
Restaurants and Cuisine
The restaurants of Abu Dhabi offer international cuisine in addition to traditional Arabian cuisine. You can also enjoy great food branded under the names of famous global chefs.
The local Arabian cuisine comprises many delicious flavors like cinnamon, saffron, turmeric, dried fruit, limes, and nuts. This adds aroma and a beautiful look to the food.
Some of the great Arabian dishes include:
- The Mezze Platter
- Al Harees – a dish that is a combination of meat and wheat that is cooked in a clay pot and garnished with ghee
- Al Majboos – a spicy meat dish that bursts with flavor
- Al Madrooba – salted fish cooked in a spicy way and served with different sauces
The must-try dessert is baklava, and it's best enjoyed with an Arabian coffee.
The Arabian Culture
Nomads were the first people to travel through the Arabian sands of Abu Dhabi in search of pastures for their camels.
Before the establishment of buildings and cities, it was just a place for travelers. The oasis was the main attraction in Abu Dhabi for the nomads.
Gradually, irrigation systems were established, known as Falaj, and it was used to cultivate date palms.
Abu Dhabi began undergoing a revolution about 50 years ago. Though there was a significant boost in economic development, Abu Dhabi has preserved its culture and traditions.
Dhow Sailing, Falconry, and camel racing are some of the traditional activities of Abu Dhabi.
Islam is the primary religion, and since it is the way of life of Arabs, both men and women wear conservative clothing.
Men dress in a kandura – a full-length white robe and women dress in an abaya – a full-length black robe with a headscarf known as sheyla.
Animals and Wildlife
The once-barren land is now home to lush date palms, acacia, and eucalyptus trees.
Abu Dhabi is home to 54 species of reptiles. The Gulf Coast is also home to mammals like dolphins, sharks, whales, and dugongs.
Abu Dhabi has the second largest population of dugongs in the world, with authorities taking various measures to protect these creatures.
Sir Bani Yas Island is home to a nature reserve that comprises 13,000 free animals.
The Ras Al Khaimah is a must-visit destination for the perfect combination of relaxation and adventure.
Abu Dhabi was just a passing place for tribal Bedouins. It was in 1761 that the Bani Yas tribe settled in Abu Dhabi around the Liwa Oasis.
With the pearl trade established in the 19th century, there was a boom in economic growth.
In 1892, Britain signed an agreement to serve as the protectorate. In the 1950s, oil was discovered; the first oil shipment left Abu Dhabi in 1962.
After the UK withdrew from the protectorate role, six Emirati groups joined hands to bring about the Federation, and Abu Dhabi was made the capital in 1971.
Attractions of Abu Dhabi
An upcoming cultural quarter of Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island is famous for its stunning beaches just a seven-minute drive from downtown.
The Zayed National Museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi, and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi are under construction and open for tourists soon.
Currently, the attractions of the Saadiyat Island are: Manarat Al Saadiyat – the visitor center, five-star resorts – St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, and Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi or visit the Saadiyat Beach club that is home to a 400-meter stretch of beaches and exotic restaurants.
Sir Bani Yas Island
An Island that houses the Arabian wildlife park and is home to over 13,000 animals. Sir Bani Yas Island is one of the Desert Islands of Al Gharbia.
All hotels are eco-friendly and are designed in a way that preserves the environment.
When you visit Sir Bani Yas Island, there are many activities that you can take part in, visit well-designed stables and historical sites.
A Christian Monastery that was built in 600AD is a primary historical attraction of the city.
The animals that you can see on the Island are the Arabian Oryx, gazelles, giraffes, hyenas, and cheetahs.
An artificial Island, the Yas Island is a must-visit for every tourist; it's the place to come for the adventure and fun-filled activities.
The Yas Island is home to the world's fastest roller coaster – Formula Rossa, which reaches a speed of 250kph in 4.9 seconds.
The Ferrari World indoor theme park and the Formula One racing Track ensure that adults and kids enjoy every second.
The Liwa Oasis is located amidst a stretch of desert and dunes.
Located 250km south of Abu Dhabi, the Liwa Oasis is home to the largest dune known as Moreeb. Liwa Oasis was also the birthplace of the rulers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The largest mosque in Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, is built in white marble and features 82 domes, four minarets, and the largest Iranian hand-knitted carpet.
Built by Sheikh Zayed, this mosque is open daily to visitors (except on Friday mornings, for worshippers only). You can enjoy a mesmerizing view of the sunset in this mosque.
A must-visit attraction of Abu Dhabi, the Emirates Palace is a 7-star hotel and one of the most expensive hotels ever built.
The main features of this palace are its sand color, 114 domes, and gold flake cappuccinos.
The 1,240-meter high limestone mountain, Jebel Hafeet, is the second tallest peak in the UAE.
This mountain is home to 500 ancient tombs and wildlife species like red foxes, feral cats, and the rock hyrax.
The best way to visit Jebel Hafeet would be to drive, but you can cycle up to the peak if you are up for the challenge.
Some of the available activities on the way to Jebel Hafeet are white water rafting, kayaking, and surfing.
A beautiful attraction of Abu Dhabi, Corniche comprises 8km of manicured seafront promenade that houses kids' play areas, cycle lanes, cafes, and restaurants.
Corniche Beach has been separated for family, singles, and the general public.
Citizens of the following countries can get a visa on arrival: Australia, Andorra, Brunei, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, South Korea, Singapore, United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK), and the Vatican City.
You can fly to any UAE airport. This visa is valid for 30 days and can be obtained free of charge.
You can get a visa on arrival with a validity period of 90 days if you are traveling from these countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Latvia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Seychelles, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, and Slovenia.
However, once the visa period expires, all passport holders will have to get a paid visa.
At Adventure Emirates, we're specialists in getting visas for our customers, so select our visa services to get the best deal.
For more information about Abu Dhabi, click the infographic below to see it at full size.
This article was brought to you in partnership with Adventure Emirates.
This post was written by a guest contributor. Please reference the author's byline in the post above for more information. If you would like to guest post on Go Backpacking, please read our submission guidelines. For information on advertising opportunities, go here.
Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:
- G Adventures for small group tours.
- World Nomads for travel insurance.
- Hostelworld for booking hostels.
- Rail Europe for train passes.
Saturday 16th of September 2017
Such an informative post! Learned a lot about what to do in Abu Dhabi! Especially enjoyed the descriptions of each attraction :) Would love to stay at the Emirates Palace and try their gold flake cappucinoes! For now... A starbucks will have to do