Abu Dhabi is an incredible place to live, every resident will tell you that. From the easy going pace of life, to the first class healthcare, education, glitzy hotels, and countless options for dining and nightlife, it is growing on the global scene every day. The city is filled with growing possibilities, which make me very proud to call it home, for the past 7 years.
I’ve compiled a mini guide of my favourite places which every resident and tourist should explore when visiting our sparkling capital city, check it out!
FOR CULTURE VULTURES
The city offers a wide range of cultural venues and activities, from local insights into life before the oil era, to the modern collection of experiences. Here are my favourites:
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – Abu Dhabi’s most photographed landmark, with sparkling crystal chandeliers, beautiful stained glass mosaics, and the world’s largest knotted carpet. The mosque has an impressive lighting system which reflects the phases of the moon, as well as offers an oasis of calm for worshipers and visitors.
- Heritage Village – a blast into the past of dessert villages, which showcases the Bedouin lifestyle, demonstrates the UAE heritage, offers crafts for purchase and boasts blissful views of the city skyline across the sea.
- The Souk at Qaryat Al Beri – a modern construction of a souk “market”, boasting impressive canals, dining outlets and views to die for!
- Louvre Abu Dhabi – officially opening on 11th November, every resident will be anxiously counting down until its doors officially open. I will be the first one in line 🙂
- Warehouse421 – located in the Mina Zayed (port of Abu Dhabi), this creative space was converted from an industrial warehouse in 2015, and extends a platform for performing arts, music, culture and design. It is used as an exhibition space presenting art shows, cultural events and creative projects, while highlighting local and international artists.
- Souq at World Trade Centre – this is the perfect place to purchase authentic eastern spices and souvenirs, it is again a reflection of an olden day souq in a modern venue, connected to the mall.
- Qasr Al Hosn – Located in the heart of the city, lies the oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi built in 1761 and served to protect the city’s freshwater well. The tower was expanded into a fort, and became the seat of the government until the 1960’s. Today it is home to a museum which displays beautiful historic artifacts and memories of the country. One of my favourite events ever, is the Qasr Al Hosn Festival which takes place every March and beautifully portrays the UAE’s heritage.
- Etihad Modern Gallery – showcasing vintage art, sculptures and relics, this impressive gallery is a wonderful place to escape for a few hours and admire ancient relics. It also hosts exhibitions at the Art House Cafe – an excellent place to enjoy a refreshment, while immersing in colourful art pieces.
FOR THRILL SEEKERS
If adventure is your thing, Abu Dhabi has plenty to offer! Here are my top picks:
- Ferrari World & Yas Waterworld – Abu Dhabi’s first theme parks, but certainly not the last with the Warner Bro’s and Sea World opening soon. Residents and visitors are in for a ride at Ferrari World which boasts the world’s fastest ride. Yas Waterworld is filled with crazy aquatic twists and tubes like the Funnel, which are bound to get your heart rate pumping.
- Yas Marina Circuit – of all the events taking place in Abu Dhabi, none is more revered than the annual Formula 1 final race. Taking place usually in November, the spirit of Yas Island transforms from leisure to adrenaline rushes, with the smell of burning tires, sounds of cars lapping, and celebrity filled events. The YMC organizes regular events such as TrainYas and drag races, and of course, is the only circuit in the world, with a hotel located right in the middle of the race track.
- Hiltonia Beach Club – one of the most popular beach clubs in the city, is a great place to recharge, while also offering boat rentals where everyone can embark on a leisurely cruise across the crystal blue water, dock at the neighboring Lulu Island for a BBQ while watching the city skyline.
- Desert Safaris – no visit to Abu Dhabi is complete without at least one desert safari on your list! The ride starts with a thrilling dune bashing session, followed by a photo session where you can kiss a camel; and ends in the Bedouin style camp where everyone can enjoy sand surfing, quad biking, and camel rides, followed by dinner under the stars. The moment when the sun sets over the dunes beyond the horizon, is the most magical sight.
- Zayed Sports City – is every athlete’s fantasy complex, offering state of the art courts, an ice rink, massive bowling rink, and large stadium. The complex hosts the Mubadala World Tennis Championship every year in December where world favourites battle it out on the tennis courts.
- Al Forsan International Sports Resort – offers a diverse range of activities such as a large carting zone, water sports, archery, shooting, horse riding and more! Active weekends sorted!
FOR LEISURE LOVERS
- Eastern Mangroves Promenade – spread along a beautiful seafront, basking in the striking background of the Anantara Eastern Mangroves hotel, the leisurely promenade is a great place to enjoy long walks along the mangroves, world cuisines, and activites. Abu Dhabi is firmly committed to protecting its wildlife and several tours are available for bird watching, kayaking and eco boats where guests can learn about the protected species which reside in these waters.
- Sir Bani Yas Desert Island – did you ever imagine to find roaming wildlife such as giraffes and cheetahs in Abu Dhabi? Sir Bani Yas Island is a special gem in the UAE, and a leisure seeker’s haven. It also holds the ruins of a Christian ancient monastery, salt domes, and a beautiful coastline. Day trips are available where visitors will enjoy a boat transfer, guided tour of the wildlife, and lunch while soaking in the island’s mesmerizing atmosphere.
- Corniche – in my eyes, the most beautiful piece of Abu Dhabi’s puzzle, this beautiful promenade stretches across 10km. Starting at the Zayed Port and ending at the Marina Breakwater, the Corniche is the best way to enjoy a stroll and watch the city transform before your eyes. On weekends, almost every resident spends some time on the Corniche, whether to enjoy exercise, to swim in the sea, have a refreshment, or watch the blissful sunsets. You may even make a furry friend 🙂
- Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre– located on the outskirts of the city, lies a rescue and rehabilitation centre for endangered animals including lions (yes, you read that correctly, lions!)
- Zaya Nurai Island – although technically 20 minutes by boat from Saadiyat Island, this place is our very own Maldives.
- Saadiyat Beach – the most beautiful public beach in Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Beach has an open sea, crystal clear waters, kilometres of white sand, and if you are lucky to greet them, some visitors including oryx, turtles and dolphins! It also has an ultra posh beach club where you can spend the entire day in the chilled pool while listening to the sounds of lapping waves.
- Umm Al Emarat (Mushrif) Park – although a desert, most people are usually surprised to hear about parks in the UAE. Umm Al Emarat Park is set among perfected landscaping, offering a tranquil setting for nature lovers. Dedicated to promoting sustainability, the park features a diverse range of plants and an eco design to protect water consumption. The park organizes community events focused on education, recreation, and fun such as the Love Food Festival.
FOR FOOD LOVERS
In a city filled with incredible concepts, it is no wonder that I haven’t written an entire post just about where and what to eat in Abu Dhabi. The city offers something for absolutely every taste, and the dining scene grows more diverse every day. Rather than simply listing my favourite outlets, here are some ways you can truly experience Abu Dhabi through yummy food:
- Start your day with an organic breakfast at Jones the Grocer, in Khalidiya, the heart of the city.
- Have lunch in any of the restaurants at the Venetian Village, followed by an abra (traditional boat) ride across the Maqta Creek.
- Enjoy an energizing gold-crusted (yes, you read that right) cappuccino in Emirates Palace – first of all its a palace, and second of all, its gold on a cappuccino … need I say more?
- Watch the sunset while sipping on a cocktail in Asia de Cuba or Catch – while you admire the magnificent views.
- Enjoy a taste of Brussels at the Belgian Cafe at InterContinental Abu Dhabi, which offers an extensive selection of drinks, delightful thick cut fries, and the best waffles in the city. You can also enjoy unlimited mussels, and live Jazz music during the cooler months.
- Check out the Galleria Mall on Al Maryah Island – it is the creme de le creme with its sparkly interiors, high end shopping, lots of dining options, and a beautiful promenade. It is also home to Magnolia Bakery … order the banana pudding, trust me. GO!
- Enjoy high tea at the Observation Deck at 300 in Jumeirah Etihad Towers while watching the city life go by, from the 74th floor.
- Visit Mina Zayed (Abu Dhabi’s port) in the early morning hours, where you can purchase fresh seafood, crisp fruit and veggies, and an abundance of freshly plucked dates. Or enjoy a traditional dinner with lots of local specialties in Al Arish Restaurant – one of the oldest in the city!
- Another one at the InterContinental Abu Dhabi, but I couldn’t leave this one out. Visit Chamas Churrascaria Restaurant – the city’s first and best Brazilian restaurant which offers endless skewers of meat cuts. Whether you are a meat lover or not (they do have a large salad bar) – this experience, cannot be missed!
- Devour a one metre pizza at Spaccanapoli Ristorante – I mean, if you can’t eat it alone, I suppose you can bring your family or friends 🙂 The trattoria style restaurant serves homemade classical Italian dishes, just like you would find in Italy. Buon apetito!
- Indulge in 34 layers of rich chocolate cake at Butcher & Still – I won’t say more – because I do have an entire post written about that, click the link above to find out. 🙂
There are just toooooooooooo many more incredible dining experiences to document in this section, but keep an eye out for my “Dine around Abu Dhabi” post coming soon 🙂
I did not mention anything for the shopaholics, but that is only because each of Abu Dhabi’s malls have something unique to offer, so visit the most popular ones: Yas Mall, Marina Mall, Al Wahda Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall, where you can shop until you drop!
I never really know how to describe Abu Dhabi to newbies, so I suppose the only word that really comes to mind is: amazing.
Have you ever visited Abu Dhabi? I would love to hear what your favourite places are!
- Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
- Heritage Village
- The Souk at Qaryat Al Beri
- Louvre Abu Dhabi
- Souk at World Trade Centre Mall
- Qasr Al Hosn
- Etihad Modern Gallery
- Warehouse 421
- Ferrari World & Yas Waterworld
- Yas Marina Circuit
- Hiltonia Beach Club
- Zayed Sports City
- Al Forsan International Sports Resort
- Eastern Mangroves Promenade
- Sir Bani Yas Desert Island
- Desert Safari by Emirates Tours
- Abu Dhabi Wildlife Centre
- Saadiyat Beach
- Umm Al Emarat (Mushrif) Park
Disclaimer: All views are my own and all photographs are © My Pink Diary, unless otherwise stated.