If you’re putting together a list of things to see in Abu Dhabi, you’ll be spoilt for choice. From stunning 21stcentury buildings to traditional souks and even Bedouin villages, there’s so much to see and explore. You’ll probably find some hidden gems of your own, but we’ve put together a list of our chosen must-see sights.
1) The Corniche
The Corniche is an elegant strip that stretches for 4 miles (6.4 kilometres), with landscaped lawns and lush gardens on either side. It’s a great place to stroll and people-watch, and you’ll also find play areas for the kids, running tracks, picnic tables and more. Fountains all along the Corniche enhance the cool atmosphere, and the beautiful Corniche and Abu Dhabi beaches can be found just over the road.
2) The desert
If you’d like to see what life might have been like before all the modern opulence, an evening desert safari can take you out to the sand dunes and a Bedouin-inspired camp. Your tour guide will connect you with a range of activities to try, including sand boarding, henna painting and shisha smoking. Your evening ends with a BBQ under the stars.
3) The Emirates Palace
This is a must-see if you’re in Abu Dhabi. With spectacular design and completely over-the-top furnishings, as well as manicured lawns, glinting chandeliers and lots of gold everywhere, the Emirates Palace is made to impress. It's somewhere between a hotel and a palace, but you’re free to wander the atrium and the grounds, taking in the opulence as you go.
4) Sheikh Zayed Mosque
See the world’s largest handmade carpet in the main prayer hall and marvel at the elaborate chandelier. Everywhere you look there's gleaming white marble, inlaid with intricate floral designs. The architecture may be vast, but the atmosphere is spiritual and intimate. Remember to follow the dress and behaviour codes when you visit.
5) The Yas Marina Circuit
If you’re a Formula 1 fan then you’ll want to come over to Yas Island, the home of Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 racetrack. Come over on a Tuesday and you’ll be able to get out on the track yourself for free, either on foot or by bicycle. You can take a 2-hour guided tour of the circuit too.
6) Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital
You’ll need to book well in advance, but it’s worth it. You’ll learn about the history of Arabian falconry, and observe the careful and traditional art of training. 75,000 falcons pass through the hospital every year, so you won't miss the change to observe falcon feeding, and perhaps even hold a falcon yourself.
7) Saadiyat Island
This is a tourist resort for the locals. Just 500 metres off the coast, the island offers a range of activities for visitors, including everything from meditative yoga to watersports. There’s a golf course here too, and it will soon become a centre for the arts in the region, with Abu Dhabi outposts of both the Guggenheim and Louvre Museums both under construction.
8) The Eastern Mangroves
The Mangroves here are extremely important ecologically, helping to protect the coast from waves and currents, and acting as a haven for birds and marine life. You can come and take a guided kayak tour around the trees to see this unique ecosystem for yourself. It’s a good idea to bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a bottle of water.
9) Abu Dhabi Mall
Let’s face it - Abu Dhabi's fantastic tax-free shopping is a prime drawcard, with a number of malls that are really closer to palaces. This huge complex is home to hundreds of stores. Don't miss Marina Mall, with its free Sky Tower, stunning Yas Mall on Yas Island, or Abu Dhabi Mall, which includes everything from exclusive designer brand names through to supermarkets and hypermarkets. There’s a Cineplex here too, so if you get tired from all that
10) Heritage Village
With the jungle of towering skyscrapers constantly growing around you, it’s difficult to imagine what the Emirates were like before the discovery of oil. But a visit to the Heritage Village can give you an idea. Come and explore around a traditional Bedouin village – you might even be able to have a go at a traditional craft during your visit.