Abu Dhabi has seen a dramatic change in the recent years with travel and retail dominating the city’s business output as opposed to the earlier image of it being an oil and natural gas centre. The investments by foreign entities in tourism industry and the huge influx of foreign capital in real estate of the city gave a new dimension to the modern metropolis we see Abu Dhabi as now!
To select 15 tourist places in Abu Dhabi – a city bustling with a reported 4.1 million tourists in 2015 would be quite a challenge. Thanks to the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), the city boasts of some of the best offerings in heritage, adventure, luxury and indulgence like a top global tourism destination should! There are options for people of all tastes and likings in a city that comprises of Parks, Museum, Fort, Beach, Harbour, Malls and the iconic Sheikh Zayed Mosque. If you are in Abu Dhabi, you will never run out of options to eat, stay or revel.
Our top 15 picks from all major Abu Dhabi attractions are
1. Qasr Al Sarab
If you are a lover of serenity and want to experience a bit of life in the desert then this resort should be your destination on reaching Abu Dhabi for a holiday. It is less than 200 km from the main city and bookings for this excursion can be made online and on reaching the city too. There are a host of activities for tourists planned at the resort like walks in the desert and biking through the dunes. The centuries old tradition of falconry can be witnessed as the resort offers a special ‘Falcon Feats’ attraction.
2. Saadiyat Island
This 27 square kilometre island attracts an endangered species of sea turtles, the Hawksbill. Since the conservation program was initiated on the island’s nine km beach in 2010, the situation of this visitor on the island has improved drastically. The island offers luxurious stays at St. Regis and Hyatt and a perfect day out on the 400 m Saadiyat Public Beach giving a pristine view of the gulf of Abu Dhabi. World renowned retired golfer Gary Player has designed the magnificent ocean course at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club. Manarat Al Saadiyat should be first on the list when visiting this island which is only 20 minutes from the city airport.
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3. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
It is an architectural marvel, a place which cannot be equalled by any other made in the world. The Grand Mosque has more than 80 domes made of pure white marble and supported by more than 1000 pillars with carvings on each of them. The chandeliers are unique and found nowhere else with the heaviest one weighing 12 tons! Visitors of all religions and faiths are welcome to visit the mosque in non-prayer hours. The total amount of marble used in the construction exceeds 100,000 tons!
4. Yas Marina Circuit and Ferrari World
Located on the Yas Island, 30 minutes from the UAE capital, the Yas Marina Circuit hosts the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which is the only circuit in the F1 calendar hosting a race at dusk making it a unique spectacle! The Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is one of a kind theme park that takes you through the history of Ferrari and also comprises of multiple options to eat in the savoury Italian cuisine.
5. Nurai Island
The word ‘nur’ in the Arabic languages means light or glow. In the Zaya Nurai – a private beach resort, luxury reaches its heights when you sit down on the tranquil sea-side waiting for the sun to set over the gulf of Abu Dhabi. It is a perfect romantic getaway for couples, which can be reached through a ten minute boat journey from the Saadiyat. Make your dining reservations with the boat ride to and from the island in advance to enjoy this peaceful experience, and if you can – spend a night!
6. Abu Dhabi Corniche
The best way to explore the waterfront of Abu Dhabi – the Corniche is by renting a bicycle and pedalling it on the 8 km cycle track along the beach. The waterfront gives an amazing view of the tall buildings of the city and the sea even if you’re taking a stroll down the beach. Stops can be made to catch on refreshments which are available throughout. Locals and tourists love this part of the city alike and the evenings are enjoyed the most in the parks and cafes along the public beaches at the Corniche.
7. Qasr Al Hosn
Also known as the ‘White Fort’, Qasr Al Hosn is the oldest building made of stone in Abu Dhabi whose construction dates back to 1760. The building can be viewed from the First Street and houses a museum where history of UAE can be observed through various artefacts, pictures and other objects preserved by the authorities. An eleven day festival is hosted annually on the grounds of the fort and if you’re in Abu Dhabi during that time, then a visit is must as one gets to learn about the cultures and traditions of the country through musical and dance performances.
8. Emirates Palace
Want to see an ATM that dispenses gold bars? Emirates palace has one! It is not possible for all tourists to check in at this marvel of luxury that has its own private beach but to check out the place, tourists can have a stroll around and it is worth it! The palace hotel has a capacity of 400 rooms and suites that offer luxury at its finest. The count of chandeliers inside the palace reaches 1002! The Palace also plays host to the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, an annual event dedicated to cinema and culture.
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9. Yas Mall Abu Dhabi
Looking for a retail experience in a vast space? Yas mall is built on a whopping premise of 2.5 million square foot and offers the best of destination shopping experience. The mall is located on the Yas Island and is easily accessible from the town of Abu Dhabi. Restaurants offer cuisines from around the world, the Cineplex has 20 screens and the entertainment zone managed by Funworks offers activities to engage kids and adults alike! With local and international brands showcasing their products in the retail space, the shoppers are never short of options.
10. Sir Bani Yas island
It is located at a distance of 170 km from Abu Dhabi and is the largest natural island in the gulf of Abu Dhabi. The conservation efforts to promote wildlife and related tourism on the island were initiated in 1977 by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan and today the Arabian Wildlife Park is home to animals and birds like the Arabian Oryx, Sand Gazelle, and Sudanese Cheetah, the striped hyenas, giraffe and ostrich.
11. Heritage Village by Emirates
The heritage village is a classic recreation of a desert oasis. Local crafts like pottery and metal designing are displayed by the men dressed as traditional Arabic villagers while the women are more than happy to share their skills of spinning and weaving out of wool. There is also a spice shop inside the village which is a treat for lovers of vivid tastes!
12. The Sky Tower
Upon construction in 2010 with 74 floors, the sky tower was the tallest building in Abu Dhabi and had space for residences, offices and the amazing Tiara, a revolving restaurant which offers a 360 degree view of this beautiful city. The view from the building is amazing and worth each penny spent if you visit the place at night with the whole of Abu Dhabi lit up.
13. Khalifa Park
The parks in Abu Dhabi are a unique attraction for tourists as each of them is designed in a different way to engage people in activities that range from get together to casual outings. The Khalifa Park was opened for public in 2007 with an entry fee of AED 1. The train tour of the park is a fun activity enjoyed to the fullest by the kids. The museum inside the park is dedicated to the history of Abu Dhabi. There is a section for hosting barbecues and there is also a public library within the park’s premise.
14. Mirfa Beach
A fully developed beach on the western coast of Abu Dhabi, the Mirfa is host to the Al Gharbia Water-sports Festival. The beach is a secret getaway and people who visit the area during the festival are left with memories of a lifetime. The festival events include kite-boarding, surf-ski, kayaking and wake-boarding. The ‘sunset souk’ is an experience to relish as the campers get to view some of the best local goods. The festival is held during the summer season in April and the details are available on the Abu Dhabi tourism page.
15. InterContinental Bay Shore
The 300 m natural beach front topped with an infinity pool is a fine place to be for the day during summer to relax and indulge. The swim up bar on the infinity pool serves cocktails and beverages for the tourists who need to reserve the rights to admission in advance by paying a fee of AED 270 for couples and AED 150 for single entry. The spa and gym can be accessed with the spa having two multi treatment areas that offer relaxing face and body procedures.
Abu Dhabi has become a tourist hub in the last decade and the exponential rise in the number of visitors is expected to continue in the future! Visit Abu Dhabi for a mix of both the worlds – the Arabic tradition and the Globalized high life.