Have you heard of Abu Dhabi? I’ve been surprised how many people haven’t and only know about nearby Dubai. Abu Dhabi is actually the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), not Dubai. But like Dubai, it is a rapidly growing city, base to a major international airline (Etihad Airlines), and chock full of glittering attractions. Whether you’re in Abu Dhabi for a long layover, or whether you’re visiting Dubai and debating a day trip, I can highly recommend Abu Dhabi after three nights here myself. What is there to do? Keep reading for my top 5 attractions you cannot miss while in Abu Dhabi, listed in order of proximity to the airport.
1. SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
The biggest Abu Dhabi attraction is by far the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is the largest mosque in the country, one of the largest mosques in the world, and it allows non-Muslim visitors. Yay! If there is one thing you can see during your time in Abu Dhabi, this should be it.
The mosque is open to visitors (for free!) Saturday – Thursday 9am to 10pm. It is closed for tourism on Friday mornings, but it reopens after 4:30pm after prayers. See official hours here.
Though the mosque is kindly open to non-Muslim visitors, that does not mean there is no dress code. Remember to be respectful to the people for whom this is a religious place. See official dress code guidelines here. Most visitors simply change into one of the free blue or brown robes provided for during the visit.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has the world’s largest carpet and the world’s largest chandelier. These can only be seen with a (free) tour of the inside. Tours depart from the north arcade entrance, and be sure to arrive 15min before, as they are punctual. I was late to mine, but luckily they let me run and catch up! See official tour hours here.
I really wanted to return to the mosque to see it at night, when it is lit up in blue. But I failed to make it happen.
2. THE CORNICHE
The Corniche is a 4-mile promenade along the water. Have some brunch and enjoy a relaxing stroll on the wide, clean street. Pass by Corniche Beach, then Abu Dhabi Beach.
If you’re into some history and culture, a 15 minute walk from Abu Dhabi Beach is Qasr al Hosn Fort, aka Al Hosn Palace. It is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi. It was unfortunately under reconstruction during my visit. so I could only lap the outside.
3. EMIRATES PALACE
This luxury 5-start hotel is world famous. Definitely spend some time walking around the Emirates Palace. Explore around the hotel to really get a sense of its extravagance. One of the two chandeliers in here weights 2.5 tons! Don’t forget to sit at the cafe and order the camel’s milk with gold leaf. #bougie. Across from Emirates Palace is the Presidential Palace.
4. ETIHAD TOWERS
Right next to Emirates Palace are the iconic Etihad Towers. Everyone says the building in the UAE are huge, but walking by these towers, you’ll really notice how much larger they are than anything you’ve seen!
Can you image actually living in these?! I was lucky enough to find an AirBnb in one of the apartments here. My room had a view of Emirates Palace.
There is Observation Deck at 300 on level 74 of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers. It is the highest vantage point in Abu Dhabi, from which you can see the city’s skyline, the Corniche, and Arabian Gulf. Most of the price of the entry ticket can even be redeemed for food or drink inside.
5. HERITAGE VILLAGE
This one might sound a little random, but hear me out!! This is where the best view of the water and skyline is, so if you come for nothing else, at least come for that.
The Heritage Village and Women’s Handicraft Center is located a little past Etihad Towers and Emirates Palace. It is a free-entry reconstruction of a traditional Emirati desert village, before all the oil money turned the UAE into what we know is as today.
I always love to get beneath the superficial layer of a place, and I enjoyed learning a bit about Emirati history and culture. But my favorite part was the beautiful beach on which it is built.
The water in Abu Dhabi is much clearer than that in Dubai (but the water in Dubai is still gorgeous), and the skyline view from here is hard to complete with.
If you’re interested in some shopping, Marina Mall is gorgeously decorated and located on this same island. Just make a right towards the mall instead of left towards Etihad Towers when you are done at the Heritage Village.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT MY TOP ABU DHABI ATTRACTIONS?
There is SO much more to do and see in Abu Dhabi, like lunch at a restaurant across the Mangroves, Masdar City near the airport, or relaxing on Yas Island, just to name a few. For those of you who have been to Abu Dhabi, what do you think of my top 5 attractions? Would you change anything?
For those of you who’ve never been, have I proved to you that Abu Dhabi is also worth visiting when in the country?! Let me know in the comments below!