Abu Dhabi may not be a glitz capital like her sister Dubai, but there’s much to see and do in this Emirate. From the Grand Mosque to Ferrari World and the Louvre, Abu Dhabi has a series of attractions that’ll take days to enjoy in full. However, if you have just one day to spend backpacking Abu Dhabi, make the best out of it and check out our recommended sights and activities. The ideal time to visit the capital city of UAE is from April to May or from September to February.
1. Ferrari World
Ferrari World is the ideal place for some serious thrills and spills. It is home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, the fierce Formula Rossa. It’s the world’s first Ferrari-themed amusement park in the world and Abu Dhabi’s star attraction. Enjoy driving on the F1 racetrack all over Yas Island. Check out the exhibition of vintage Ferraris. Whether you want to go-kart with your kids or enjoy the intense G-force of huge rollercoasters or challenge the best F1 lap times via the best F1 simulator in the world, Ferrari World has something for everyone.
2. The Grand Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a marvel of white marvel, with multiple minarets and pillars studded with a ton of semi-precious stones. The insides contain the world’s biggest crystal chandelier, and the world’s biggest carpet as well. With free admission and parking, the Grand Mosque is a very popular attraction in Abu Dhabi. Be sure your shoulders and knees are covered if you’re a man, and wear a full abaya and headdress if you’re a woman.
3. The Heritage Village
Get a whiff of Abu Dhabi’s earlier nomadic culture at the Heritage Village. Get to know what life was like in the Emirate before the oil boom. Check out how the Bedouin tents are laid out and how the women cook food on stone outside their tents. Observe local craftspeople at their chosen crafts. Check out the old-style buildings, stroll through the old souqs and rediscover Islamic traditions. Purchase a few handmade items as souvenirs for the people back home as proof of your one day in Abu Dhabi.
4. Emirates Palace Hotel
Want a taste of how people live in the lap of luxury in the UAE? Spend 10-20 minutes to check out the Emirates Palace Hotel and you’ll see fabulous cars parked out front. Feast your eyes on the series of Lamborghini’s, Ferraris, Rolls Royces and Bentleys parked out front. Go inside and check out the ‘Gold ATM’, which spews out real coin coins and ingots in exchange for money. Definitely one of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi.
5. The Corniche
The Corniche is a 4 kilometer long waterfront boardwalk that’s bordered by Abu Dhabi’s amazing skyline on one side and the sea on the other. You can walk the distance or rent a bike. You can picnic at the many parks and barbecue spots alongside, and gaze in awe at Abu Dhabi’s famous landmarks such as the Emirates Palace, the Capital Building which leans dramatically, the humungous flag of the UAE, the Manarat Al Saadiyat (arts and culture hub) and several other architectural wonders.
6. Palace Marina
The Palace Marina is located off the Abu Dhabi Corniche, in front of the Emirates Palace. Take some time to observe the uber expensive 100 foot yachts moored at the marina. You’ll understand the real meaning of money here. Sign up for a boat ride along the Abu Dhabi coast and marvel at the coastline and the sight of incredibly lovely yachts on the water.
7. New Etihad Towers
If you want 360-degree panoramic views of Abu Dhabi, swing by New Etihad Towers. Located right across from the Emirates Palace Hotel, Etihad Towers offers the perfect spot for some lunch and some great views. Enjoy lunch with a view at the Quest Restaurant on the 63rd floor. For about 20 AED or less, you can enjoy a 3-course fixed price meal. The beauty of this hotel is that each table is placed in a private room that offers floor-to-ceiling windows for the perfect meal with a view.
8. Saadiyat Island and the Louvre
Don’t miss a visit to Saadiyat Island and the latest feather in Abu Dhabi’s cap – the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The Louvre Abu Dhabi has an enviable collection of over 30,000 artworks and art installations, a good portion of which are on loan from various museums in the world, including the Louvre Paris. After checking out the Louvre, make sure you also pay a visit to the Zayed National Museum to understand the history of Abu Dhabi and the U.A.E.
9. Iranian Souq
Don’t miss a visit to the Iranian Souq to check out the authentic wool and silk carpets in myriad colors. You can also shop for perfumes, spices, and gold here. The souq is a traditional Arab-style market where you can haggle for the items you want, respectfully. Enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of a traditional souk as you shop to your heart’s content.
10. Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital
The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is a veterinary clinic where ill and injured falcons are provided with loving care. Falcons are very special to Arabs, who breed them and keep them as pets; they also use them in falcon hunting competitions. At the hospital, you can get up close to falcons, and study these fierce birds of prey. There’s an on-site museum at the hospital that explains the history of falconry. Try holding and petting a falcon, after taking the necessary precautions.
• Visit the Rosewood Hotel during happy hour and you can benefit from discounts up to 30% on your drinks. The hotel makes great sundowners. The outdoor bar at the hotel, Glo, offers Ladies Nights when free bottomless prosecco is served all evening.
• When you’re strapped for cash, look for branches of the Lebanon Flower Bakery, Khalidiya, Al Zahiyah and Al Markaziyah districts for a wallet-friendly lunch.
• Focus on the attractions that are free, like the Grand Mosque, Falcon Hospital, the Corniche, Palace Marina and others, to save money.
• Do you have more time? There’s plenty of other things to do as well! For example, you could visit the Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi.
If you plan well and ahead of time, you can take in most of the sights we’ve listed in just one day. Be sure to do your own research and consolidate your findings against the time you have to spend in Abu Dhabi. You won’t regret it. Abu Dhabi is culturally richer than Dubai; you’ll get a glimpse into the authentic Arabian life at this Emirate.
If you have more time, make sure to spend one day in Dubai as well!
About the Author
A postgraduate in Mass Communications, Neha loves everything about life. Traveling is extremely close to her heart and writing came to her naturally. An avid trekker & explorer, who often takes off some time from her busy life for mountaineering, she loves meeting new people & gets attached to their culture very easily. Her ambition is to explore as many places as she can in her life. She strongly believes in Gandhian principle – “simple living high thinking”. Read more about her guide to Dubai and follow her on Facebook.