Tick off the bucket list – here are the biggest and best things to do in Abu Dhabi across one, two and three days.
Whether you’re on layover, holiday or just a local looking to have your own Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in Dubai, we’re here to help you make the most of the city.
Abu Dhabi may be home to over 200 islands, but as the UAE’s largest Emirate and the capital of the UAE, there is plenty to see and do. Navigating the city is straightforward – while there are buses, bikes and electronic scooters, taxis are cheap and the most convenient mode of transport. Tip: download the Careem or Uber applications to book taxis in advance.
Since Abu Dhabi is home to world-famous sights – the world’s fastest rollercoaster, anyone? – you’d be forgiven for feeling a little overwhelmed. So, whether you’ve got 24 hours, 48 hours or 72 hours, this is how to make every second count. Here’s our curated Abu Dhabi itinerary featuring must-visit attractions, restaurants, bars and beaches in the capital. On your marks, get set, explore.
Day one: 24 hours in Abu Dhabi
Behold blockbuster sights, from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to Emirates Palace and the cosmopolitan Al Maryah Island.
Embrace Abu Dhabi’s coffee culture
Abu is home to some brilliant breakfasts. Jones the Grocer brings relaxed Aussie vibes (along with healthy brekkie options) to the capital, and is located in Al Mamoura, Khalidiya and Zayed The First Street. The Al Bateen neighbourhood is home to several popular coffee shops including the FACT Award-winning tashas. Come for the breakfasts (which are served until 6pm), and stay for the speciality coffee.
Visit the iconic Emirates Palace
In a city of varied dining destinations, nothing quite represents Abu Dhabi luxury like a trip to Emirates Palace. With its golden interiors and 1.2km stretch of private beach, Emirates Palace is one of the capital’s top tourist attractions. Head to Le Café, renowned for its signature gold-flaked Palace Cappuccino, one-of-a-kind Camelccino (made with camel milk) and decadent afternoon tea. With 114 domes scattered across the palace’s gold-leaf interiors, there’s plenty to explore, although the rooms and gardens remain off-limits to non-guests.
Marvel at the Presidential Palace
Abu Dhabi’s Qasr Al Watan is both a working Presidential Palace and a majestic cultural landmark that invites visitors to discover the rich legacy of knowledge and tradition that has shaped the UAE. Qasr Al Watan is an exquisitely crafted tribute to Arabian heritage and artistry, with its architecture and design echoing the significance of the impressive exhibits and rooms housed within its halls.
Shop for Arabic souvenirs inside The Souk at World Trade Centre
A footbridge connects Abu Dhabi’s modern World Trade Centre to its more traditional souk. Offering a modern twist on the traditional Middle Eastern marketplace, it’s a top spot to pick up a souvenir. With numerous, it includes Arabic handicrafts, perfumes, antiques and spices. Be warned: sellers will be vying for your attention. The souk is also home to cafés and restaurants that offer respite from retail therapy should you need a break.
Learn about Emirati heritage
Step back in time and experience the culture and heritage of the United Arab Emirates at the Heritage Village. Situated at the far end of Abu Dhabi’s picturesque corniche, this reconstruction of a traditional Bedouin village features craft workshops, educational exhibits and cultural festivals. Step inside a Bedouin house, admire ancient pottery and artefacts or visit the resident camel for a taste of desert life in the heart of the city.
Take advantage of a business lunch deal
Don’t let the name fool you. Here’s a restaurant hack you’ll want to know: Abu Dhabi has so many business lunch offers, and are a smart way to sample fine dining restaurants at a discounted price. Exceptional options across the capital include FACT Dining Awards Abu Dhabi winners 99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant and Zuma. The set menus often include a starter, main and dessert, and can run from 12pm to 4pm – do check beforehand, though. If you have more money than time, head to Al Maryah Island. Known as the city’s financial hub, it has a reputation for being home to Dubai’s swankiest restaurants. We’re big fans of COYA Abu Dhabi, Dai Tai Dong, Nusr-Et and LPM Restaurant & Bar.
Step back in time
Qasr Al Hosn is the oldest and most significant building in Abu Dhabi, holding the city’s first permanent structure; the watchtower. Constructed in the 1790s, the commanding structure overlooked the coastal trade routes and protected the growing settlement established on the island of Abu Dhabi. Over the centuries, Qasr Al Hosn has been home to the ruling family, the seat of government, a consultative council and a national archive; it now stands as a museum dedicated to narrating Abu Dhabi’s history.
Marvel at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the world’s most impressive architectural wonders. Promoting the tolerant nature of Islamic culture, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has become a leading attraction on the cultural and tourism map. The exemplary model of Islamic architecture was constructed between 1996 and 2007 and is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. It features a prayer hall that can accommodate over 7000 worshipers and the world’s largest carpet. The mosque is free to visit, and tourists are welcome to take photos, but please ensure you dress respectfully.
Eat a MICHELIN meal
With the unveiling of the first-ever MICHELIN Guide Abu Dhabi, the city received a grand total of three MICHELIN Stars. So, if you’re looking for a meal to remember, the options in the capital include fine dining Japanese food at 99 Sushi Bar & Restaurant, Cantonese classics at Hakkasan or Italian favourites with a contemporary twist at Talea by Antonio Guida inside Emirates Palace.
Day two: 48 hours in Abu Dhabi
Experience adrenaline-fuelled island adventures and destination dining on Yas Island.
Breakfast at LOCAL
When only hip will do, head to Local in Abu Dhabi’s Al Zeina neighbourhood. Make like the cool kids, as you’ll spot fabulously dressed people and creatives having meetings. Start your day with its speciality coffee and Instagrammable baked goods, including muffins, pastries and doughnuts. When you’re done eating, you can grab a haircut or shop for rare sneakers at the on-site barbershop and consignment store.
Splash about at Yas Waterworld
Theme parks, a golf course, a Formula 1 circuit and Abu Dhabi’s largest shopping mall await visitors to Yas Island. As the city’s premier leisure destination, Yas seemingly has it all. Splash your way through a morning at Yas Waterworld, where a line-up of 40 rip-roaring rides, slithering slides and exciting attractions await. Relax upon the beach at Amwaj or jump into the water and enjoy the region’s largest wave pool. For those searching for heart-pounding thrills, the Liwa Loop is the first free-fall drop waterslide in the region, while Falcons Falaj provides an adrenaline rush on the world’s longest mammoth six-seater water coaster.
Ride the world’s fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is the world’s first Ferrari-branded theme park and is home to a range of record-breaking rides and attractions. Encompassing 86,000 square meters, the theme park took three years to construct and can accommodate up to 10,000 visitors daily. The park has 37 rides and unique attractions designed to tell the Ferrari story, including a go-karting track, children’s driving school and a programme of entertaining shows that bring the Ferrari brand to life. Formula Rossa is the world’s fastest rollercoaster, travelling from 0 to 240 km/h in 4.9 seconds along a 2.4km track (phew). Alternatively, you can break another record as you ride Flying Aces which features the tallest inverted loop in the world at a stomach-churning height of 52 meters.
Hit the high-end shops and restaurants at Yas Mall
Located on Yas Island, Yas Mall boasts hundreds of shops and is the biggest mall in the capital. It’s easy to get lost (and distracted) by the rows and rows of luxurious shops – we’re not judging. Make a beeline for the food court for a spot of lunch to enjoy Emirati eats at Al Fanar, tables laden with seafood at Off The Hook, the ever-popular Cheesecake Factory, or tantasling Thai dishes at the soon-to-open Sticky Rice.
Visit the world’s largest indoor theme park
Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi is where visitors can immerse themselves in the world of their favourite movies. Buckle up and fly through the night skies of Gotham City on Batman: Knight Flight, spin and twist your way through The Riddler Revolution, or prepare to get soaked when embarking on The Flintstones Bedrock River Adventure. The movie-themed, family-friendly theme park currently holds the title of the world’s largest indoor theme park.
Scale the world’s tallest climbing wall
CLYMB is another of Yas Island’s world-record-breaking attractions where you can reach new heights. Gear up and take off in the world’s tallest indoor skydiving flight chamber or brave a selection of exhilarating indoor climbing walls and bouldering experiences. The pinnacle of which is the Summit, which offers thirteen routes allowing intrepid explorers to scale the 42-meter-high wall, the world’s tallest.
Enjoy a Jazz-fuelled dinner at Penelope’s
Penelope’s Brasserie & Jazz Bar Américain in the capital has the jazz seal of approval as Layla Kardan, the jazz musician behind Dubai’s Papillion cabaret, is just one of the big names backing the project. So, if you love French cinema, jazz and wine, put this venue on your must-visit list. Presenting a unique and enticing experience inspired by the charm and sophistication of the Cote D’Azure, guests are encouraged to embark on a memorable journey brimming with decadent dishes, live jazz and beats from a live DJ.
Day Three: 72 hours in Abu Dhabi
Hit the beach, enjoy a spot of culture and venture out into the desert.
Catch a camel race
Abu Dhabi’s camel racing season runs throughout the cooler winter months and is best experienced between November and March. A trip to the races can result in one of the most memorable highlights of any visit to the UAE but be prepared for an early start, as races generally begin at around 7am. Watch as the camels are cheered on, steered by robots remotely controlled from SUVs circumnavigating the track. The best spot for camel racing is Al Wathba, situated about 45 minutes from the city centre and set amidst a landscape of rolling desert dunes.
Enjoy a desert island escape
Nurai Island is one of Abu Dhabi’s most significant hidden gems. A paradisal island that feels like the Maldives but is a short boat from the capital. The boutique private island resort features a hotel, a world-class oceanside spa, five food and beverage outlets, a beach club and exciting activities on land and sea. Splurge on a stay in one of the one-bedroom beach villas complete with a private pool, or book a day pass and relax on the stunning beaches while enjoying the peace and tranquillity of island life.
Get back to nature at Jubail Mangrove Park
Abu Dhabi is an archipelago of over 200 islands, some of which are surrounded by beautiful natural mangroves. Jubail Mangrove Park represents the first self-contained educational, nature and leisure destination in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and is a place where visitors can meander along boardwalks to discover the capital’s avian and marine species. Aside from the phenomenal photo opportunities, Jubail Mangrove Park also works to enhance awareness and educate visitors on the important ecological function of the city’s mangrove habitats.
Lunch at Al Mamsha
Al Mamsha on Saadiyat Island has fast become the dining destination of choice in the UAE capital. A place where a plethora of homegrown concepts can be found hugging a picturesque stretch of shoreline close to the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The selection of coffee shops and casual licensed eateries flanked by powder white sands and the waters of the Arabian Gulf are undoubtedly appealing. We would recommend you order a burger at Pickl, dine on Levantine favourites at Beirut Sur Mer, grab a slice of pizza at Antonia or make like the FACT’s Editor-in-Chief and order the toro sakusaki nori and wagyu tataki at NIRI Restaurant and Bar. All are recent FACT Award-winners, so you can’t go wrong.
Visit Louvre Abu Dhabi
Located in the new cultural district on Saadiyat Island, Louvre Abu Dhabi contains a multitude of artworks, all housed under the iconic domed architecture designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel. Taking a different museographic approach (and a world’s first) when compared to other collections worldwide, Louvre Abu Dhabi displays its pieces chronologically. More than just a museum, the building itself is an attraction, with its latticed roof providing the striking ‘rain of light’ effect, whilst the flooded sea walls add to the ambience of this artistic marvel. Definitely one for the culture vultures.
Enjoy an art exhibition
Sticking with the Saadiyat Island Cultural District, Manarat Al Saadiyat provides a gateway to the arts and a place to practice and appreciate art freely. Meaning ‘place of enlightenment’, Manarat Al Saadiyat opened in 2009 and hosts an ongoing series of activities for the local community, including workshops and talks. Manarat Al Saadiyat continues to contribute to Abu Dhabi’s thriving art scene through exhibitions, performances and drop-in art studio spaces and is the site for the annual Abu Dhabi Art show.
Hit the dunes on a desert safari
Live out those 1001 Arabian nights fantasies and embark on a desert safari. Most excursions leave the city late in the afternoon and will likely involve a visit to a camel farm and an hour of dune bashing before arriving at a desert camp for a traditional dinner and light entertainment, such as a falcon show or dancing. Though the experience can be very touristy, the experience is fun, and the feeling of sitting out under the stars while enjoying a meal of flamed cooked chicken and lamb is undoubtedly unique.
Discover a culinary gem
The UAE is a melting pot of cultures, resulting in an abundance of global cuisines freely available on every street in the city. From the upmarket fine dining establishments to the family-friendly mall options, there is something for everyone in Abu Dhabi. We, however, recommend you take to the streets on foot in the densely populated Khalidiya and Tourist Club neighbourhoods to indulge in shawarma and Karak tea for a few dirhams. For a true hidden gem, head to Bonna Annee for Ethiopian coffee, injera bread and lamb stew, or visit Zahrat Lebnan, serving food from the Levant.