If you’re visiting the capital for race weekend, you need to be prepared to sleep very little, take hundreds of photos, and experience some of the very best days of your life.
But although Yas Island is home to more than enough restaurants, parties, bars and outdoor terraces to keep you thoroughly fed, watered and entertained for the duration of your trip, there are just so many other things that you need to see and do while you’re here.
When you only have a short while to experience Abu Dhabi it can be hard to know where to start. The list of attractions is endless. Whether you’re into pristine beaches, incredible art galleries or adventure-filled theme parks, the capital has it all.
So to help you with your holiday planning, here are the top ten experiences in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi Corniche
Most of the top things to see in Abu Dhabi can leave you feeling a bit worn out. So make sure you leave some time for relaxing on the beautiful white sands of the Corniche. The area is free to enter so it doesn’t have to cost you a thing. Bring your favourite book, swim suit and plenty of sun lotion, and enjoy relaxing in the sunshine. The area at A’l Bahar is full of fairground rides, food stalls and also a spectacular inflatable waterpark called AquaFun. You can easily spend an enjoyable few hours just wandering around and watching people attempt to take on the water-based monkey bars, jumps and other obstacles. After this head out onto the 500m promenade and get some amazing snaps of the Arabian Gulf. Obviously you’ll need to treat yourself to a cheeky ice cream while you’re there.
Free. Abu Dhabi Corniche. www.visitabudhabi.ae.
What the uninitiated might not know about Abu Dhabi is that along with its amazing array of man-made attractions, the capital also has an array of natural-born thrillers. Abu Dhabi’s Mangrove National Park makes up about 43 square miles of the city’s landscape, providing a picturesque home for more than 60 different species of bird along with a whole host of sea and plant life. One of the best ways to explore this area of outstanding beauty is by kayak, a popular hobby seeing as how many other people are out on the water every weekend. There are few things more rewarding than paddling out into nature and exploring the extra special selection of flora and fauna.
Dhs160 (adults), Dhs130 (ages three-12) for a kayak trip with Sea Hawk. Eastern Mangroves (02 673 6688).
Any visit to Emirates Palace is enough to make you feel like an actual prince or princess, and spending an evening or a leisurely afternoon at this magnificent hotel should be on any visitor’s itinerary. Head to Breeze Bar to watch the sunset and let out your best nonchalant “oh, I always hang out at places like this” pose for your increasingly jealous Instagram followers. Or if you’re up for a full afternoon of feasting, the brunch at Las Brisas is designed to look like the most beautiful Mediterranean market you’ve ever seen. Serving the most enormous range of international dishes, the outside dining area is right on the edge of the inviting pool, and from here you have a perfect view of the Gulf’s turquoise waters.
Brunch: Dhs370 (soft drinks), Dhs465 (house beverages), Dhs680 (bubbly), Dhs780 (French bubbly). 12.30-4pm. Emirates Palace, West Corniche (02 690 9000).
It looks like something from a film set (well it was used for scenes from movies such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, after all) and the mysterious mass that is The Empty Quarter will quite simply take your breath away. The largest uninterrupted desert on the planet, the Rub Al Khali (as it’s locally known) was once the domain of frankincense traders but since the sands swept in and made it almost impassable, only a few Bedouin tribes call this wondrous place home. If you want to try the adrenaline-filled experience of dune bashing, head for Tel Moreeb, the world’s largest sand dune at 300m high and see why some of the Gulf region’s foremost motorsports exponents head here to test their driving abilities to the very limit.
The Empty Quarter is a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi. www.visitabudhabi.ae.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
If you’re here for race weekend, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re a fan of fast cars in general. This means that a visit to this adrenaline-filled theme park has to be on the top of your list. Not only is it home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster, but it also lets you experience what it’s really like to race in a Ferrari. There are also lots of rides for young children. Little ones will have to be dragged away from the soft-play area and they’ll love having the chance to get behind the wheel for themselves in the junior race school experience. Forza Ferrari!
From Dhs310 (adults) at the door, Dhs295 online, Dhs230 (children under 1.3m). Open daily 11am-8pm. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Yas Island, www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com (02 496 8000).
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Are you dreaming of taking a romantic trip to Paris? Abu Dhabi might not have the Eiffel Tower but it does now have its own Louvre art gallery. This magnificent place has only been open since November 2017 and it just oozes wow factor. The beautiful building was designed by Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel. With a waterway running through the centre and a patterned ceiling that is inspired by the palms that were used as roofing materials in the UAE, it’s tremendously impressive before you even begin to look at the art that’s on display. As well as its own pieces, the huge collection contains works on loan from famous French museums including Musée du Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, and Centre Pompidou.
Dhs60 (adult) Dhs30 (ages 13-22). Open Sat-Wed 10am-8pm, Thu-Fri 10am-10pm. Saadiyat Cultural District, Saadiyat Island (600 565 566).
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Driving from the airport into Abu Dhabi, you won’t have been able to miss the incredible outline of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This is one of the most impressive structures in the city and all of the city’s residents are, quite rightly, very proud of it. The beautiful building can hold up to 40,000 people, and it was inspired by designs from Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan and Egypt. The iconic prayer hall holds the world’s largest chandelier, and the experience of wandering bare foot around the immaculate passage ways is totally humbling.
Free. Open Sat-Thu 9am-10pm, Fri 4.30pm-10pm. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street (02 419 1919).
Sir Bani Yas Island
You might never have guessed that a trip to Abu Dhabi could involve an African-style safari adventure. But this city is full of endless surprises (and luckily they are all good ones too). Sir Bani Yas is home to a whole host of wildlife including cheetahs, giraffes, hyenas, oryx and many more fascinating animals. All the creatures are free roaming as well, and you can get here by taking a boat or a 50-minute seaplane ride from Yas Island. The long list of experiences includes wildlife drives, nature walks and horse riding. If you have the time you can also stay for a couple of days in one of the three luxury Anantara hotels.
Prices vary. Sir Bani Yas Island, Desert Islands (02 801 5266).
Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi
This theme park is 1.53million square feet of sheer pleasure, with 29 rides set in six distinct zones, including The Flintstones’ prehistoric party zone. Alongside the blockbuster rides there’s also the chance to immerse yourselves in several interactive stories. Help Batman save Gotham City from interminable horror and assist Scooby-Doo in solving a crime. You can even chomp down on a Bronto burger in Fred Flintstone’s favourite diner. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to live out your childhood dreams.
Dhs230 (children), Dhs295 (adults). Open daily 10am-8pm. Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, Yas Island. Tickets available at www.wbworldabudhabi.com.
You’re never too old for waterparks are you? Yas Waterworld boasts more than 40 slides, rides and attractions. A day here will have you sliding through a giant snake, plunging from the top of a mountain and screaming yourself hoarse on the Bandit Bomber rollercoaster. The most thrilling experience has to be the Lima Loop, which involves being shut in a chamber before the floor gives way beneath you. The countdown might well be some of the most tension-filled seconds of your life, but it’s all so incredibly exciting. Once you are exhausted from all the slides and rides you can chill out on a sunbed until you feel ready to do it all again.
Dhs250 (adults), Dhs210 (children under 1.3m). Open daily 10am-7pm. Yas Island, yaswaterworld.com (02 414 2000).
In Partnership with Time Out Abu Dhabi