Day 1 - Sunday
Morning – Explore the Corniche
Part of the appeal of a holiday in Abu Dhabi is the lovely sunny weather, so why not start your week with a good old-fashioned sunbathing session? The city has so many brilliant beaches to choose from, but the huge Corniche is a great place to start. It doesn’t cost a single dirham to access and the pathways of the Corniche Park are perfect for jogging, walking or cycling. The UK-based Green Flag Organisation recently named it as one of the best public parks in the world, while the A’l Bahar development boats a huge inflatable waterpark, an outdoor gym, yoga classes and loads of food trucks.
Free. The Corniche.
Afternoon – Kayak around the Eastern Mangroves
Before you arrived in Abu Dhabi, you might have imagined that it was a place made up entirely of skyscrapers and sand (oh, and a cool racetrack of course). But many people don’t realise that the city is home to so many areas of natural beauty too. The Mangrove National Park contains thousands of mangrove trees and a huge variety of wildlife. Although you can still see the towering buildings of the downtown area from the water, it feels far removed from all the hustle and bustle of the city. Head here a few hours before sunset and hire yourselves a couple of kayaks. Then you’re free to explore the waterways between the trees, hung for wildlife and rest on the secluded beaches at your leisure. Afterwards you can grab a coffee from one of the many food outlets along the Eastern Mangroves Promenade, then sit back and relax as you watch the sun go down.
Dhs160 (adults), Dhs130 (ages three-12) for a kayak trip with Sea Hawk. Eastern Mangroves (02 673 6688).
Evening – Feast at Zuma
Ask almost anyone in the capital for their favourite restaurant and there’s a very high chance they will say Zuma. The sleek, stylish Al Maryah Island Japanese restaurant is always buzzing. The service is impeccable, the food is flawless and it consistently manages to strike the perfect balance between informality and sophistication. The dishes are all specially designed to share. While this makes dining here a very social occasion, it also means you can sample as many of the top dishes as you have room for. Once you’ve finished eating you can wonder over to the cool and colourful Pisco Lounge at COYA. Here you can enjoy a wide selection of Peruvian and Mexican drinks, while boogying to the live band that regularly appear.
Open Sat-Thu noon-3.30pm, Sat-Wed 7pm-midnight, Thu-Fri 7pm-1am. Al Maryah Island (02 401 5900).
Pisco Lounge: Open daily 12.30pm-1.15am. The Galleria, Al Maryah Island (02 306 7000).
Day 2 - Monday
Morning – Relax at Saadiyat Beach Club
Abu Dhabi is home to countless luxury pools and fancy beach clubs, but few can rival the decadence of Saadiyat Beach Club. Overlooking the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf, the square pool is framed by floating cabanas containing the comfiest poolside beds. It’s a mesmerising scene that leaves you feeling torn between wanting to take dozens of photos and jumping into the clear waters as soon as possible. The friendly servers are always on hand to bring you mixed drinks and any tasty bites to eat from the impossibly chic pool bar. On Mondays it’s ladies day, when women can get a day pass for Dhs90.
Dhs90 (ladies day offer Mon-Tue), Dhs210 (Sun-Thu), Dhs320 (Fri-Sat), Dhs1000 (pool cabana). Open daily 8am-sunset. Saadiyat Beach Club, Saadiyat Island (02 656 3500).
Afternoon – Be inspired at Manarat Al Saadiyat
There’s always so much going on at this arty hub. Whether you’re into music, cinema, art, or just want to work on your own artistic skills, you’ll find something to capture your interest at Manarat Al Saadiyat. This establishment was the first piece off the Saadiyat Cultural District jigsaw, and its programme is always full of workshops, gigs, art fairs and other special events. Head to the drop-in studio to have a go at creating your own work of art for Dhs30. All materials are provided and art instructors are on hand to offer inspiration. Meanwhile, the Cinema Space is a legendary Abu Dhabi institution. Free screenings of restored classics and contemporary world films are shown every Monday and Saturday.
Free (Cinema Space viewings), Dhs30 (drop-in studio). Open daily 9am-8pm. Manart Al Saadiyat, Saadiyat Island (02 657 5800).
Evening – Watch the sunset at Filini Garden
During the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix you’ll no doubt become very familiar with the lively Yas Marina area. But the rest of the island contains some great places to eat too. From the cute garden-themed terrace at Filini Garden you can take in the picturesque vistas over the fairways of Yas Links and out towards the glistening waters of Al Raha Creek. If you fancy watching the sunset with an expertly crafted mixed drink, there are few better places to go in the capital. What’s more, the Radisson Blu Hotel Yas Island hotspot has some excellent deals on. Bellissima Ladies’ Night every Monday offers free-flowing sparkling drinks plus a 50 percent discount on food for just Dhs55. It’s always absolutely packed with a glamorous crowd who are there for the top tunes from DJ Cliff Townley.
Open daily 5pm-midnight. Radisson Blu Hotel Abu Dhabi, Yas Island (02 656 2000).
Day 3 - Tuesday
Morning – Get your culture fix at the Louvre Abu Dhabi
Since opening last November, the
Louvre Abu Dhabi has been named one of the Seven Urban Wonders of the World. Compiled by Hilton Hotels and
Resorts, Sydney’s Opera House and London’s Camden Market also have a place on the list. The structure
of the museum really is beautiful. Before you even start to examine the amazing objects that are housed inside, you’ll
be totally wowed by the building. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, this is the kind of architecture that was
made for Instagram (well, that probably wasn’t actually what he created it for but you get the idea). The roof
is made from thousands of metal stars, and when the sun filters through the gaps, the affect is absolutely stunning.
Just walking around the promenade, looking out over the water and photography the cool tree statue and other striking
pieces of art is brilliant. Then when you get inside, the collection of more than 900 incredible artworks and
artefacts is out-of-this-world amazing.
Dhs60 (adult) Dhs30 (ages 13-22). Open Sat-Wed 10am-8pm, Thu-Fri 10am-10pm. Saadiyat Cultural District, Saadiyat Island (600 565 566).
Afternoon – Venture out into the Empty Quarter
No trip to the Middle East is complete without visiting the desert, and there are countless desert safari tours available from Abu Dhabi. These include fun activities such as camel riding, dune bashing, henna painting and a barbecue dinner. If you have the time and cash to treat yourself to a couple of days in the Empty Quarter, you can always splash out on a stay at Qasr Al Sarab by Anantara. This oasis of luxury offers the ultimate way of experiencing the magic of the desert. Looking like an Arabian fortress rising up out of the rolling sands, it’s home to a blissful spa and so many incredible restaurants. It’s like you’re living the real-life version of Aladdin, only everything is way more fancy.
The Empty Quarter is a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi. www.visitabudhabi.ae
Evening – Join the good-looking crowd at Buddha-Bar Beach
With cool DJs, pretty mixed drinks and elegant hostesses, Buddha-Bar Beach has always been an exciting place to spend an evening. But now that it’s cool enough to go outside and make the most of the huge outdoor area, it’s become even more amazing. The only difficult bit is choosing whether you want to collapse into one of the squishy bean bags on the sand, or relax on one of the white sofas on the wooden decking. Either way you’ll be in a prime location for watching the sun vanish over the white sands and clear waters of Saadiyat Beach. The Tuesday night Sushi Soiree features unlimited platters of fresh seafood and grapes for Dhs300 per person. This cool bar is open until late, so you’ll still have time to head here after your desert safari.
Open Sat-Wed 5pm-1am, Thu-Fri 5pm-2am. The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi (02 498 8888).
Day 4 - Wednesday
Morning – Cycle in the desert at Al Wathba
There aren’t many places in the world where camel-racing is an actual thing. Abu Dhabi has a super cool camel-racing track, and there’s a desert cycling track right next to it too. With views of sand dunes for as far as the eye can see, the whole experience is amazing. To get here you’ll need to drive 40 minutes out into the desert, but it’s more than worth it. Whether you’re a Tour de France wannabe or still riding with stabilisers, you will have a blast here. The five loops are split into 8km, 16km, 20km, 22km, and 30km courses, and with such an incredible landscape to distract you, this sweaty workout won’t seem any effort at all. It will make your next spinning session seem very tame indeed. The most spectacular views are at sunrise, so if you’re really keen get there as early as possible. There’s a spot to grab some breakfast afterwards, plus a bike shop and showers.
Free. Open daily, 24 hours. Al Wathba Cycle Track, E22 Abu Dhabi-Al Ain Road, sportinabudhabi.ae.
Afternoon – Marvel at the flamingos at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve
Once you’ve got your breath back after your bike ride, you may as well make the most of being out in the desert and do some further sightseeing. Al Wathba Wetland Reserve was the first area in the Emirates to be classified as protected and it consists of wetlands (obvs), salt flats, dunes and fossilised sands. The area is teeming with wildlife and home to over 250 different species of bird, but the main attraction is the flocks of colourful flamingos that gather here. Between autumn and spring as many as 4,000 of these amazing creatures congregate in this area.
Free. Open Thurs and Sat 8am-4pm. Al Wathba Wetland Reserve (03 763 9688).
Evening – Join the expats at Loca
This Mexican restaurant is fantastic any day of the
week. Prepared at your table in huge stone bowls, the creamy guacamole is actually so good it’s silly and the
rest of the menu is also incredible. But if you visit on a Wednesday, you’re really in for a fun night. Loca
Ladies’ Night is the definition of an ‘institution’. It’s where everyone will be after 8pm on
a Wednesday evening, and everyone in the capital knows it. The draw for the girls is obvious. The unlimited free
Mexican mixed drinks come in raspberry, lime, strawberry, passionfruit and many other flavours. But that’s just
part of the joy of this addictive night out. If you want a table, you’ll need to book several days in advance.
This buzzing night always attracts a crowd, and a big and lively one at that. If you want to experience Abu Dhabi’s
night life at its best, head to Loca to dance, people watch and take numerous photos of the view from the wide outdoor
Open daily noon-1.30am. The Galleria, Al Maryah Island (02 582 3639).
Day 5 - Thursday
Morning - Live your tropical-island dreams at Zaya Nurai Island
For anyone who wants to play out their James Bond fantasies (so that’s probably everyone, then), this is the place for you. Take a private speedboat from Saadiyat Island over to Nurai Island and the luxury Zaya resort. It’s unbelievably pretty (so all you Insta addicts can get your fix). There’s no fee for getting to the island, but there is a minimum spend of Dhs440 per person. However, for an experience like this, it’s worth it. At the swanky beach bar Smokin’ Pineapple you can order superb pizzas from the pineapple-shaped oven, relax in a beach hut and try the surf pool. Ginger Mermaid is the resort’s main pool area and has a superb array of mixed drinks and offers its own spectacular take on relaxing island life here in Abu Dhabi.
Open daily 10am-10pm. Zaya Nurai Island (02 506 6222).
Afternoon- Marvel at the Grand Mosque
As one of the world’s largest mosques, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the most important things to see while you are staying here in the capital. Just driving past it for the first time is enough to make your jaw drop. With countless gold-embellished white domes, it really is a beautiful creation. The structure 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. It’s open for visitors from 9am through to 10pm from Sunday to Thursday, and 4.30pm to 10pm on Fridays. So even if you’re unable to tear yourself away from the luxury of Zaya Nurai Island until late in the afternoon, you’ll still have time to see the Grand Mosque
Free. Open Sat-Thu 9am-10pm, Fri 4.30pm-10pm. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street (02 419 1919).
Evening – Get a taste of Spain at the Warehouse
Although it’s certainly essential to visit the city’s most glamourous locations like the Emirates Palace and the Four Seasons, some of the best night spots are actually found in some of the more modest locations. For instance, tapas and grape bar The Warehouse in the Pearl Rotana Capital Centre has been very popular since it opened. This is thanks in no small part to the excellent vibe, cracking deals and the brilliant range of drinks and food on offer. The Thursday night deal is particularly impressive. Bottles of grape are slashed by 50 percent, from 5pm all the way through until closing. But whatever night you visit, you can guarantee that there will always be some kind of deal on.
Open daily 4pm-1am. Pearl Rotana Capital Centre, Khaleej Al Arabi Street (02 307 5591).
Day 6 - Friday
Morning – Discover more at the Heritage Village
Modern-day Abu Dhabi is glitzy, lively and buzzing with excitement. But it’s fascinating to see what it was life before it was modernised into the bustling metropolis that it is today. Replicating everyday life in the pre-oil era of the UAE, this walled complex contains a fort (used to repel invaders from the sea), a souk (for trading goats and other goods), and a mosque. There are also demonstrations of traditional skills such as glass blowing, pottery, weaving and spinning. This is a fun way of learning about the history of the city, and it doesn’t cost a thing.
Free. Sat-Thu (9am-4pm) Fri (3.30pm-9pm). Heritage Village, near Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Corniche Breakwater (02 681 4455).
Afternoon – Brunch at the Palace
Emirates Palace is possibly the most gold and opulent of all of Abu Dhabi’s hotels. It’s worth a visit just to see the beautiful building and amazing grounds. But if you can keep a Friday afternoon free to experience the incredibly decadent Brunch at the Palace, you’ll really get to feel like royalty. Designed to look like the most beautiful Mediterranean market you’ve ever seen, this lavish brunch serves 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. Work your way through the Spanish tapas, paella, and immaculate sweet treats from the patisserie stalls until you’re too full to eat another bite. This is one of the most opulent backdrops for brunch in the city, so make sure your phone is fully charged and ready to capture every moment of it.
Dhs370 (soft drinks), Dhs465 (house beverages), Dhs680 (bubbly), Dhs780 (French bubbly). 12.30-4pm. Emirates Palace, West Corniche (02 690 9000).
Evening – Party at MAD on Yas Island
If you’re a bit of a party animal, you need to grab your dancing shoes and head to MAD on a Thursday or Friday. This is the UAE’s biggest indoor nightclub. That means it’s bigger, and arguably better, than anything you’ll find up the road in Dubai. The super club also has a habit of attracting the world’s biggest urban music stars to its stage. Tine Tempah, Akon, Iggy Azalea, Ne-Yo, Wiz Khalifa and Jason Derulo are just some of the huge names who have performed here. The sound system is absolutely banging and the clientele are all here for the same, perfect reason – to shake it down long into the wee hours. Missing out on this place would simply be madness. If you’re looking to party any other day of the week, Empire Yas and Iris are just two other Yas-Island haunts that attract a fun-loving crowd.
Open Thu-Fri 11pm-3.30am. Yas Island (055 834 6262).
Day 7 - Saturday
Morning – Stroll around Umm Al Emarat Park
Abu Dhabi is blessed with many picturesque green spaces and Umm Al Emarat Park in the Mushrif area is one of the best. As one of the largest and oldest parks in the city it is home to an animal barn, amphitheatre, botanical garden, children’s garden and many other wonderful features. Take a picnic, go for a jog or just enjoy walking around. On a Saturday afternoon, you can also experience the Ripe Market. This community event features more than 100 awesome stalls full of fruit, vegetables and other local produce. So whether it’s fresh food you want or a little something to spruce up your home, you can be sure the Ripe Market has the answer. But it’s not all about splashing the cash, there’s live music, entertainment, workshops and activities also on offer.
Free. Open daily 8am-midnight. El Emarat Park, 15th Street, Mushrif Area (02 666 9559).
Afternoon – Eat yet more food at Verso
If you’re not feeling totally brunched out (this is a very real condition in Abu Dhabi), then on Saturday you should try the very relaxed La Dolce Vita Brunch at Verso. The fresh pastas, pizzas, fish and meats are all served to your table and customised to your taste. This is a far more leisurely and chilled-out experience than many of the capital’s more lively Friday buffet brunches. It also includes complimentary access to the amazing infinity pool. This lagoon is the kind of scene that’s guaranteed to make all your Insta followers go green with envy. You would have to be the grumpiest person in the world not to be impressed. Seeming to blend seamlessly into the crystal waters of the Gulf, it’s incredibly peaceful and awe inspiring. If you’re not here for the brunch, you can buy a day pass to the pool and enjoy a family-friendly lunch on one of Verso’s poolside tables. All you need to do is start practicing your totally natural ‘oh you just caught me looking wistfully into the distance’ pose.
Dhs200 (soft drinks), Dhs350 (house beverages), Dhs450 (bubbly). Sat noon-4pm. Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel & Residences Emirates Pearl, West Corniche (02 510 1234).
Evening – Get involved at the Arts Center NYU
The amazing campus at NYU Abu Dhabi has everything, including a happening Arts Center. Described as a place where performance, education and the community come together, the events include film screenings, dance performances, poetry readings and musical recitals. There are also less traditional theatre experiences that require audience participation. For instance Remote Abu Dhabi takes the audience on a walk around Abu Dhabi, while Tangle asks children and their families to contribute to a huge colourful piece of art made with elastic bands. Made sure you look on www.nyuad-artscenter.org to find out what’s on during your visit.
Prices vary. NYUAD Campus, Saadiyat Island (02 628 6868).
In Partnership with Time Out Abu Dhabi