Despite popular belief, Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE, it is both a city, but also an emirate and not just any one since it’s the largest in the country (80% of the surface!) And the richest, it’s also there that are the most important oil reserves of the country.
Abu Dhabi is supposed to mean «Father of the gazelle». Perhaps it’s related to the stories that are told about its creation: a gazelle breeder in search of water would have founded it by finding a source of water. Or that he was a hunter guided to a spring by the gazelle he had hunted. Or it is simply due to the gazelles that one runs in freedom when one moves away from the city.
In any case, it can be said that the emirate has come a long way from its creation to today and very quickly! The city and its surroundings were built in a few years.
The city is not as flashy as Dubai (remember Dubai is an emirate on its own), but it is an excellent mix of tradition and modernity.
This is where we spent most of our 2 months. Not in the city itself, but when the neighborhood of Khalifa City, quieter. We liked it more than Dubai and its incessant hubbub that reminded us too much of the stress of French metropolises especially at the level of traffic. Abu Dhabi is an excellent compromise between city and nature, but also a good place to become imbued with the culture of the country.
It's impossible to get bored in Abu Dhabi, pno matter what you look for, you can find it : gourmet, sporty, cultural, nature, shopping. Everyone finds their account.
Visiting Abu Dhabi takes time, we have listed some good plans to get you out of this immense emirate !
There is an international airport in Abu Dhabi, so you can get there as you go by depending on your itinerary.
If you wish to visit the city and its surroundings, you can always rent a car, or take le taxias we have already explained in our Travel Guide « Getting Around ». It all depends on your expectations and objectives.
Another option is the Big Bus. It’s a tourist bus that offers several tours to visit all the key points of the city. It offer you different formulas like 24h 48h or 72h. We didn’t take it for Abu Dhabi as we had a vehicle. On the other hand, this is how we visited Dubai,, it was quite nice although a bit expensive in our opinion. (Want to know more? Read our article A weekend in Dubai)
To know : if you want to visit the emirate and not that the city, having a car will be the best choice (if not the only one) because once you go down on Liwa for example, you’re surrounded by desert, so it’s better to have its own means of locomotion !
The emirate and the city are full of hotels. You will find a place to sleep !
On the other hand, for small budgets, "low-end" hotels are not very widespread in the country. And when one finds them, it seems that they are not very clean, nor very recent. It’s mainly international channels that dominate the market. But you can find for very reasonable prices ! If you need a boost, check out our Travel Cheap article which gives some ideas for saving in the country and our section « Accommodations » in Travel Guide.
Etihad Towers :
This luxurious 5-tower complex includes three residential towers and a 280 meter high five-star hotel, the Jumeirah Etihad Towers. You can work, stay, shop, and eat, all with a superb panoramic view. We never came back, just very often passed by. In any case, it is not for the small budgets, the place is reputed to have among the most select shops in the world.
Vin Diesel has made them even better known inFast and Furious 7 by his own way of crossing them !
Capital Gate :
Judged like the competitor of the Tower of Pisa, the building is certified as the « most leaning tower in the world created by man» by the Guinness World Records.
The building leans 18 degrees to the west, more than four times the inclination of the famous Tower of Pisa. The tower of 160 meters and 35 floors.
QG d’Aldar :
1st Arabian building to have been built in the shape of a circle. The building measures 110 meters in height. It was renamed as «one of the most dazzling business offices in the world».
It also received the title of "Best Futuristic Design" at the 2008 Building Exchange Conference.
On our side, it was called the Parabola ... Much simpler to remember, and we hit directly what we were talking about !
The port and the fish market :
If you have time, go for a walk, it allows to see another facet of the city, less known. The best thing is to go there in the morning, when it's not too hot. This will allow you to see all boats docked and fishermen going about their activities. In addition, the fish market will still be fresh! (Normally it is better not to drag with the heat).
It's quite nice to stroll along the many boats (wonders how some of them they can still sail !). In addition, all along, there are small shops to eat cheap. Once your turn ends up, head into the market and let yourself be tempted if you wish !
Culture lovers :
Heritage Village :
It’s a typical reconstruction of a Bedouin village, including goat skin tents, the irrigation system of the time and other things that were part of everyday life.
It’s rather nice, it allows to make a small jump in the past,if we obviously ignores the tourists and the buildings around. You can wander among the craftsmen or take a dromedary ride, something we did not do, because we didn’t like the conditions in which it happened: to understand that it was in a tiny space, and that was too "factory".
Entry is free so don’t hesitate to take a tour. In addition, the location is not bad since it is located on the Corniche, which will allow you a good stroll by the sea, or a good little running.
Dubai has also a Heritage Village, but we didn't visit it. You will see that the concept looks very similar, so making one is enought.
Grand Mosque :
One of the city's main monuments.
An article is entirely devoted to it, we leave you to have a look if you're interested : Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi.
Thrill seekers :
Al Forsan :
Large sports complex in Khalifa City, where you can find horseback riding, gym, shooting, karting, paintball, football, tennis, basketball and volleyball in one place !
There is even a place for water sports, to train wake board in an innovative way: the principle is that it is a long cable that pulls you over the whole area of water. There is a zone for beginners and another for the most confirmed with stepping stones and slides to be enjoyed! We wanted to test, but we missed the opportunity, it's a shame, but it's okay, we'll put it back, but at sea !
Among all the sports facilities, you can find cafes and restaurants as well as a hotel (rather luxurious). If you have the opportunity go there, even if you are not very athletic, you can watch others run out while you nibble something or sip a drink near the water! In addition, this offers a stroll !
The entrance is free, only the activities are paying. These activities may be punctual or regular, since this also acts as a training center. If you have time, this is the opportunity to refine some skills !
Yas Waterworld :
Large water park with 43 longest and fastest slides in the world. We didn't go there because we find the prices expensive.
They vary according to the package you choose :
- Bronze : 250Dhs = ~64€
- Silver : 325Dhs = ~83€
- Gold : 485Dhs = ~123€
All these prices are for adults, but the difference is not big for children.
« Official website ».
Ferrari World :
The name speaks for itself, it’s a park dedicated to the universe of Ferrari. Lovers of luxury and cars will find their happiness. You will find both exhibitions and rides, including fastest in the world that goes up to 240 km / h.
We didn’t do it, either because of the prices, but also because it’s not really our thing.
Price range :
- Bronze : 275Dhs = ~70€
- Silver : 360Dhs = ~92€
- Gold : 525Dhs = ~134€
If you want to drive a Ferrari,, you will have to add 600Dhs or ~ 200 € at the ticket price !
« Official website ».
Dune bashing in the désert :
In a 4x4, go to thedesert dunes to challenge the gravity! This is one of the most popular activities in the UAE ! Many excursions are organized with often packages where there ismeal and show at night.
It's also possible to make it in the desert of Dubai.
If the activity interests you, an article is devoted: Dune bashing and evening in the desert.
Shopping Addict :
Impossible to miss them, there are so many ! You will find enough to satisfy you ! In addition to the usual shops and restaurants in malls, malls also offer activity areas such as rides, climbing wall, etc ... Especially for children !
The thing with the malls is that often when you're looking for specific stuff, you often have to do more to find them. And yes, it would be too easy if everything was in the same place. Check out the official websites before to see the shops they offer especially if you are looking for specific things !
Here are the main malls of Abu Dhabi :
Marina Mall : « Official website »
Yas Mall : « Official website »
Al Wahda Mall : « Official website »
Abu Dhabi Mall : « Official website »
Al Ain :
It’s another city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, and particularly an oasis full of palm groves, located on the border of Oman. There is a cultural fort (closed on Mondays, we know from personal experience!), And if you are tired of the sand and the city, you can get away from it all by going to the mountains and more specifically at Djebel Hafeet, the highest point of the emirate which offers a very nice view !
If you want to know more, we invite you to read : « A road trip in the 7 Emirates ».
If you want sand dunes as far as the eye can see, this is the place to go. Additionally, you can see dromedaries and gazelles wander freely by the roadside or in the dunes, and it's worth it !
We liked it so much that we made it an article : « Between the dunes of Liwa » .
Our crush :
Whether it is for drinking or eating, Abu Dhabi leaves plenty of choice. We've already talked about our experience at the Emirates Palace (« Here »), and it's easy to eat well or just have a drink in the hotels restaurants.
On our side, we really enjoyed the Shangri Laof Abu Dhabi (we didn’t try the one in Dubai).
It is a luxury hotel (no change here), and while we didn’t sleep in one of the suites, we went several times for the all-you-can buffet (we didn’t die of hunger in the Emirates.)
Every day there is the buffet, but the menu changes: Asian, fish, meat, etc. Needless to say it's delicious! Here also there is a package with alcohol or not. The prices are around 200 / 300Dhs (50-60 €).
Other than the buffet, the place itself is worth a visit, it has a little magic side,, pits chic deco while being fairly clean, and especially the terrace with pool which gives a great view of the Grand Mosque. Stay here at sunset and at night for a guaranteed wow effect !
PYou can also walk around, you would think in a small Venice, with small boats that sail quietly over the water. Everything is nicely lit, and its ideal for a nocturnal (and digestive !) walk.