For discerning travelers, Abu Dhabi is a destination brimming with unique encounters, where spectacular hotels and off-grid resorts provide a base from which to explore gleaming malls, bustling marinas, and some of the best restaurants.
Historical treasures at the UAE Presidential Palace
The sprawling walled compound at the western tip of Abu Dhabi city is home to a collection of magnificent governmental buildings, none more impressive than the UAE Presidential Palace: Qasr Al Watan. Guided tours afford visitors a glimpse of highlights including a collection of Arabic literature in the Qasr Al Watan Library, artifacts and scrolls in the House of Knowledge and the artful mosaics of The Great Hall. To experience the flavor of a royal lifestyle, check in at the neighboring Emirates Palace, a lavish hotel set within acres of landscaped gardens.
Sunset cruising in a traditional dhow boat
Traditional wooden dhow boats offer a glimpse of times gone by, when Abu Dhabi was a hub for the pearl diving industry and hundreds of these wooden vessels plied the waters of the Arabian Gulf. Today, visitors can sample a flavor of life onboard during a sunset cruise. Relish succulent dates and aromatic Arabic coffee while the sun turns the skyline to liquid gold, then head below deck for dinner and traditional music. After dessert, reclining on a pile of cushions and gazing up at the night sky provides a fairy-tale ending to this quintessential Arabian experience.
Yas Marina Circuit driving experience
The streets of Abu Dhabi are filled with beautiful vehicles, from customized 4x4s to limited-edition supercars. High-speed thrills await at Yas Marina Circuit, home of the annual Formula 1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, each November. During the rest of the year, auto enthusiasts can book driving experiences with instruction from the pros, testing their mettle in a Formula 3000 racing car that will hit 60 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds. Alternatively, explore a garage filled with high-performance cars from prestigious marques, including Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Mercedes, all ready for their ‘Fast & Furious’ moment.
World-class dining, global flavors
The inhabitants of the UAE have been exchanging goods, ideas, and recipes with their neighbors since time immemorial. As a result, the Emirati kitchen presents a smorgasbord of flavors, with the influences of Mediterranean, Indian, and Levantine cuisine evident in many local dishes. Today, visitors can find food from all corners of the globe in Abu Dhabi’s collection of world-class dining venues: traditional local fare reimagined by creative Emirati chefs; regional flavors from across the Middle East and Africa; and menus inspired by the greatest kitchens of Europe and Asia.
Wildlife, desert, and beaches at off-grid resorts
Day trips from the city are a great way to sample Abu Dhabi’s natural landscapes. However, spending a couple of nights at a destination resort allows visitors to explore the emirate from a different perspective and get closer to the spirit of Arabian culture. The options are myriad: experience the serenity of the desert at a palatial escape in the Empty Quarter; feel the sand between your toes at a private island retreat; or come face to face with Arabian oryx and other wildlife on a desert island nature reserve.
Saadiyat Island beaches, recreation, and culture
Ringed by white sand beaches and clear blue water, Saadiyat Island feels worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of downtown Abu Dhabi. Here, some of the emirate’s finest beach resorts offer a serene escape from the city accompanied by delectable dining, soothing spas, and a tempting selection of activities and excursions. While culture vultures sate their thirst for knowledge at Louvre Abu Dhabi or the Manarat Al Saadiyat arts and cultural center, active visitors can book a tee time on the spectacular 18-hole championship golf course or head out for a paddle around the mangroves.
Luxury shopping and fine dining at The Galleria Al Maryah Island
Spread over 1.8 million square feet of marble-clad space, The Galleria Al Maryah Island is a shopper’s paradise with more than 400 stores. The boutiques of international luxury brands and homegrown UAE designers line the stylish boulevards of this retail haven, which recently unveiled a new expansion including a 70-restaurant dining enclave designed by New York architect David Rockwell. These new additions complement The Dining Collection: 16 high-profile restaurants spread along a waterfront promenade, flanked on either side by two of the most prestigious hotels in the city.
Exquisite jewelry at Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre and Gold Centre
Before Abu Dhabi became a global dynamic city filled with investment firms, designer brands, and luxury car dealerships, locals were limited in how they could invest (and flaunt) their wealth. One reliable commodity was gold, artfully crafted into beautiful pieces of jewelry. Today, locals and visitors alike can pick up a glimmering souvenir or statement piece at Madinat Zayed Gold Centre, where rows of stores with radiant window displays brim with gold jewelry encrusted with gems and precious stones.
Explore other unique Emirati experiences on the Explore More Abu Dhabi portal.