Amazing days out in Abu Dhabi
12 awesome Abu Dhabi itineraries will keep you busy all year Discuss this article
The one for culture vultures
AM: Begin your day with a visit to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – a magnificent symbol of the city. Walk around and marvel at its striking architecture as you learn more about Islam and the significance of the mosque to the region. You should be able to count up to 82 domes and four 107m-high minarets, one of which houses a well-stocked library. There are as many as seven crystal chandeliers, the largest weighs in at approximately 12 tons (just under three times as heavy as a hippopotamus!). We recommend signing up for one of the guided tours available from the east side of the mosque. Just make sure you read up on the guidelines, especially about the dress code, before heading out.
Free. Open Sat-Thu 9am-10pm, Fri 4.30pm-10pm. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Street, www.szgmc.ae (02 419 1919).
LUNCH: There are enough options offering you a true taste of the region around Abu Dhabi, but it’s Al Fanar Restaurant, based at the quaint Venetian Village, that stands out from the competition for many reasons. To begin with, its setting is reminiscent of a Bedouin campsite. There are statues of camels accompanied by their herders, women dressed in traditional attire going about their chores and craftsmen readying their wares. Secondly, the flavours served are authentic. The hearty Emirati stews are simple and delicious, and are best enjoyed with chunks of fresh bread. The meat and fish grills are tender, succulent and satisfying. And the prices are certainly pocket-friendly given the setting and ambience experienced by diners.
Open daily 8.30am-10pm. Venetian Village, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, Khor Al Maqta’a (02 448 1144).
PM: Besides being a dream set-up for Instagram enthusiasts, the vast Arabian desert plays an integral part in Emirati culture. And no trip to the UAE would be complete without a visit. While you can chart your own course with the help of your trusted GPS, it may be wise for beginners to sign up for a desert safari. It’s a great way to learn about the Bedouin lifestyle and traditions, in a relaxed, fun environment. After you’re done bashing about on the dunes and riding a camel, you’re taken to a campsite where you can engage in customs such falconry, camel riding and henna art. All the best tours will organise a barbecue that includes mixed grills, fresh salads and some old-fashioned entertainment such as belly-dancing. Oh, and watching the sun set in the desert is an experience unlike any other. Make sure you charge the batteries for all of your electronics and carry a portable back-up charger.
Visit www.abudhabi-desert-safari.com for day trip and overnight safari options.
The one for art-lovers
AM: Since opening its doors back in 2015, Warehouse421 has cemented itself as a platform for emerging and established artists to showcase their latest artworks, paintings and installations. But it isn’t just an exhibition centre. Visit on any day during the week and you might be able to sit in on a creative workshop, a world-class performance by musicians from around the world, or an enriching panel discussion. Every Wednesday, the venue also hosts the originally-named Wednesdays at the Warehouse, a curated programme of activities including film screenings and art exhibits that are all open to the public. It’s safe to say Warehouse421 has its finger on the pulse of the art scene in the city, and, in the process, has become quite the art hub for the capital.
Open Tue-Sun 10am-8pm. Mina Zayed, www.warehouse421.ae/en.
LUNCH: The quirky Art House Café doubles up as a place to grab a bite, as you admire some interesting artworks and installations. Located next to the Etihad Modern Art Gallery, the eco-friendly café is kitted out with recycled items – gas-cylinder high stools, plant holders created out of kettles, sofas made from coloured plastics sheets – that make it a cool hang-out space for those with an arty streak. The menu serves standard café fare of pasta, sandwiches and salads. The burgers are flavoursome, served with a basket of fries topped with melted cheese. It’s a neat spot for a quick meal during your artsy expedition.
Open daily 9am-11.30pm. Etihad Modern Art Gallery, Opposite Al Bateen Mall (02 666 0175).
PM: The NYUAD Arts Centre houses a number of venues that host events across disciplines, from music and film, to dance and theatre. In addition to events presented by the students and faculty, the site also attracts artists from around the world. This month, as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival 2017 calendar, there are performances by top-notch artists, including Lebanese-American composer and pianist Tarek Yamani, and flamenco guitarist José Fernández Torres AKA Tomatito. Most non-ticketed events require registration, so visit its website for more information.
Prices and timings vary. NYU Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Marina District, Saadiyat Island, www.nyuad.nyu.edu.
The one for foodies
AM: Café Mandarina is a quaint little spot located at Mandara Equestrian Club, out in Al Shahama. It’s got a delicious selection of breakfast options that straddle Eastern and Western favourites, with a few healthy bites making it in as well. For a classic Emirati breakfast, tear into fresh khameer bread, served with a pot of honey and a dish of soft cheese, as you watch the horses doing rounds in the pens nearby. The Middle Eastern spread also includes jams, labnah, za’atar, olives and fresh veggies. If you’d like something more Western, there are French and Spanish options, and a variety of egg preparations that can be whipped up to order. It’s perfect for a lazy breakfast.
Open Sun-Thu 10am-midnight, Sat 9am-midnight, Fri 2pm-midnight. Mandara Equestrian Club, 991, Rahba Farm, Al Shahama (02 418 2439).
LUNCH: It’s only fitting that you stop for lunch at Time Out Abu Dhabi’s Best Business Lunch 2016 winner, Zuma. (It also scored gongs for Restaurant of the Year and Best Japanese, too). The champion shows you just why it’s the number one spot in town, with a flawless experience. The food is unmatched and sets a high standard for the rest of the pack to follow. The must-order signature miso-marinated black cod is legendary, and for good reason. It comes wrapped in hoba leaf and is bursting with flavour. Our favourite dessert is the green tea and banana cake with coconut ice cream and toffee sauce. Thank us later.
Sat-Thu noon-3.30pm, Sat-Wed 7pm-midnight, Thu-Fri 7pm-1am. The Galleria, Al Maryah Island (02 401 5900).
PM: Newcomer BU! has been making waves since its arrival last year, and not just because of its expansive space – over 400 covers. The vibe is modern, hip and cool, and the funky fit-out and ingenious interior design is flowing with great energy. The staff are friendly and you will catch them swaying to the South American tunes. As for the food, you will love the pan-Latin menu. It’s got all the popular dishes, though we can never get enough of the ceviche robalo. It’s fresh and zesty, with a flavourful punch that will explode in your mouth. Empanadas fans will make light work of the lamb variation. The drinks menu is just as tasty and the staff are happy to guide you through the exotic list. It’s open late and the sharing plates are best shared with a group of your best mates.
Open Sun-Thu noon-3pm, 7.30pm-1am, Fri-Sat noon-3pm, 7.30pm-2am. The Hub, The Mall at World Trade Center (02 666 8066).
The one for sports fans
AM: Early-risers might want to start their day with a jog along the Corniche, but, in truth, that can be a little dull. The same can’t be said of Zayed Sports City, though. This huge complex is a veritable hive of sporting activity with all manner of games available for you to chance your arm at. While you could hire the hallowed turf of ZSC Stadium out for a kickabout, we say round up the troops, whack on a bandana and some war paint and do your best Rambo impression during a game of paintball. Just remember: “In town you’re the law. Out here, it’s me.”
From Dhs100. Open Tue-Thu 2pm-10pm, Fri-Sat noon-8pm. Zayed Sports City, www.zsc.ae (02 403 4555).
LUNCH: No army should march on an empty stomach and after all that ducking, dodging, sharp-shooting action, it’s time to call a truce and refuel. If there are any walking wounded among your platoon, it might be wise not to make them trudge too far, so you’ll be thankful The Sportsman’s Arms is close to the warzone. The family-friendly gastropub is as laid-back as they come, and if you’re here on the weekend, they do a very satisfying roast dinner at a bargain price. Who’s chicken now?
From Dhs95. Fri-Sun noon-11pm. International Tennis Center, www.sportsmanszsc.com (02 447 1066).
PM: The next time you watch an F1 race, it might be worth reflecting that each of those track stars began their career behind the wheel of a go-kart. Yes, you might be driven by dreams of hitting top speeds in a supercar but karting is arguably even more fun. So let loose at the excellent Yas Kartzone. All you have to do is turn up and drive – and perhaps choose a suitable nickname to emblazon across your helmet.
Dhs110 (over-18s), Dhs85 (ages 13-18), Dhs55 (ages 8-12). Open daily, 2pm-9.30pm. Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island, www.yasmarinacircuit.com (02 659 9800).
The one for water babies
AM: Dry land will never be the same again after you make a splash at Yas Waterworld. Often dubbed the greatest waterpark in the world, it’s well worth dipping your toes into the waters to find out what all the fuss is about. There’s so much to get the heart pumping that the impressive park is divided into four zones – from Adrenaline Rush and Exciting Adventure to Young Fun and Moving and Grooving – all with their own unique thrills and spills. If you’ve got a head for heights, try out the Jebel Drop, one of more than 45 fun-packed rides at the sprawling complex which was made for big days out.
From Dhs250 (adults), Dhs210 (juniors). Open daily 10am-7pm. Yas Waterworld, Yas Island, www.yaswaterworld.com (02 414 2000).
LUNCH: If you’re not afraid to go back to the water after all that theme park fun, head down to the Beach House for some tasty bites and beautiful views. A previous winner of the Best International Restaurant gong at the Time Out Abu Dhabi Restaurant Awards, this cool and casual spot is nestled right on the water’s edge in the lavish grounds of Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi. With tastes from all over the globe on show, this is a great day out at the beach.
Open daily 11am-midnight. The Beach House, Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island (02 407 1234).
PM: Top off your day with a trip to the Aquarium – with a difference. You’ll notice the capital letter there; that’s because Aquarium is a swish restaurant in Yas Island that is a feast for both the eyes and the stomach. Befitting the name, diners are seated among tanks holding schools of colourful fish. Distracting, yes, but still not enough to pull your attention away from the fresh seafood featured on the menu.
Open Mon-Wed noon-1.30am, Thu-Fri noon-2am, Sat-Sun noon-1.30am. The Aquarium, Yas Marina, Yas Island (02 565 0007).
The one for history nuts
AM: Step back in time to explore the emirate’s rich history at Heritage Village. The culture spot, a reconstruction of a traditional oasis on the Corniche breakwater, offers visitors a unique glimpse into Emirati life from years past. Stop by at the open museum to get up-close with traditional aspects of the desert way of life, from a goat-hair tent to a campfire dotted with coffee pots. The past is also brought to life at a series of workshops where craftsman demonstrate handicraft skills such as metal work and pottery. Finish your eye-opening trip at the little spice shop, where you can purchase a range of dried herbs and handmade soaps.
Free. Open Sat-Thu 9am-4pm, Fri 3.30pm-9pm. Corniche Breakwater (02 681 4455).
LUNCH: Enjoy a taste of authentic Emirati hospitality and cuisine at Meylas, a beachside restaurant serving up a dose of nostalgia that will leave you longing for more. As well as a menu of dishes, following unique recipes prepared by Emirati mothers and grandmothers, the venue is adorned with historical artefacts and has décor that will transport you back in time.
Open daily 9am-midnight. Al Raha Beach, Al Muneera (02 444 8884).
PM: No voyage of discovery can be complete without a stop-off at Qasr al Hosn, the symbolic birthplace of Abu Dhabi. The emirate’s first permanent structure, it was home to the ruling Al Nahyan family and has played a pivotal role here for centuries. It was a coral and sea stone watchtower back in the 18th century before being transformed into a formidable fort. A permanent exhibition, chronicling the story of the capital, is held at the Qasr Al Hosn Centre.
Qasr Al Hosn Centre. Open daily, 9am-8pm. Sheikh Zayed The First Street, Al Hosn (02 697 6472).
The one for shoppers
AM: If you want to shop ’til you drop, Abu Dhabi is home to a mall that really does have it all. The glittering Yas Mall is the ultimate destination for a reinvigorating round of retail therapy. Trail your shopping bags through a vast 2.5 million-square-feet of retail and entertainment space, housing global brands, top restaurants and a giant cinema complex. It’s easy to spend hours here.
Open Sat-Wed, 10am-10pm; Thu-Fri, 10am-midnight.Yas Island. www.yasmall.ae (800 927 6255).
LUNCH: Exploring every inch of the huge Yas Mall will be enough to build up a big hunger. So when you do feel the need to take a break and refuel, you'll be spoilt for culinary choices. But for a fast food venue with a unique slant, take your taste buds for a ride at Rogo’s. The roller coaster restaurant (yes, that’s right) boasts multi-spiral, double loop and tornado track systems for your food to travel down on. A unique dining experience, yes, but the wide range of international cuisine ensures there’s enough substance to go with the style.
Open daily, noon-11pm. Yas Mall, Yas Island. www.rollercoasterrestaurant.com (02 565 8888).
PM: The streets (or rather, the aisles) are paved with gold at Madinat Zayed Mall. For the perfect blend of souq-style shopping and the glitzy modernity of a mall, it’s easy to lose an hour or two here. Dazzling displays of shiny jewels fill every corner of the centre, and if you’re up for some haggling, you can discover your weight in gold for a fair price. For a shopping spree and a stroll, you can’t get much better.
Open Sat-Thu, 9am-10.30pm; Fri, 4pm-11pm. Gold Centre, Madinat Zayed Mall (02 633 3311).
The one for wannabe desert dwellers
AM: Whether you want to strap yourself in for the most fun you can have on four wheels, or try a more traditional form of transport for a camel ride, it’s hard to match the thrilling adventure of a desert safari. Leave hectic city life behind for a dune-bashing excursion with Al Badeyah Eyes Tourism. A typical half-day trek includes a safari over the sands, a camel ride, a falcon show and an Arabian barbecue dinner buffet deep in the desert.
From Dhs280. Al Nahyan Camp Muroor, www.abet-uae.com (02 445 2644).
LUNCH: Fancy an early dessert in the desert? Dine beside a glimmering pool with stunning sand dunes as your backdrop at Ghadeer, the scenic eatery at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara. A mix of Italian and Middle Eastern cuisine is available on an expansive menu, leaving you with plenty to sink your teeth into during your down time.
Open daily noon-5pm, 6.30pm-10.30pm. Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort (02 886 2088).
PM: Immerse yourself in the Bedouin way of life by swapping the hustle and bustle of the big city for the tranquility of the desert at the Arabian Nights Village. Nestled among the dunes of the Abu Dhabi desert, the unique village offers a unique Arabian experience. Savour campfire tales under the twinkling stars, listen to oud music while you eat, make friends with camels and tackle sand surfing before retiring to your desert-dwelling quarters of choice, from Bedouin tents to palm houses and the Fort Tower.
From Dhs1,150 (per adult, one night stay). Arabian Nights Village, Al Khaznah (02 676 9990).
The one for road trippers
AM: If you’re looking for a change of scene without getting any extra stamps on your passport, then all roads lead to the garden city of Al Ain, roughly an hour’s drive from the UAE capital. Kick off a day of discovery with a trip to the Al Ain Zoo. Animal lovers have marvelled at the exotic creatures on show at the massive 900-hectare site for nearly 50 years. The fantastic facility has grown considerably over the years and now includes more than 4,000 animals, spanning 180 species, from giraffes and chimpanzees to camels, lions and goat, as well asa vast man-made safari.
Dhs30 (adults), Dhs10 (kids aged 3-12). Open Sat-Wed, 8am-9pm, Thu-Fri, 9am-10pm. Jebel Hafeet (03 704 1500).
LUNCH: It’s not just your hunger for adventure that can be sated in Al Ain. There are a whole host of eateries to be found among the culture spots and lush greenery of the area. For a traditional taste of the UAE, make your way down to Al Fanar Restaurant and Café. If you’re not as familiar with Emirati cuisine as you’d like, this standard-bearer for the region is a good place to start your culinary journey.
Open daily, 8am-11pm. Souq Al Zafarana (03 766 5200).
PM: If you feel like making a whole day and night of it, why not check in for some five-star service at one of Al Ain’s plushest hotels. The Hili Rayhaan by Rotana allows you to relax in splendour in a choice of 254 rooms and suites spread over six floors, perfect for business or leisure. There is 24-hour in-room dining available, but with three restaurants, as well as a gym and tennis courts and swimming pool, the hotel is much more than just a place to rest your head at the end of a busy day.
Hili Rayhaan by Rotana Hotel, Bani Yas Street, Hili District (03 705 3333).
The one for families
AM: Shiny red sports cars and super-fast rollercoasters – that sounds like a dream day out for any kid (big or small). Ferrari World provides the ultimate theme park experience with an array of high-octane rides, including the world’s fastest roller coaster, as well as driving and flight simulator experiences and a collection of classic Ferrari cars through the years. The first Ferrari-themed amusement park on the planet puts family fun firmly in the fast lane.
From Dhs275 (adults), Dhs230 (children). Open daily, 11am-8pm. Yas Island (02 496 8000).
LUNCH: There’s always a spare corner at Jim’s Kitchen Table for you and the family. This Masdar City café is buzzing with families and boasts a play area for little ones to roam free. Best of all, the menu takes a healthy approach, so there is no surcharge of guilt that comes with taking the kids along for a lunch-time feed.
Open daily, 8am-10pm. Siemens Building, Masdar City (02 491 9401).
PM: Keeping the kids thoroughly entertained isn’t always a walk in the park – but it can be. Nestled in the heart of the city, Umm Al Emarat Park is one of the largest and oldest parks in the emirate. Opened in 1982 as a green spot for ladies and children only, under the name of Mushrif Park, a new name and a revamp hasn’t changed its family-friendly focus. The popular amenity features a children’s garden, an animal barn, an ampitheatre and Botanic Gardens among a raft of other attractions.
Dhs5, free (children under 3). Open daily, 8am-midnight. Al Mushrif (02 666 9559).
The one for wildlife enthusiasts
AM: Flock to Al Wathba Wetland Reserve to gaze in wonder at more than 200 species of migratory birds as they flock. It’s the ultimate bird-watching experience which begs for more than a quick fly-in visit, but there are plenty more wonders of wildlife to witness here, too. The protected area is also home to a staggering 230 species of invertebrates, 11 types of mammals and ten kinds of reptiles. You will spot everything from red foxes and flamingos to greater spotted eagles and even Ethiopian hedgehogs from the provided bird-hides and while on the walking trail or at the viewing platform. The reserve also boasts a visitor’s centre, where future guided walks and special events can be easily planned.
Free. Open Thu and Sat, 8am-2pm. Near Mussafah, Abu Dhabi, www.ead.ae.
LUNCH: Before going on a wildlife trail at Sir Bani Yas Island, book yourself on a culinary adventure at one of the resort’s most exotic eateries. Al Shams Restaurant and Bar is a place to rest up, soak in the sun and savour authentic Middle Eastern dishes as well as a host of international favourites. Meaning “the sun” in Arabic, Al Shams will leave you with a warm glow after you’ve whiled away an hour or two beside the pool as tasty snacks are brought out to your sun-lounger. If you need a break from the heat, you can also take cover in the air-conditioned dining room.
Open daily, noon-10.30pm. Desert Island resort & Spa by Anantara, Sir Bani Yas Island (02 801 5400).
PM: Stay at one with nature and go on safari without leaving the country at Sir Bani Yas Island. This beautiful spot off the coast of Abu Dhab was established as a natural reserve and haven for protected animals back in 1971. Half of the island is covered by the Arabian Wildlife Park, where 13,000 animals dwell on 1,400 acres of land. You won’t have to strain your neck too far before you catch a glimpse of a giraffe, as well as cheetahs, oryx, jackals and many more animals making themselves right at home away from the buzz of the big city. The herds are their most active at sunrise and early evening so you can make the most of your visit by bedding down for the night at one of the luxurious villa suites provided by Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Resorts. As well as animal watching, you can go wild yourself with horse riding and setting your sights on timeless Arabian activities such as archery and falconry.
Prices and timings vary. Sir Bani Yas Island, www.sirbaniyasisland.com (800 8342).
The one for rock stars
AM: You have probably, at some point, dreamt of becoming some sort of musical maestro and wowing concert halls with your revolutionary piano playing. Okay, maybe that’s just us. But if you do fancy getting in touch with your musical side, starting your day off by tinkering with some tunes at a music lesson could be just the ticket. Rhythm Music Centre offers lessons in piano, ukulele, violin, saxophone, drums, guitar and singing. Or, you can go all out and sign up for the Rock & Pop music training course, and develop your skills and technique while exploring some of the world’s greatest pop and rock hits. Move over, Rod Stewart.
Prices vary. Open Sun-Thu, 11am-8pm, Sat, 9am-8pm. Rhythm Music Centre, Electra Street, Abu Dhabi, www.rhythmmusiccenter.ae (02 622 6206).
LUNCH: Pub grub, arcade games and marina views. What more do you need for a long and lazy lunch? Stars ’N’ Bars is one of the more casual spots on Yas Island, but that’s exactly why we like it. Their à la carte brunch menu is available every day, with all dishes at just Dhs50 or less. Choose from American breakfasts, Mexican omelettes, stacks of pancakes, waffles and more, plus pile on sides like hash browns, beef chilli and baked beans. The brunch beverage package is optional but offers unlimited beverages for Dhs200.
From Dhs40 (food), Dhs200 (house beverage package). Brunch daily 11.30am-4pm. Yas Marina, Yas Island, www.starsnbars.ae (02 565 0101).
PM: Abu Dhabi is a city full of live music venues, with excellent resident bands, but Jazz Bar & Dining at the Hilton Abu Dhabi is one of our favourites. So much so that it scooped up a Highly Commended accolade at last year’s Time Out Abu Dhabi Music & Nightlife Awards. It’s refined and intimate, but not too fancy, making it perfect for a special evening out. And it does just as nicely for a casual night with friends. The new resident band, DNA, has a repertoire of jazz, blues, R&B, pop, rock and more, while the menu covers upscale bar bites such as lobster bisque flavoured with vanilla butter and tarragon, braised veal cheek ravioli and seabass ceviche with lime and peppers.
Open Sun-Wed, 7pm-2am, Thu-Fri, 7pm-3am. Hilton Abu Dhabi, Corniche Road, Al Khubeirah (02 692 4247).
By Time Out Abu Dhabi staff
Time Out Abu Dhabi,