The ultimate visitors' guide to Abu Dhabi

The essential things for guests to see, do, eat and experience in the capital.

Okay, so it’s finally happening. After all that bragging and boasting on the phone, your super-cool Instagram snaps of gorgeous sunsets and Facebook posts where you just happen to be positioned next to a huge yacht, the time has arrived to show off the brilliant UAE capital to your friends and family.

There is a lot to consider as you prepare to play tour guide in the city – not least just how are mum, dad, Uncle John and Aunty Mabel going to squeeze into your studio apartment and just where you will you put the cat. Never fear, though, there is so much to be proud of in our amazing emirate and enough activities to fill a lifetime of holidays. The hardest thing might be deciding what not to do. Embrace the visitors and treat them to an unforgettable getaway – Abu Dhabi style.

Must-try itineraries:


MORNING: Ride the world’s fastest roller coaster
Why not start as you mean to go on with some exhilarating, adrenaline-pumping, record-smashing fun? The morning may pass in a blur, but you won’t mind as you get your companions strapped in for the white-knuckle ride of a lifetime. Ferrari World is home to a whole host of thrilling rides, a state-of-the-art racing simulator and go karting track – but the glittering jewel in the crown remains the formidable Formula Rossa. The high-octane attraction hits eye-popping speeds of 240km an hour and reaches incredible heights of 52m throughout an awesome adrenaline rush that will really have you feeling the G-force.

It’s an incredible experience – though it might not be one for your gran.
From Dhs275. Open daily 11am-8pm. Yas Island (02 496 8000).

AFTERNOON: Fall in love with Louvre Abu Dhabi
This dream development that was more than a decade in the making has proved well worth the wait. One of the most significant new openings across the whole of the UAE for many years, Louvre Abu Dhabi launched amid global fanfare last November and has more than lived up to the hype. The landmark venue is home to hundreds of incredible works of art spanning centuries and civilisations, from artistic visionaries such as Van Gogh and Andy Warhol to Leonardo da Vinci, whose masterpiece Salvator Mundi is now taking pride of place in the museum after being sold for a record-breaking Dhs1.65 billion last year. Even before you set foot in the network of galleries, you will be well and truly wowed by the dome-like structure of the museum itself and the stunning Rain of Light roof, made up of a constellation of stars letting natural light seep in. No trip to Abu Dhabi is complete without a visit here.
Open Sat, Sun, Tue and Wed 10am-8pm; Thu-Fri 10am-10pm. Saadiyat Cultural District, Saadiyat Island (600 565 566).

BY NIGHT: Live in the fast lane at Empire Nightclub
By now your guests will already be starting to realise that we don’t do things by halves in Abu Dhabi. Round off a memorable day by dancing the night away at the only nightclub on the planet built over an F1 track. This really is living life in the fast lane. Watch jaws drop and anticipation rise as you make your way
to the futuristic, spaceship-shaped Yas Viceroy and into the funky night spot, complete with those unique views of the Yas Marina track. While it would be easy for it to rely upon its awesome setting, Empire keeps its dance card pretty full throughout the week, with lots of themed events (such as an urban night, an Arabic night and, of course, a ladies’ night) to keep revellers on their feet.
Open Mon-Fri 11pm-3.30am. Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, Yas Island (050 501 5052).


MORNING: Take a tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Mere words cannot do this magnificent landmark justice – but as a big blank space just won’t do, we will try our best. Put simply, it is an awe-inspiring architectural marvel that you must visit. If you haven’t got round to peeking inside yet, t there is no excuse not to now you’ve got company in town. Voted the world’s second favourite landmark last year (ranking above iconic tourist attractions such as the Taj Mahal and the Sydney Opera House), the gleaming white structure boasts 82 domes, the world’s largest hand-woven carpet and a chandelier bedded with one million crystals. Free guided tours are held during the week, with knowledgeable staff on hand to answer questions and boost your understanding of Islamic culture.

The bold vision of His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan is a fitting legacy to his leadership.
Free. Open Sat-Thu 9am-10pm, Fri 4.30pm-10pm. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Street (02 419 1919).

AFTERNOON: Make a splash at Yas Waterworld
Who doesn’t want to hurtle down a ride shaped like a snake? If you are such a person, we don’t think we get you anymore. There are more than 40 fun-packed rides and slides at this Emirati-themed visitor attraction, including Slither Surprise, Snake’s Tail and the Sand Viper Strike. There is fun for all the family here, but the theme park also scores big for a girls’ soirée with a difference.

Every Thursday there is a ladies’ night where female fun-seekers can try out the rides and enjoy rocking beats from a lady DJ without being troubled by a single man. Well, we do get in the way a bit sometimes.
From Dhs250. Open daily 10am-6pm. Yas Island (02 414 2000).

BY NIGHT: Dance the night away at MAD
Actually by night, we mean well into the early hours. There is plenty on offer at this Yas Island super club to keep you wide wake though. Not only does the trendy night spot regularly welcome some of the hottest and hippest international acts to the stage (think Jason Derulo, Wiz Khalifa and Tinie Tempah) but even when there isn’t a big name around you can still bounce along to bone-shaking beats from a line-up of top DJs. The UAE has been going MAD ever since it launched on Yas Island – so put your dancing feet to the test.
Thu-Fri 11pm-3.30am. Leisure Drive, Yas Island (055 834 6262).


MORNING: Enjoy a scenic stroll through the Corniche
Right, it’s been a busy couple of days already hasn’t it? Let’s just take things down a notch and unwind a little bit. The Corniche is one of the most beautiful stretches in the UAE, made up of an eye-catching 8km of manicured waterfront lined with cute cafés, play areas and an award-winning beachfront. Now that the weather is starting to heat up, it’s best to step out while it is a bit cooler in the morning so you can make the most of the lovely sights. You can rest those tired feet with a spot of lunch at Asia de Cuba, too.

AFTERNOON: Go kayaking at the Eastern Mangroves
Yes, you got us, we were lulling you into a false sense of security with that relaxing outing – now it is time to step things up again. There are still plenty of gorgeous views of the lush mangroves to take in, but you won’t be seeing them at such a sedate pace from the land. Have yourself an ‘oar-some’ time by picking up a paddle and taking to the azure waters for a fun kayaking session. There aren’t many better ways to explore the vast mangrove forests, and you can even journey to some of the emirate’s vast network of idyllic islands while doing so. If your guests are staying at the luxurious five-star Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara, the activity can be organised through reception.
Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa, Abu Dhabi by Anantara, Sheikh Zayed Street (02 656 1000).

BY NIGHT: Live it up at Ray’s Bar
Don’t worry, we know everyone is a bit tired, so there is a lift to take you up to the 62nd floor of the lavish Jumeirah by Etihad Towers. If you want to wow your visitors and show you are living the high life, then head on up here. This is a venue that really does come to life at night, with those amazing views of the lit-up city skyline of the bustling metropolis that is the UAE capital. You won’t just be window watching, however, as the lively sounds from the resident DJ, sophisticated setting and wide variety of drinks will also help to show off your city in the best possible light.
Open daily 5pm-3am. Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Corniche Road West (02 811 5666).


MORNING: Have a blast with the past at Heritage Village
Embracing the vibrant, progressive and thoroughly modern Abu Dhabi is brilliant, but it is nice to take a glimpse into the past now and again, too. You can retrace the steps of the emirate of a bygone era at Heritage Village,
a faithful reconstruction of a traditional oasis on the Corniche breakwater. Check out the open museum to get up close with traditional aspects of the desert way of life, from a goats’ hair tent to a campfire with coffee pots. Visitors can also get a first-hand look at a series of workshops where craftsmen showcase skills such as metalwork and pottery before picking up mementos at the spice shop, which offers a wide range of dried herbs, handmade soaps and treasured trinkets.
Free. Open Sat-Thu 9am-4pm, Fri 3.30pm-9pm. Corniche breakwater (02 681 4455).

AFTERNOON: Fill up your day at the Empty Quarter
If you are looking for a little peace and quiet after your hectic schedule, this is the place to go. The largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world, Rub Al Khali (known as the Empty Quarter) will take your breath away and help you get in touch with a world far removed from the towering skyscrapers and bright lights of the capital city. The landscape of endless dunes was made famous by the British explorer Wilfred Thesiger and his Emirati and Oman companions in the 1940s and 1950s. Decades on, the chance to discover it yourself is just as special. If your visitors want to really experience the vast landscape – and even get the chance to go dune bashing over the huge swathes of desolate desert – they can book a short stay at the Qasr Al Sarab hotel.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Qasr Al Sarab Road (02 886 2088).

BY NIGHT: Get with the trend-setters at Iris
After a full-on day of soaking up culture, go back to the future at one of the city’s trendiest night spots. Plot a course for the glittering Yas Marina and make a stop at Iris. Brought to Abu Dhabi by way of Beirut, you will really feel like you’re with the cool crowd at this swanky bar. You will have a great vantage point to watch the sun go down during early evening before DJs take to the decks to get the party going.
Open daily 6pm-3am. Yas Marina, Yas Island (055 160 5636).


Afternoon tea at Emirates Palace

It’s fine, we can pretend this is all about pampering mum, even though we can’t wait to get on hands (or should it be fingers) on those little sandwiches and drink tea from a dainty cup. For the most majestic, gasp-inducing of afternoon tea experiences, make a royal appointment at Emirates Palace. The Royal Afternoon Tea Affair is a step above the usual cucumber sandwich fare, too, with luxurious bites such as 24k gold-crusted salmon sandwiches on pumpernickel bread, king crab on brioche, plus freshly baked scones and decadent desserts.
Dhs500 (for two), Dhs565 (with two glasses of bubbly), Dhs700 (two glasses of premium bubbly). Daily 2pm-6pm. Emirates Palace, West Corniche (02 690 7999).

Go shopping at Yas Mall
Maybe this place should come with a health warning, as once mummy dearest sets her eyes on it she may well end up shopping ’til she drops. The massive mall offers up a great line in retail therapy, though you are likely to want a few follow-up sessions. Yas Mall is set over a staggering 2.5million square feet of retail space, features more than 400 big-name brands, a 20-screen cinema, a huge family entertainment zone and a wide variety of restaurants to help you refuel before the next shopping spree.
Open daily 10am-10pm. Yas Island (800 927 6255).

Have a spa day
All that wandering out the shops will have those leg muscles aching, so escape to a soothing spa. Whether you are after a relaxing massage, want to soak in a Turkish bath and indulge in an Arabic Coffee Scrub (yes, it’s a thing) there are plenty of top-quality spas across the city, including Anantara Spa, based in the Qasr Al Sarab resort, which combines traditional therapies with ancient Thai techniques; and Talise Spa, in Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, where you can enjoy hammam sessions and Swedish massages. You shouldn’t have any stresses to soothe away – but why not treat yourself anyway?
Anantara Spa: Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, Liwa Desert (02 886 2088).Talise Spa: Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, West Corniche (02 811 5858).


Have a round of golf on a course played by Tiger himself
Now, you can’t take to the course at the same time as Mr Woods, though the way Tiger’s been playing the last few years dad might give him a run for his money (even with his dodgy knee). If your old man loves the game, though, then challenge him to 18 holes at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, home to the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, where the 14-time Major winner has competed alongside the likes of Rory Mcllroy and current world number one Dustin Johnson. If you have time to tee up again, you can also tackle the challenging Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, created by a true icon of the game, nine-time Major champion Gary Player.
Abu Dhabi Golf Club: Sas Al Nakhl (02 885 3555). Saadiyat Beach Golf Club: Saadiyat Island (02 499 8100).

Get in the driving seat at Yas Marina
If dad is missing his trusty Volvo while away from home, here is one way to get him back in the driving seat. Yas Marina Circuit, home to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, offers up a host of driving experiences which allow petrolheads to go full throttle and tear through the same corners and hairpins as the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. From go-karts to super-fast Ferraris and classic Aston Martins to the closest thing to driving an F1 car itself, the sleek Formula Yas 3000 you can live out your motoring dreams here.
Prices vary. Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Island,

Catch a match at the city’s top pub
Cheering on your football team with your dad is one of life’s simple pleasures – and you probably never thought you’d get to do it so far from home. It might be an away day, then, but you will feel right at home at McGettigan’s. The ever-popular Irish watering-hole scooped the Best Pub gong at last year’s Time Out Abu Dhabi Nightlife Awards for good reason. There are a multitude of screens, so you won’t miss a minute of the action, plus you can tuck into hearty pub grub and a well-priced selection of beverages. You are onto a winner here, whatever the result.
Open Sun-Wed 3pm-3am; Thu-Sat noon-3am. Al Raha Beach Hotel & Resort (02 652 4333).


Visit Abu Dhabi’s best restaurant
If you only visit one restaurant while you have guests in town (we know there’s little chance of that but play along, please) then it has to be COYA. Time Out Abu Dhabi’s reigning Restaurant of the Year has been up-and-running in Abu Dhabi for a year now, having previously proved a huge hit up the road in Dubai, and continues to impress at every turn. The fantastic Peruvian restaurant takes diners on an incredible, flavour-packed culinary journey filled with exquisite and innovative dishes served with a dash of flair. The Galleria on Al Maryah Island is crammed with brilliant dining destinations – but they don’t come any better than COYA.
Open Sun-Wed noon-midnight, Thu-Sat noon-1am. The Galleria, Al Maryah Island (02 306 7000).

Brace yourself for brunch

You knew it was coming, didn’t you? No trip to the UAE could possibly be complete without making a date for brunch. Visitors might be confused by the whole thing at first, but they will soon get into the swing of things. Mountains of food, bottomless beverages and good times await, so what’s not to like about this dining institution? Whether you go for a party brunch, a family-friendly affair or an alfresco feast, you won’t struggle to find something to cater for all tastes. If you are out to impress, then book in at Zuma. The sophisticated Japanese venue has been among the cream of the culinary crop in the capital for years and it’s Friday feast is a perennial award winner.
Zuma brunch: Every Fri 12.30pm-4pm. The Galleria, Al Maryah Island (02 401 5900).

Go on a tasting tour
You can get a taste for fine food here in Abu Dhabi, but luckily you don’t have to travel far to please your palate. The city is home to a pair of superb culinary hubs, The Galleria on Al Maryah Island and Yas Marina. The Galleria houses top-class eateries such as Zuma, COYA, La Petite Maison, Nusr-Et, Roberto’s, Loca and many more. Over on the gleaming waters of Yas Marina, you can take in the beautiful views while enjoying superb food at Italian favourite Cipriani, seafood restaurant Aquarium, funky Iris or indulge in tasty grub at American-style sports bar, Stars ‘N’ Bars. We are getting hungry just thinking about it.


Al Ain Oasis
There’s so much to see and do in Abu Dhabi, but try to find time for an excursion to the Garden City of Al Ain, just an hour or so’s drive away from the big city. One of the highlights of the trip is the glorious Al Ain Oasis, the UAE’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is filled with beautiful trees, plants and shrubbery and close to 150,000 date palms. The tranquil spot uses the traditional falaj water system for irrigation and wells to store the water to ensure the foliage is blooming all-year round.
Hessa bint Mohammed Street, Al Mutawaa, Al Ain (03 712 8523).

Al Ain Zoo

How about going on an African Safari while in the UAE? You can go wild at Al Ain Zoo at a huge nature spot set over 217 hectares and home to exotic creatures such as lions, giraffes and gazelles. Visitors can choose from a variety of safari options and packages and are supported by an expert guide as they travel through the rugged terrain in a 26-seater truck or smaller SUV vehicles. Once you’re out of the slice of Africa, you can see even more members of the animal kingdom in the main section of the zoo.
Safari from Dhs210. Daily tours 9am-6pm. Nayhan The First Street, Al Ain (03 799 2000).

Wadi Adventure
On the hunt for even more adventure? Well, we are starting to feel a bit tired, but here goes. Wadi Adventure is the UAE’s first man-made whitewater rafting, kayaking, wakeboarding and surfing attraction. It hosts the world’s largest surf pool, generating three-metre high waves and there are three levels of whitewater rapids available for thrill seekers. Once you are back on dry land, head along to the impressive Airpark, which boasts a two-storey aerial obstacle course, a zip line, climbing wall and giant swing.
From Dhs65 per person. Open daily 11am-7pm. Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain (03 781 8422).

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