We are so lucky to live in a place where there is so much to do, see and enjoy. The only downside is sometimes we can have so much fun that by a week before payday, we are totally broke.
Yet that doesn’t mean you have to take a deep breath and accept solitary confinement until your bank balance recovers. There are loads of things to do in Abu Dhabi that can be done on a budget.
Whether it’s cycling around a desert race track, visiting an Emirati cultural village or relaxing on a beach, it’s all still possible while you’re trying to save money. Don’t believe us? Well we’ve put together seven days out that can all be enjoyed for Dhs100 or less.
AM: Test your nerve in the Challenge Chambers
This Al Wahda Mall venue offers games that are just the right mix of tension and excitement, because sometimes it’s fun to push yourself to the limit isn’t it? You’ll need to be on the ball, so make sure you have a good sleep the night before. You and your friends have less than an hour to overcome a series of challenges and puzzles before you become trapped in your room forever (well, not literally but you do lose the game, which is almost as bad). So choose your teammates wisely. This is the ultimate way to test your brains, skills and most importantly, you’re ability to remain calm under pressure.
From Dhs75. Open Sun-Wed 10am-10pm, Thu-Sat 10am-midnight. Al Wahda Mall New Extension, Hazza Bin Zayed Street, Al Wahda (02 445 2522).
PM: Recover at Al Bateen beach
You’ll be mentally exhausted after the exhilaration of Challenge Chambers, but a nice lie down at the beach will help you recuperate. You’ll have spent most of your budget on testing your grey matter, but you don’t need to pay anything to enjoy the beautiful white sands of Al Bateen Beach. Bring your favourite book, swimsuit and plenty of lotion, and enjoy relaxing in the sunshine for free. There’s also a children’s playground and amenities such as showers, toilets, lifeguards and changing rooms.
Free. Daily daily 8am-9pm. Khalifa Al Mubarak Street, www.visitabudhabi.ae.
AM: Step back in time at the Heritage Village
The Abu Dhabi that we know is glamourous, glitzy and full of excitement. But it’s fascinating to see what it was like 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 our city for absolutely free.
Free.Open Sat-Thu 9am-4pm, Fri 3.30pm-9pm. Near Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Corniche Breakwater (02 681 4455).
PM: Experience the fun of the seaside at A’l Bahar
A walk along the huge stretch of beach at the Corniche is always a beautiful way to spend an afternoon, but the new family friendly space at A’l Bahar really makes it feel like you are on holiday at the seaside. Conveniently located next to the Heritage Village, the huge area is full of fairground rides, food stalls and now a spectacular inflatable water park, AquaFun. You can easily spend an enjoyable few hours just wandering around and watching people attempt to take on the water-based monkey bars, jumps and other obstacles. After that, head out onto the 500m promenade and take some amazing snaps of the Arabian Gulf. Obviously you will need to treat yourself to an ice cream, but apart from that it doesn’t have to cost you anything at all.
Free. AquaFun open daily 9am-6.30pm. The Corniche. www.visitabudhabi.ae.
Full day: Take a road trip to the Emirates National Auto Museum
It’s perhaps appropriate that you have to spend some time in a car to view this collection of ridiculously over-the-top vehicles. Some 200 of Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan’s cars are housed within a huge building that is designed to look like a pyramid. Highlights include the world’s largest truck, an eight-bed motorhome complete with a balcony, and the Sheikh’s rainbow Mercedes collection, which are painted in each colour of the rainbow for each day of the week. Even if you have no interest in cars, you will appreciate that this is an astonishing line-up. You might even recognise some of the vehicles from the BBC show Top Gear. Based 45 kilometres south of Abu Dhabi, you’ll need to devote a whole day to truly exploring the museum.
Dhs50 (free for childen under 10). Open daily 10am-6pm. Hamim Road, Off E11, Al Dhafra (055 749 2155).
AM: Cycle in the desert at Al Wathba
Next to the camel-racing track (which is an amazing place in itself) and with views of sand dunes for as far as the eye can see, this is definitely not your average cycling track. 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, we assure you. The most spectacular views are at sunset, 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, showers and floodlights for night-time rides.
Free. Open daily, 24 hours. Al Wathba Cycle Track, E22 Abu Dhabi-Al Ain Road, sportinabudhabi.ae.
PM: Then marvel at the flamingos at Al Wathba Wetland Reserve
Once you’ve got your breath back after your bike ride, you might 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 UAE 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 more than 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.
It’s amazing to witness.
Free. Open Thurs and Sat 8am-4pm. Al Wathba Wetland Reserve (03 763 9688).
AM: Get arty at the Louvre
Who needs Paris when we have our own Louvre right here? This magnificent venue has only been open since last November and it just oozes wow factor. The beautiful building was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel. With a waterway running through the centre and a patterned ceiling that is inspired by the palms that were used as roofing materials in the UAE, it’s tremendously impressive before you even begin to look at the art that’s on display. The huge collection contains works from famous French museums including Musée du Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou.
Dhs60 (adults), Dhs30 (ages 13-22). Open Sat-Wed 10am-8pm, Thu-Fri 10am-10pm. Saadiyat Cultural District (600 565 566).
PM: Continue your culture fix at Manarat Al Saadiyat
Designed to benefit and enrich the community, this arty hub is the place to enjoy fantastic exhibitions, brilliant food or just relax and chat in a welcoming environment. Manarat Al Saadiyat was the first addition to what is now the Saadiyat Cultural District and its programme of events is always full of workshops, art fairs and other special events. Head to the drop-in studio to have a go at creating your own work of art for just Dhs30. All materials are provided and art instructors are on hand to offer inspiration. After that, visit the Cinema Space to view some restored classics and contemporary world films. All viewings are free but you must book a spot.
Free (Cinema Space viewings), Dhs30 (drop-in studio). Open daily 9am-8pm. Saadiyat Island (02 657 5800).
AM: Take a walk in El Emarat Park
We are blessed with many picturesque green spaces in Abu Dhabi and Umm Al Emarat Park in the Mushrif area is one of the best. 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 meandering. Afterwards head to Egg Shack for yes, you guessed it, amazing egg-based dishes cooked in every brilliant way imaginable. It’s super cheap and there are also burgers and other options.
Free. Open daily 8am-midnight. Umm Al Emarat Park, 15th Street, Mushrif Area (02 666 9559).
PM: Go window shopping at the World Trade Center
Your Dhs100 won’t go far if you’re indulging in some retail therapy, but there’s loads to see in The Mall at the World Trade Center without spending anything. Window shop and browse the countless number of stores before taking a walk through the old-style souk and see the exotic spices, jewellery and traditional artefacts. Fusing modern designs with traditional Arabian architecture, there are also public squares and rooftop gardens to chill out in. After this wonder over to Back Yard Bistro to refresh yourself with their Dhs19 happy hour drinks and think of all those amazing savings you’ve made by buying nothing.
Free. Open daily 10am-10pm. Hamdan Bin Mohammed St (02 508 2400).
AM: Be inspired at the Zayed Centre
Wherever you go in Abu Dhabi, you’ll find paintings, photos and other tributes to the founding father of the emirate, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. As he played such a key role in the history of our great city, it’s really essential that we learn a bit about him. The Zayed Heritage Centre houses a photo gallery of Sheikh Zayed and also lots of personal items that were important to him, including his four cars that he used to drive around the city. Perhaps most fascinating of all is the collection of gifts he received over the years from around the world. Featuring many extravagant items such as stuffed lions and tigers, these are far from your average holiday souvenirs.
Free. Open Sun-Thu 7.30am-2.30pm. Al Quffal Street, Al Bateen (02 665 9555).
PM: Take a stroll around Marasy Al Bateen
Marasy means harbour in Arabic and the luxury waterfront area of Marasy Al Bateen is great for an afternoon wander. This lovely spot features fountains, sculptures, shops and cafés. You can also take some Insta-worthy snaps over the beautiful blue water, Emirates Palace and the city skyline. Most importantly, this is the perfect place to treat yourself to some super-fresh seafood that won’t break the bank. Bu Tafish has a few outlets throughout the city and you’ll easily be able to get a brilliant meal, whether it’s grilled jumbo prawns, fried boulti or calamari tajen, for under Dhs100.
Prices vary. Open daily 11am-midnight. Building 3, Al Marasy, Near Central Bank, Al Bateen (02 666 6108).