Capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is a tidy and industrious city with a lovely location on the waterfront. First inhabited in 1760 by the nomadic Bani Yas tribe, the colony remained a small fishing village until oil was discovered.
The main tourist attraction is Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and impresses everyone who visits it. Find the best things to do with our list of top attractions in Abu Dhabi.
1. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Clad in Macedonian marble, the magnificent and absolutely gigantic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is Abu Dhabi’s iconic building and by far the city’s most popular tourist attraction. The mosque merges Mamluk, Ottoman and Fatimid design elements to create a harmonious and decidedly modern mosque that celebrates Islamic architecture. Craftsmen have used glasswork, mosaic tiles and intricate carvings for a dramatic effect inside and out.
It was opened in 2007 after almost 20 years of construction. With capacity for 40,000 worshipers, it is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates, and like the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Fujairah, it is dedicated to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan.
Non-Muslims are allowed in all areas of the mosque (including the extensive library) and guided tours are available. The Abu Dhabi Morning Tour is a good way to know the city. This four-hour tour visits the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, bustling markets and fishing port of Al Mina, as well as the heritage village with a local guide. Transportation and hotel pickup and drop-off are included.
Address: Al Khaleej al Arabi Street, Abu Dhabi
2. Louvre Abu Dhabi
The most spectacular museum in the Middle East, the Louvre Abu Dhabi traces the entire history of human artistic achievements, from the Neolithic to the present day. The richness and diversity of the art on display, from ancient Egyptian statuary to famous Picasso paintings, is mind-boggling, while the museum’s contemporary architecture, with its galleries gathered under a vast dome of silver, is a reason to visit in itself.
In addition to the permanent collection, which brings together more than 12 galleries, several large temporary exhibitions are organized each year. The Louvre is the first of three major museums scheduled to open on Saadiyat Island, which is set to become the cultural heart of Abu Dhabi in the years to come. The other two – Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum – are still in the planning stages.
3. Kayak trips in the mangroves
To see a different take on Abu Dhabi’s steel and glass exterior, head to the mangrove forests that still surround the islands along the shore surrounding the city. There is a set of kayak tours available for all experience and age levels, ranging from 1.5 hours to three hours of paddling. The Eco Tour allows you to understand the important ecology of mangroves, as well as explore these beautiful last vestiges of the city’s forests.
Another great thing to do for a truly special experience is to sign up for night tours and experience the mangroves as you glide through the waters after dark.