Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and the emirate that spreads over the most area. Despite being a modern city with well-planned urban landscaping, Abu Dhabi holds on to its heritage. Some of the buildings here appear like those straight out of mythical Arabian legends.
Its skyline has lofty futuristic skyscrapers and traditional souks side by side. From fun and adventure to culture and heritage, there is everything a traveler would ever want to see. There is so much to explore in this city which is perched on a T-shaped island.
Here is a list of top places to visit in this oil-rich emirate of the UAE.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The biggest and the most beautiful mosque in the country is in its capital. The Sheikh Zayed mosque has become an icon of Abu Dhabi. Sheikh Zayed, the former ruler and founder of the UAE, himself conceived the idea of this grand mosque. The work began back in 1996. After 2 billion dollars and 11 years spent, the magnificent mosque was opened to the public in 2007.
Meticulous care has been taken to perfect every inch of this marvel. The walls made of white granite brought from the Republic of Macedonia are adorned with semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli, red agate, amethyst, abalone, jasper and mother-of-pearl, and gold.
The mosque is a mix of Ottoman, Fatimid, and Moorish architecture and incorporates contemporary and modern elements as well. Ornate carpets and massive bronze chandeliers with Swarovski crystals adorn the huge prayer halls. World’s largest hand-woven carpet also belongs to this mosque.
Anyone, including non-Muslims, can tour the mosque for free. Visitors have to follow the Islamic dress code inside the complex. Women can borrow loose hooded gowns with long sleeves at the entrance. The inside of the mosque is accessible to tourists except during the five prayer times. A visit to this mosque will help you understand the Islamic traditions and appreciate its architectural prowess.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Designed by the Pritzker prize-winning architect, Lovre Abu Dhabi is envisioned to be unique from all other museums out there in every regard. This phenomenal undertaking was a joint venture by the UAE and the French government.
The museum is on Saadiyat island and covered by water on all sides. It appears to be floating on top of the water from a distance. The gigantic dome covering the top of the museum is an architectural feat in and of itself. It comprises of eight layers and resembles roofs paved with palm leaves. The light seeping in through the dome emanates an unearthly glow inside the galleries below.
Louvre Abu Dhabi that dons the title of being the most comprehensive museum on the planet opened its gates in late 2017. Rather than categorizing the artifacts the usual way based on their period and civilization, Louvre Abu Dhabi curates the cross-cultural influence of art and history.
The items in the collection date back to thousands of years ago. The Ain Ghazal statue which was originally from Jordan belongs to 7th millennium BC. There is a permanent and temporary gallery in Louvre. The temporary one displays loaned items from several major museums in France, most notably the original Louvre (Musee du Louvre) itself.
There is a water pool that runs inside the museum inspired by Falaj duct system. Falaj systems were used to carry irrigation water in the Arab world before the inception of electricity.
It will take you at least 2 hours just to browse through the collection. If you are someone interested in art and history, you can spend the whole day here… and, maybe, come back again the next day.
Emirates Palace Hotel
There are only a handful of hotels in the world to compete with emirates palace in the realm of luxury. This sandstone colored beachfront hotel is majestic like a whimsical Arabian palace in your dreams. At present, the hotel is owned and operated by a german hotel chain called Kempinski.
What sets this hotel apart from all others is its sheer size and opulence. It spreads over thousands of hectares on Ras Al Akhdar overlooking the Arabian Gulf. The huge granite domes decorated with gold lights up every night, making it even more splendid.
With four exquisite restaurants, this place is culinary heaven. People visit here from faraway places just to experience the gastronomic delicacies. The interior, as well as the exterior design, follows immaculate Arabian style replete with enormous staircases and atriums. The hotel has a gallery which displays ancient artworks inside gold shelves. The hotel garners attention from almost everywhere in the main city, thanks to its prime location and scale.
They offer guided tours inside the hotel for the tourists. On days of special events, it has to be booked in advance and will cost you a fee. People with restaurant or hotel reservation can enter the hotel and the grounds for free.
But men who are too casually dressed in shorts, sleeveless or slippers are not welcomed inside its premises. So make sure to dress in formals when you go.
Ferrari World is the most well-known place in Abu Dhabi. And the only Ferrari parked theme park on the planet. Unlike other amusement parks, Ferrari World offers so much more for car enthusiasts and Ferrari fanboys.
Because of the climate-controlled interiors, this sprawling indoor theme park is ideal for a visit throughout the year and even on summer days. The park is located on Yas Island and is the first thing that welcomes you on your way to Abu Dhabi if you are driving from Dubai side.
Ferrari World is home to Formula Rossa, the fastest roller coaster ride in the world. The gut-churning 2.2-kilometer ride accelerates from 0 to 240 km/h in under 5 seconds. You will need to strap on goggles to protect your eyes at these mind-blowing (pun intended) speeds.
Even young kids can get their hands on the wheel and the first driving lesson in their life at Junior GT. And if you want to experience extreme speeds without any risk, there is a racing simulator called Scuderia Challenge. Here you get expert suggestions on how to improve your driving skills. On top of everything, your dream of driving a real Ferrari will come true on your trip to Ferrari World.
Apart from all the rides, there are also 4 d shows and a factory tour of Ferrari. And not to mention all the cafes. The Ferrari world is an ideal destination for a family day out on weekends.
Qasr Al Watan
Most of us haven’t been inside a real working palace in our lives. Qasar Al Watan presents a unique opportunity to see and walk around the Presidential Palace of the UAE. In fact, Qasar Al Watan (means Palace of the Nation in Arabic) is a part of the Presidential Palace. The same place where the offices of the rulers of Abu Dhabi exist.
Much like Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the facade of the palace is of gleaming white granite stones. Even the architecture has a lot of resemblances. The palace stands adjacent to the famed Emirates palace hotel in Ras al Akhtar peninsula. Even though the five-star hotel is stunning to look at, it seems less significant in comparison to the palace.
Qasar al Watan is but more than just a palace. The numerous galleries provide an insight into the history and the future towards which the nation is heading. The legendary Birmingham Quran is housed here along with the first modern map drawn of Arabia and pre-Hispanic codices of the Aztecs.
The presidential banquet let you experience how the guests of the King are welcomed and treated. You will also get to know the etiquettes and protocols when the nation welcomes an eminent guest. The display of the presidential gifts exchanged between the rulers and ‘The Power of Words’ sculpture by the Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej is definitely worth seeing.
Qasar Al Watan is open to visitors every day from 10 AM to 8 PM. You can take pictures inside the hall except for the security systems and staff. In the evening, the Qasar Al Watan hosts a light and sound show explaining the vision that carries the nation forward. You have to undergo a security screening before entering. Check out the list of prohibited items which you cannot carry inside (like penknives, alcohol, etc.).
Qasr Al Hosn
The oldest surviving stone structure stands amidst the modern buildings at the center of busy downtown of Abu Dhabi. The Qasr al Hosn fort has a long history of struggle and the eventual prosperity to tell.
The fort started out as a watchtower. When the Bani Yas tribe moved to the resourceful Abu Dhabi Island in the 1700s, they had to protect the well that supplied fresh water to the settlement. Therefore they built a watchtower nearby. Over time, as the settlement expanded, the watchtower grew into a fort made of thick coral stone walls. The structure saw many restorations in its centuries-long history.
This was the seat of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi up until mid 19th century. There are two parts to Qasr Al Hosn. The ancient fort and the palace outside, which is a more recent construction. Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan completed the palace in 1945 after the oil discovery.
Recently, Qasr al Hosn underwent an extensive restoration and reopened in December of 2018. Now, this has become a center of culture and heritage exploration. Galleries and Museums were added to it post-opening. Bait Al Gahwa and House of Artisans galleries give us a picture of life in the old days. Qasr al Hosn is also featured on the back of 1000 AED banknote.