Things to do in Abu Dhabi on a weekend

Abu Dhabi radiates old-world charm. History dances across its oasis towns and ambient souks, vast stretches of untouched desert await the intrepid, and there’s a wonderful evocation of Arabia’s ancient heart.

Many visitors see Abu Dhabi as an add-on to a UAE holiday. Which is often a shame. Because an Abu Dhabi holiday is as diverse and enchanting as anywhere in the region.

Here are all the basics for an Abu Dhabi holiday -

The Classic Abu Dhabi Day Trip


Abu Dhabi often falls into the shadow of neighboring Dubai. Despite the record-breaking attractions, sublime architecture and heritage, the UAE capital isn’t widely regarded as a holiday destination. Most see Abu Dhabi as a day trip, a chance to see something different on a Dubai holiday or Ras Al Khaimah holiday. Why? Sure, Abu Dhabi might not have the world-famous skyline or beaches, but it provides an expressive and innovative side to Arabia, one that’s laced in tradition yet imbued with a modern sense of wow. Many come for a few hours, a few buildings, and then it’s onwards elsewhere. But an Abu Dhabi holiday could easily last two weeks. Or two months. This is probably the Emirate that has more to offer than all the others.

Abu Where? The Basics About Abu Dhabi


Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE. The Emirate also covers over half the country’s land mass, so it’s bigger than all the Emirates combined. You’ll have landed here if you’ve ever flown with Etihad, the national airline of the UAE. An Abu Dhabi holiday quickly immerses you in tradition and heritage. The landscape is raw and primitive, tumbling desert sand dunes and vast stretches of wilderness reserves. Customs continue to dominate local culture, whether that’s trading in old souks, racing camels, or a cup of sweet coffee beneath a palm tree in a five-millennia-old town. Bizarrely, these tones of tradition sometimes put off people from going on an Abu Dhabi holiday. There’s a suggestion that Arabian tradition equals an ultra-conservative society, a mythical fabrication that means many miss out on the evocative splendour of this Emirate. Don’t worry about any cultural faux pas. You’ll always be welcomed in Abu Dhabi.

Immersed in Heritage on an Abu Dhabi Holiday


On an Abu Dhabi holiday, you don’t need to search for tradition or history. You’re continually immersed in it all. And that’s the ultimate attraction. Even when you’re exploring a modern building the sense of the past is inescapable. Even when you’re driving through an ocean of sand dunes there’s something marvelously old-world about it all. Dubai offers the futuristic promise of the Middle East. Abu Dhabi ensures you’re seamlessly transported in its history, one that scrolls back thousands of years.

Things to Experience on an Abu Dhabi Holiday


The capital city is the obvious place to start. Stunning architecture takes you on a journey through Arabian style, just on a mind-boggling scale. Flying above the city introduces you to just how stylish and colossal the city can be. Marvel at the domes of the Emirates Palace, then steps inside for a unique signature coffee tasting experience. Enter into the elegance of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque then sink your feet into the world’s largest carpet. On a discovery tour, you can get lost in a maze of ancient souks, each seemingly unchanged for centuries. Then there’s the serenity of cruising through Yas Marina and admiring all the opulent superyachts.

But let’s go really back in time. Perhaps 5000 years back, to the World Heritage town of Al Ain, a lost oasis that remains blissfully untouched; think crumbling stone, old forts, and palms standing over innovative water channels. Or even further back, into ancient deserts where nature has always defined the rhythm. On an Abu Dhabi holiday, you have more desert destinations and activities than anywhere else in the Middle East. Many of these are dappled with wildlife. This sublime nature reserve is a haven for tens of thousands of mammals and it’s a final sanctuary for many endangered species: Arabian oryx, Sudan cheetah, hawksbill turtle, and striped hyena among others. You’ll even see some giraffe.

How to Get to Abu Dhabi


Etihad Airlines offers the accessible entrance to Abu Dhabi. You can also reach the capital by road from any of the other Emirates. Or you could fly to Abu Dhabi by seaplane, a scenic journey that cruises across the desert. The quickest transfer from Dubai to Abu Dhabi is by seaplane shuttle, a spectacular 45-minute flight that takes off and touches down on the water. Again, seaplane travel makes it quick and easy, something that can be inimitably experienced on an Air Cruise holiday.

Premier Five-Star Resorts in Abu Dhabi


Much like Dubai, an Abu Dhabi holiday offers a glamorous array of five-star resort options. The archetypal local style is to elevate Arabian tradition with contemporary luxury and indulgence. Think space, elegant lines, and a serene atmosphere. While there are dozens of five-star resorts in Abu Dhabi, two deserve a special mention. The grand Emirates Palace Hotel which will truly make you feel like a royal and the Anantara Eastern Mangroves hotel.  At the Eastern Mangroves Hotel, you feel like you’ve escaped into a coastal paradise. Yet you’re actually in the city. It offers a calm and charming base for exploring city heritage. Gaze out from a private verandah and there’s always wildlife dotting the horizon, enhancing the sense of serenity you find in the middle of nowhere.

Climate and When to Visit Abu Dhabi


A classic desert climate has always dictated life in Abu Dhabi. This is the Emirate where wind creates sand dunes, antelopes crowd around waterholes, and locals hide beneath a canopy of date palms. October to March has the kindest climate and during these months the Abu Dhabi holiday can be outside almost all day. As you move into summer you’ll need to plan activities for the cooler times of the day, particularly in the morning. July and August are the hottest, so an Abu Dhabi holiday at this time will be more focused on heritage than the scorched sand dunes. Check the latest Abu Dhabi weather here.

Get Off the Beaten Track with These Unusual Abu Dhabi Things to Do


While the atmosphere is of old-world charm, most of the premier things to do in Abu Dhabi are very unusual. Completing our Abu Dhabi holiday guide are ten unique experiences that reflect both the past and the future:

  • Take a seaplane flight over the skyline of Abu Dhabi
  • Wander through a maze of mud-stone walkways in Al Ain, a 5000-year-old oasis.
  • Ride camels through the desert at sunset.
  • Go to an ancient camel market and watch traders haggle for the one-humped beasts.
  • Listen. And admire the absolute silence of the desert.
  • Watch birds of prey fly on the command of skilled falconers.
  • Ride the world’s fastest roller coaster at the world’s largest indoor theme park – Abu Dhabi Ferrari World.
  • Take a boat cruise through mystical mangroves and then dock on a remote Arabian Gulf sandbank.
  • Go dune bashing in a four-wheel drive.
  • Go wadi bashing in a four-wheel drive, essentially exploring the dried out riverbeds of the desert.
  • Experience the serenity of a traditional tea ceremony in a Bedouin tent.

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