Abu Dhabi, like its more famous counterpart Dubai, has its string of mainstream attractions. Some of those being the mind-blowing architecture of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. While these attractions are simply astounding, they won’t tell you much about the actual city, its lifestyle, its history and its people. Only getting to know the city’s offbeat places and interacting with its citizens can give you that experience. Here are the top offbeat things to do in Abu Dhabi.
1. A Bit of History
Abu Dhabi’s first permanent structure, Qasr al-Hosn used to be the one-time residence of Emirate’s ruling Al Nahyan family. Explore Qasr al-Hosn to understand the city’s history, ancient fishing techniques, shipping, artefacts from olden days and much more. An annual festival is conducted at Qasr al-Hosn where you can enjoy live music and dance shows. The entertainment goes on for several months. The festival date is usually announced in advance. Next, pay a visit to Abu Dhabi’s Heritage Village. Here you can witness ancient irrigation methods, agricultural cooking, pearl diving, and the lifestyle of Abu Dhabi’s Bedouin population.
2. Desert Adventures
Abu Dhabi offers two beautiful deserts full of red sand dunes and mysterious wadis –Al Ain and Al Khatem. With plenty of dry wadis, you can experience 4WD driving and quad biking to your heart’s content. An incredible experience awaits you during evening safaris – belly dancing, Tanura dancing, fabulous Emirati cuisine and henna tattooing. Enjoy the beautiful sunset and ride out into the desert on a camel. Stay overnight at a desert camp and head out for a night safari with a guide and a camel. Explore Al Ain’s beautiful palm orchards and the village where people process the dates.
3. Top Views from the Marina Eye
Marina Eye is a giant ferris wheel, all of 196 feet tall. Relax within a giant glass capsule and experience stunning panoramic views of the city as the wheel climbs high in the air. The ride lasts only for a few minutes, but that’s enough to revel in the glittering views of the Abu Dhabi skyline, both during the day and night.
4. Shopping Extravaganza
- Marina Mall is Abu Dhabi’s destination for fashion, entertainment and pleasure under one roof. You can enjoy ice skating, bowling, movie-watching and dining at different food courts. There’s also a musical fountain, and a 100-meter observatory.
- The Abu Dhabi Mall is one of the city’s oldest retail destinations. You can shop for home décor, beauty, electronics and fashion here. Be sure to grab a latte at Café Nero, and ice-cream at Cold Stone Creamery.
- Dalma Mall is the largest shopping mall in Abu Dhabi, with fabulous options for retail therapy and fun for kids.
- Mushrif Mall is a hub of brands and famous supermarkets and fresh food shops.
5. Exploring the Abu Dhabi Corniche
The Corniche is a meandering seaside boardwalk that’s 6 kilometers long. Anyone who wants to be noticed will be decked out in their Sunday best and strolling on the Corniche. As you walk, be sure to check out some of the magnificent architecture around the Corniche. There’s Emirates Palace, one of Abu Dhabi’s finest hotels offering bespoke luxury. There’s also the Etihad Towers, the second tallest building in Abu Dhabi, with its five beautifully crafted towers. The Corniche opens up to parks, playgrounds, barbecue and picnic areas, retail outlets and eateries.
6. Warehouse 421
If you love art, then you must visit Warehouse 421, Abu Dhabi’s local art talent hangout. Artists from all over the world visit Warehouse 421, to share insights, learn from each other and work on collaborative art pieces. It’s the place to check out the latest art and to pick up a few pieces for your walls back home. It’s a good place to spend time with talented people who live in the world of art.
7. Arabian Wildlife Park
For wildlife lovers, it doesn’t get better than the Arabian Wildlife Park, which is 1,400 hectares large and contains over 1300 animals. If you have kids along, take them to see beautiful cheetahs, giraffes and elephants, enjoying themselves in their natural habitats. You can also explore nature walks, ride horses, go mountain biking and wildlife driving.
8. Emirates Auto National Museum
Are you a fan of vintage automobiles? Then head to the Emirates Auto National Museum, where HH Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan stores his incredible collection of modified and vintage vehicles. Take a long look at the largest truck in the world and priceless Rolls Royce cars from a 100 years ago and much more. You’ll also get to see old military vehicles in excellent condition.
9. Al Ain City Tour
Be sure to sign up for city tour of Al Ain, a blissful, beautiful oasis in Abu Dhabi. On the tour, you’ll get to see the architectural marvel of Al Jahili Fort, commissioned during the 19th century by Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa. It’s a large fort, one of the biggest, which played a major role in the defense of Abu Dhabi in a bygone era. Explore Al Ain’s gardens and date palm oases, and admire the tall Hajar Mountains all around. Don’t forget to check out the Bronze Age ruins at Hili Archaeological Park, and visit the Al Ain Camel Market. Al Ain has several hot springs, so be sure to bathe in one.
10. Beach and Water Fun
Abu Dhabi’s beaches are pristine, with sun-kissed golden sands and aquamarine waters. Head to the Saadiyat Public beach to lounge, play water sports, shop, and eat at its lovely bistros. Try your hand at kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, sunbathing – even beach-fitness classes!
Al Lulu Island stretches all the way from the Abu Dhabi Breakwater to the Zayed Sea Port and has some fabulous beaches. Try your hand at Blue Whale Jet Skiing – it’s the perfect adrenaline rush. Check out the local architecture at Sheikh Zayed Cricket Stadium and St Joseph Catholic Church. Explore the magnificent malls. Take a Yellow Boat tour and visit the Emirates Palace, Fisherman’s Village and the Corniche. At the Emirates Palace Marina, you can enjoy some cool high-speed boating experience and sightseeing. Beach fun is one of the best offbeat things to do in Abu Dhabi.
The final say…
Abu Dhabi is a beautiful city with a number of great attractions. Be sure to check if you are allowed to take photos of holy places and military installations before you go ahead. It’s also a laid-back, peaceful city where you can simply chill and take in the local culture and ethos. So what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and head east!!
The above post is contributed by Neha Singh from Dubai Wikia! About the author:
A postgraduate in Mass Communications, Neha loves everything about life. Traveling is extremely close to her heart and writing came to her naturally. An avid trekker & explorer, who often takes off some time from her busy life for mountaineering, she loves meeting new people & gets attached to their culture very easily. Her ambition is to explore as many places as she can in her life. She strongly believes in Gandhian principle – “simple living high thinking”.
I did not know Abu Dhabi had so many offbeat things to do. I went there a very long time ago and I was with my family, so we spent all the time shopping. However I did visit Corniche and it was beautiful. I will make sure I visit the other places especially Al Ain when I am there the next time.
Qasr al-Hosn is one of those places I have been thinking about visiting soon, but due to the covid norms in Abu Dhabi requiring people even from Dubai to test for crossing borders despite being vaccinated, I have not visited Abu Dhabi in over a year! Warehouse 421 sounds like a cool place to explore, we have something similar in Dubai called Alserkal Avenue.
I’ve only been the Abu Dhabi Airport but I’d like to explore more. The wildlife park sounds right up my street as well as the shopping malls! The architecture is really beautiful and I can imagine there’s so much more to see.
The Arabian wildlife park and walking along the corniche would be my top choices. I’ve only passed through Dubai airport, but reading this makes me think I should exit the next time! Abu Dhabi is very interesting.
I would love to visit Abu Dhabi and do some activities from your great off-beat list of things to do. 4WD driving in the desert must be fabulous. Also, Arabian Wildlife Park with 1300 animals might be an exciting place.
I was supposed to go to Abu Dhabi last year to visit a friend who had just moved there. Obviously, that got cancelled, so now I can only see her photos as she visits all the attractions. I’m not so much into big cities and tall buildings so I think I might enjoy this better than Dubai.
I have never been to Abu Dhabi but have an old friend from school who works there. The plan would be to do a longer stop-over if possible and visit her. Your post gave me some nice ideas what to explore. The warehouse 421 sounds interesting to me and although I do not have a driving lisence I would like to visit the Auto Museum. The views from the Marina Eye at night must be spectacular.
I loved Abu Dhabi and your post highlights some great spots to visit. I didn’t get to do the Al Ain tour so maybe if I return I will check it out.
I didn’t know that you can go to the beaches in Abu Dhabi. They look really pristine and dreamy. I’d love to try the dessert adventure too. Seeing the beautiful sunset and riding out into the desert on a camel sounds amazing!
We had a busy day in Abu Dhabi when we visited. But it would be great to visit the Arabian Wildlife Park on a return visit. We are both big car fans so we are sorry we missed the Auto National Museum. Hubby would be interested in the military vehicles too. Lots of reasons to head back one day.
Dubai is one of the top places on my bucket list! An evening safari desert adventure sounds like a lot of fun with the dancing, tattooing, and good food! Jet skiing sounds like a lot of fun to, and some relaxing on one of Dubai’s beaches would be perfect!
Oooh I love find this kind of thing when we travel. I normally enjoy the more off beat ideas more than the most obvious (and normal bucket list-like) attractions. From these I love the sound of Al Ain City Tour and visiting the desert. It would be cool to see people process the dates too (and eat some!)
I guess the other thing that would be high on my list is some kind of food tour. 😀
I loved Abu Dhabi and it was great to add on a stop there while also visiting Dubai. We got a great deal as we went in the height of summer though so it was very hot to be outside for too long. We would love to go back in the cooler months so we can spend more time outdoors on the Corniche and do the Al Ain tour. We stayed in the St Regis which comes highly recommended. It’s a beautiful hotel with a pool right on the beach!
Sounds like a plan!! Great that you got to explore one of the hot properties there. 🙂
This is very timely, as I have 3 options for a layover on our way to the Maldives and Abu Dhabi is one of them. The Al Ain City Tour sounds real interesting and beach photo looks great. I see women in bikini, so can I assume that this is generally OK or are there certain, maybe closed-off, areas where Western beach wear is acceptable? Also, do you know if there is any good snorkeling?
Hi Rudy! Where are you travelling from? I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be able to say anything 100% in terms of beach wear since I personally haven’t been to Abu Dhabi, but yes in Dubai its cool to wear one, although in the Middle East going conservative in selection of beach wear would be a safer option. From what I reckon, you could find good snorkelling options in Yas Island, the Al Mahara and Emirates Diving Centres.