Our Top 5 Things To Do In Central Abu Dhabi
As the capital of one of the most wealthy and cosmopolitan states in the Arabian Peninsula Abu Dhabi has evolved over the past few decades into one of the Gulf's premier sightseeing gems. While it doesn't quite have Dubai's 'Billionaire Playground' image the city, we'd argue, is every bit as spectacular as its famous counterpart. The key different being that it is slightly less expensive to enjoy Abu Dhabi's main attractions. To provide a dash of inspiration to prospective visitors we've put together a short list of what we'd consider to be our favourite short break activities. They include a little something for everyone, and should make for the perfect family weekend.
1) Take a guided tour of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Empire State Building in New York City, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is Abu Dhabi's architectural centrepiece. 82 whitewashed domes with gilded tips, four elegant minarets, and over 1,000 columns represent the defining features of this spectacular landmark. Not only does the complex serve as a sprawling prayer space for around 40,000 people it acts as an important Islamic cultural centre. For example, its library contains countless publications concerning art, science, coinage and history throughout the Muslim world.
The best way to experience Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is to take one of its daily guided tours. They're completely free for groups of up to 10 people and operate on the following days and times: Sunday-Thursday (10:00, 11:00 & 17:00), Friday (17:00 and 19:30) and Saturday (10:00, 11:00, 14:00, 17:00 & 19:30). Check out the link above for more details.
Note that you can reach Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque by hopping-off at stop 3 on the Big Bus Abu Dhabi City Tour.
2) Cool off at Yas Waterworld.
There's no shortage of fun to be had on Yas Island, from the Ferrari World Amusement Park to the thrilling Yas Marina Circuit, but our pick is one that we think the whole family can enjoy. So long as you remember to pack plenty of sun cream head along to its popular water park, Yas Waterworld. It features a total of 45 rides divided into 4 'Thrill Levels'. Adrenaline junkies can spin around in the 20-meter 'Dawwama' funnel, tests their surfing skills in the Rush Rider, or brave a high-speed descent on Hamlool's Humps.
Even the less extreme rides offer ample fun and adventure. Grab a few rubber rafts, get the fiends and family together, and drift down the Yadi Yas River. Younger kids who might not make it onto the faster rides are sure to enjoy Yas Waterworld's various aquatic playgrounds, such as the Marah Fortress or the tot's area.
Note that you can reach Yas Waterworld by hopping-off at stop 17 on the Big Bus Abu Dhabi Yas Island Tour.
3) Revel in Gulf culture at the Saadiyat Cultural District.
The Saadiyat District is fairly new and ultra-modern cultural centre located on Saadiyat Island. Covering around 15,400 square metres the complex is entirely dedicated to culture, arts and history throughout the UAE. Fascinating and ever changing arts exhibitions are hosted at the Manarat Al Saadiyat, a building whose name literally translates as 'The Place of Enlightenment'. It also hosts the Saadiyat Experience, an interactive exhibition that guides you through the development of the Saadiyat District from its conception to the current day.
The Manarat Al Saadiyat is, however, just an introduction to this vibrant hub. Take a short walk west of the visitor centre and you'll encounter four of Abu Dhabi's most renowned institutions: The Abu Dhabi Guggenheim and Louvre, Zayed National Museum (The story of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan) and the Performing Arts Centre. Another exciting attraction soon to be constructed is the Maritime Museum.
Note that you can reach the Manarat Al Saadiyat by hopping-off at stop 5 on the Big Bus Abu Dhabi City Tour.
4) Visit the Emirates Park Zoo.
The Emirates Park Zoo lies a short drive north of Yas Island and is the ideal experience for animal lover of all ages. It's a privately owned zoo whose focus is on interaction as much as it is conservation and showcasing. A few of its highlight attractions allow you to get close up to creatures of the wild. Try your hand at feeding the giraffes, handle a bird of prey, and give one of the sea lions a friendly fin shake. The diversity of the Emirates Park Zoo even extends to it attractions. Kids can enjoy a fun magic show and everyone is sure to love the musical displays performed by the Azonto Drum & Dance Team from Ghana.
5) See the oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi.
Not only is the primary institution dedicated to Abu Dhabi's history filled with relics from its past, but it is a relic from the past! First constructed in 1760s the Qasr al Hosn is the capital's first permanent structure. It began its life as a watchtower erected out of coral and sea stone before being expanded during the oil boom of the 1940s and 50s. Today its main purpose is that of a museum, with a free-to-enter exhibition that tells the story of Abu Dhabi and its people. You'll see historic photographs, hear recorded testimonials and get to take part in cultural activities.
Note that the Qasr al Hosn is located close to stop 7 on the Big Bus Abu Dhabi City Tour.