If you’re planning a trip to Abu Dhabi, look no further. This 5-day Abu Dhabi itinerary will ensure you make the most of your time in United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) capital city (no, it’s not Dubai!).
Dubai may seem like the best place to visit in the UAE as it’s so popular amongst travellers, but I’m here to tell you not to overlook the capital city and how Abu Dhabi is worth visiting. After spending 5-days in Abu Dhabi, I was mesmerised by every aspect of this city and am here to share with you the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi might seem like a business hub, but it has a lot to offer for travellers visiting for pleasure (and adventure, of course). There are many reasons why Abu Dhabi is one of the best places to visit in the UAE. Whether admiring jaw-dropping buildings and cityscapes, enjoying a city-beach break, venturing out into the desert to explore the dunes, drifting through the mangroves, or visiting historic mosques, Abu Dhabi has something to offer for every type of traveller.
As a rich country, it’s easy to assume that Abu Dhabi isn’t a budget destination. Even though this is somewhat true, and it’s definitely not like Thailand, where you can live off £10 a day, it isn’t as expensive as you might think, especially for tourist attractions. There are several cheap things to do in Abu Dhabi, so don’t fret if you want to visit Abu Dhabi on a budget! Some of the best things to do in Abu Dhabi cost as little as £5, or better yet, they are free (yes, there are free things to do in Abu Dhabi, and quite a few!). But for those seeking to enjoy the more luxurious sides of Abu Dhabi, then naturally, you can stretch your budget. Especially when it comes to fine dining, shopping and fancy hotel stays.
In this blog post, I’ve jam-packed 5-days worth of the best things to do in Abu Dhabi into an Abu Dhabi itinerary that will have you seeing the very best of UAE’s capital city. So, if you’re wondering whether Abu Dhabi is worth visiting, keep on reading!
Other travel guides you might find useful…
Where to stay in Abu Dhabi…
Abu Dhabi is made up of various islands connected by bridges. Where you choose to stay will depend on the purpose of your trip and the style of accommodation you like, but for first-time visitors, I’d recommend staying in Al Bateen, Al Khalidiya or Corniche.
Al Bateem and Al Khalidiya are more central and closer to tourist attractions, which are a key feature in this Abu Dhabi itinerary. They also have better access to transport links, so these two areas are best for those who want to be in a location that is accessible and in “the middle of it.”
The Corniche is the promenade area at the edge of Corniche beach. This strip is mostly full of hotels and is ultimately a tourist area, but it’s simply because it is one of the best locations in Abu Dhabi: by the beach! It’s not far from the two locations mentioned above, so it’s also super easy to get to the main places to visit, but it will feel a bit more touristy. You will, however, get some of the best views of the hazy sunsets though.
I mentioned earlier in the intro that there are cheap things to do in Abu Dhabi, making it more accessible to travellers, but this doesn’t apply as easily when it comes to accommodation in Abu Dhabi. Still, there are definitely affordable options on Airbnb or hotels like Holiday Inn or Ibis, where you can get a standard room for £35-40 per night. There are many mid-range hotels where you’ll pay around £60-£90 per night but will see a big jump in room size and luxury. However, nothing is genuinely “standard” in Abu Dhabi and all of the UAE. They take pride in their service and design, so anywhere you choose to stay will be super comfortable.
What to wear in Abu Dhabi (for female travellers)…
As Abu Dhabi has become a hub for ex-pats living in the UAE, it is more ‘liberal’ than most Islamic cities. As there are neighbourhoods, restaurants, hotels and clubs that cater to western living, there are many areas in which you can dress as you wish. There are still many places in Abu Dhabi that have a dress code in place, and if not met, you won’t be able to enter (especially in mosques and places of worship).
As a general rule, I’d advise all female travellers to wear clothes that cover their shoulders and chest (be that by wearing a t-shirt or long-sleeve top or simply wrapping a shawl around their shoulders) and wear bottoms that cover up most of your legs. Even though the UAE embraces parts of western culture, it’s always best to respect the country’s religion and culture. It’s part of the experience, after all!
It’s worth saying that I never felt unsafe here, and it didn’t feel like wearing “western clothes” drew attention to myself. I acknowledge that I was travelling with my partner, but I would still say this is a safe city to travel to as a solo female traveller.
A 5-day itinerary for Abu Dhabi...
Day 1: Explore Qasr Al Hosn & Qasr Al Watan
First things first on this Abu Dhabi itinerary is to arrive and check in to your accommodation. After late morning breakfast, make your way to Qasr Al Hosn. It makes sense to start your trip by visiting the oldest building in Abu Dhabi, where it quite literally all started. It’s tough to imagine how this fort was the only thing standing in a sea of the desert when you look at it now. You can see in the picture below that it’s surrounded by some of the most modern skyrise buildings in the world. The fort is a historic landmark and is one of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi.
Taking yourself on a guided tour of the fort shouldn’t take you more than an hour to walk around and explore the fort at your own pace and take a few pictures. If you’re feeling energised on your first day, there is an art gallery across the fort that your ticket gives you entry to. When I was there, they hosted three traditional coffee making workshops per day so ask the front desk what times these workshops are on so you don’t miss out.
To keep the oldest part of the city relevant, Abu Dhabi has made the patio surrounding the fort the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation, and there are many ways you can spend your time here. You can find out what’s on during your stay on the Cultural Foundation website.
The patio between the fort and the Cultural Foundation has a path of food trucks where you can easily get distracted and fuel up for the next leg of the day.
As we visited during Ramadan, outdoor food places were closed, but we came across a delicious cafe in the main foundation building called Wild and the Moon cafe. Their drinks are filled with absolute goodness, and in high 30’s degree heat, you’ll want all the hydration you can get!
After a light lunch, head over to the fountain with the minimalist structures on the patio to admire the stunning views of the city’s skyscrapers, including the tallest building in Abu Dhabi: the World Trade Centre (UAE). It’s 381 m high. Admiring modern architecture is one of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi, and I’m here for it!
Depending on your pace, you might have time for a bit of a hotel break between Qasr Al Hosn and your next stop: Qasr Al Watan.
Qasr Al Watan is the presidential palace of Abu Dhabi. For my Brit readers, this is basically their functioning House of Commons. But there is nothing ‘common’ about it. If you’re not already stunned by the sight of the façade when approaching the entrance of the palace, then maybe the dome with a 37m diameter and a chandelier made with 350,000 pieces of crystals will make your jaw drop. The magnificence and grandiose build of Qasr Al Watan makes it one of the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi.
For the last part of your first day of this Abu Dhabi itinerary, all that is left to do is to decide whether you’ll be staying at Qasr Al Watan until 7 pm to experience the light show over the palace or whether you’ll head for a sunset walk down Corniche and watch the sunset over the ocean. A difficult choice, I must admit! The light show is deemed one of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi, so I’d recommend staying for it!
Day 2: Sunrise mangrove kayak tour, visit the Louvre & go on a desert safari tour.
After a day of exploring the history and backbones of the city, it’s time for some adventure on this Abu Dhabi itinerary!
Start your day early with a sunrise Kayak tour through the Eastern Mangrove National Park. You heard me, kayaking is a top activity in Abu Dhabi. Check TripAdvisor or Google if you don’t believe me!
The Mangroves are located between the main island and Umm Yifenah island in the middle of the islands.
The best company to book the kayak tour with is Sea-Hawks. They are the lead tour operator for kayaking tours and water activities in UAE. As far as ticket prices go in Abu Dhabi, kayaking is on the higher side of the scale, but it’s still very reasonably priced for a two-hour tour. It costs 168 AED (£35 per person) for a two-hour kayak tour. It was a big yes from me as anywhere that offers kayaking or water-based tours is big up on my priority list and on my personal list of best things to do in Abu Dhabi.
After a peaceful morning floating amongst the birds and sea life, head over back to your accommodation or a yummy brunch spot in town to refuel.
Aim to be at your next stop, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, by 10 am. The Louvre is not only an ode to design and architecture, but it’s also a symbol of innovation and openness. It’s the first universal museum in the Arab world and the only existing extension of the Louvre.
There are several permanent exhibitions and collections. You can visit the Louvre website to find out what’s on when you’re there. If I’m being brutally honest, the biggest highlight of visiting the Louvre is simply being in it and experiencing its mesmerising architecture. (Not to dismiss the art and exhibits inside, but I’m an architecture lover!).
After you’ve seen the collections inside, you can visit the museum’s exterior, which is covered by a vast dome that resembles a hive. The holes in the dome create an effect that is now referred to as “the rain of light”. As the sun peaks and moves over the dome throughout the day, it creates dots that spread across the museum’s surface. Not to mention there’s also the constant echoed sound of the waves crashing in from the ocean onto the steps.. It’s almost a hypnotic experience, as it’s tapping into so many of your senses. With its international status, hypnotic design and beautiful surroundings, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is one of the best things to do in the UAE.
After walking around the Louvre, head back into town for lunch. Make sure you give yourself enough time to digest as the next part of your day will rattle your stomach.
It’s time for the top attraction in Abu Dhabi, and quite frankly, one of the best things to do in the UAE: The Desert Safari Tour!
You might want to watch this video on our Instagram page to make sure you’re up for it, as it’s definitely not for the light-hearted. If you don’t like rollercoasters, then you might want to skip this as it’s not uncommon for some cars to need an internal clean after the tour, if you know what I mean. But if you are a thrill-seeker traveller, this is one of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi as it’ll tickle your adventure spirit.
The Desert Safari tour, if you book with Emirates tours, is a 6hr tour, and it has many parts to it. First, of course, is the 4×4 dune bashing car ride up and over the dunes of the desert. But over the 6hrs, you’ll also visit a local camel farm and have dinner at an Arabic desert camp where you’ll have the opportunity to sandboard or ride a quad bike in the dunes. The highlight of this experience is watching the sun go down over the untouched desert. (The dune basing, of course, is unforgettable too!)
Let the desert sunsets convince you if you’re still wondering whether Abu Dhabi is worth visiting.
After a jam-packed second day, it’s a good thing that you’ll be dropped off at your accommodation as all you’ll be thinking about at this point in this itinerary is your bed.
Naturally, this Abu Dhabi itinerary is here to serve you as a guide. If you’re not a fan of sunrise to sunset days, then you can shuffle things around or skip the Kayak tour in the morning if you’re still feeling the jetlag. I wouldn’t miss the Desert Safari tour as it’s the number one thing to do in Abu Dhabi and one of the best things to do in the UAE.
Day 3: Visit the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, the National Aquarium & relax on the beach at Saadiyat Island.
As this is a five-day Abu Dhabi itinerary, most days have early starts as that’s how you can make most of your time. For Day 3, get up early as you’re going to one of the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi: the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. And if you want to beat the crowds, you’ll want to be there for the first entry.
The Sheik Zayed Mosque is one of the world’s largest mosques, and it really is a sight to see! It is one of the best places to visit in the UAE. The best spot to appreciate it from afar is from the uber drop-off point, so be sure to head here once you’ve come out of the Mosque!
Good news for those who are looking for free things to do in Abu Dhabi, this is one of them! Entry to the Mosque is free and starts as early as 9 am. To visit this holy place, you must dress accordingly, and this means legs, arms, shoulders, and heads need to be covered if you’re a woman. They will ask you at many points on your way to the entrance of the Mosque if you have your appropriate attire as there are no exceptions. The entrance to the Grand Mosque for tourists is through an underground shopping centre, which can be pretty confusing, I know, but it really is the way there, so if you think you’re not heading to the right place, you’re not.
It’s a one-way circuit, so don’t rush through it! Take your time to take in the impressive size, design and architecture of the Mosque. It is, after all, the largest Mosque in the UAE and one of the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi.
After taking your time to explore the Grand Mosque, you can either have breakfast at said underground shopping mall or in the surrounding area. I wouldn’t head too far back into the city as your next stop is the National Aquarium which is the other way.
The National Aquarium is a fun activity if you’re really in the mood to check things off your list of places to visit in Abu Dhabi. It’s the largest aquarium in the UAE and has 300+ species under its roof! I hadn’t been in an aquarium since I was back in Sydney in 2002, so I was a little excited about it.
To be blunt, Aquariums are a very family-friendly activity. Even though some Aquariums are AMAZING due to their size and infrastructure, the Abu Dhabi aquarium is relatively small, so if you want to skip this, head over to Saadiyat Island early.
Whether you visited the National Aquarium or not, by 1 pm, you should already be finding yourself a sunbed on Saadiyat, where you’ll be lounging around and enjoying the desert sun and ocean for the rest of the day. After the last few jam-packed days, a beach bum day at one of Abu Dhabi’s best beaches is just what you need!
Saadiyat is a private island, so those who aren’t staying with one of the hotels need to pay a small fee of 50 AED (£10) to access the beach and have a sunbed for the day. If you’re happy to lay on the beach, the entry fee is just 25 AED (£5). Not bad for getting the chance to visit the best places in Abu Dhabi and get your daily dose of vitamin sea. Depending on the winds, there are several watersport activities to enjoy on the beach. So if you’re a bit of an adventure seeker, you can hire a paddleboard, kayaks and jet skis if you’re looking for a little bit more of a thrill than a chill day. Just keep an eye out for the signs and asks the beach huts for more information.
You may have learned by now that Abu Dhabi’s tourist attractions, like most places, cater to all traveller types and budgets, so even those who are looking for cheap things to do in Abu Dhabi don’t have to miss out on the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi.
Day 4: Overnight stay in Al Ain or free day to enjoy Abu Dhabi
For Day 4 on this Abu Dhabi itinerary, I will give you two options as the option we went for is quite expensive and might feel like a bit of a long way to go for just one night!
On Day 4, we ventured out of Abu Dhabi and towards the Oman border to the city of Al Ain. The purpose was twofold: to visit and get to know Al Ain, a more rural town in Abu Dhabi, but primarily to spend the night in a desert resort near Al Ain called Telal Resort. Telal is a five-star resort, and I appreciate this isn’t in everyone’s budget or desire, so I’ll offer a few alternatives below.
We wanted to spend more time in the untouched desert, and staying in Telal offered us this opportunity. You’ll see in the photos below how we were quite literally in the middle of the rolling dunes of the desert. We spent the day exploring the resort, which hosts many activities for guests like sandboarding, camel or horseback riding, giant chess (yes, you heard that right), sand zorb (!!), wildlife safari, and so much more. We were already quite content with simply enjoying our time by the pool overlooking the dunes. There are also so many impalas floating around the whole resort that that was enough of a safari experience for me as they are so damn adorable.
We also visited two forts in Al Ain on our way to the resort. One of which neighboured one of the most fabulous outdoor dining spaces I’ve ever seen, so there is a trendy vibe and spaces for tourists to enjoy. Again, as we were there partially when Ramadan started, many outdoor spaces were closed.
I wouldn’t say Al Ain is worth just a day’s visit if you’re short on time as part of your Abu Dhabi itinerary, so as an alternative, I’d recommend Day 4 in Abu Dhabi be a “free day”. There are so many things to do in this thriving modern city. I’ve listed some of the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi below for you to enjoy on your free day.
If you want to go shopping, head to the Yas Mall. The malls in the UAE are more of a social experience as it’s where locals gather to escape the summer heat. Shopping is such a big part of their culture that it’s become one of the best things to do in the UAE, so indulge if you wish!
If you’re a Formula 1 fan, you can visit Ferrari World! It’s home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, the tallest inverting loop, and the Ferrari driving experience. I don’t even drive, so there isn’t too much I can say about this, but I know many people who would be excited to visit Ferrari world and would term this one of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi.
If you haven’t gotten enough of learning about Arabian history or looking for something free to do in Abu Dhabi, a good option would be to go to Heritage Village. Here you can learn more about the day to day activities of what life was like before oil. The village is aesthetically beautiful too. The Heritage Village is open from 9 am to 4 pm from Saturday to Thursday and from 3 – 9 pm on Fridays.
Alternatively, you could always allocate this day to revisit places you want to visit again, but at a different time of day. For example, the Grand Mosque lights up in blue at night and is beautiful. Many opt to visit the Mosque twice for this reason. Or, this could be the day you go kayaking if the early rise on the second day was too much.
I’ve given you loads of options! All of which are worth visiting in Abu Dhabi.
Day 5: Observation deck & flight home
Keep it simple on your fifth and final day of this Abu Dhabi itinerary – you’ve got a long day of flying ahead of you. However, you most certainly can’t leave without visiting the Observation Deck at 300, as this is one of the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi!
Much like the Burk Khalifa in Dubai, the Observation Deck at 300 gives visitors unparalleled 360 views of the city. Tickets to enter the building cost 95 AED, which can be redeemed for food and drink upstairs! The entrance to the Observation Deck is in Tower 2 of the Etihad Towers at the Conrad Abu Dhabi.
After that, make your way to the airport and take your flight home!
And there you have it. The ultimate 5-day Abu Dhabi itinerary, which is quickly becoming one of the best places to visit in the UAE (move over Dubai!).
If you’re anything like me, you’ll leave wanting to experience more of the Middle East. It’s so different to anywhere else I’ve ever been! My eyes are on Oman next!
Other top things to do in Abu Dhabi:
- Rent a bike to explore Corniche
- Hop on a Yellowboat ride to get views of the city from the ocean
- Rent a boat for a sunset ride at the Marina
- Visit the salt lakes of Al Wathba
What are your favourite things to do in Abu Dhabi?
Where are your favourite places to visit in Abu Dhabi? Anything you’d add to this Abu Dhabi itinerary?
Did you find this post helpful? I’d love you to share it for me.
Pin and save this blog post for later…