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Unlike its uber-popular neighbour Dubai, Abu Dhabi appeals more to families and working expats than sightseeing tourists, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of exciting attractions and fun things to see and do.
Recommended attractions in Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The impressive all-white mosque is Abu Dhabi’s landmark building. It's the biggest mosque in the UAE, and is recognised as a key point of worship in this part of the world. A fusion of Ottoman, Memeluke and Fatimid design, this modern mosque took nearly 20 years to build, holds up to 40,000 worshippers, and celebrates Islamic architecture in all its glory. It draws visitors from all over the world, and Muslims and non-Muslims alike can explore all areas of the beautiful structure, complete with guided tours.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
A mammoth structure with a collection to rival all others, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is surely the most impressive museum in the whole of the Middle East. The aggregate of art on display is simply staggering, and the diversity of exhibits is equally mind-boggling, from ancient Egyptian works to Picasso and Bellini all the way through to modern Ai Weiwei structures. The architecture of the building itself is also a sight to behold and certainly a must for new expats.
One for the petrol heads and automobile aficionados, this branded theme park has an incredible collection of Ferraris, with models dating back to 1947. One could even take an exhilarating rollercoaster ride on the Flying Aces, at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour (120km/h) on a 52m loop – the tallest in the world. Afterwards, take a factory tour or test your Ferrari knowledge on the Ferrari game show. The kids will also love the day out, and they could even get behind the wheel on the Junior GT track.
Observation Deck at 300
While sipping on tea, take in the splendour of the highest vantage point in Abu Dhabi. Located on the 74th floor of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, this astounding panorama is not to be missed. There is an entry fee for those not staying at the hotel, but this includes a credit voucher that can be redeemed at the Observation Deck's restaurant.
Qasr al-Hosn (White Fort)
Abu Dhabi’s oldest stone building, also known as the ‘White Fort’ or the ‘Old Fort’, was built in 1793 to house the former ruling family and is one of the emirate's biggest historical attractions. After extensive renovations in 1983, it now houses the Cultural Foundation – don’t miss the tile work over the entrance – and is home to a fascinating museum that exhibits the history of the emirate’s culture.
This sprawling water park on Yas Island is the ultimate reprieve from Abu Dhabi’s searing and unrelenting heat. The park contains such delights as the world’s largest surfable sheet wave, the Jebel Drop (a freefall waterslide), a tube river ride, a tornado water rafting ride, and much else. There’s also a dedicated water play area for the little ones, and plenty of restaurants and shops for parents to peruse.
Warner Bros World
Also on Yas Island is Warner Bros World, a theme park dedicated to the franchise’s many film, comic book and cartoon heroes. There are six 'worlds' all under one roof, from Gotham City and Metropolis to Bedrock and Cartoon Junction – a hit with the kids. Visitors can also go on rides, interact with exhibits and much else.
Emirates Park Zoo
The Emirates Park Zoo offers a fantastic outing for the whole family. It features elephant and giraffe feeding sessions, bird-of-prey shows and a host of environmental programmes. Highlights include the extensive primate enclosure, flamingo park, and the petting zoo where kids get to feed domestic animals.
This living museum is designed to showcase the skills and lifestyle of the Bedouin, original inhabitants of this region. The Heritage Village over the Abu Dhabi Corniche has tents, courtyard houses, a working ancient irrigation system and various workshops. Visitors can watch craftspeople weave and do metalwork, and marvel at displays showcasing the ancient art of pearl diving.
To get the best perspective of Abu Dhabi’s imposing skyline, expats should take a boat tour out on the marina. One could go for a quick cruise or choose an island hopping tour, which includes snorkelling and beach sessions on the various islands dotted in the bay. A sunset cruise is also a popular option, and affords spectacular views of the lit skyline.