1. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Clad in Macedonian marble, the beautiful and absolutely mammoth Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is Abu Dhabi’s landmark building and by far the most popular sightseeing attraction in the city. The mosque fuses Mameluke, Ottoman, and Fatimid design elements to create a harmonious and thoroughly modern mosque that celebrates Islamic architecture. Artisans used glass-work, mosaic tiling, and intricate carvings to spectacular effect on both the interior and exterior.
It was opened in 2007 after nearly 20 years of construction. Able to hold 40,000 worshippers, it is the biggest mosque in the United Arab Emirates, and like the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Fujairah, it is dedicated to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan.
Non-Muslims are allowed into all areas of the mosque (including the vast library), and guided tours are available. The Abu Dhabi Morning Tour is a good way to get acquainted with the city. This four hour tour visits the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the bustling markets and fishing harbor of Al Mina, and the heritage village with a local guide. Transport and hotel pickup and drop-off are included.
Address: Al Khaleej al Arabi Street, Abu Dhabi
2. Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Middle East’s most spectacular museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi traces the entire history of humanity’s artistic achievements, from the Neolithic right up to the current day. The wealth and diversity of art on display, from ancient Egyptian statuary to famous paintings by Picasso, is mind-boggling, while the museum’s contemporary architecture, with its galleries gathered under a vast silver dome, is a reason to visit in itself.
As well as the permanent collection, which runs over 12 galleries, several major temporary exhibitions are staged each year. The Louvre is the first of three planned major museums to open on Saadiyat Island, which is set to become the cultural heartbeat of Abu Dhabi in the coming years. The other two-Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum-are still in the planning phases.
3. Mangrove Kayaking Tours
To see a different side of Abu Dhabi’s steel and glass exterior, head into the mangrove forests that still ring the islands along the shore surrounding the city. There’s a bundle of kayaking tours available for all levels of experience and age, ranging from 1.5 hours to three hours of paddling. The Eco Tour allows you to understand the important ecology of mangroves, as well as explore these beautiful last remnants of the city’s forests.
Another interesting thing to do for a really special experience, is to sign up for a night tours and discover the mangroves by gliding through the waters after dark.
4. Ferrari World
This branded theme park brings the thrill of Formula One racing to Abu Dhabi and is one of the city’s top things to do for thrill seekers and families alike. Small children can test out newly learned driving skills on the Junior GT track, while adrenaline junkies can buckle up and ride the Flying Aces roller coaster, which clocks up speeds of 120 kilometers per hour on a 52-meter loop (the tallest in the world).
There’s also a collection of Ferrari’s cars, with models dating back to 1947, and a Ferrari factory tour and Ferrari knowledge game show for true car nerds.
Address: Yas Leisure Drive, Yas Island
5. Boat Tours
For the best views of Abu Dhabi’s glittering skyscrapers, you need to head out onto the water. The views of the high-rises are quite spectacular as you drift out from the marina. Several different operators run tours for all types of budgets, but two of the more popular trips with tourists are the island hopping tours, which include some beach and snorkeling time on various islands in the bay, and sunset cruises that let you see the city lights flicker into action as dusk sets over the city-a great choice for an evening activity.