Only a couple of days in Abu Dhabi... or a week? There is so much to see, from breathtaking modern architecture to gems of traditional culture and arts. Here is our guide on getting the right fill of culture in the time you have available, with a selection of top tips, time-saving combinations and discoveries off the beaten track.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
This is a definitive must-see while you're here in Abu Dhabi. The beautiful structure is the most popular attraction here. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque comprises of 82 white shiny domes, golden colonnades and features stunning flower inlays across its marble flooring and walls. The Mosque hosts free public tours daily in a range of languages, which give you a much better insight into its architecture and unique design. Or, follow the indicated path at your own pace. Around sunset, the Mosque holds a particularly magical flair (take the 5pm tour). You are really lucky if your visit coincides with the new moon, when the lighting of the Mosque changes to a deep mysterious blue.
Pictures are allowed and there are plenty of great vistas - but remember that this is a religious site and refrain from frivolous shots. The dress code includes long, loose-fitting shirts and ankle-length trousers or skirts as well as headscarves for women. Abayas and kanduras will be provided if necessary.
Details: Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street.
Daily, 9am - 10pm, except Friday mornings. Visitor times change during Ramadan.
Telephone: +971 2 419 1919. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.szgmc.ae
Combine your visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque with...
Wahat Al Karama
For an impressive fusion between art and architecture head across the street to the Wahat Al Karama Remembrance Memorial. It is situated across from the steps to the entrance of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The installation, designed by British artist Idris Khan, is a tribute to the men who gave their lives for the UAE. 31 huge aluminium-clad slabs lean against one another in an intriguing arrangement. Step down into the half buried Pavilion of Honour, at the end of the journey, as a place for rest and reflection.
Details: 3rd Street, Khor Al Maqta.
Daily, 9am -10pm (except on national occasions).
Staff are available onsite to help between 9am and 7pm.
Telephone: +971 2 668 1000.
Heritage Village, Marina Breakwater
The Heritage Village is an old-time favourite for tourists and the best place in Abu Dhabi to get the feel for traditional desert life. Enter the typical Bedouin tents made from goats' hair and try to image what life in those would have been like.
Wander through the tiny oasis complete with a few animals or visit the workshop's courtyard situated across from the neat little museum. A series of craftsmen demonstrate their traditional skills, from metal and wood works to pottery and leather tanning – if you are lucky you might get the chance to try out the pottery wheel. A traditional restaurant onsite offers a refreshing mint/lemon juice while you look out at the skyline of the Corniche opposite the village.
Details: Breakwater, the Corniche.
Daily, Saturday to Thursday, 9am – 4pm. Fridays 3.30pm – 9pm.
Telephone: +971 2 681 4455.
Combine your visit to the Heritage Village with...
A Walk Along the Breakwater for Corniche Views
For a great shot of Abu Dhabi’s skyscrapers across the sea, walk a bit further along the breakwater to the giant flag pole and the rotunda of the National Theatre, where locals hang out in the evenings and jet ski riders show off their skills. If you want to combine your trip to the past with modern luxuries, then head to Marina Mall, just across the road from the Heritage Village and Emirates Palace, just a short ride away.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi
Gazing up at the rain of light under the dome of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, is a “must” experience when in Abu Dhabi. The complex silvery structure of 7,850 overlapping stars filters the light of the gulf, reminiscent of the leaves of a palm tree, just on a gigantic scale. Underneath you can wander through the buildings of the museum city that appears to be floating in the sea. The various galleries will house the Arab world's first universal museum, focusing on shared themes and common connections throughout humanity, rather than dividing up art history into regions.
Details: Saadiyat Cultural District.
Open: Saturday – Wednesday, 10am - 8pm, Thursday and Friday, 10am - 10pm. Closed Mondays. Open on Public Holidays.
Entry: AED60 for adults, AED30 for 13-22 years, AED30 for education professionals
Free entry for children 13 years and under.
Telephone: +971 600 56 55 66.
Combine your visit to Louvre Abu Dhabi with... Manarat Al Saadiyat
Passing Manarat Al Saadiyat on the way to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, you cannot help but notice the gleaming brass dunes, designed by Foster and Partners. Originally the UAE pavilion for the Shanghai World Expo, the distinct landmark is now home to the gallery complex that houses the annual art fair and the major exhibitions coming to Abu Dhabi. Manarat Al Saadiyat has three galleries for temporary exhibitions and a series of workshop spaces, as well as a chic restaurant, but no permanent displays. Call ahead to check for current exhibitions or workshops, or look for the frequent free film screenings in its auditorium.
Details: Saadiyat Cultural District.
Entry: Free. Daily, 9am – 8pm.
Telephone: +971 2 6575 800.