Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, sits off the mainland on an island in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf. Abu Dhabi’s population is 1.206 million and growing rapidly.
Things to do in Abu Dhabi
Qasr Al Watan is a presidential palace that was recently opened to the public. One of the finest examples of Arabic architecture and craftsmanship, the palace’s design signifies its heritage and its future vision. The palace has its own library with books on a wide range of subjects including archeology, history, heritage, memoirs, biographies, human and social sciences, statistics, administration, culture, literature, arts, etc. It also has its own gift shops; one at the Visitors Center and the other at the palace building. One of the major attractions of the palace is its light and sound show, which depicts the history and growth of the UAE as a nation. This show has been divided into three acts; past, present, and the future.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque stands out as one of the world’s largest mosques, and the only one that captures unique interactions between Islam and world cultures. Sheikh Zayed’s vision for the Grand Mosque was to incorporate architectural styles from different Muslim civilizations and celebrate cultural diversity by creating a haven that is truly diverse and inspirational in its foundation. The mosque’s architects were British, Italian and Emirati, and design inspiration was borrowed parts of Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt among other Islamic countries, revealing a glistening architectural marvel with an astonishing capacity of 40,000 worshippers and visitors.
The open-door policy invites tourists and celebrants from all around the world who can witness the spectacular onion-top domes, the reflective pools that engulf the courtyard and the iconic prayer hall, which not only overflows with blissful sunlight but also houses the world’s biggest chandelier and carpet, both meticulously handmade. Be sure to spot the calligraphy encircling the hollows of the domes, etched with verses from the Quran and painted with gold leaves in An-Naskh lettering
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is an art and civilization museum. The museum was inaugurated on 8 November 2017 by French President Emmanuel Macron and United Arab Emirates Vice President Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Did you know: The museum is built on a 97,000 square meter site on Saadiyat Island, a low-lying island 500 meters off the coast of Abu Dhabi that is the site of a number of tourism and development projects.
An emerging entertainment destination within a 30-minute drive of the UAE capital, Yas Island is home to the state-of-the-art Yas Marina Circuit – host to the annual F1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Get to grips with Yas Marina Circuit through a series of track day packages, including ‘Driver Experiences’, ‘Passenger Experiences’, ‘Private Driving Tuition’ programs and ‘Racing License Courses’.
At the circuit’s centerpiece is the Yas Hotel, a five star, iconic hotel – the only one in the world to straddle an F1 race track being breathtakingly built half on land and half over water.
Attracting Super Yachts from as far away as Australia for the annual F1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Yas Marina is central to Abu Dhabi’s ambitions of becoming a strong rival to traditional yachting grounds such as the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Overlooking the stunning Yas Marina F1™ Circuit, Cipriani features signature dishes from Harry’s Bar in Venice and classic Italian favorites.
It’s fast and furious fun for all ages at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi – the world’s first Ferrari-branded theme park. The park tells the Ferrari story with passion and excitement through more than 20 exhilarating and educational rides and attractions, interactive shopping and authentic Italian dining experiences.
Yas Waterworld spans an area of around 15 football pitches, with 43 rides, slides & attractions – five of which are one-of-a-kind. Visitors to this futuristic waterpark will be able to try the 238-meter long, world’s first, and largest hydromagnetic-powered, six-person tornado waterslide. For adrenaline seekers, there are three-meter high waves on Bubble’s Barrel, which has the world’s largest surfable sheet wave for flow boards and bodyboards. The Bandit Bomber, a 550–meter coaster, is the first with onboard water and laser effects. Riders can shoot jets of water at targets, drop water bombs and trigger special effects, while people below can spray them with water as they pass. A true full-day experience, the park draws on Abu Dhabi’s heritage and has ‘The Lost Pearl’ as its theme. It also features a souk, pearl-diving exhibits, and restaurants.
On the west shores of Yas Island, Yas Links Abu Dhabi – an award-winning golf course, designed by Kyle Phillips, one of the world’s leading golf course architects – is in line with the traditional links golf commonly associated with the coastal towns of Scotland and Ireland. Voted among the ‘Top 10 New International Golf Courses’ by the influential US publication Golf Magazine, Yas Links features a 7,450-yard par 72 course, utilizing five teeing grounds per hole, with all 18 benefiting from ocean views. Recently Yas Links has also been named one of the world’s top 25 by influential US magazine, Golf Digest.
Set on Yas Island’s tranquil southern shores, Yas Beach is the island’s only stretch of beach. Open daily from 10 am – 7 pm, it is a great spot to relax and enjoy sun, sea, sand, food, and drinks, and there’s plenty of car parking available. Admission, which includes beach towel and sun lounger, is AED 50 (US$ 13.60) for adults and AED 25 (US$ 6.80) for children aged 8-16 during the week, and AED 100 (US$ 27.25) for adults and AED 50 (US$ 13.60) for children during the weekend. Children under 8 enter free. Saturday is half-price for ladies. Guests staying at Yas Plaza hotels have complimentary beach access on the presentation of their room card or hotel voucher.
The island also houses Abu Dhabi’s biggest and the UAE’s second-largest shopping center, the Yas Mall. The mall provides a vibrant getaway shopping experience for tourists, international guests, and local residents.
Qasr al-Ain or ‘Al Ain Palace’, is one of the best-reinstated forts in the Abu Dhabi emirate. The museum showcases the everyday life in a ruler’s fort when the late Sheikh Zayed and his family resided in the palace prior to 1966. The Bedouin-style architecture dates back to 1937 and was converted into a museum in 1998 as a main cultural and tourist attraction. The museum opened its doors to visitors in 2001 and continues to celebrate the rich history of the country and preserves its links to the present and the future.
The contrast of modern design elements with traditional Emirati influences can be seen throughout the property. The structure of the museum is a conglomeration of courtyards that merge the official and private use of the facilities in one complex. Each of these areas was built and restored using locally sourced and environmentally friendly building materials including clay, adobe and plaster stones, as well as palm tree elements for roofing rooms, ceilings, doors, and windows.
Al Ain Oasis
The historic oasis sprawls across 3,000-acre and provides a unique insight into the region’s inhabitants who began taming the desert 4,000 years ago. The Al Ain Oasis has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011, but only now, with the construction of an educational Eco-Centre and an extensive system of shaded pathways that wind through some 147,000 date palms, is it open to the public. The site houses up to 100 different varieties of vegetation that surround the impressive oasis, with widespread plantations that are also working farms.
The site is shaped by a complex shared water supply, based on both wells and ‘falaj’, the UAE’s traditional irrigation system. Al Ain Oasis has plenty of working examples of the falaj that have been used for centuries to tap into underground wells. Through a series of immersive interactive exhibits, the Eco-Centre highlights the measures being taken to preserve the delicate oasis ecosystem and celebrate the invaluable contribution of Al Ain’s oasis farmers through a continued showcase of traditional farming methods.
Sheikh Zayed Desert Center Learning
Situated in the heart of Al Ain Zoo, the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre (SZDLC) is an important educational facility that combines knowledge and learning through interactive exhibits, multimedia and visual materials that have been specially designed by world-class experts and specialists.
The center consists of five interactive galleries: Sheikh Zayed Tribute Hall, Abu Dhabi’s Desert over Time, Abu Dhabi’s Living World, People of the Desert and Looking to the Future.
Open to the public for tours, visitors get taken on a journey through time as stories and movies take them to the past, present and future of the UAE, to reconsider their relationship with the environment and encourage them to communicate with it and to adopt more to sustainable lifestyles.
The SZDLC is an architecturally complex building, with multiple levels and many possible circulation patterns. The size of the center, the diversity of the audience and the nature of the content allows for a huge variety of experiences. The center incorporates a full range of interpretive media that includes immersive environments, audio-visual interactive exhibits, stylized sculpture and models, specimen collections, graphics, and large-scale theatre.
The Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre is the first building in the UAE that gets a sustainability rating of five pearls and also received a LEED Platinum certification.
For more information, visit the website.
Al Ain’s remarkable zoo is the region’s largest and most acclaimed. The spacious enclosures are inhabited by indigenous and exotic species such as the Arabian Oryx, the big-horned Barbary sheep, rhinos, hippos, tigers and lions and more. The well-respected conservation and breeding program protects and preserves the rare fauna from extinction. Highlights of a zoo visit include giraffe feedings, a fascinating walk-through lemur experience, and the world’s largest human-made safari, a 217-hectare landscape housing more than 250 African and Arabian animals.
Other offerings at the zoo include the Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre, a sustainably built multimedia exhibition that features five interactive galleries: Sheikh Zayed Tribute Hall, Abu Dhabi’s Desert over Time, Abu Dhabi’s Living World, People of the Desert and Looking to the Future; a variety of cafes and restaurants and a Children Discovery Garden, among others, with renovations/expansion on-going at time of writing.
Ticket: Dhs 50 entry free for adults. Dhs 20 for children
More things to do in Abu Dhabi
Best Hotels in Abu Dhabi
In a modern building facing Al Bateen Marina, this upmarket hotel is 4 km from Corniche Beach and 35 km from Abu Dhabi International Airport. Amenities consist of a steakhouse, a rooftop tapas bar, and a lobby lounge offering afternoon tea, plus a gym, and an outdoor infinity pool with marina views. Event space includes a ballroom.
The St. Regis Suite at The St. Regis, Abu Dhabi
Within a pair of linked skyscrapers containing a shopping mall, this ritzy hotel is 2 km from the landmark Qasr al-Hosn fort and 4 km from the restaurants and shops of Marina Mall. The hotel houses 9 restaurants. Other amenities consist of a luxurious spa with gulf views, plus an outdoor pool and private beach access.
Ocean Suite at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort
This luxurious, Mediterranean-style beachfront hotel is 9 km from Abu Dhabi Mall, 16 km from Emirates Palace and 27 km from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre. Amenities include 5 chic restaurants and 3 outdoor pools, plus a private beach and a spa.
Set in a grand Venetian-style building, this luxe beachfront resort with sprawling gardens is 3 km from the ornate Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Amenities include 8 restaurants/bars with Italian and refined Asian options, a private beach and a 1,600-sq-m pool. There’s a spa, as well as a gym and a ballroom.
W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island (previously Viceroy Hotel)
The hotel is connected to the Yas Marina Circuit with easy access to a wide range of attractions including theme parks, shopping malls, a golf course, beach, and a marina. The spacious 499 guest rooms and suites offer luxury amenities which include deluxe bedding, complimentary Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, floor-to-ceiling windows offering spectacular views of the racetrack or marina.
Set on 85 hectares of landscaped gardens, this palatial beachfront hotel is 4 km from both the Marina Mall and the Qasr al-Hosn fort. The hotel houses 14 restaurants and bars, including a romantic BBQ eatery on the beach. Other amenities include adventure and leisure pools, a kids’ club, and jogging and cycling trails, plus a spa and 2 fitness centers. The hotel has a private beach and a marina. Bike rentals, yoga sessions and camel rides are available.
Best Restaurants in Abu Dhabi
Zuma (Japanese, Asian $$$$)
Open Sat-Thu noon-3.30pm; Sat-Wed 7pm-midnight; Thu-Fri 7pm-1am. Fri brunch 12.30pm-4pm. Bar open Sat-Wed 7 pm-midnight; Thu-Fri 7 pm-1 am. Al Maryah Island (02 401 5900).
Hakkasan (Chinese, $$$$)
Open daily at 6 pm-midnight. Fri brunch noon-4pm. Bar open 6pm-2am. Emirates Palace, Corniche Road West (02 690 7739).
COYA (Peruvian, $$$$)
Open Sun-Thu and Sat 12.30 pm-5.30 pm; Sun-Mon, Wed, Sat 7 pm-midnight; Tue, Thu-Fri 7 pm-12.30 am. Fri brunch 12.30pm-4pm. Lounge open daily 12.30 pm-1.15 am. The Galleria, Al Maryah Island (02 306 7000).
Brasserie Flo Abu Dhabi (French, $$$$)
Open daily 12.30pm-11pm. Venetian Village, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal, Khor Al Maqta (02 408 7201).
Mazi (Greek, $$)
Located inside the St. Regis Saadiyat Island
Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
The Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi is a five-minute drive away from downtown Abu Dhabi, 20 minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport, and one hour from Dubai.
Saadiyat Island is a tourism-cultural project for nature and Emirati heritage and culture. The project, under development, consists of a large, low-lying island, 500 meters (1,600 ft) off the coast of Abu Dhabi island.
Currently, Saadiyat Island houses many hotels and resorts such as The Park Hyatt, The St. Regis, Rotana Resorts & Villas, Rixos Premium, Jumeirah, and a few more.
Sir Bani Yas Island
Sir Bani Yas Island is a nature-based destination alive with wildlife and adventure activities. Sir Bani Yas was originally home to Arabia’s largest wildlife reserve. Spanning over 87 km2(34 sq mi), the reserve was established in 1977 by Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. In 1971 Sheikh Zayed became the first president of the United Arab Emirates and chose this island as a retreat. Sheikh Zayed passed a law prohibiting hunting on the island and started developing it as a wildlife preserve in his “Greening of the Desert” program. The “Greening of the Desert” was designed to help make the deserts more suitable for human settlement and provide a haven for many of Arabia’s endangered wildlife species. Once the reserve was established, Sheikh Zayed wanted to share the results with the world; hence, it was opened to weekend tourists. These tours soon became so popular that visits would often have to be booked over one year in advance.
Located 240km from Abu Dhabi City and just 8 kilometers off the Abu Dhabi Emirate’s Western coastline, the island beckons with a mystique that is worlds away from the hustle and bustle of modern urban life.
Sir Bani Yas showcases nature through activities such as adventure safaris, kayaking, mountain biking, archery, hiking, and snorkeling.
More than half the island is made up of the Arabian Wildlife Park. Framed by the Arabian Sea, an 8km radius around the island has been declared a no-fishing zone, providing sanctuary to the local marine life, too. It is now the region’s largest wildlife reserve. Thanks to decades of conservation work and ecological investment, Sir Bani Yas is home to thousands of large free-roaming animals, including the world’s largest herd of endangered antelope, the Arabian Oryx, northern cheetah, golden jackal, gazelles, giraffes, hyenas, cheetahs, deer and gazelles, mammals, mountain sheep, and 200+ bird and bat species, over 500 peacocks, and more.
The island is also home to UAE’s only Christian monastery. The monastery can be visited during a Desert Islands Resort & Spa Culture Tour. Believed to have been built around 600 AD, and abandoned in 750 AD, the monastery was initially discovered during excavations in 1992.
Are you interested yet in visiting Sir Bani Yas Island? Find out how to get there, what activities to do, which hotels to stay and where to dine out…
Getting to Sir Bani Yas Island
Sir Bani Yas Island is located 250 km southwest of Abu Dhabi and 370 km southwest of Dubai. The Island can be reached by car, and then a 25-minute boat ride. The ferry is free of charge courtesy of the Anantara Resort from the Jebel Dhanna on the mainland.
Driving directions: Follow the E11 highway directly from Abu Dhabi or Dubai in the direction of Tarif, Mirfa and Saudi Arabia. Continue on, passing Tarif, Mirfa, Baynoona and Al Ruwais. Take exit 113 marked Sir Bani Yas Island, and at the roundabout take the Sir Bani Yas Island exit. At the next roundabout, take the 2nd exit. Follow the road and at the roundabout, take the exit for Sir Bani Yas Island. At the jetty, park your car in a safe shaded area before boarding the water taxi for a 25-minute journey to Sir Bani Yas Island.
P.S. Abu Dhabi has a hot, arid climate and experiences two distinct seasons of summer and winter. From June through to September, temperatures average 35°C. During this period, you can expect intermittent sandstorms, which can drastically reduce visibility. The highest temperatures recorded during the year are around 46°C in the summer, falling to 20°C during the winter months.
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Blogging is my primary source of income, thank you for your support.
Sir Bani Yas Island Hotels
Sir Bani Yas Island houses 3 Anantara Hotels Resorts & Spas:
We personally stayed at Desert Island’s Resort & Spa, because it was the cheapest option considering the fact that you could visit all the other resorts by riding a bike or taking the shuttle bus provided by the resort.
Hotel Class: 5
Hotel Style: Romantic, Great View
Number of Rooms: 64
With 64 luxuriously appointed rooms, suites, spacious one-bedroom villas and truly luxurious two-bedroom Royal Villas, Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara give you the feels to live out your own Arabian nights in a destination that is anything but ordinary.
Desert Islands Resort & Spa Room Features
- 29 Deluxe Sea View Rooms with a gaze of sandy beaches and the turquoise ocean from a private balcony.
- Deluxe Garden Room is a 52 square meters of contemporary Arabic style.
- Premier Sea View Room has views of the Arabian Gulf.
- Anantara Suite offers spacious suites with cool marble floors and hardwood furnishings. Sink beneath the bubbles in your terrazzo tub. Relax in your separate living area, bathed in natural sunlight.
- One Bedroom Anantara Pool Villa is a 120 square meters room that lets you have privacy with spectacular sea views, and a personal plunge pool.
- Two-Bedroom Anantara Pool Villa offers the ultimate in comfort and space, these villas are designed with families in mind. Enjoy direct access to the beach. Relax by your private pool in your tropical garden.
Hotel Class: 5
Hotel Style: Romantic, Great View
Number of Rooms: 30
Observe elegant gazelles and Arabian Oryx as they make their way through the lush savannah. Located on the remote island of Sir Bani Yas, Anantara Al Sahel Villas is an intimate cluster of 30 luxurious villas, inviting you to embark on an authentic wildlife experience.
Al Sahel Villa Resort Room Features
- One-Bedroom Villa lets you admire the wonders of savannah life from the comfort of a private sanctuary.
- One Bedroom Pool Villa lets you retreat to a stylish sanctuary decorated with earth tones and elegant modern amenities and a private outdoor pool.
- Two-Bedroom Anantara Pool Villa offers 150 square meters of indoor space designed to complement the surroundings of the island and lets you observe the indigenous wildlife that roams free around the island.
- One-Bedroom Villa features an outdoor private terrace with a plunge pool and stunning surroundings of the island.
Hotel Class: 5
Hotel Style: Great View, Charming
Number of Rooms: 30
Be charmed by elegantly wading flamingos as they make their way along the shimmering shoreline. Soak up magnificent views across crystal clear waters and fall under the spell of the Middle East’s legendary mystique.
Al Yamm Villa Resort Room Features
- One-Bedroom Villa is 68 square meters of living space and a private villa.
- One Bedroom Pool Villa features a selection of creature comforts for the perfect holiday, the villas offer extra living space with a dining area and a panoramic view over the mangrove lagoon. Refresh with a dip in your own plunge pool and spacious terrace.
- One Bedroom Beach Villa is 68 square meters of space overlooking the beach.
- One Bedroom Beach Pool Villa offers a gaze over the enchanting beach landscape and an outdoor shower on a private terrace. After a day of exploring the island, take a refreshing rain shower and relax on your terrace.
- Two-Bedroom Pool Villa offers delightful views across the Arabian Gulf or mangrove lagoon.
- One-Bedroom Villas features an outdoor terrace with a sun-lounger facing the mangroves
Activites on Sir Bani Yas Island
You can never get bored on Sir Bani Yas Island, as the resorts offer many activities. These activities include
- Nature & Wildlife Drive or Walk
- Culture & History Tour
- Horseback Riding
- Mountain Biking
- Land Sailing
We took the Nature & Safari trip on an open Landcruiser 4×4 at sunset – it was a 1.5 ride that let us see the wildlife that lives on the island. Nature & Safari trip costs 350aed/person ($95USD) The hotel operates the tour 4-5 times a day. I would suggest going at sunset as the animals roam around out from the shade, as the temperature drops.
Dining at Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island
Amwaj (Seafood) $$ is located at the Desert Islands Resort & Spa offers a lavish seafood menu showcasing fresh local fish.
The Palm (Everyday Dining) $$ is located at the Desert Islands Resort & Spa offers everyday International & Middle Eastern cuisine continental breakfast and dinner.
Al-Shams (Middle Eastern) $$ is located at the Desert Islands Resort & Spa by the poolside and offers everyday snacks from pizza to hamburgers and by night offers Arabic and international dishes with a romantic ambiance of “Arabian Nights.”
Olio (Italian, Mediterranean) $$ is located at the Al Yamm Villa Resort and offers Italian-inspired cuisine with Mediterranean flavors.
Savannah Grill (African, Grill) $$$$ is located at the Al Sahel Villa Resort and offers African cuisine featuring steaks and western favorites dishes. The restaurant is set in a rustic setting surrounded by the grasslands of the island’s reserve.
Dining by Design offers a private dining experience set on the island’s beach overlooking the Arabian Gulf. You can customize a special menu and share a dining experience with a romantic setting with your loved ones.
The Beach at Sir Bani Yas Island
Make sure to check out the beach on the island. Take a walk along the stunning Arabian Gulf that surrounds the island.