Abu Dhabi city may be geographically small—just 375 square miles, about a third the size of Rhode Island—but when it comes to cultural riches and historic sites, the emirate looms large. This cultural itinerary includes ancient tombs dating back to the Bronze Age, as well as centuries-old desert oases and forts. The dynamic city of Abu Dhabi includes not only its dazzling skyscrapers, but architectural wonders like the grand mosque as well as world-class museums, most famously the new Louvre Abu Dhabi.
As you explore the history and art of Abu Dhabi, you’ll also have opportunities to dine on delicious dishes of homemade breads, grilled meats and fish, and desserts rich with honey and dates. In the emirate’s souks you can learn about traditional crafts and shop for one-of-a-kind souvenirs. And watching falcons and saluki dogs work together to capture prey in the desert is an unforgettable experience that provides insights into life in the fabled Empty Quarter.
Itinerary / 6 DAYSPLAN YOUR TRIP
DAY 1Arrive in Abu Dhabi
After you’ve settled into your room, head out to visit one of Abu Dhabi’s most iconic sites and one of its newest cultural additions. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is an enormous gleaming building of white marble and semi-precious stones, capable of accommodating more than 40,000 worshippers and part of a complex that extends over 30 acres. Craftsmen from around the world were involved in the construction of this masterpiece of Indo-Islamic design. Unlike many mosques, it has an “open door” policy, inviting non-Muslims to admire this wonder.
Later, visit the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which opened at the end of 2017. The stunning museum by French star architect Jean Nouvel is located on Saadiyat Island, just to the east of the city, overlooking the Arabian Gulf. The museum’s mission is to highlight the best art of the Arab world in its permanent collection, alongside temporary galleries that present works on loan from France’s leading cultural institutions.
DAY 2The Corniche, and Nearby Sights
Then return to contemporary Abu Dhabi with a visit to the nearby Marina Mall. One of Abu Dhabi’s most popular destinations, the mall is home to hundreds of luxury boutiques, as well as restaurants serving cuisines from around the world. Whether you’re in the mood for a shawarma or longing for a bit of home at Shake Shack, the mall’s culinary offerings cater to every taste.
On your way back towards the Corniche, you’ll pass by the Founder’s Memorial—eight acres of landscaped grounds honoring Sheikh Zayed with an enormous sculpture, The Constellation, as its centerpiece.
DAY 3Jebel Hafeet and Al Ain
The tombs are just one of the sites in or near Al Ain that led UNESCO to recognize it as a World Heritage site. Another notable landmark, the Al Ain Palace Museum, features a Bedouin architecture looks timeless despite being built in 1937. It was one of the homes of the emirate’s royal family until 1966, then converted into a museum in 1998 and opened to the public in 2001. The building may be relatively new, but its construction uses clay, adobe, plaster, and palm details in a design that is both traditional and surprisingly eco-conscious. Before making your way back to Abu Dhabi, a visit to the Al Ain souk offers an opportunity to do some haggling for unique souvenirs.
DAY 4Emirati Cuisine
While it isn’t a culinary stop, you may want to take a look at the Carpet Souk in Al Mina here, too. You’ll find a colorful selection of rugs, cushions, carpets, and other fabric items. Be prepared to haggle over prices.
Having explored the markets that provide the ingredients of Abu Dhabi’s cuisine, head to Al Fanar on Yas Island for a leisurely late lunch. The restaurant’s atmosphere evokes the days when Abu Dhabi was a quiet fishing port, best known for its pearl divers. The menu is similarly traditional, featuring homemade breads, grilled fish and shellfish, and rice dishes flavored with saffron, turmeric, and other spices.
DAY 5Journey Into the Desert
The Liwa Oasis is an arc of 39 small towns on the edge of the Empty Quarter that has special significance for Emiratis; it was the original home of the ruling families of both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Explore the ancient date palm groves and some of the forts that have long protected them, and take photos of the golden and apricot-hued sands. Then continue on to the Qasr Al Sarab by Anantara Resort. Modeled after an oasis, the luxury resort introduces guests to many aspects of Abu Dhabi’s desert culture. Camel treks across the dunes and hunting demonstrations with falcons and saluki dogs provide insights into the landscape that has shaped the culture and people of Abu Dhabi.