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Of memories, authenticity and things to do in Abu Dhabi

My memories of my trip to Abu Dhabi seem like scenes from a dream. Random. As if things to do in Abu Dhabi don’t fit together. As if it doesn’t make sense to have all these scenes in one dream. How are they connected?

abu dhabi skyline, things to do in abu dhabi

Traveling, for me, is about being in the moment. Diving deep into the joy of existence. Wondering like a child with big open eyes about the magical beauty of this world. The diversity. The similarities.

Traveling, for me, is about creating memories. I am so thoroughly in the moment and aware of all the little details. Soaking all in. Immersing into the moment.

The more you’re fully in the moment, the more you will remember.
You will remember how you felt, what you thought, what you said. How the air smelled and how the melody of the sound found you. How life tasted at that moment.

I can’t guarantee you will feel, think, and say the exact words. I don’t know if the air will smell like it did for me. Or which sounds you will hear. I don’t understand how life tastes for you.

But I can try to tell you how life tasted for me during these days in Abu Dhabi and how you can create similar memories when visiting Abu Dhabi. Here are my personal highlights from my trip to Abu Dhabi and my top six things to do in Abu Dhabi.

Things to do in Abu Dhabi (to create similar memories like mine)

1. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi

Large White Mosque called Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

I’ve wanted to visit this mosque since I saw a picture of it many years ago. It looked like a dream from “One Thousand and One Nights”. Seeing it with my own eyes was even better than I had expected. I learned that the idea behind the design is to unite the cultural diversity of the Islamic world with the historical and modern values of architecture and art. The architect is Syrian, and artisans and materials were used from many countries like India, Germany, New Zealand, Italy, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, just to name a few. I think that’s beautiful. It’s a breathtaking site that makes you whisper.

grand mosque abu dhabi inside panorama with white archways

It’s a must-see when visiting Abu Dhabi; you really should not miss this. I visited it on my first morning as my first stop, and it was a perfect pathway to experiencing Abu Dhabi from my own perspective while understanding its culture and traditions. I always wanted to go back for sunset as I’ve heard it’s most beautiful around that time, I somehow didn’t come back, but I highly recommend it to you. Please note that appropriate clothing is mandatory. There is also a festival called the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival Abu Dhabi every year, so make sure to check the dates if you are in town at the right time!

2. Heritage Village

It’s not that the Heritage Village is a must-see during your trip to Abu Dhabi, but it certainly can help you understand the culture of the United Arab Emirates. For me, understanding and learning more about the culture of the countries I’m visiting is part of the fun.

abu dhabi 1960 photo showing very minimal development with huts

It shows how Abu Dhabi looked like in the 1960s. And seeing this picture definitely gave me a new perspective on Abu Dhabi. It’s stunning to see how much has changed since then. Are you curious now and want to know more about the history of Abu Dhabi? Well, put the Heritage Village on your to-do list for Abu Dhabi…

3. Emirates Palace and how it is to order a Golden Cappuccino

Emirates Palace is more than just a hotel; it’s an experience and one of the must things to do in Abu Dhabi. If you can’t afford to stay there (rooms start from around 600€ a night, including your own butler), I highly recommend having lunch, tea time, or dinner there. I went the path of least resistance and booked a city tour that already included lunch at Emirates Palace (the price for the tour, incl. lunch, was around 150€).

grand dining room with table under large archway at the emirates palace abu dhabi

Lunch was from the buffet, and drinks were not included. My highlight was the sushi, one of the best Sushis I’ve ever had, and I’m still dreaming of the dessert buffet. I could have eaten my own weight in dessert if that would be something I could do. And for sure, I had to order the famous golden cappuccino. It costs around 14€ and comes with 24k gold flakes. I can’t say it was the best cappuccino I ever had, but it was an experience. And honestly, if you can order a golden cappuccino, then do it.

golden cappuccino with chocolate design and gold flakes at the emirates palace

4. Zaya Nurai Island

Spending time at the beach usually is something I only do when I have nothing else to do. When I’ve done everything I wanted to see and experience, I still have time to waste. Working on my tan and doing nothing often makes me anxious. I don’t mean it in a fear of missing out, but more in an “I don’t want to spend a whole day just laying around” way. I wondered if I should spend the money and a whole day on Zaya Nurai Island. I’m glad I did; it really feels like a different world. It’s a paradise.

water with a love sign in the back at zaya nurai island

Zaya Nurai Island is a private island, a ten-minute speedboat ride from Abu Dhabi. A day pass costs around 100€, and I read somewhere that only around 30-day passes are available per day, so booking in advance makes sense. You can do that like I did it through a concierge. The day pass includes food and beverages for the same amount of money as you paid for the day pass. You have to spend extra for only what you consume on top of this. Pretty good deal, in my opinion.

zaya nurai island sunbed at a beach with several sunbeds

5. Desert Safari

First, let me tell you: I enjoyed the desert safari, although it was the most touristy and least authentic thing I’ve done in Abu Dhabi. I appreciate being in the desert, no matter what. Spending time in the desert definitely should be on your bucket list anyways. Dune bashing is a lot of fun. It’s a different rollercoaster; if you haven’t done something like this yet, I highly recommend it as one of the things to do in Abu Dhabi.

white jeep driving over a dune in abu dhabi

After the dune bashing, you arrive at a camp where you can try sandboarding, get a henna tattoo, or hop on a camel for a two-minute camel ride. After that, you get traditional food and a belly dancing show. If you have yet to experience a sunset in the desert, book a tour!

6. Al Ain Camel Souq

There are many reasons for visiting Al Ain, but my main reason was the camel souq. I wanted to experience something authentic, the same as whether tourists were around or not. And I got what I was asking for and it was one of my favorite things to do in Abu Dhabi.

camel souq man and camel

While walking on my own through the souq, many of the men there approached me, curious about me in the same way I was curious about them. Being from another world, another culture, another reality. All of them were polite, friendly, and respectful. I’m always amazed at how easy it is to converse, even when you don’t speak the same language. When I left, I understood that I did not go there for the camels; I went there to connect in a new way with the culture, tradition, and people.

3 men in traditional white clothing surrounded by camels

These six things were my favorite things to do in Abu Dhabi, I’ve done more and I’ve seen more and I know that there are many other things to do and see in Abu Dhabi, I would love to do on my next trip. I thought four days are enough, but next time I’ll stay longer.

Where to stay – I stayed at the Gloria Downtown Hotel, I mainly chose this hotel because of its location. But I definitely can recommend it.

Abu Dhabi City Trip with Emirates Palace

The Desert Safari

The day trip to Al Ain

Have you been to Abu Dhabi? What are you favorite things to do and see in Abu Dhabi?

Disclosure: This post is brought to you in partnership with Etihad Airways.