Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, offers a unique experience like no other city in the world. Though it may lack the glamour and glitz that is usually associated with its neighbour, it provides an in-depth insight into the culture and history of the region. They have made efforts to preserve the heritage of the city in the face of rapid urban development and modernization.
Located as a distance of about a 1.5-hour drive from Dubai, Abu Dhabi can be reached easily using taxis and buses. You can choose the means of transport, depending on your budget. It is located on the Arabian Peninsula, right next to the Arabian Gulf. Its superior infrastructure, coupled with unspoiled cultural heritage make it one of the most-visited cities in the Middle East.
If you are visiting the UAE and you have planned to visit only Dubai, I would recommend you consider spending 2 days in Abu Dhabi. Some time in Abu Dahi will allow you to get a glimpse at their traditional Arabic lifestyle. It will also let you see some majestic landmarks and monuments that the city has to offer. If you can't afford a few days here, then a day tour from Dubai is also possible!
Here is an ideal 2 days in Abu Dhabi itinerary to help you make the most of your time in this up and coming capital city.
On your first day in Abu Dhabi, book a day-long city tour to visit some of the most popular attractions in the city.
Start with breakfast at the gorgeous Corniche Street and then visit the iconic landmarks of the city throughout the day. An excellent way to do this is to book a guided tour with a hop-on hop-off bus such as Big Bus Tours. A hop-on hop-off tour is a convenient way to get acquainted with all of the popular tourist attractions without the trouble of organizing transport to each location.
You can buy a one day ticket and then you are free to explore at your own pace. You can board and de-board the bus at any of the stops as the bus cruises around the city.
However, if you prefer, you can explore the city on your own as well without booking any special tours.
Waterlemon, located on the picturesque Abu Dhabi Corniche Road, offers an interesting array of ‘Nature Breakfast’ options. This doesn’t mean that you will have to head into the forest and hunt for your own food; but it means that the breakfast foods you choose are packed with lots of wholesome, healthy and natural ingredients, instead of the processed breakfasts that we are used to.
You can go for their well-known mini viennoiserie, fresh cuts of bread and fruits, jam, and butter, assorted cheeses with walnuts, and homemade muesli with yoghurt.
Start the first day of your weekend in Abu Dhabi with some healthy food choices and be one with nature at Waterlemon. The restaurant offers a selection of Nature breakfast options at around AED 59 per person.
After breakfast, go for a leisurely stroll or take some amazing pictures at the gorgeous Abu Dhabi Corniche. Abu Dhabi Corniche is a long stretch of beach extending along Corniche Road. Imagine driving on the road amidst the action-packed city life with a beautiful pristine beach running along through the heart of the city.
This 8-km long beach-side area offers a great place for people to sit, relax and soak in the natural beauty without the need to head away from the city.
The Abu Dhabi Corniche is lined with great restaurants, children’s play areas as well as dedicated sea-bathing areas safely watched by lifeguards.
You can choose to take a leisurely walk along the beach with the morning breeze or take a quick dip in the ocean before heading on to your next stop.
Serving as the centre-piece of UAE’s culture and history, the iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest mosque in the country. It is named after the erstwhile President of UAE, and it is one of the few mosques in the world that welcome visitors from all religions.
Stroll through the enormous walkways adorned with intricately designed marble pillars with gold accents, leading to the primary prayer hall. Once inside, you will undoubtedly be swept away with the sheer magnificence and grandeur of the décor.
It houses the largest Iranian carpet in the world along with huge crystal chandeliers that make it a sight to behold. Its Arabic style minarets, pure white domes contrasting against the bright blue sky and calming pools on either side give it a peaceful and serene vibe.
An architectural landmark in the city of Abu Dhabi, the Emirates Palace Hotel is a marvel in the glamorous skyline of the city. This hotel is undoubtedly a sight to behold with its opulent and magnificent architecture and design. Ornate in gold and crystal, the hotel is worth visiting just for its grandeur and larger than life feel.
Even if you are not staying at the hotel, you can reserve a table at one of their coffee shops or restaurants and just walk-on to explore the hotel. A beautiful lawn surrounds the palace, which is adorned with silvery fountains leading to the main gallery.
You can easily spend an hour exploring the palace and feel star-struck in this fantastic hotel. You can also try their world-renowned gold-leaf covered cappuccino at the in-house café, which is an experience you will not find anywhere in the world.
Witness the iconic towering skyline of Abu Dhabi up close by visiting the Etihad Towers. The morning sun reflecting off its blue glass exterior is a sight to behold.
Take the elevator up to their Observation Deck located on the 74th floor of the building to get a delightful bird’s eye view of Abu Dhabi. Known to be the highest vantage point in the city, it offers a 360-degree view of the entire skyline.
Make sure to visit the observation deck on a clear day to ensure that you get to enjoy the city’s panoramic views with attractions like Presidential Palace, Emirates Palace and much more.
You can walk around the deck or sit at one of the tables to enjoy beverages and snacks from their café. It is a fantastic place to indulge in afternoon tea, while enjoying gorgeous views of the Arabian Gulf, making it a must-visit place during your 2 days in Abu Dhabi.
After visiting the Observation Deck, it’s time to refuel your body and sit down for lunch at one of the most popular restaurants in the city. The Etihad tower houses 11 exquisite bars and restaurants with cuisines from around the world such as Japanese, contemporary Lebanese, Indian and Italian.
All restaurants in the tower have amazing ambience with cosmopolitan surroundings and unparalleled views of the Arabian Gulf. There are so many options offering diverse and fresh cuisines that you will be spoilt for choice.
I recommend you to visit Li Beirut, an award-winning restaurant offering contemporary Lebanese food. It is one of the top restaurants in the city and highly rated amongst its guests.
Offering fantastic views, the restaurant serves modern as well as traditional Lebanese dishes with a fusion of European tastes. The menu is a delight in itself, with signature dishes such as foie gras kibbeh, zaatar crusted lamb with truffle and sweet potato and an indulgent honey fudge dessert.
Most people who visit Abu Dhabi only visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to admire the beautiful white marble courtyard and gold-laced minarets. But the Presidential Palace of UAE takes the opulence to another level altogether.
Located besides Emirates Palace hotel, Qasr Al Watan is gorgeous with its enormous Great Hall and intricate marble tiling with gold trimmings all around. It also houses various museum rooms to help you learn about different parts of the palace as well as the history of the Sheikhs from all seven Emirates of the Kingdom.
You can also visit the Presidential Palace Library and Banquet Hall where international diplomats are regularly hosted and grand Emirati dinners are held. An interactive light show also takes place every evening in the palace.
The Heritage Village in Abu Dhabi is a great place to experience the traditional desert way of life of the country. The place will transport you in a time capsule to the life in souks, mosques and encampment from the period before the modernization of the city.
At Heritage Village, you can watch artisans build pottery, weave fabrics of looms, and blow glass. It is also a great place to explore these artefacts and shop for some lovely souvenirs. The craftsmen are happy to share the skills with visitors; and if you are lucky, you may get a chance to try it out for yourself.
Operated by the Emirates Heritage Club, the village is a reconstruction of traditional oasis village and provides a glimpse into the time gone by. There is also a little spice shop offering a myriad of handmade soaps, dried herbs and numerous souvenirs.
The perfect way to end the first day of your Abu Dhabi itinerary is to take a relaxing dinner Dhow Cruise on the glistening Gulf Sea waters. A variety of tour operators offer dinner cruises with 4 or 5-star buffet options, sailing along Abu Dhabi Corniche.
Grab a seat on the top deck, relax and unwind after a long day of sightseeing by sipping on a drink while marvelling in the gorgeous Abu Dhabi skyline while sailing in the serene waters. You will sail on traditional wooden boats known as Dhow that are a prominent part of the Abu Dhabi culture and tradition.
The cruise usually lasts 2 hours and includes a delicious 3-course spread. The cuisine served is primarily Middle Eastern. A myriad of traditional Arabian dances and shows also take place on-board to help you soak in the Arab culture. It is a great way to relax and unwind after a tiring day in the city.
After exploring all major attractions of Abu Dhabi city on the first day of your Abu Dhabi weekend itinerary, it is time to now explore Yas Island.
Located at a distance of about 30-minute drive from Abu Dhabi, the island is home to three world-class theme parks, a world-renowned F1 race circuit, a huge mall, and a myriad of 5-star hotels.
You can choose the theme parks that you want to visit depending on your preference, or you can get yourself a 1-day 3-park ticket and hop from one park to the other through the course of the day. The choice is yours!
Larte, located on Saadiyat Island, is a hub for contemporary Italian hospitality along with a community experience immersed in art, design and fashion. The restaurant is filled with objets d’art all around.
With Italian classics as the inspiration, the restaurant offers dishes that have designed imaginatively and are perfect for sharing. The omelette served here are famous all-over, all fluffy and light served with two pieces of great bread. The Italian Shakshouka is definitely worth trying as well, with the poached egg placed over a base of onion, tomato and pepper and drizzled with pesto.
The huge outdoor terrace and creative community garden give it a relaxed vibe, perfect for social gatherings and events. Dedicated options are available for kids as well, making it the ideal place for some pre-culture dining.
One of the most well-known additions to the modern cultural side of Abu Dhabi is the Louvre, built on Saadiyat Island. It is renowned for being the largest art museum all over the Arabian Peninsula. It is a must-visit place in Abu Dhabi, especially for modern art enthusiasts.
Even if you aren’t a major art buff, you must visit it simply to witness the exemplary design of the structure as well as the grandeur of the interiors. Designed by award-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the building is just magnificent with attractive and engaging entrance and carefully manicured surroundings.
The collection at the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a lot smaller in comparison to its big brother Paris Louvre. However, everything has been displayed strategically and beautifully in a labyrinth of smaller galleries. Going through each of its galleries, you will be guided through the different themes and ages of cultural development.
After soaking in all the culture, it’s time to head over to Yas Island. The first stop at Yas Island will be the Yas Marina Circuit. Built primarily to host Formula 1 Grand Prix in the year 2009, the Yas Marina Circuit today is one of the liveliest venues in the state with so much to do.
Besides the year-round events of grassroots as well as professional motorsport events, the circuit has now emerged as a hub for community events as well as entertainment. You can experience the thrill of driving an Aston Martin GT4 on the track at a speed of over 200 km/hr.
You can also enjoy go-karting at the Yas Kartzone or go for some training to obtain your racing license at Yas Racing School. And if you get a chance to visit a sporting event taking place there, then nothing like it!
Next, head to the Yas Mall, which is the largest mall in Abu Dhabi. Not only does it offer an unparalleled retail experience, but it is also the entrance point for all theme parks located on the island.
If you want to indulge in some retail therapy, you will find numerous luxury brands here such as Michael Kors as well as popular outlets such as Centrepoint and H&M.
At the heart of the mall is a gorgeous indoor fountain structure, which is a perfect place to take a selfie. The striking blue colour of design along with its majestic height make for a perfect background for an insta-worthy picture.
The mall is home to some of the best shopping as well as dining options on the island as well.
The first theme park you should visit on Yas Island is Ferrari World. This is the first Ferrari-themed amusement park in the world and boasts of 20 unique rides that are not found in any other theme park in the world.
This theme park is home to the world’s fast roller-coaster, Formula Rossa, which reach the highest speed of 240 km per hour within just a few seconds!
Besides that, there are several other fun rides for both kids as well as adults.
The experience at Ferrari world is truly unique, and it will take you to another level of excitement and thrill.
After the exhilarating and heart-wrenching experience at the Ferrari World, it is time to refuel for the day at Urban RetrEAT. Located right opposite the Ferrari World entrance, the Urban RetrEAT offers a unique dining experience.
It can be described as a one-of-a-kind creative space which provides a platform to local food vendors to showcase their talent and products to the foodies and visitors. It is a great place to sample delights from across the globe in a casual and friendly setting.
The unique dining experience offers a great way to try the most delightful dining options from around the world and ensures that there is something to suit everyone’s taste and preference.
You can quickly lose track of time since you will be having so much fun, but remember that there is a lot more in store for you during the latter part of the day. After lunch, hop on next door to Yas Waterworld – a world-class Emirati themed water park that boasts of over 40 unique rides.
Housing several adrenaline-pumping water rides, crazy tornado slides as well as suspended roller coasters, Yas Waterworld is undoubtedly the place to be for having fun. You can have a chance to indulge in surfing as well.
They have a playground meant for the younger visitors as well, along with "big kid" rides like Dawwama – a funnel-shaped slide that takes you down with a whooshing drop.
Splashing around in this aqua-park will surely bring out the kid in you. Not only are they lots of fun but they will give you a glimpse at the futuristic technology that UAE is known around the world for.
Last but definitely not the least, head over to Warner Bros World, located in the vicinity as well. This is an indoor theme park that will instantly teleport you into a world filled with your favourite movie characters.
The park comprises of 6 sections with different themes, each having several rides and attractions. At the bedrock, you can meet the Flintstones, whereas, at Cartoon junction, you will find Tom & Jerry, Scooby-Doo and Bugs Bunny running around.
At Metropolis, you will find Superman and the Road Runner and Coyote can be seen at Dynamite Gulch. Lastly, if you are a fan of Batman and the Joker, head over to Gotham City to visit the Joker’s funhouse.
There are more than 28 exhilarating rides in Warner Bros World to choose from along with a myriad of live entertainment shows that the entire family can enjoy.
There are so many dining options at Warner Bros World that you will be spoilt for choice. With eating options in every corner of the theme park, you will never go hungry. There are four sit-down restaurants inside the park, along with numerous other café and grab-and-go eateries.
The Starlight is a Hollywood-inspired Italian Trattoria, offering a delicious Italian fare coupled with the old Hollywood charm. It has amazing pasta and pizza in a diner setting with posters of some of the best classic movies from the Warner Bros collection.
If you have a sweet tooth, head over to Celebrity Scoop and sample their extensive ice cream selections. A popular item on their menu is the "Celebrity Split", which is a sundae made with three different ice cream flavours, topped with pineapples, crushed cherries, banana, chocolate syrup, and tons of whipped cream.
That’s a wrap! Though it may have been a bit tiring, I hope that this guide for a perfect weekend in Abu Dhabi will help you experience all the wonders that this fantastic city has to offer. With so many amazing attractions at your disposal, 2 days in Abu Dhabi will fly past.
So next time, plan a longer trip so that you can experience the many wonderful things to do in Abu Dhabi at a leisurely pace. That said, this itinerary will ensure that you leave Abu Dhabi without feeling that you missed out on something. Enjoy your time in wondrous Abu Dhabi!
This article was edited by Loredana Elena.
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