There’s more to Abu Dhabi than sun-baked beaches, desert dunes, and towering skyscrapers. The UAE’s capital city also promises wildlife-filled mangroves, cutting-edge theme parks, fast-paced motor sports, and ocean-going fun. Here are our recommendations for how to fill three memorable days in the city—with time to visit its alluring neighbor, Dubai.
Day 1: Discover the City and the Desert
Getting an eyeful of Abu Dhabi, known for its look-at-me architecture, on a sightseeing overview is a must on your first day. Settle into a hop-on hop-off double-decker bus tour and let the sights come to you—either from the open-air deck or air-conditioned lower level. For a more well-rounded take on the city, choose a classic coach tour that includes a guided walk around the gleaming Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, plus time at cultural attractions such as the Heritage Village and Dates Market.
This afternoon, head for the desert to experience its orange dunes and soul-stirring vastness. Most tours feature an all-inclusive package of sports and entertainment to give you the full Arabian Nights experience. Expect everything from 4x4 dune bashing and camel riding to dinner at a tented camp and belly dancing shows—all played out as the sun sets and the desert stars dazzle.
Day 2: Delve into Dubai
Abu Dhabi’s bigger neighbor, Dubai, beckons from around 90 minutes by road up the coast. Widen your lens on the UAE by taking one of the many full-day tours to this futuristic metropolis; most include special extras that promise to make the trip extra memorable. Many also showcase the highlights of old and new Dubai, combining time to shop in its traditional souks with panoramic tours of the city’s ultramodern landmarks such as the Burj Al Arab and Atlantis the Palm hotel.
To add another dimension to your trip, take a seaplane flight along the UAE shoreline to the city, watching as its skyscrapers reveal themselves on the horizon. And for maximum bragging rights back home, look for tours that include a visit to the 124th-floor observation deck of the world’s highest tower—the soaring Burj Khalifa.
Day 3: Fill Up on Thrills
Abu Dhabi has plenty going on adventure-wise: in the desert, on the sea, and at the thrill-packed theme parks of Yas Island. For a serious adrenaline rush, book an all-day ticket to the fun of Ferrari World or the aquatic rides of Yas Waterworld. Or combine your sporty side with Abu Dhabi’s natural landscapes, taking an exhilarating ATV ride over the dunes or hitting the waves on a high-speed RIB cruise past the city’s stunning skyline. For something a bit slower, perhaps try a stand-up paddleboarding tour around Abu Dhabi’s picturesque mangroves.
As dusk descends, ease into the evening with a leisurely cruise. Choices range from private abra water taxi rides around the city’s inshore channels to all-singing, all-dancing dinner cruises along the Corniche. The latter are great for taking one final look at the city, treating you to fabulous panoramas of its illuminated skyscrapers.