As the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is a conflux of the mythical and the modern.
Think skyscrapers and mega malls, just within reach of sand dunes, quad bikes and candle-strewn desert campsites.
This is a city where you can spend your days relaxing in the height of luxury (massage, anyone?), catching the thrill of an F1 race, or embracing iconic local Islamic culture. Your evenings can be spent feasting on traditional food in the shadow of a desert canopy as the stars span out for miles above you. For a truly unique experience, you won’t find anywhere more thrilling.
From wellness and shopping to art and history, Abu Dhabi is a city that’s packed to the brim with stories. Here are just some of the ways that you can explore it in 2020…
1. Louvre Abu Dhabi
Designed to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western art, the Louvre Abu Dhabi reflects its Emirati location via its carefully thought-out architecture: a lace dome and an intricate water system that runs throughout the museum offer nods to its location, whilst the exhibitions inside span from the ancient world to the present day.
Current exhibitions include 10,000 Years of Luxury (until 18 February 2020), whilst the theme of Changing Societies acts as an umbrella for all the museum’s work throughout the 2019/20 season. 2020 will welcome exhibitions on the concept of chivalry between the East and the West, and art’s relationship with cinema as seen through the lens of Charlie Chaplin.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is found in the Saadiyat Cultural District, which aims to become home to the largest group of world-class cultural institutions anywhere in the world. Plans are afoot for a fourth outpost of New York’s iconic Guggenheim, as well as for a museum dedicated to Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE, and a performing arts centre designed by the late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.
The Louvre is the first venue of these to be completed, leading the way as Abu Dhabi develops its pedigree as a major destination on the international arts scene.
Opening times: 10 am - 8 pm, Saturday - Wednesday; 10 am - 10 pm Thursday and Friday; closed Mondays
Tickets: Regular tickets are 60 AED (about £12), or 30 AED (about £6) for those aged 13-22
2. Qasr Al Watan
Qasr Al Watan might technically be a presidential palace, but there’s far more to this imposing, domed structure than simply being a lavish home.
Once used purely for official functions and government work, as of 2019 it has thrown opened its doors, looking to the future and becoming a destination that’s evolved to reflect the craftsmanship, artistry and knowledge that abounds in its Emirati home.
Visiting Qasr Al Watan means immersing yourself completely in the design and art of the area, from the exhibits hosted within to the massive array of books that are housed in the Qasr Al Watan Library. The spirit of collaboration is reflected everywhere, from displays of presidential gifts to the fact that this is also the meeting place of the UAE Cabinet. Making time to explore this stunning building means a greater appreciation for the history of the Arab world and an insight into its exciting future.
This is truly one of the Emirates’ most iconic landmarks, a real reflection of authentic Arabic culture, and one that you’ll be forever in awe that you’ve visited.
Opening times: Open daily, 10 am - 8 pm (may vary seasonally, or in the case of official functions)
Tickets: Qasr Al Watan Ticket, offering access to the palace, gardens, Visitor Centre, and all zones, exhibitions and public spaces: 60 AED for adults; 30 AED for juniors (around £12/£6)
Qasr Al Watan is truly an iconic place to visit
3. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
As one of the largest mosques in the world, Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a true sight to behold, resplendent with reflecting pools, sun-lit courtyards, intricate calligraphy in its decor, the world’s largest chandelier - and space for a staggering 40,000 worshippers.
Open to both worshippers and tourists, the interior of this most impressive of buildings takes inspiration from across the Islamic world, from Morocco and Egypt to Turkey and Pakistan.
Prepare to be stunned by the majesty of the place, from its 80+ exterior domes and striking minarets to its marble architecture and imposing, gold-leafed columns.
Opening times: Saturday - Thursday 9am - 10pm; Friday 4.30pm - 10pm
Tickets: Tickets are free, but pre-booking is recommended
You can't miss Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque when you are in Abu Dhabi
4. Warner Brothers World
And now for something completely different.
Opened in 2018, Warner Brothers World Abu Dhabi is the world’s largest indoor theme park and is a great family-themed thing to do in Abu Dhabi. This attraction will keep the entire family entertained with familiar faces - expect the residents of Gotham, Metropolis and Bedrock to swing by.
Numerous rides, shows, attractions and shops make Warner Brothers World Abu Dhabi the perfect high-energy family day out, especially if you’ve got film and/or cartoon fans amongst your party. Warner Brothers World Abu Dhabi is located on Yas Island, where you’ll find numerous other attractions too. A hotel is set to open on the island in the very near future, making a visit even easier.
Opening times: Open daily, 10 am - 8 pm
Tickets: 295 AED (around £60) for an adult day ticket; 230 AED (around £46) for a junior day ticket
5. Ferrari World
Feeling the need for speed? Good, because Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi can satisfy the needs of thrill-seekers no matter how adventurous they are. Billed as the first Ferrari-based theme park in the world, Ferrari World is full to bursting with driving experiences and speed-based rides (nearly 40 of them!)
Packed with rides as well as shows and numerous dining options, this really is a day out like no other. Time to buckle up, because the three-time winner of the Middle East’s Leading Theme Park is ready to hit the gas and blow all your cobwebs away. Afterwards, you can head to the gift shop to grab yourself some merch that shows off the power of this iconic brand.
Opening times: Daily from 11:00 am - 8:00 pm; opening times are slightly longer between 20th December and 4th January
Tickets: 295 AED (around £60) for an adult day ticket; 230 AED (around £47) for a junior day ticket; VIP and driving experiences cost extra
6. Yas Waterworld
With more than 40 rides, Yas Waterworld is the region’s top venue for water-based fun and one of the best ways we can think of to beat the Emirati heat.
This is more than a standard waterpark: visitors can expect a 5D cinematic family adventure with the Cinesplash attraction, six-lane racer slides, 300m of lazy river, and the region’s largest wave pool. Depending on the time of year that you visit, there’s even a mermaid school where you can learn to swim like Ariel et al (yes, really).
Opening times: December: 10am - 6pm Sunday - Thursday; 10am - 7pm Friday and Saturday, January: Daily from 10am - 5pm
Tickets: 250 AED (around £51) for an adult day ticket; 210 AED (around £43) for a junior day ticket
There are options for combo tickets that can allow you to visit Ferrari World, Warner Brothers World and Yas Waterworld at the same time.
We hope we’ve inspired you to visit Abu Dhabi in 2020 - after all, where else can you experience iconic racing brands, ride water slides, see world-class art and architecture and have a truly spiritual experience at the same time? As the capital of the Emirates, Abu Dhabi is unique and multi-layered. It’s somewhere that will give you memories to last a lifetime.
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