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10 best things to do in Abu Dhabi

Whether you want to escape the city or are looking for something to do with the kids, Abu Dhabi has plenty of options to choose from. There's some excellent activities for thrill seekers, as well as for those looking for more relaxing things to do on the weekend.

1. Yas Island

Yas Island is a fantastic way to spend the day with children in Abu Dhabi – especially if they’re racing fans. Home to Formula Rossa, the fastest rollercoaster in the world (which reaches a terrifying 240kph in just under 5 seconds), Ferrari World Abu Dhabi has restaurants, shops, simulations, and plenty of slower-paced rides for the parents. Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi is also just around the corner and has enough rides, slides and activities (43 to be precise!) for the whole family. There’s also a beach, Yas Mall (offering some of the best designer shopping in the UAE) and golf club on the island. The Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel is also an attraction in itself, especially at night.

Location: Yas Leisure Drive, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi

*Entry:** A combined day ticket for Yas Waterworld and Ferrari World starts at Dh295 for adults, and Dh250 for children.

Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi hotel

2. Camel racing

Camel owners became inventive when it became illegal to use children as camel jockeys. Now, at the Al Wathba Camel Race Track you’ll see small robots atop of the professional racing camels, competing to win some hefty prizes for their owners. The Abu Dhabi camel racing season runs from around October to the end of March, and races take place every weekend from around 7am (Visit Abu Dhabi has more scheduling information). It’s a fantastic event for the whole family and the atmosphere is great. It’s not always possible to see what’s going on or who’s winning, but the local fans are generally very happy to keep you up to speed!

Location: Al Wathba Camel Race Track, Al Ain Road, Abu Dhabi

*Entry:** Free

3. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

It can sometimes be hard to immerse yourself in the local culture in the UAE, but the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a great way to do it. The mosque accommodates more than 40,000 worshipers and contains the world’s biggest handmade carpet in the main prayer hall. The building is especially beautiful at night when the lights come on and the marble transforms from an off-white into a blue twilight color. There’s regular guided tours and plenty of information to help you understand more about the mosque’s history and design. You’ll be given an abaya to wear, but make sure you dress respectfully anyway.

Location: Between Khlaeej Al Arabi and Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Streets

*Entry:** Free

A visit to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a good way to find out more about Islam in the UAE

4. Escape rooms

You no longer have to travel to Dubai to experience the thrill of an escape room game. Challenge Chambers is now in Al Wahda Mall and offers games in English and Arabic. You can choose from The Escape Challenge where you play a secret agent and have to escape within an hour, or The Mystery Challenge where you put on your detective hat and solve a mystery death. It’s great for older children (not under 10s) and a good all-year-round activity. Still fancy exploring Dubai? Check out our top things to see and do in the city.

Location: Third floor, Al Wahda Mall, Hazza Bin Zayed Street, Abu Dhabi

*Entry:** Prices start at around Dh75 per person depending on the game and how many people are playing

Escape rooms challenge your code breaking skills

5. Al Ain Oasis

The Al Ain Oasis, about 2 hours’ drive from the city, deserves its place in any list of things to see in Abu Dhabi. The Unesco World Heritage site is more than 4,000 years old and filled with more than 150,000 date palm trees. It irrigates one of the oldest inhabited settlements in the world, revealing how people collected water in the middle of the desert. There’s an eco center and maps to help guide you through some of the 1,200 hectares of land. It’s a great way to escape the city and get some fresh air.

Location: Al Mutawa area of Al Ain, Abu Dhabi

*Entry:** Free

6. Camping in Abu Dhabi

This is a lovely way to spend the weekend if you want to avoid the usual brunches or beach trips. Nokhada Adventure Company offers overnight expeditions which is great for families, and the guide will show you some of the best places to camp in Abu Dhabi. You can hire kayaks and paddle out through some of the islands in the mangroves, where you’ll pitch your tent and get your barbecue going. You need to take your own food and sleeping bags, but everything else if provided. It can be a bit of a hard paddle so probably not ideal for total beginners.

Location: There are various islands and entry points, contact Nokhada for more information

*Entry:** Prices from Dh450 per adult

Kayaking is a great way to escape the city

7. Indoor skydiving

This is an oldie but still one of the most fun things to do in Abu Dhabi. Spacewalk Abu Dhabi at the Abu Dhabi Country Club is basically a large wind tunnel with a trampoline-like floor and large fans blowing air upwards. The wind speed can be changed according to how adventurous you’re feeling; the maximum speed is close to 160kph. You’ll be given a short training session and briefed on all the safety aspects before you take to the skies, and according to the people behind Spacewalk, it’s suitable for ages 3 and up.

Location: Abu Dhabi Country Club, Shakbout Bin Sultan St, Al Mushrif, Abu Dhabi

*Entry:** Tickets start at Dh180

8. Emirates Palace

Even if this luxury hotel is not to your personal taste, the Emirates Palace should still be on your Abu Dhabi bucket list. Almost everything is covered in gold leaf and the architecture is about as over the top as it gets. If you don’t want to pay for a room but you want to give visitors a good look around, opt for the gold-leafed coffee at The Afternoon Tea at Le Cafe. Yes, actual 24 carat gold flakes are sprinkled onto your drink. It doesn’t change the taste but it’s a good Instagram opportunity!

Location: Emirates Palace Hotel, West Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi

*Entry:** Prices for Traditional Afternoon Tea (including food) start at Dh160 per person

Search the cheapest hotel rates at Emirates Palace

9. Paintball

The Al Forsan paintball centre has three themes – Wild West, WW2 Pacific Island, and the tournament field. There are individual and group packages available and you get to choose your mission – rescuing a hostage from the other team, keeping the bandits out of the saloon, or diffusing a suitcase bomb while you’re under attack. The best bit about Al Forsan is the domes are air conditioned – perfect if you’re in Abu Dhabi for the summer!

Location: Al Forsan, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi

*Entry:** Off peak rates start at Dh120 for 200 paintballs

Paintballing is fun for all the family

10. Wadi Adventure

Wadis in the UAE aren’t safe when the water’s flowing (unless you really know what you’re doing!) so they’re off-limits for rafting. But this man-made whitewater rafting, surfing and kayaking facility in the foothills of Jebel Hafeet means you can still experience the thrill. You can also wakeboard, climb and clamber around an Airpark which includes balance beams, spinning platforms and rope webs. It’s a great activity for children, adults and groups.

Location: Next to the Ain Al Fadia One to One hotel, Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain

*Entry:** A standard entry ticket costs Dh50 but a package ticket which includes activities starts at Dh195

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*Published November 2016. Prices correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.

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