Your essential guide to Abu Dhabi

Blending Arabic tradition and breathtaking modernity in equal measure, Abu Dhabi offers unlimited sunshine, world-class attractions, and a reputation for being the Emirates’ cultural heartbeat

By Melinda Healy

Abu Dhabi-based travel and lifestyle journalist Melinda has been a destination expert for The Telegraph, Conde Nast Traveler and Culture Trip

Find your bearings

Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi stands proudly and prominently on the western end of the city’s Corniche between two of its biggest attractions, Sheikh Zayed Founders’ Memorial – an installation dedicated to the country’s Founding Father – and Qasr Al Watan – the elaborately designed Presidential Palace that not only provides a glimpse into the nation’s governance, but also the place where the de facto ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, receives visitors, hosts dinners, and arranges majlis (council assembly). The elaborate palatial property is a short stroll from the Corniche, the seaside promenade lined with parks, cafés, public and private beaches, and the hotel marina where privately chartered vessels are berthed and tours depart.

Feed your mind

Louvre Abu Dhabi is the emirate’s biggest cultural calling card and for good reason. Not only is the $1 billion, 12-gallery landmark the only Louvre museum outside of the flagship in Paris , its dome-shaped, filtered light structure is architecturally brilliant. Part of the developing Saadiyat Island Cultural District, the Louvre is a short drive from Manarat Al Saadiyat, the capital’s original art destination. Another point of interest near the hotel is Qasr Al Hosn, the pinpoint of the city’s origins, with the very first watch tower dating back to 1795.

Shop like a local

The Galleria is the go-to destination for fashionistas and food connoisseurs. Positioned at the centre of the developing Al Maryah Island precinct – a 15-minute drive from the hotel – the mall is a brand lover’s paradise with labels Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Emporio Armani, and Tom Ford having a presence here alongside culinary favourites such as Cafe Milano, Roberto’s, Nusr-Et Steakhouse, and Zuma.

Nation Towers is within walking distance of the hotel, and as well as hosting a Lamborghini showroom, the boutique retail space features traditional perfume stores, high-end watch retailers, designer childrenswear, one of the emirates’ largest bookstores, and a luxury cinema. The Gold Centre at Madinat Zayed is the place for gold and silver products, while for traditional market goods, the souk at the World Trade Center Mall in the city centre is worth perusing, as is Souk at Qaryat Al Beri in Al Maqta.

See some sights

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the best landmark for cultural immersion. Incorporating architectural styles from a number of Muslim civilisations and covering an area of 12 hectares, it’s the largest mosque in the UAE and one of the biggest globally, and home to the world’s largest chandelier and biggest handmade carpet. Aside from this, the remarkable structure has an ingenious lighting system guided by the phases of the moon. Take a tour or wander the space that welcomes up to 40,000 worshippers a year.

For a dose of heritage, operators of the Abu Dhabi Pearl Journey offer a VIP experience that will see you ride on a traditional Jalboot boat to learn about the forefathers who dedicated their lives to pearl diving. Afterwards, consider taking a Seawings seaplane tour of the emirate, it’s an enlightening way to see the city, and you’ll be afforded an unforgettable bird’s eye view of the palatial Emirates Palace.

Toast your arrival

Settle in by the hotel’s private beach and enjoy a pre-dinner drink and some traditional mezze under the stars at Breeze Lounge. During the height of summer, the Havana Club is a sophisticated alternative where you can enjoy premium hand-rolled cigars and heady nightcaps to a soundtrack of live Latin American music.

Further afield, on Al Maryah Island, Coya combines waterfront views with creative concoctions at the colourful pisco bar. The Art Lounge at Louvre Abu Dhabi is also an excellent option, especially for the creatively minded. From the terrace you can enjoy a cooling drink and admire the brilliance of the museum and the city skyline in the distance.

Make time to unwind

Spa & Wellness

Make time to unwind

Spa & Wellness

Emirates Palace's in-house spa is the most elaborate in town. Book in for a Moroccan hammam, experience the signature 24-carat Gold Radiance Facial, and afterwards make use of the spa facilities – Jacuzzi, steam rooms, ice cave – or simply kick back in the relaxation lounge and sip on local tea.

If getting outside is a priority, the stunning walkway through Mangrove National Park is ideal. The Qurum Walkway on Jubail Island between Saadiyat Island and Yas Island, features a cluster of interconnected pathways from which tourists can take in the emirate’s natural landscape and spy on the wildlife residing there. Closer to home, the Corniche promenade is perfect place for tranquil evening strolls.

Dine in style 

Hakkasan at Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi is renowned for the highest quality Cantonese food, and blends its signature culinary favourites with touches of Middle Eastern flavour – including a fabulous Friday brunch. For a high-end dining experience outside the hotel, Cipriani Yas Island is guaranteed to impress and is worth the 30-minute drive. ‘Simple Italian food made to perfection’ is what you can expect from the globally renowned brand that dates back to 1931, as well as a glistening outlook over Yas Marina.

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And finally

Head out to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix F1 track and take an Aston Martin GT4 or Ferrari 458 GT for a spin around Yas Marina Circuit.