City Guide: Abu Dhabi – A Cultural Oasis in a Golden Desert


The capital city of United Arab Emirates has a growing reputation for incredible architecture and heritage, not to mention amazing restaurants. Long golden beaches, fascinating culture and a focus on luxury in everything from hotels to food makes Abu Dhabi the perfect destination for travellers in search of winter sun.

Although not quite as famous as its neighbour, Abu Dhabi offers all the excitement and glamour of a rapidly expanding desert city, without the head-spinning super-fast atmosphere of Dubai. Whether you’re visiting for an entire trip or just for an amazing port day as part of a cruise holiday, Abu Dhabi has plenty to keep you entertained. We’ve rounded up some of the best things to do if you’re just in Abu Dhabi for a short stopover, including both the essential and the usual experiences the city has to offer and the best places to eat like a local.

Essential Abu Dhabi Activities  

Abu Dhabi, Corniche Road. Evening

Everyone who has ever been to Abu Dhabi will tell you that the one thing you can’t miss out of doing is strolling along The Corniche. This amazing four-mile promenade is home to some of the best sights in the city, from Qasr al Hosn Fort, which is the oldest building in the city, to Etihad Towers, home to a brand-new mall dedicated to luxury shopping. Whether you decide to spend the afternoon walking its length or hire a bike to speed things up, be sure to look out for the 360ft pole that is topped by the enormous emirate’s flag and the Capital Gate building, which tilts 18 degrees to the side.

Next stop should be Saadiyat Island, where some of the world’s most famous art is being brought to Abu Dhabi’s new cultural district. From Guggenheim Abu Dhabi to Louvre Abu Dhabi, you might be surprised to find that you can see some of Europe’s most famed cultural attractions right here in this desert city. Loans from the Louvre itself, as well as other museums and galleries, are showcased here alongside permanent exhibitions.

For those who want to get away from the glitzy glamour of modern Abu Dhabi and learn more about its history, the Heritage Village offers a fascinating insight into the traditional trades of the UAE. From jewellery makers to carpenters to bronze tradesmen, you can get see traditional artisans at work and learn more about these beautiful trades. The village also gives you an insight into the daily lives of people who lived in this dry desert area in the past. Highlights include the mock irrigation system that shows how water was dredged from a well to supply the local farmland.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Built in the style of the Taj Mahal, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the largest in the UAE and can hold over 41,000 people. Unusually, it is open to non-Muslim visitors and several tours run during the week, except for on Fridays which are reserved for worshippers. With its 82 soaring domes, stunning architecture, and glittering gold décor, seeing the world’s eighth-largest mosque is an experience you won’t want to miss.

Cool and Unusual Abu Dhabi Activities

If you like to do something a bit off the tourist’s beaten track when you travel, take a trip out of Abu Dhabi’s centre and see some of the cool attractions in the surrounding area. Masdar City, a zero-carbo development that one day hopes to be powered entirely by the sun, is well worth a visit if you want a taster of what the cities of the future might look like. Still only the size of a village, Masdar City’s narrow streets are specially designed to capture cooling breezes, making the city as much as 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding area. It is also completely carless, with driverless pods that travel on rails providing transport around the city.


Another great way to experience a different side of Abu Dhabi is to get out into the desert, where a good choice of 4×4 tours let you have the surreal experience of driving through this untouched golden landscape. Stop off at the Al Jahili Fort, where there’s a permanent exhibition to the travel writer and explorer Wilfred Thesiger, who crossed the region in the 1940s.

How to Eat in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi has an abundance of spectacular restaurants that serve outstanding food inspired by culinary traditions from all over the world. If you want luxurious food with French, Italian, or even Moroccan roots, it can all be found in Abu Dhabi. It can be a bit harder, however, to find authentic food inspired by the traditions of the region itself. Meylas is one of the few places that creates truly excellent food that draws on a deep Emirati heritage. Founder Shaikha Al Kaabi recreated recipes from her childhood using only locally grown ingredients. Chbaad, traditional pancakes served with syrup, and balaleet, saffron noodles served with egg, are highlights you’re going to want to try.

When booking your Emirates cruise, be aware of the month of Ramadan, when Muslims traditionally fast during daylight hours. Whilst you can still eat behind closed doors during the day, it is well worth visiting somewhere for Iftar (the breaking of the fast) to experience the amazing food and atmosphere. Le Royal Meridien’s Ramadan Tent is a great place to do this, where you’ll find a huge spread of slow-cooked lamb, stunning biriyanis, and the best hummus you’ve ever tasted.

If this guide has made you want to experience the UEA capital Abu Dhabi for yourself, why not visit as part of a spectacular cruise holiday? Book one of Cruise1st UK’s amazing deals online today, or call our friendly sales team on 0808 2746 777.


Abu Dhabi Travel Guide for Cruise Holidays
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Abu Dhabi Travel Guide for Cruise Holidays
The capital city of United Arab Emirates has a growing reputation for incredible architecture and heritage, not to mention amazing restaurants.

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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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