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  • Writer's pictureErin Paulsen

Abu Dhabi City Guide

Updated: Jul 8, 2019

Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, and although not as glitzy as Dubai, there is still plenty to see and do here. Abu Dhabi is a city perfectly designed on a grid system and the traffic is way less chaotic than Dubai as well, which makes getting around much easier and less stressful.

1. Grab some coffee

If you are like me, the first thing you need for any productive day of exploring is a beautiful and delicious cup of coffee. There are many cute cafes around the city, but my personal favorite is Parallel Café. Tucked away on a quiet street, this could be a convenient stop if you are on your way to see the Grand Mosque as it is located just off the main road that takes you there.

Other cute cafes include:

Aptitude (in-town location as well as a small location at the Louvre) Coffee Architecture (Al Reem Island)

The Surf Café (also great if you need a bite to eat. Located in WTC Mall)

% Arabica (Al Bateen area, convenient if you’re headed to Emirates Palace)

2. Sheik Zayed Mosque

Without a doubt the most impressive sight you will see in Abu Dhabi, the Grand Mosque is not only the largest mosque in the country, but also the 3rd largest mosque in the world. The way to get to the mosque has changed a little bit, and if you will be renting a car, or being dropped off by taxi, you’ll need to enter through the new underground mall complex, complete a little entrance form (electronically), take an abaya (the local dress that modestly covers you), and walk through the tunnel that leads you up to the grounds of the Mosque. Be careful if you plan to go on a Friday, as the hours are limited only to the afternoon, from 4.30pm. It is best to go early in the morning, arriving when just before it opens at 9am as there should be less people (in theory). I have a whole post dedicated to the mosque here

3. The Louvre Museum Despite sharing the name as the famous Louvre museum in Paris, this one is miniature in comparison. The exhibits rotate every few months or so, and the quality of the artwork displayed is still internationally esteemed, despite usually being one single exhibition. What is truly admirable about this museum is the architectural design of the premises. Built on one of Abu Dhabi’s islands, the Museum is almost floating on the water. It's design is minimal, original and very instagrammable.

View of Etihad Towers from the Palace steps

4. Emirates Palace and Etihad Towers

The ‘Palace’ is really a hotel, and an extravagant one at that. The hotel and the surrounding grounds cost around 3 Billion USD to construct. The outside of the building is beautifully symmetrical and when the fountains are active, usually in the evening, you can get some great pictures. The inside of the palace is not as impressive as one might assume, but still worth a walk around inside. If you’re feeling fancy you can go there for a coffee complete with small golden flakes on top.

Etihad Towers are just across the street from the Palace, and your best photo op of the skyscrapers is actually from the steps leading up to the Palace entrance.

5. Saadiyat Island

If you are in Abu Dhabi when the weather is tolerable, I highly suggest taking a morning or afternoon to go relax on the beach at Saadiyat Island. There is a small entrance fee, but this will include beach lounges and umbrellas. The water here is pristine and of the most fabulous turquoise-blue I have ever seen. The sand here is fine and white and perfect for rolling around on, or taking yoga pictures on, or whatever it is you like to do at the beach.

6. Yas Mall

If your budget allows, or if you want to take a peek at how the locals live, hop over to Yas Island and visit the mall. This is an insane, designer-only shopping experience that will leave your wallet empty (if you can afford anything in the first place) or your imagination dreaming of luxury (if your wallet does not permit). I worked closely with Emiratis during my time here, and all of them, without fail, told me that Yas Mall is the place to shop and spend time on the weekends.

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