Local's Guide to Abu Dhabi

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Advisor - Joanna Nathan
Curated By

Joanna Nathan

  • United Arab Emirates (UAE)

  • Abu Dhabi

  • Arts & Culture

  • Beaches

  • City Travel

  • International Travel

  • Luxury Travel

  • Desert

  • Sightseeing

  • Supercars

Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi glowing white and gold during sunset.
Curator’s statement

I called Abu Dhabi home for 16 years. An expat hub, this city brings together people from all over the world, and the food and culture definitely reflect it. In this guide, I'll share some of my favorite highlights of this city and some off the beaten path recommendations from a former local.

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Where to stay Abu Dhabi

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Things to do in Abu Dhabi

Modern white buildings and circular dome in Louvre Abu Dhabi on a sunny day.

Cultural Experiences

Corniche: Take a stroll along the Corniche, Abu Dhabi's waterfront area. Attractions include the Corniche beach, boat tours, palaces and Heritage Village.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: Marvel at the architectural beauty and opulence of one of the world's largest mosques.

Museums: Spend a day perusing the art collections of the Louvre or Guggenheim or the unique auto collection at Emirates National Auto Museum, or learning more about the origin of the Emirates at the majestic Qasr Al Watan presidential palace.

Adrenaline Rush

Yas Marina F1 Circuit: Climb into the driver's seat of a Ferrari and take on one of the most advanced F1 circuits in the world.

Desert Safari: Hit the desert for dune bashing, sand boarding, camel trekking, and a BBQ dinner

Water Sports: Rent a jet ski and cruise along the Corniche area, taking in Abu Dhabi's waterfront from a different angle. Sailing, wakeboarding and kayaking are available as well.


Saadiyat Beach: Spend a day sprawled on the white sand beaches of Saadiyat Island, a short drive from the Corniche

Yas Beach: A more laidback beach with crystal clear waters, surrounded by natural mangroves

Nurai Island: For ultimate barefoot luxury, book a night at Nurai Island, a private island resort that is only accessible by speedboat

Places to eat & drink in Abu Dhabi

Plate of Lebanese food with pita bread on the side in casual restaurant.

While Abu Dhabi is known for its beach resorts and luxurious hotels, each with their own slate of fine dining options of various international cusines, my heart lies with the incredible street food scene, which reflects the global nomadic population of this incredible city. These are some of the meals I dream of when I'm missing home:

Street food

Manakish at Gulf Pastry: For breakfast or a late afternoon snack. Originating from Lebanon, this treat consists of freshly baked, warm flatbread with your choice of filling. My personal favorite is halloumi cheese and za'atar.

Shawarma at Beit El Khetyar: The richer, more flavorful cousins of gyros, stopping by the shawarma stand is a weekly tradition for most households in the UAE. Make sure to add on an order of falafel as an appetizer.

Pani Puri at Chhappan Bhog: Little flavor-packed single bite orbs that hail from India. While you're there, order an assortment of Indian sweets such as jalebi and gulab jamun.

Karak Chai at Yadoo's House (or Grandmother's House): This spiced tea originated in South Asia and was adopted by the Gulf. Rich with spices and milk, this will change your outlook on what tea should taste like.

Fresh fruit juice at Sea Shell Refreshments: One of the oldest establishments in Abu Dhabi, Sea Shell has been serving incredible fresh fruit juice, well before juicing made its way into mainstream wellness movements.

Masala Dosa at Saravanaa Bhavan: This chain has made it's way across the world for a reason. Masala dosa is a common South Indian dish - a savory lentil crepe stuffed with turmeric and green chili spiced potatoes.

Knafeh at Ibsais: Pistachio and rose-water doused cheese-filled filo dough pastry, hailing from Egypt and venerated in Palestine. Enough said.

Machboos at Al Fanar: A chicken and rich dish somewhere between biryani and risotto, widely considered the national dish of the UAE.

Need to Know

Looking for more inspiration on traveling to the UAE? Check out this guide on luxury, food and culture in the UAE.

Or, to find more from me, read my 2 week safari itinerary in Namibia, Africa.

Advisor - Joanna Nathan

Travel Advisor

Joanna Nathan

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