Where to stay
With a week to explore the city, staying in one of the hotels near the centre of the island can put you at an equal distance from all of the major attractions. Hotels like Dusit Thani and Hilton Capital Grand, or those nearer the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) such as Hyatt Capital Gate, Aloft, Premier Inn, Centro and Holiday Inn should cater for any taste. While there may not be a beach, most have excellent pool areas. If you want to be nearer to the city, try the InterContinental, or if you'd rather be on the outskirts, try Al Raha Beach Hotel or Yas Island's hotels.
Sunday: Culture vulture
Morning: You can't visit Abu Dhabi without seeing the jewel in its crown, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Entrance is free and there are walk-in tours you can join at 10am, 11am and 5pm, although it's wise to get there a little before to ensure your place.
Afternoon: Head to Heritage Village on the Breakwater. It's free to enter and open until 5pm, and will give you an insight into Abu Dhabi life before the oil boom. The views across to the city are pretty special from there too. If you have time on your way from the Grand Mosque, stop in at the Miraj Gallery (behind the Hilton Capital Grand Hotel, opposite the KFC on the edge of Old Airport Park). It's a unique and deceptively huge gallery containing many regional pieces of art, sculpture and clothing, most of which is for sale too.
Evening: Manarat Al Saadiyat on Saadiyat Island is a huge gallery that also houses a fascinating exhibition showing the forthcoming developments on the island; the Louvre, Guggenheim, Zayed National Museum and more. It closes at 8pm, but the excellent restaurant Fanr stays open until 11pm and is the perfect place to enjoy a simple but tasty meal.
Monday: Watery fun
Morning: Start the day with a boat trip around Abu Dhabi's sea. There are numerous companies such as Yellow Boats, Captain Tony's and Lulu Boats who all operate different packages and different areas. Their websites are not always that helpful, so it's best to give them a call.
Afternoon: Time to take to the water yourself. Kayaking is an easy art and there are points at Yas Beach, Eastern Mangroves, the Corniche and Saadiyat Public Beach that you can hire kayaks from, or be led by a guided tour. Most also offer stand up paddleboarding, or at Yas Beach you can try windsurfing or sailing too. Yas Island also has an area known as kite surfer's beach, where Kitesurfing UAE can give you lessons. Flyboard UAE also operates there; an activity that sees you fly out of the water propelled by huge jets of water.
Evening: Complete a day of watery fun by visiting Yas Marina for dinner. Stunning views of the Yas Viceroy, the boats in the water and the lights of Yas Marina Circuit are a great backdrop, but the marina itself is becoming a hub of activity with seven great restaurants. Go for Rozannah, Stars 'N' Bars, Cafe D'Alsace or Diablito for casual dining, Aquarium or Cipriani for something more upscale or Iris if you're after something super trendy.
Tuesday: Shop 'til you drop
Morning: Explore some of Abu Dhabi's more unique shopping areas and souks. If you get up early you can see the fishermen bringing in their catches at the fish market at Al Meena, by the port. Nearby there's also the Iranian souk, with everything from terracotta urns to household goods being shipped in, while there's also the Carpet Souk that holds many rugs, most of which are machine made, but you can still find some bargains. Qaryat Al Beri by the Shangri-La hotel is a more upscale option, designed like a traditional souk and with a selection of interesting shops and some stalls. It also has a few excellent restaurants if you get hungry.
Afternoon: Take your pick of malls in the afternoon; Marina Mall for size and location, Al Wahda Mall for choice, Abu Dhabi Mall for close proximity to downtown's ecclectic shopping or head out to Dalma Mall for decent shops in a quieter mall. For something more unique try the new World Trade Center Mall and the neighbouring Central Market, both of which have cool Arabic influence. For classy, head to The Galleria on Al Maryah island, another relatively new development that's choc full of high end designer boutiques.
Evening: You've probably spent a few dirhams so you may as well keep going. Treat yourself to some fine dining at a show stopping restaurant such as Quest at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers or Bord Eau at Shangri-La. For a taste of the local food try the Lebanese restaurant at the Rosewood, or the new Al Fanar restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton which specialises in real Emirati cuisine.
Wednesday: Desert adventure
Morning: Chill out during the day at your hotel, making the most of the usually fantastic facilities. You'll need to save some energy for later though!
Afternoon: There are plenty of companies that offer the likes of quad biking or dune buggying which can give you an unforgettable experience in the sand. You may however prefer to indulge in a desert tour, where you'll be picked up, driven across sand dunes at quite a pace and then left to enjoy the setting sun.
Evening: Entertainment and food is provided during desert tours and depending on which camp you end up they can be truly fantastic experience. Some even have demonstrations of falconry, but virtually all will have camel riding, belly dancing, henna painting, shisha, quad bikes (at extra cost) and a tasty buffet. If you're lucky they'll turn the lights off after dinner so you can look up at the starlit sky.
Thursday: Beach beautiful
Morning: Head to one of Abu Dhabi's beaches; Al Bateen on the south side of the island, the Corniche on the east, Saadiyat Public Beach on Saadiyat Island or Yas Beach on Yas Island. Aside from some sections of the Corniche, these all have admission charges. Generally on weekdays they are half the price of weekends. The plus side is they have comfy loungers and often waiting staff to supply refreshments.
Afternoon: Who are you kidding? Surely you don't want to leave the beach!
Evening: By now you may be feeling a little sun beaten. Head back to one of the malls to see how busy they become at weekends. There's always a good choice of food outlets too, from restaurants to cafes and food courts. They're also often cheaper than those you find in hotels, plus you're near to shops that will sell potentially useful after sun lotion.
Morning: You may want to get some exercise before overindulging at brunch. Bikes can be hired from opposite the Hilton on the Corniche and there's a long dedicated cycle track running parralel to the water. Or you could get an early round of golf in, even if it's just nine holes. Yas Links has a par three course and there's a 'beginner's' nine hole course at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Afternoon: Brunches cater for all tastes, literally. For an amazing selection head to the Ritz-Carlton, for taste in a surprisingly chilled atmosphere go to Nahaam at Etihad Towers. Fairmont and InterContinental hotels have real classic brunches, while Origins at Yas Viceroy is a cool modern take with circuit views. Olea's Jazz Brunch at St.Regis on Saadiyat and Noche at Hilton Capital Grand are fab for outside brunching, accompanied by music.
Evening: Brunches can generally take it out of you, especially if you hang around until sun down. There are options for night time fun though, either chilling out at a cool rooftop bar like Chill'O Pool Bar at Sofitel, Blue Line at Oryx, Glo at Rosewood, Level Lounge at Crowne Plaza or Relax@12 at Aloft, or something even more show stopping like Ornina at Al Bandar or Blue Bar at Hilton Capital Grand.
Saturday: Adrenaline rush
Morning/ Afternoon: Time to enjoy what Yas Island has to offer and head to a theme park or water park. Yas Waterworld of Ferrari World Abu Dhabi can provide thrills and spills aplenty, the only choice being whether you want to stay dry or not. Both are likely to be quite busy during the weekend, so it might be best to plan being there for most of the day, whichever you choose.
Evening: Your final evening in Abu Dhabi so make sure you drink in the sunset somewhere and recount on the hopefully fantastic time you've had. Prime places to head to are Hickory's restaurant and bar at Yas Links golf course, any of the outside restaurants at Crowne Plaza, Radisson Blu or Park Inn on Yas Island or at the hotels on Saadiyat Island.
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