When people think of the UAE, it is often Dubai that first comes to mind. In recent years, it has become a hot new destination for international travel and emigration. I’m here to tell you that the capital emirate Abu Dhabi, which is only a short drive away, is a hidden gem and has just as much to offer!
Abu Dhabi is famous for oil exports, luxury experiences, Formula 1, and a range of experiences and attractions including Warner Bros World, Ferrari World, and Louvre Abu Dhabi. It’s also known for featuring in many blockbuster movies, the rich Emirati culture, and camel racing,
Let’s find out what else Abu Dhabi is famous for.
1. The capital of the UAE
Abu Dhabi is first and foremost famous for being the capital of the United Arab Emirates. While there’s a fierce battle with Dubai for being the most widely-known, Abu Dhabi is undoubtedly the largest emirate, comprising around 80% of the landmass.
It is also the economic and political heart of the UAE, serving as home to the union’s president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Much like its neighbors in the region, Abu Dhabi is well-known for its crude oil exports. First discovered in 1958 in offshore waters and then exported by 1962, oil revenues have completely transformed Emirati society, turning Abu Dhabi into one of the richest cities in the world.
The oil reserves here are estimated to represent around 10% of the world’s total reserves, ensuring that at least for the foreseeable future, the black gold will keep flowing.
Often referred to as the Manhattan of the Middle East, Abu Dhabi’s iconic skyline is crammed full of luxury hotels and shopping malls. If you have a pile of cash burning a hole in your pocket, there are few better places to spend it than Abu Dhabi!
The immense oil wealth of the Emirate has been closely followed by the foundation of a wide array of 5-star hotels, as well as flagship stores of the most sought-after designer brands.
In turn, Abu Dhabi began to be known as a first-class destination for luxury tourism, offering an array of unique and sought-after experiences to well-heeled travelers.
4. Ayyala Dancing
The Al Ayyala dance is a famous element of Emirati culture that continues to be celebrated in Abu Dhabi today. A flurry of rhythmic drums and melodies are played while two rows of male dancers wave bamboo canes in unison, mimicking a fierce battle.
This unique dance can be observed at most weddings and other important celebrations in Abu Dhabi, and its importance has been recognized by its addition to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014.
5. Abu Dhabi Investment Authority
The immense wealth that has flooded Abu Dhabi since the discovery of oil has given rise to the world-famous Abu Dhabi Investment Authority – the 5th largest sovereign wealth fund on the planet.
Founded in 1976, ADIA now controls almost $650 billion worth of investments that extend all around the world. As an investment hub, Abu Dhabi is now home to over a trillion US dollars worth of managed assets.
6. Warner Bros World
Tourists and residents alike flock to the famous Warner Bros World theme park on Yas Island, just off the coast of Abu Dhabi. The park features a huge range of rides dedicated to the stars of Warner Bros’ most popular cartoons, movies, and comic books.
In addition to the huge amount of fun on offer, it could be said that the attraction is an engineering and architectural feat in its own right. The entire venue is air-conditioned, and incorporates 4D experiences as well as rollercoasters!
7. The world’s tallest indoor climbing wall
On the subject of architectural feats, the famous CLYMB Abu Dhabi is well-known for being home to the largest indoor skydiving chamber as well as the tallest indoor climbing wall in the world.
If you’re not amazed by the exterior of this adventure hub, your jaw will surely drop once you get inside.
The climbing wall is over 43 meters tall and has 5 climbing areas to suit a wide range of ability levels. Along with the unique indoor skydiving experience, this is a venue you really can’t afford to miss.
Much like the emirates and countries that neighbor Abu Dhabi, it is an incredibly safe place to live, work, or visit. Popular travel website Numbeo takes surveys from residents of cities all around the world recently named Abu Dhabi the safest city in the world!
9. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
One of the most popular attractions on the man-made Yas Island is none other than Ferrari World Abu Dhabi – the largest indoor theme park in the world. Set to an exciting Formula 1 theme, you really don’t have to be a fan of cars to have a boatload of fun here.
Thrilling is the key word at Ferrari World. The rides are nothing short of fast and furious, leaving every single visitor with fond memories in their mind, and a bunch of adrenaline in their body!
Key attractions here include Formula Rossa which is the world’s fastest roller coaster and Flying Aces, featuring a record-breaking 52-meter loop.
10. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is undoubtedly the most famous sightseeing attraction in Abu Dhabi. And deservedly so – there are few greater examples of Islamic architecture in the world.
After almost 20 years of construction, this mammoth mosque is able to hold up to 40,000 worshippers at once and is the biggest in the UAE.
Muslims and Non-Muslims alike are welcome inside the mosque to take pictures or to go on free guided tours that get you the inside scoop on the history and design of this behemoth. One thing that won’t escape you is just how beautiful and intricate every tiny detail of this building is.
11. Louvre Abu Dhabi
Louvre Abu Dhabi is famous for much more than its iconic name. The exhibits inside take you on a journey through the history of human art right from all the way back to the Neolithic age.
The sheer variety of art on display here, from Picassos to the building itself, is constantly updated with new and exciting temporary exhibits. So if you fancy a visit every time you find yourself in Abu Dhabi, you can visit over and over again and have an almost brand-new experience every time.
12. Star Wars
The rolling desert dunes of Abu Dhabi serve as the backdrop to countless movies. One of the most famous is without a doubt Star Wars: The Force Awakens which was released in 2015. Star Wars fans, you just got a new excuse to go on holiday!
13. Formula 1
For Formula 1 fans, the most famous attraction in Abu Dhabi is definitely the Yas Marina Circuit on Yas Island. The circuit has hosted F1 Grand Prix for more than 10 years and hosts thousands of the most dedicated fans year after year.
In the offseason, visitors can treat themselves to guided driving experiences and tours around the circuit to get a feel for the engineering marvels that take place here.
The ancient sport of falconry is alive and well in Abu Dhabi, where it has been practiced for over 2,000 years.
The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the largest and most revered such hospital in the world, attracting winged patients from all over the world.
15. Lots and lots of sand
Abu Dhabi’s well-known desert landscape makes it perfect for unique safari experiences. The Rub’ al Khali, or ‘Empty Quarter’ is located just over an hour away from the city and is the largest uninterrupted sand mass on the planet.
Despite being such a cruel and barren landscape, the environment here has supported human life for many thousands of years.
In today’s world, instead of the fabric and pearls of the Silk Road trade route meandering over the dunes, it could be you on a quad bike!
16. Camel racing
Camels are a crucial and cherished fixture in the history of Abu Dhabi. The native Bedouin people have relied on camels for meat, milk, and transport for thousands of years.
One of the most fascinating innovations in the celebration of this desert horse is Abu Dhabi’s famous camel racing! Camel-racing tracks are dotted all over Abu Dhabi, so wherever you’re staying, you won’t be far from a chance to observe a truly unique tradition. Just make sure to be around during the peak racing season which starts in October and finishes around late March.
While you’re there, keep your eye out for the robot jockeys – the latest addition to the sport that originated right here in the UAE.
17. Fast & Furious 7
Another famous Abu Dhabi cameo in a major Hollywood blockbuster was in the seventh installment of the Fast & Furious franchise.
Right from the start, you get a taste of the gleaming luxury that flows through Abu Dhabi, with scenes set on the front steps of Emirates Palace hotel, and of course a load of high-powered luxury cars.
As promised, Abu Dhabi really does stand up to its popular neighbor Dubai. It’s famous for such a wide range of attractions and sights that the list could never be complete.
Did we miss any important elements of Abu Dhabi’s culture or history? Let us know in the comments!