Free things to see and do in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is one of the world’s most modern cities, and one of its richest — world-famous for its ground-breaking and extravagant architecture.
Etihad Airways recently published a guide to Abu Dhabi on their website on which they share some of their favourite sights in Abu Dhabi including guides for shopping and excursions which have both been the subject of previous Europe & Beyond features.
Abu Dhabi may not be rich in historical sights, it certainly isn’t lacking in attractions, and many of them are free.
Here are just a few of the things you can see and do in Abu Dhabi without spending a dirham.
Take a stroll along the Corniche
Abu Dhabi’s Corniche is the best place in the city for an early evening stroll, stretching 6km along the seafront and lined with lush public gardens, beaches and fountains.
Bordered by two luxury hotels, the Sheraton to the east and the Hilton to the west, the Corniche is a popular meeting place, with the city’s soaring skyscrapers as its striking backdrop. People go there to cycle, walk, roller blade, eat out, and go to the fun fair.
Experience Bedouin culture at Abu Dhabi Heritage Village
It’s also free to get into the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village, which overlooks the Corniche. This village gives visitors a peek into the lifestyle and traditions of the Bedouin, with exhibits including a replica traditional desert encampment with a goat’s hair tent, an old irrigation system, a fishing village, and a traditional mosque and souq. Workshops showcase craftspeople creating old-fashioned pottery, weaving and metal work, and there’s a small museum containing Bedouin artefacts such as weapons, tools, coffee pots and jewellery.
Set in lush gardens dotted with fountains, it’s a pleasant place to spend a few hours.
Take an evening walk to see Ali Bin Abi Taleb Mosque
As a non-Muslim, you will only be able to appreciate the outside of this simple yet impressive mosque rather than the interior, but the best view is at night when the mosque and its wind towers are lit up, outlining the building’s great domes and minaret.
Visit Abu Dhabi’s oldest building, Qasr al-Hosn
The historic Qasr Al Hosn Palace, or White Fort, is the oldest stone building in the city. It was once the only building on the island that was not made from palm fronds. Built around 1761 as a watchtower defending a freshwater well, the tower was later expanded into a small fort, and then became the palace of the ruling sheikh.
A visit to the fort offers a glimpse into the ruling family’s history, lifestyle and traditions, and entrance is free.
Note: The White Fort is closed to visitors while it undergoes restoration, but you can still see the fort from the outside or if you are very lucky it can be viewed during your flights to Abu Dhabi.
Relax in Khalifa Park
Not quite free, but still worth a mention as it only costs 5 dirhams (less than £1) to enter, Khalifa Park is widely regarded as Abu Dhabi’s best public park, its design inspired by Arabic and Islamist architecture and built at a cost of some $50 million.
It features gardens, fountains, an aquarium, a museum, an amphitheatre, a swimming pool and play parks, all linked by train, and it is a popular spot for relaxing, walking or enjoying a picnic.
See handicrafts being made at the Women’s Handicraft Centre
Abu Dhabi’s Women’s Handicraft Centre is a government-run initiative showcasing traditional local crafts such as weaving, embroidery, sewing and basketry. While it’s free to visit the centre, the items being made are on sale, so if you do have some souvenir money it’s a good place to pick up genuinely hand-made traditional goods.
It’s worth knowing before you visit that you should take off your shoes before you go in, and while it’s fine to take photographs of the handicrafts you should ask permission first and focus on the products rather than the craftswomen.