abu dhabi skyline

Try to squeeze in all of Abu Dhabi’s many wonders in a weekend. (Photo: Getty Images)

Abu Dhabi

How to Spend a Long Weekend in Abu Dhabi

Most visitors to Abu Dhabi quickly realize that, intriguingly, the capital’s vibe isn’t easy to nail down — though it’s certainly captivating. The largest emirate in the UAE is certainly historic; it’s home to Neolithic sites, ancient agricultural villages and Bronze Age tombs. Still, natural attractions abound, too — from mangrove forests and rugged peaks to pristine oases and a wildlife sanctuary within a protected reserve.

Then there’s the old-meets-new architecture, where restored mud-and-brick forts with watchtowers offer a glimpse into the country’s recent history, while swanky contemporary architectural gems such as the Etihad Towers and Aldar HQ dot the skyline. A wealth of cultural experiences lies within sites like the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Qasr Al Watan.

Luckily, whether you’re in the mood for a history lesson, cultural immersion or the simple joys of urban exploration, Abu Dhabi does not disappoint. Here’s how to spend a long weekend in the city.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip. It’s also worth checking entry requirements for sites and attractions.


buddha beach bar
Unwind at Buddha-Bar Beach Abu Dhabi. (Photo: Marriott International)

Begin your long weekend with a leisurely morning at Soul Beach on Saadiyat Island. Sunbathe along the quiet 1.2-kilometer (.75-mile) stretch of white sand, or cool off with a swim in the azure water. The entrance fee includes access to a sun lounger and parasol.

When hunger strikes, step into Alkalime, where bohemian design, bamboo and rattan furniture, and lush plants invite the beach indoors. On the menu are health-conscious dishes such as banana-walnut oat pancakes, cauliflower pizza with cashew cheese, and tahini-drizzled roasted salmon salad, prepared from scratch.

Get a quick caffeine fix with specialty coffee at Local Mamsha. This concept store houses a café, barbershop and retail section where you can browse streetwear, sneakers, sunglasses and more, all sourced from boutique brands.

Spend the afternoon at the Louvre Abu Dhabi in the Saadiyat Cultural District. It’s noteworthy for the “Rain of Light” — a striking play of light and shadows under its domed roof. Inspired by palm trees, the design is the work of architect Jean Nouvel, a Pritzker Prize winner.

The sprawling museum features a permanent collection, including a first-century marble bust of Roman emperor Augustus and third-century Bodhisattva sculpture, as well as temporary exhibitions. If you’re visiting with kids, don’t miss the Children’s Museum, which houses interactive exhibitions for young visitors. At the museum boutique, keep an eye out for unique Little Majlis souvenirs designed by local artists.

In the evening, unwind with breathtaking sea views, live sax tracks, sushi and sundowners on the outdoor terrace at the glamorous Buddha-Bar Beach Abu Dhabi.


Presidential Palace abu dhabi
Take a gander at the Presidential Palace complex. (Photo: Getty Images)

Have an active morning with a round of golf at the award-winning Abu Dhabi Golf Club and choose from two courses set among green fairways, lush palms and saltwater lakes. For a challenge, tee off on the 7,600-yard, 18-hole National Course, or opt for the 3,341-yard, 9-hole Garden Course if you want to brush up on your skills.

If you’re in the area for lunch, try Alba Terrace at the The Abu Dhabi EDITION, which serves up light lunches and sharing plates while diners enjoy the sunny terrace vibes.

A 10-minute drive away, within the Presidential Palace complex, is Qasr Al Watan, one of the capital’s relatively newer cultural sights and a fascinating example of Arabian architecture and design.

Grandeur permeates its every detail: Admire the stately white domes capping the granite and limestone exterior, a chandelier sparkling with 350,000 crystals, and the intricate mosaics and mirrored cubes in the Great Hall.

At the House of Knowledge and Qasr Al Watan Library, visitors can learn about local history, heritage and contributions to various fields. Guided tours are available.

For dinner and drinks, make a reservation at the upper deck of the Azura Panoramic Lounge at The St. Regis Abu Dhabi. Feast on crispy calamari and kick back with martinis and shisha while you enjoy the sublime sea views.


Jebel Hafeet.
Spend sunset at the top of Jebel Hafeet. (Photo: Getty Images)

Spend a day exploring Al Ain, Abu Dhabi’s second city, known for its relaxed vibe, verdant parks, oases, forts and archaeological sites. Begin with a stroll at the Al Ain Oasis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with walkways under the shade of nearly 147,000 date palms and mango, orange, fig and banana trees. Bikes are available to rent.

The nearby Al Ain Palace Museum is housed in a fort that was the former residence of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first president of the UAE. The restored buildings and courtyards offer a peek at traditional architecture and design.

For art in the oases, head to Al Qattara Arts Center in the Bin ʿAti Al-Darmaki House, a traditional mud-brick house. Here you’ll find studios, an exhibition hall, a gallery of works by local artists, a library and a café.

Drive on spectacular mountain roads to make it in time for sunset at the top of Jebel Hafeet. At 1,249 meters (4,098 feet), this craggy peak is the second-highest in the UAE and has panoramic views over Al Ain and Oman, just beyond the border. The evenings can get chilly, so bring a jacket and possibly snacks and a picnic blanket for a rustic dinner.

At the Jebel Hafeet Desert Park at the foot of the mountain, see archaeological remains from the Neolithic period and 5,000-year-old tombs on a hike or horseback ride.