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Featured photo credit: Robert Haandrikman

The United Arab Emirates is a country of sheer opulence, and no city embodies this more than Dubai. But Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, offers a much different glimpse into the nation than the fast-paced cosmopolitan of Dubai, despite being just a short distance away.

Abu Dhabi is far more quiet and conservative than Dubai and offers visitors a more authentic glimpse of the regions’s culture. The UAE is much more than the glitz and glam of lavish resorts and manmade islands, and Abu Dhabi offers a better chance to see the real UAE before it became overly commercialised. Good thing, there are flights from New York to Abu Dhabi that make it easier for Americans to visit this beautiful country. Although there are no direct flights, a one-stop layover is not so bad.

Abu Dhabi taxis are a safe, secure, and accessible way to get around the city and are also quite economical. Like Dubai, Abu Dhabi is not the most pedestrian friendly city, and while this is something they are looking to change, for now it’s best to take a taxi.

The following are 5 of the cultural highlights Abu Dhabi has to offer.

5 Things to Do in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital

Falconry, the art of hunting wild game with trained birds of prey, is an important traditional Emirati sport. And Abu Dhabi is home to the world’s largest falcon hospital which is open for public visits.

The award winning hospital offers guided tours, which also includes a visit to the onsite museum. Watch the free flying falcons, learn all there is to know about falconry, and even try your skills at the noble sport.

So important are falcons in the UAE that you may even see them riding beside you on local airplanes with airlines like Etihad and Qatar allowing passengers to bring aboard their beautiful birds!

Falcon training in the desert in the UAE

Photo credit: Robert Haandrikman

Arabian Horses

The Arabian is one of the most recognizable horse breeds in the world. Built for endurance and long distance races, they are also talented when it comes to show jumping events.

Tourists visiting Abu Dhabi in the cooler winter months can take in a racing event free of charge at The Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club where numerous prestigious races are held each year. Top annual races include The President’s Cup, National Cup, and the Emirates Championship.

The Club also offers pony rides and a riding school where even non members can take lessons for a fee.

Camel Racing

Camel racing is a pretty big event in the UAE with people coming from around the world to watch the races.

The main season runs from October to April where races are held several days each week. More than a dozen beautifully maintained race tracks are scattered throughout the country with several conveniently located near Abu Dhabi.

Al Wathba Camel Race Track as well as Al Maqam Track allows visitors to witness this incredible spectacle free of charge where you can watch the sheikh owned camels run for glory and be rewarded with royal treatment.

Camels in the desert near Dubai

Photo credit: Robert Haandrikman

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

It is not only the largest mosque in UAE but also one of the largest in the world. It has the ability to cater for over 40,000 worshippers covering some 30 acres. It is a recently built mosque where construction commenced in 1996.

It is here where you will find the world’s largest hand loomed carpet as well as golden chandeliers including one which is 15 meters in height and weighs in at 12 tonnes. The outside surrounding moat-like pools reflect the beauty of the mosques exterior making for incredible photos.

Unlike other mosques, Sheikh Zayed is open to the public daily, with tours available several times throughout the day. Take a complimentary guided tour in the late afternoon for the best photo opportunities.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Photo credits: JPeter / Artur Malinowski


Bred by Bedouins for centuries, Salukis are highly revered in the UAE and used for hunting. The dogs are incredibly intelligent and excel when it comes to stamina.

The dogs are trained to work with falcons as a team to bring down quarry such as gazelles, hares, foxes, and jackals. Capable of achieving speeds of nearly 70kph, the Salukis are one of the fastest dog breeds out there even outracing greyhounds over long distances. It therefore comes as no surprise that Salukis are also known as Persian greyhounds.

Visit the Saluki Centre near the Abu Dhabi International Airport to learn more about the dogs and how they are trained and bred. Better yet would be to organise a visit to a village on the outskirts of the Rub’ al Khali Desert where masters take the dogs to hunt.

The Rub’ al Khali Desert is actually the largest continuous desert in the world even beating out the mighty Sahara.


Dubai Travel Guide Amazon

Lonely Planet Dubai & Abu Dhabi

UAE travel guide Amazon

Lonely Planet Oman, UAE & Arabian Peninsula

UAE travel guide Amazon

Insight Guides Pocket Abu Dhabi 


Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; a website dedicated to opening your eyes to the wild & natural world.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

If you enjoy getting social, you can follow their journey on FacebookTwitterYouTubePinterest and Instagram.


  1. None of these were among the 5 things I sought when visiting the emirate. But, then, again, I wouldn’t travel that far to see some animals.

    • Not even Sheikh Zayed Mosque? We travel for wildlife a lot of the time, so really love seeking out exotic wildlife experiences. Animals are often very entrenched in a region’s culture :)

  2. I love this post. I’ve always been a bit turned off by the glitz of Dubai, but Abu Dhabi sounds like a fabulous alternative. I’d especially love to go see the Arabs!

    • Thanks Caitlin! Abu Dhabi is a fabulous way to experience the cultural side of the UAE if you’re not attracted to the commercializm of Dubai. And you can usually fly direct instead of having to connect through Dubai :)

  3. Sheikh Zayed Mosque is truly fantastic – I’ve seen photos before. And personally, I love the idea that you might share a plane with a falcon. I don’t know Abu Dhabi at all but I’ve heard there are a lot of new initiatives there too

    • So glad we could introduce you to Abu Dhabi – definitely a social media worthy moment if you do find yourself on a plane with more falcons than human beings :D! That’s the UAE!!

  4. That was the fact that floored me: that Abu Dhabi is just over an hour away from Dubai! I could have taken the time and seen the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Falconry, Arabian horses, and Salukis would have been so interesting too. Camels are a-plenty at other destinations.

    • Absolutely – it’s so close!! If you find yourself back in the UAE definitely tr to organize a stopover – you might fall in love!

  5. Yes please, I want to do all of it! These images are amazing and I think the camel race would be a fun experience

    • Camel racing is definitely unique!!

  6. I liked Abu Dhabi and would happily go back. I have heard about the falcon hospital. I didn’t get to go, but I did hold one when on safari. I also loved the Grand Mosque and would love to go back in the evening and see it lit up.

    • Glad to hear you had a fabulous time Holly :) If you get the chance to visit again in the future I can highly recommend the falcon hospital :)

  7. Oh my – I would love to watch a camel race! That sounds like so much fun…
    And the photo ops available at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque are stunning – I’d go just to get the photos if for no other reason! 40,000 devotees at once? That’s incredible!

    • Unique isn’t it!! Sheikh Zayed Mosque truly is stunning – one of those buildings where you’ll come home with as many photos as the devotees who worship there :D

  8. i had no idea that there was so much to do in Abu Dhabi! I’m very glad to hear that the taxis are safe too. That’s always helpful to know. I would love to visit the falcon hospital. I love unique animal experiences like this and most often feel like animal hospitals (although you still have to do a bit of research) are ethical ways to have these experiences.

    • Glad we could give you a bit of an overview Paige! If you love unique wildlife experiences, Abu Dhabi has a lot to offer, and the falcon hospital is one of the best. Absolutely agree that this is an ethical way to enjoy an animal experience :)

  9. I remember visiting the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque in 2015, and just as you stated in the first sentence, this mosque is an exquisite reflection of the opulence Emirates abide by. I had no idea there was a falcon hospital though? Yay to rehabilitation efforts for such gorgeous creatures!

    • Definitely one of those landmarks which sticks in your memory for a very long time! If you get the chance to visit again in the future definitely stop by the falcon hospital – it’s a fabulous way to spend a morning or afternoon :)

  10. Recently I have been reading a lot about Abu Dhabi and the place surely has attracted me. There are a plethora of activities to enjoy there. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is one attraction which is high on my list.

    • Hope you have the chance to visit soon Suruchi :)

  11. thank you so much for the new chapter.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post

  12. Great Article, Thank you for Sharing, Abu Dhabi is a great place to visit.

    • Thanks Zohair, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Abu Dhabi is a special destination indeed!

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