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Discover the Best Free Things to Do in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi

Often associated with glitz and glamour, Abu Dhabi might seem like a destination tailored exclusively for upscale travelers. However, beneath its modern facade lies a wealth of free activities that cater to budget-conscious visitors.

The capital of the United Arab Emirates offers numerous sights and outdoor attractions that won't break the bank. From strolling along the picturesque Corniche at sunset to exploring Emirati art at the Cultural Foundation, Abu Dhabi provides a range of activities that allow you to enjoy its charm without spending a fortune.

Here’s our guide to the best free things to do in Abu Dhabi.

1. Take a Self-Guided Walking Tour of Downtown Abu Dhabi

Exploring downtown Abu Dhabi is best done on foot. Free self-guided audio tours provide an in-depth look at the city’s rapid growth over the past fifty years. Wander through lively streets where global architectural styles blend seamlessly, reflecting the multicultural nature of the country. Highlights include the iconic Qasr Al Hosn, the oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi, bustling souqs, and late-night cafes serving the city’s beloved street foods.

2. Engage in Interfaith Dialogues at the Abrahamic Family House

Opened in 2023, the Abrahamic Family House symbolizes religious harmony and the UAE’s commitment to fostering a multicultural society. The complex includes a mosque, a synagogue, and a church, each distinct in architectural style yet harmoniously aligned. The Abrahamic Family House hosts regular interfaith events, cultural programs, and public talks to promote understanding and respect among different faith communities.

Planning tip: Book a free guided tour to fully appreciate each space’s design and significance.

3. Admire the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, completed in 2007, is an architectural marvel and the mausoleum of the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed I. Entry is free, but visitors must pre-book their tickets online. A 45-minute guided tour unveils the mosque’s intricate details and historical importance. The mosque features 82 domes, over 1000 columns, and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, showcasing artistic genius with materials like amethyst, lapis lazuli, and gold.

Planning tip: Consider a paid late-night tour, available from 10pm to 5am, if you have a long stopover.

4. Appreciate Local Art at 421 Arts Campus

Located in a former port warehouse in the historic Mina Zayed neighborhood, 421 Arts Campus showcases exhibits by emerging local and regional MENA artists. The campus also includes co-working spaces, a café, and a library. Check the website for free film screenings, artist talks, and workshops.

Planning tip: Also visit the contemporary exhibits at Etihad Modern Art Gallery and NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery.

5. Explore Earthen Architecture at Al Jahili Fort

Built in 1891 in Al Ain, Al Jahili Fort offers a glimpse into Abu Dhabi’s past. Initially a royal summer residence, the fort later became the headquarters of the British military in the 1950s. Today, it stands as a beautiful example of sustainable indigenous architecture, with a permanent exhibit of photographs by explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger.

6. Soak Up the Sun at Al Hudayriyat Beach

For a change of pace, head to Al Hudayriyat Beach. Enjoy the pristine white sand and panoramic views of the Arabian Gulf. The beachfront promenade includes cycle paths, a skate park, an outdoor gym, boutiques, and dining options.

Local tip: For a quieter experience, visit Shipwreck Beach in Al Ruwais.

7. Hike Jebel Hafeet Mountain

Jebel Hafeet, Abu Dhabi’s highest peak, offers rugged trails and breathtaking desert vistas. Start early to beat the heat, as there is no shade along the trails.

Local tip: Visit the ancient beehive-shaped tombs near the mountain, part of Al Ain’s UNESCO World Heritage site.

8. Walk Along the Corniche

The Corniche blends Abu Dhabi’s modernity with cultural heritage. This scenic waterfront promenade stretches for 8km (5 miles) along the city’s northwestern shore, featuring skyscrapers, gardens, beaches, art installations, and street food stalls. Stay for the sunset to see the skyline transform against the night sky.

Local tip: For great views of the Abu Dhabi skyline, visit the viewpoint on Al Kasir Island.

9. Stargaze at the Al Quaa Milky Way Spot

Al Quaa Milky Way Spot offers a stunning night sky far from the city lights. This remote desert area reveals a star-filled sky, especially during a new moon. The tranquility and celestial display make it perfect for connecting with the universe.

Planning tip: A 4WD is only necessary for off-roading. Pack all essentials, as it’s about an hour’s drive from downtown Abu Dhabi.

10. Explore the Traditional Souqs of Mina Zayed

The souqs of Mina Zayed offer a cultural contrast to the city’s modern malls. Engage with vendors selling unique goods and experience a slice of traditional Abu Dhabi. For the freshest seafood, visit the Al Mina fish market, where on-site restaurants will cook your purchased fish.

Local tip: For unique souvenirs, visit the Iranian souq, carpet souq, and dates market.

11. Immerse in Local Culture at the Liwa Moreeb Dune Festival

The annual Liwa Moreeb Dune Festival celebrates Emirati culture and the desert's significance. The festival, set against the towering Tal Moreeb dune, includes motorsport events, falconry displays, camel races, and traditional Bedouin tents showcasing desert life.

12. Discover Emirati Art at the Cultural Foundation

The Cultural Foundation, a heritage landmark, supports Emirati arts and culture. Hosting art exhibitions, musical performances, workshops, and discussions, the foundation offers a rich cultural experience.

Planning tip: Entry to the building and main gallery areas is free, though workshops may require a fee.

13. Take a Nature Walk Through Al Wathba Wetland Reserve

Located 45 minutes from the city, Al Wathba Wetland Reserve is a biodiverse park home to greater flamingos, migratory birds, and other wildlife. Two self-guided walks (1.5 km or 3 km) offer chances to see the flamingos and explore the desert bush.

Planning tip: Visit between autumn and spring for the best wildlife viewing.

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