Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is a wonderland where sand dunes have found the beaches in a majestic reality instead of mirages and where the city skyline meets the foliage-filled oasis and the ships of deserts bow down in respect to the divine chants from the mosques. Such is the magnificence of this place that it offers travellers of all kinds several free things to do in Abu Dhabi.
Known for its brimming rich heritage and culture, visiting Abu Dhabi can be a lavish experience because of the premium and luxury brands and services available here. Now you might be wondering, with so many luxurious things to do in the city, is there anything for visitors who are travelling on a budget to enjoy? This might surprise you, but yes, there are many free things to do in Abu Dhabi. These include visiting art galleries and one of the world’s largest mosques, exploring forts and trekking.
Try these free things to do in Abu Dhabi for a memorable experience
Watch camel racing at Al Wathba racetrack
One of the places to visit in Abu Dhabi is the Al Ain road where you can watch the high-humped animals sprint. The majority of the time, races are only organised on weekends and a few Arab holidays. Make sure to contact them as soon as possible, as this event begins in the morning and ends in the afternoon.
Location: Al Wathba Camel Racing Track or Al Maqam Track
Timings: From 8:00 am to 10:00 am on Saturdays and Sundays
Visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
One of the largest mosques in the world, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was the vision of the founding father of the country in the Middle East — Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
The splendid structure has 82 domes, 1,000 columns and a stunning white and gold façade to draw visitors from the world over. Enjoy the serene ambience and admire its cutting-edge design and cultural significance of this imposing structure.
Also, you can witness one of the world’s largest hand-woven carpets, which was crafted by 1,300 Iranian artisans, at the main prayer hall. While the marbled halls are adorned with grand Swarovski chandeliers, the courtyards showcase mosaic artwork and columns studded with amethyst and jasper.
While entry to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is free to all visitors, they must adhere to the dress code as a sign of respect. They must cover their shoulders and knees before entry, and women must wear abayas.
Location: Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street
Timings: From 9 am to 10 pm, everyday.
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Spend time in Heritage Village
Visit the Heritage Village to discover the country’s cultural origins and Abu Dhabi’s history. Explore the many wooden homes and traditional Bedouin tents while catching a glimpse of the historic fishing community.
Entry to the Heritage Village is free where you can also shop for spices and artworks, such as pottery, blow glass and various fabrics, by farmers and artisans. You can also witness traditional handicrafts like metalwork, pottery, weaving and spinning yarn exhibited at the Emirates Heritage Club by skilled artisans.
Location: Near Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi Theatre Rd, Cornich, Breakwater Rd
Timings: From 9:00 am to 4:00 pm; from Tuesdays to Fridays.
Experience the splendour of Emirates Palace
At this majestic palace, savour the classic flavours of Abu Dhabi while embracing the opulent Arabian lifestyle. The golden exterior of the Emirates Palace looks magnificent against silver fountains, lush greenery and clear blue sky.
While the main building spans over a kilometre, the sprawling gardens cover 100 hectares of land. The palace’s central dome stands at 72.6 metres and is adorned with gold, mother of pearl and crystals. The 114 domes are decorated with 1,002 chandeliers.
All that and more put together makes this place an Instagram-worthy place to visit in Abu Dhabi. Entry to this palace is free of charge. Visit the exhibitions showcasing historical antiques and artworks that document the grandeur of Arabian culture.
Location: West Corniche road
Timing: Open 24×7
Explore Al Jahili Fort
Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, also known as Zayed the First, ordered the construction of Al Jahili. It was built in the 1890s and served as the residence of the members of the ruling Al Nahyan family.
One of the largest forts in Abu Dhabi, Al Jahili is a heritage site where you can learn about the history of Abu Dhabi. The mud-brick, regional architectural-style fort’s watchtowers and battlements are situated at the forefront of a gorgeous courtyard. Along with a temporary exhibition gallery, a permanent one is dedicated to Sir Wilfred Thesiger which honours the renowned British explorer who is known for crossing the world’s largest sand mass Rub’ al Khali twice in the 1940s.
Location: Sultan Bin Zayed Al Awwal St, Al Mutawaa, Al Ain
Timings: From 9:00 am to 5:00 pm; from Mondays to Saturdays.
Watch the sunset at Corniche
Corniche offers one of the most scenic views of the city’s skyline with exquisite hotels, eateries and shopping stores nearby. It has a designated play area, where kids can enjoy their playtime and is absolutely free. You can also rent a bike to ride through the scenic route to experience the sight of nearby beaches and skyscrapers.
Location: Corniche road
Timing: Open 24 hours
Visit Etihad Modern Art Gallery
The Etihad Modern Art Gallery has both important exquisite exhibits by well-known artists from across the world and traditional works by regional painters. The exhibition’s cooperation programmes and activities are heavily influenced by the educational theme for young people, students, art lovers, artists and professional creators to develop their creative practices and stimulate their abilities to innovate. Although entry to the art gallery is free of charge, some exhibitions might require you to pay for a ticket.
Location: Al Bateen Area Villa 15, Al Huwaylat Street
Timings: From 11:00 am to 6:00 pm on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays
Trek at Jebel Hafeet
The highest peak of Abu Dhabi, Jebel Hafit stands at a height of 1,249 metres. You can trek this region for free and explore it on a motorbike, car or even a bicycle. Witness the vistas of Al Ain, Abu Dhabi’s beautiful garden city. The nine-kilometre-long Jebel Hafeet Desert Park is located at the foot of Jebel Hafit where you can enjoy horse riding and camel riding. Here, you can find amazing archaeological and historical relics that provide fascinating details about the old occupancy of this region.
Location: Jebel Hafeet
Timing: Open 24×7
Pay your respect at Wahat Al Karama or Oasis of Dignity
Wahat Al Karama was built to pay tribute to the Emirati martyrs who laid down their lives defending their country. Measuring 46,000 square metres, it is known for its impressive architecture that features leaning tablet-like structures, symbolising unity, solidarity and the mutual support binding UAE’s leadership with its citizens, as well as servicemen and women who protect them.
A close look at these tablets will show the engravings of lovely poems and quotations. Visitors can watch the Honor Guard march here before sunset, while adorning the grandeur of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is opposite the Memorial. While entry is free at Wahat Al Karama, visitors can pay for tours.
Location: Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street
Timings: From 9:00 am to 10:45 pm
Window shop at Marina Mall
Enjoy your day at the Marina mall, an exquisitely built shopping centre in Abu Dhabi that is home to 400 high-end retail brands, cafes, a movie multiplex and play spaces. While travellers will need to pay for goods and services, they can tour the place for free.
Location: Al Marina
Timing: From 10:00 am to 11:00 pm.
Stroll along the palm-fringed Al Ain Oasis
AI Ain Oasis, a UNESCO Cultural Site, has thousands of palm trees (147,000 date palm trees, to be precise) along the pathway where you can roam around to take in the tranquil vibe of this place. It has over 100 varieties of flora and fauna and the falaj systems, an old irrigation system. You can spot beautiful flamingos along the way.
Stop by Eco-Centre, a sustainable building inside the oasis, to get a better glimpse into the historical importance of Al Ain Oasis. And, entry is free here as well.
Location: Al Tuhaf St, Central District
Timings: From 9:00 am to 5:30 pm every day
Visit the eco-friendly city Masdar
This sustainable city of Abu Dhabi is a fascinating location with a low-carbon development. It is a rapidly growing clean-tech cluster with business-free zones and a residential neighbourhood, restaurants, shops and public green spaces.
The city is a solid example of how new, creative thinking and teamwork can help shape a diverse and engaging urban ecology. It is open to everybody, and you can take a stroll in the city to experience the diverse technology used to build it.
Offer your prayers at St. Joseph’s Cathedral
The first church in Abu Dhabi had its foundation laid in 1962. Nineteen years later, the foundation for the current structure was laid after the ruler decided the church and its affiliated schools should be relocated.
On 25 February 1983, the new complex was officially opened in His Excellency Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s presence. Today, the parish is home to nearly 100,000 Catholic expatriates from around the globe. The church has seen a consistent rise in the number of believers. You can witness the church and pray for your wishes to come true here; entry into the church is free of charge. Also, mass is held at the church in English, Malayalam, Tamil, Konkani, Italian, Korean, Urdu and many other languages in case you desire to attend mass.
Location: 17th Street
Timing: 6:00 am to 9:00 pm
Enjoy free drinks along Marine Aquarium
On Wednesdays, Aquarium Seafood Restaurant offers unlimited free drinks to all the ladies. It is situated along the Marine Aquarium which has a breathtaking view. Aquarium Seafood is a very famous restaurant that serves lip-smacking seafood, including lobster, shrimp, and salmon, with their signature cocktails. You can enjoy your meal inside or outdoor, overlooking beautiful views of Marina.
Location: Yas Marina, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
Timing: 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, everyday.
Watch the sunrise at Al Bateen
A lovely spot to unwind with beautiful panoramas of the sea and the magnificence of the Al Hudayriyat Bridge is Al Bateen. Watch the sunrise and walk on the 800 metres of sand for a serene experience.
Location: Al Bateen, Khalifa Al Mubarak Street, off Al Khaleej Al Arabi Street
Timing: 8am to sunset everyday.
(Main and Featured image credit: Visit Abu Dhabi/Facebook)