Things to do
in Abu Dhabi
during the Grand Prix
Fast cars, final race drama and fantastic weather – a long weekend at the Formula 1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix delivers on every level. The world’s best drivers compete for the last time in the F1™ season. Thrills on the track are complemented by some of the world’s greatest performers and exciting events in the glamorous surroundings of Yas Island.
Beyond the high-speed racing, there are countless things to do at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and across the wider UAE capital. This contemporary, cosmopolitan city reaches for the sky – literally with its amazing architectural skyline – alongside breathtaking white beaches, theme parks, cultural sites and desert borders.
Abu Dhabi F1™ holidays offer a glimpse into the jewel of the UAE’s seven kingdoms. Extend your stay and experience the best of the capital with this guide to the top things to do in Abu Dhabi, when you visit for the Formula 1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
There are many things to do at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend across the rest of the city, whether you’re visiting for a few days or longer.
On race day, you’ll experience Yas Marina Circuit at its finest – packed with 60,000 F1™ fans, incredible hospitality and tense racing on the track. For the other 50 weeks of the year, the circuit offers you a more hands-on experience.
Get behind the wheel of a supercar and take it for a speedy spin around the illustrious track. Channel your inner F1™ star in the Formula YAS 300 or feel the power of an Aston Martin GT4. Reach top speeds on the 406m acceleration strip with some drag racing or enjoy life from the passenger seat with a drifting experience instead.
Younger drivers can test their skills in the KartZone, for a fun family day’s competition around the 1km track. After sitting behind the wheel, loosen up your limbs in the health and fitness hub.
Find out more about Yas Marina Circuit
After Yas Marina Circuit, the second place on any F1™ fan’s list is Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. The theme park almost backs on to the racetrack, so you should easily spot its iconic red canvas emblazoned with the Italian brand’s logo. Most of the rides and attractions are indoors, such as the scaled-down Ferrari F1™ cars that make up the junior Grand Prix. The world’s fastest rollercoaster – Formula Rossa – takes you through the roof, hitting the top speed of 240km/h (149.1mph).
Cool off at Yas Waterworld with more than 40 rides, slides and attractions. As always, it boasts the biggest and best – home to the world’s longest six-seater water coaster. Other futuristic attractions include Cinesplash, a 5D cinema experience, and a 550m rollercoaster with onboard water and laser effects.
From Bedrock to Gotham City, jump into Warner Bros. World™ Abu Dhabi and venture across its six lands. Take on the bad guys with the Justice League 5D ride or delve into the delightful chaos of Tom and Jerry. Nearly 30 rides across six lands, live entertainment, characters and more make it a great family day out.
Find out more about Yas Island.
South of the UAE capital and covering an area similar to the size of France is a huge desert expanse. Don’t be fooled by its name, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Sand dunes tower 300 metres high, and camels wander across the golden lands. It all creates a magnificent landscape a world away from the modernity of Abu Dhabi.
There are many ways to add excitement to the Empty Quarter. Book a desert safari and camp under the stars, living like many locals did before Abu Dhabi’s impressive expansion. Adventurers can try dune bashing – speeding up one side of a large sand dune in a 4X4 then sliding down the other.
This is also a great spot to try sand surfing and skiing too. Start on the smaller slopes before building up to tackle the 300-metre Liwa dunes.
About a 20-minute drive from Yas Island is the burgeoning cultural hub of Saadiyat Island. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is at the heart of the district, collating global works of art by theme and periods. Across 12 galleries, you can admire works from 7th-millennium-BC Jordan to pieces by Picasso. Its lace dome roof and surrounding waterways are themselves works of art.
Saadiyat Beach is one of the most beautiful in the UAE, with white sands stretching to the turquoise ocean. Along the beachfront, you might encounter some of the island’s original residents – Hawksbill sea turtles. Conservationists are working to protect this critically endangered species, with beach access via elevated boardwalks.
Nearby is the region’s first ocean golf course, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, home to an 18-hole championship golf course and extensive practice facilities.
The stretch of the Corniche Road covers most of the city’s northwest shoreline. Marvel at the impressive city skyline to one side, with skyscrapers and modern architecture intertwined, or enjoy the calming ocean views on the other side as you stroll along this pedestrianised area.
Hop on a bike and cycle down the shorefront. Stop off to laze under a beach umbrella or on one of the many sunbeds on the public beach. You’ll find various cafes to top up your energy levels with a light lunch or cold drink.
For shopping, enter the iconic World Trade Center Abu Dhabi. The Souk is a modern interpretation of a traditional Abu Dhabi market on the original spot of the city’s commercial district. Explore its shops, full of Arabian artefacts, jewellery, spices and other delights.
When you’ve only got a short stay in the UAE capital or you just want to see the top spots, these are some of the best things to do in Abu Dhabi.
Opened in 2008 after 12 years of construction, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a monumental feat of architecture. The third-largest mosque in the world welcomes millions of visitors each year to its culturally diverse place of worship. Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky borrowed inspiration from other Islamic countries and enlisted British, Italian and Emirati architects to help build the magnificent mosque.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque boasts many world records and special features:
Entry is free and you can explore yourself or join one of the free guided tours that last about an hour. It’s open seven days a week, from 9am to 10pm Saturday to Thursday and 4:30pm to 10pm on Fridays.
Visit during early morning or late evening for stunning sunrise or sunset photos. Dress modestly and cover up with a headscarf for women – although the mosque usually loans women an abaya to wear before entering.
Just opposite the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is Wahat Al Karama. This touching memorial is dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the UAE.
Is there a classier way to relax in Abu Dhabi than indulging in afternoon tea in elegant surroundings? Le Cafe in Emirates Palace is the place to go for the most exclusive experience. Try their signature golden cappuccino – a frothy coffee topped with 24-carat gold flakes.
Head to Level 74 of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers where you can enjoy Parisian-style afternoon tea and take in the stunning city views through the wall-to-floor glass sides of the Observation Deck.
For a more authentic experience, head to Cafe Arabia. As the name suggests, its menu is firmly rooted in local cuisine. Browse the first-floor art gallery then sit on the open roof top terrace and tuck into traditional dishes.
Abu Dhabi’s malls are grand, modern and filled with high-end stores selling fashion and more from the world’s top brands. You can find them all over the city, from the Galleria on Al Maryah Island with more than 400 stores, to Yas Mall at the heart of Yas Island. Then there’s the distinctive Marina Mall, which goes beyond the standard shopping trip with a zip line, slides and 18-metre freefall experience.
If you want traditional Arabian shopping, head to one of the many souks. On Al Mina Road lies the Carpet Souk – a maze of more than 100 carpet shops selling handmade carpets and rugs. For a smaller, more valuable souvenir, the Gold Souk at Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre dazzles and delights with jewellery, diamonds and precious stones on display.
The Abu Dhabi skyline is jaw-dropping from any angle, but for the best views, you need to get up high. Ray’s Bar on the 62nd floor of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers delivers a bird’s eye view over the Corniche and surrounding islands. Sit back and sip something sparkling as you breathe it all in.
Marina Mall is a more family-friendly option. Ride its iconic glass-fronted lift to the top of its viewing tower. The spaceship-shaped summit provides full 360-degree views that will leave the whole family lost for words.
While Abu Dhabi is marvellously modern, you’ll still find pockets of nature. The Mangrove National Park is a prime spot for biodiversity where you can kayak through the mangrove forests, salt marshes and mudflats. Look out for crabs, herons and all sorts of fish – even the odd dugong and dolphin.
The edge of a desert isn’t usually where you’d expect to find flamingos, but you will at Wathba Wetland Reserve, around 25 miles south of the city centre. Explore the walking trails and sit in the hides to watch around 4,000 bright pink flamingo during their migration between September and April.
Most of Abu Dhabi’s buildings can be traced back a few decades, however Qasr Al Hosn’s foundations date back to the 1790s. It overlooked coastal trade routes with a watchtower protecting the settlement. Today, it’s a museum nestled in the city skyline - its white fortress walls protecting artefacts from 6000 BC.
For more recent history, there’s the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village. This place explores the desert life many of the city’s ancestors followed, with reconstructed traditional buildings and a museum.
Discover everything that goes on at race day with our rundown of all the entertainment, events and exciting things to do at the F1™ Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Learn how long the track is, the layout of the circuit, lap records and more interesting information about the home of the F1™ Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Follow our in-depth guide to Yas Island. Find out where’s good to stay, the best attractions when travelling with children, as a couple or friends and unmissable spots.
The currency used in Abu Dhabi is the UAE dirham (AED). Dirham notes are available in 1,000, 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5 denominations. One dirham comprises 100 fils, with a quarter, half and one denomination coins available.
Abu Dhabi International Airport is about 20 miles from the centre of Abu Dhabi. It is located to the east of the city, close to Yas Island. There are three passenger terminals, with various parts of the city easy to reach by bus or taxi.
Saadiyat Island is one of the most luxurious places to stay in Abu Dhabi, home to many five-star hotels and large villas. Yas Island is near to some top attractions ideal for families, while hotels close to the waterfront on Al Maryah Island offer amazing views for romantic dinners by the coast for couples.
Abu Dhabi enjoys a year-round warm climate, so pack light, loose-fitting clothes for your visit. The dress code is quite modest so cover your shoulders and knees when out and about – particularly if you’re visiting religious sites. In your hotel, the dress code is typically more relaxed.
From December to February in the UAE winter, the nights can feel a little cool so bring a layer for sitting out in the evening.