Of all of the countries that constitute the Middle East, The United Arab Emirates (UAE) would top the charts for its richness and flamboyance. However, for those travelling on a budget, UAE could be intimidating for its pricey reputation. Here we prove that this doesn’t need to be the case, with our 20 FREE Things to do in Abu Dhabi.
Whilst exploring the capital city of the UAE, add these activities to your itinerary while in the Abu Dhabi. Check these off your bucket list and delve into the heart of rich Arabian culture, all for free!
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Any trip to Abu Dhabi would be incomplete if you miss visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Named after the yesteryear ruler of UAE, H.H Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, this mosque’s construction took over 3,000 years to build with marbles, gold, ceramics, crystal and semi-precious stones, making it the world’s most expensive mosque.
The mosque also houses the heaviest carpet in the world in the central area, weighing approximately 35 tonnes!
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is among the few mosques that allow visitors who are non-Muslims. However, being a fully functional mosque during prayer time, visitors must follow specific dress codes and ethics, which are mandatory.
Talking aloud on mobile phones, smoking and bringing food and drinks is not permitted, and it’s expected to maintain silence at all times, adhering to the sanctity of the place. Women should wear modest clothing, the specific details of which are mentioned on their official website.
You can either explore the mosque on your own or join the free guided walk-in tours led by official guides for a 45-60 minute duration.
For more details, visit their website.
Saturday to Thursday, from 9.00 am to 10.00 pm
Last admission at 9.30 pm
Emirates Palace is a super luxurious five-star hotel designed with Islamic architectural elements of domes and decorations with gold, mother of pearl and crystals. The handmade carpets and over 1,000 chandeliers with lush green gardens and fountains reminds you of a cross between a fairy tale castle and the Taj Mahal.
Though staying at the hotel would cost an arm and a leg for people travelling on a budget, which are most of us, you luckily don’t have to be a guest to have a peek into luxury.
Entry to the Emirates Palace is free of cost; however, there could be restricted access if the hotel hosts official dignitaries.
Non-guests could dine-in at one of the nine restaurants or just stop by for a cup of tea in the evening when the hotel is all lit up. We recommend being all dressed up for the occasion to not feel out of place. You could also try the traditional Moroccan bath called hammam at the Emirates Palace Spa.
Being located at the Corniche Road, you could reach the hotel by catching a bus to Al Ras Al Akhdhar bus stop, nearest to the hotel.
In case you fancy a stay, check out room rents at their website.
Al Jahili Fort
Situated at Al Ain, this fort was built by the ruler of the Bani Yas tribe, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa at the end of the 19th century. The early restoration work was in 1985, and by the end of 2008, the fort underwent a massive rehabilitation project with a permanent exhibition space devoted to the explorer and photographer Wilfred Thesiger along with a visitor information centre.
This stunning fort will take you back in time, giving you insights into the United Arab Emirates’ heritage with its majestic structure and historical art.
To reach the fort, you can take a bus from Abu Dhabi city to Al Ain, take the express bus X90 bus that plies every half hour between these two places every day and has only one stop in between, as opposed to buses 440 and 490, which have multiple stops.
Express bus X90 takes just one and a half hours to reach Al-Ain central bus station, which is just walking distance to the fort.
Timings: 10 am to 6 pm on weekdays and 2 pm to 6 pm on Fridays.
Jebel Hafeet Mountains
Travel enthusiasts will love a road trip to Jebel Hafeet, the tallest mountain of the emirate and second tallest in the country. The view atop an elevation of 1249m (4000 ft) for sunrise or sunset is breath-taking.
Bordering Oman and the United Arab Emirates, this limestone behemoth has placed a significant role in Arab history. Archaeologists have unearthed over 500 ancient burials from its foothills and also several remarkable fossils.
Travel to Jebel Hafeet mountains will need a car or a bike to enjoy the experience and to reach the summit comfortably.
The Al Ain Camel Souk
You could club your trip to Jebel Hafeet with a ride to the AL Ain Camel Souk with both being just half an hour apart. The term ‘souk’ in Arabic means ‘market’, and it’s amongst the last traditional camel market of its kind situated at the Oman border to get up close and personal with the iconic “ships of the desert”.
Here you can take pictures of camels and watch locals come to the market and haggle for live stock, taking you back in time. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience, and you can visit without entry fees. Other tourists highly recommend wearing modest clothing, being a conservative place, and easy to clean footwear.
Timings: Throughout the week, 6 am to 7 pm.
Al Ain Palace Museum
If you are the kind of traveller who loves to know more about the historical importance and culture of a place more than the adrenaline-pumping fun aspect, then the Al Ain museum should intrigue you.
Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was the ruler of the United Arab Emirates and called the ‘father of the nation’. The Sheikh Zayed Palace was where he resided, which was later made into a museum in 1971 and now allows people to know how he lived his life and houses various artefacts unearthed from tombs excavated from Jebel Hafeet mountains and several other exquisite pieces of jewellery.
It’s a beautiful palace which you can explore on your own without any guides in roughly an hour.
You can travel to Al Ain from Abu Dhabi on express bus X90. The museum is just at walking distance from Al Ain central bus station.
Timings: 10 am to 6 pm on weekdays and 2 pm to 6 pm on Fridays.
You could also call 971 3 7118388 for specific queries.
Camel racing is an enthralling one of a kind sport where you can see camels race on tracks with robot jockeys! Admission to camel races is also free of charge, and the two prominent locations where camel races are conducted in Abu Dhabi are Al Wathba Camel Race Track and Al Maqam Camel Race Track.
Timings: 5.30 am onwards on weekends and Arab calendar holidays.
Also Read: Camel Racing in Dubai – Our Ultimate Guide
Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi, is a place to unwind after your busy mornings. With the pavement stretching 8kms along the Dhow Harbour, this seaside promenade has some of the best cafes and eateries of the area, which are budget-friendly too.
You could also ride a bicycle along the sidewalk and explore the area. You’d find several bicycle rental stations along the corniche with very nominal charges.
Corniche has a great chilled beach vibe with free concerts, volleyball nets, small restaurants and more while relaxing by the calm sea.
Timings: Corniche promenade is open at all times. Corniche beach allows swim times from 7 am till sunset only.
Etihad Modern Art Gallery
From heritage to modern, Abu Dhabi has it all. Etihad modern art gallery showcases contemporary artworks of upcoming local artists to world-renowned artists. They also feature poetry nights and concerts for literature and art enthusiasts.
Etihad modern art gallery is a must-visit place to know more about the current generation of Emarati artists and better insight into art-loving youth.
Timings: Open on all days except Fridays and Saturdays from 10 am to 6 pm.
For more details, visit the website here.
Al Bateen Beach
Al Bateen beach is an easily accessible serene beach that is open throughout the day. Get Instagram worthy clicks of the sunset and beach overlooking the Hudariyat Bridge.
It has all amenities from changing rooms to showers and even has numerous water sport activities, which is chargeable for a fee from the water sports centre, or you can have a beach volleyball session or simply relax at the sun lounger for no additional cost.
Emirates Heritage Village
Emirates Heritage Village represents the original fishing village that once stood there and is a living museum. They conduct live sessions of traditional skills like spinning yarn, weaving, metal works and pottery, and they might also give you a chance to try your hand in it.
This traditional oasis village near the Marina mall gives you a complete Bedouin life experience through exhibitions of artefacts, live sessions, and even shops to purchase spices and souvenirs to take home.
Timings: 9 am to 4 pm on weekdays and Fridays from 3.30 pm to 9 pm.
Al Mina Fruits and Vegetable Souk
Explore Abu Dhabi’s markets to know the local tastes and what makes their cuisine interesting.
Al Mina fruits and vegetable souk is a local market that gives you the freshest fruits, vegetables and meats at the best prices and even varieties of dry fruits and nuts. Dates being important for Emiratis; you get 45 different dates from the ‘date alley’ at this market!
Timings: 7 am till midnight on all days.
Al Ain Oasis
When you’ve had enough of skyscrapers and grandeur. come be part of nature and lush greenery. Head to Al Ain Oasis, occupying nearly 1200 hectares of Al Ain, it has a wide variety of date palms, almost 150,000 of them, and other fodder crops and trees like banana, fig, mango.. the greenery you would usually not expect as such in a desert.
This Unesco World Heritage Site still incorporates a traditional irrigation method called ‘falaj’ for their thick canopy of trees, and if you further walk around, you can even find the remains of an old mosque.
The lush green oasis’s sight contrasts with the dry arid desert in the background is a picture worth travelling for.
Timings: Throughout the week, 9 am – 5 pm.
Wahat Al Karama
Wahat Al Karama, translating to “the oasis of dignity”, is a war memorial symbolizing solidarity, unity and support that immortalize the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country.
The 31 aluminium tablets have inscribed the names of the brave soldiers who lost their lives to save the nation’s pride, along with a series of quotations and poems by H.H Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of UAE.
The Memorial Plaza offers a clear view of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Memorial, with a pool of water occupying the plaza’s centre, giving a clear reflection of the memorial panels and the mosque.
Timings: Throughout the week, 9:00 am – 8:00 pm.
Though it is the corporate office of Aldar Properties PJSC, being on an elevated landscape next to Al Raha beach, the unique semi-spherical design of the building attracts tourists from all quarters.
The 23 storeyed fully glazed structure is curved in all directions and was awarded at the 2008 Building Exchange Conference for Best Futuristic Design.
Though tourists are not allowed inside for photographs, Aldar HQ is a unique construction worthy of a visit for the sheer work of art.
Mamsha Al Khair
Mamsha Al Khair is a granite and limestone monolith with inscriptions in Arabic and English of inspirational quotes from H.H Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former president of UAE, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
This installation aims to create awareness of the values of tolerance, volunteerism and cultural inclusion for developing an immersive experience for residents and tourists alike.
Set at Abu Dhabi’s heart, along the Corniche promenade, Mamsha Al Khair at the walkway has piqued the interests of tourists to stop by.
Yas Gateway Park
Yas Gateway Park is an underrated hidden treasure that most tourists tend to miss. Situated at the Yas Islands, this park is divided into two sections, Yas Gateway Park north and Yas Gateway park south. Both are well landscaped and are an ideal family picnic spot with playground equipment for kids to enjoy and even grill sections for some barbeque.
They also have tennis courts that you can also use for free or rent a bike and explore the area.
While you are at Yas Island, you could pop by the Ace hardware and IKEA outlets and visit the Yas Mall, which is just adjacent to both.
Timing: Throughout the week, 8 am to 10 pm
Qasr Al Muwaiji
Situated at the western side of Abu Dhabi, Qasr Al Muwaiji is a beautiful mud-brick fort declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012 for conservation.
It is also the birthplace of the current ruler of UAE, H.H Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, home to the Nahyan family for generations, and gives tourists insight to learn more about the history and life of the rulers of Abu Dhabi.
The courtyard, oasis and exhibition are definitely worth a visit.
Timings: 9.00 am – 4.00 pm from Saturdays to Thursdays.
2.00 pm – 4.30 pm on Fridays.
Closed on Mondays.
Al Qattara Arts Centre
Built around Bayt Bin Ati al-Darmaki fort, Al Qattara Arts Centre at Al Ain is a mud-brick tower that forms a perfect blend of culture, history and art.
It’s a family-friendly centre that conducts workshops and exhibitions showcasing pottery, calligraphy and art by Emiratis, and you could even witness the traditional dance performance.
Timings: 8 am – 8 pm from Saturday to Thursday.
Closed on Fridays.
For more details, visit the website.
Hit The Beach
One of the best and free things to do in Abu Dhabi, make the most of the year round sunshine and hit the beach!
Abu Dhabi is often associated with pomp and grandeur and everything expensive. However, unlike most countries that charge double for tourists, the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have kept so many historical sites free of cost for all to enjoy, locals and tourists alike.
From modern to traditional, art to leisure, Abu Dhabi has it all covered for a pocket-friendly budgeted trip.
Also Read: FREE Things to do in Dubai