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Unveiling the Lesser-Known Wonders of Abu Dhabi: A Journey of Discovery

Abu Dhabi, the largest emirate in the United Arab Emirates, is a top travel destination for UAE and international tourists alike. It occupies 84% of the UAE's total land mass, with 200 islands and an impressive 700-kilometre coastline.

In fact, the Family Vacation Guide rates Abu Dhabi as a leading family vacation destination for stay and play, giving it a score of 8.05 out of a possible score of 10 because of its incredibly vacation-friendly weather, many beaches, gorgeous views, and wealth of tourist destinations and attractions.

Unsurprisingly, Abu Dhabi's tourism stats are up.

In 2022, hotels in Abu Dhabi logged a total of 4.1 million hotel visitors, with occupancy rates at 70% and revenues at AED 5.4 billion ($1.5 billion), up by 23% from the previous year. Indeed, if you're going on a vacation soon, consider visiting Abu Dhabi.

While in Abu Dhabi, make sure to visit Yas Island. Its world-class theme parks are not to be
  • Ferrari World Abu Dhabi: home to Formula Rossa, the world's fastest roller coaster, and Flying Aces, the world's highest non-inverted loop
  • Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi: the world's largest indoor theme park
  • Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi: home to Dawwama, the world's largest six-person water tornado, and Bubbles Barrel, the world's largest sheet wave

Yas Island is also the place to be for Formula 1™ racing fans. The Yas Marina Circuit is the home track of the F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

However, once you're done visiting Yas Island and exploring its many wonders, you can go to
the following off-the-beaten-path Abu Dhabi destinations.

1. Qasr Al Watan

Qasr Al Watan in Al Ras Al Akhdar is a working presidential palace and cultural landmark. This architectural masterpiece, with perfectly symmetrical pristine marble blocks, intricate Islamic designs and wonderful calligraphy and artwork, opened its doors to the public in 2019.

You can explore its vast halls, courtyards and gardens and learn about the UAE's heritage, culture and values through interactive exhibitions.

While here, you must visit the impressive Qasr Al Watan library and stay after sundown for the Palace in Motion light and sound show.

2. Al Ain Oasis

Al Ain Oasis is a 1,200-hectare green space in the city of Al Ain.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the largest oases in Abu Dhabi and the perfect escape from the hectic life at the modern capital.

While here, you can explore the traditional irrigation system and learn about the ancient falaj technology that the Emiratis have used for thousands of years to cultivate their land. You can also stroll through the palm groves and gaze in awe at the thriving fruit-bearing trees.

3. Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital

The falcon is the UAE's national bird, and falconry is a traditional sport that Emiratis have practiced for over 2,000 years. Thus, it is only fitting that the UAE capital has a place dedicated to the falcon and the sport.

The Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital in Al Shamkha is the world's largest falcon hospital and a must-visit for bird enthusiasts, where you can learn about the history of falconry, watch a falcon flying display, and even interact with a falcon and hold it in your hands.

4. Qasr Al-Hosn

Qasr Al-Hosn in Al Hosn is a historic fort built in the late 18th century, home to Abu Dhabi's first permanent structure, the watchtower, and the traditional seat of government and residence of the ruling family. Today, the fort has been restored and turned into a museum, showcasing the history and heritage of Abu Dhabi.

On your visit, you can take a guided tour of the fort, explore the exhibitions, and learn about the traditional architecture and lifestyle of the Emiratis.

5. Al Ain Zoo

The Al Ain Zoo, a 217-hectare parcel of land in Jebel Hafeet, Al Ain, is home to over 4,000 animals, including the rare Arabian oryx (which went extinct in the wild in 1972 but was successfully revived through successful reintroduction programs) and sand gazelle.

Here, you can try a wide variety of experiences, including the following:
  • Lemur walk
  • Penguin parade
  • Safari lions feeding
  • Tug of war with tiger
  • Keeper talks
  • Penguin encounter
  • Cheetah run
  • Wings of the Sahara show
  • Animal feedings: penguin, budgie, giraffe
  • Watching animal feedings (e.g., watching crocodile feeding)
  • Breakfast with the giraffes
  • Dinner with the lions
  • Animal rides
  • Cycling on the zoo's bicycle trails
  • Mountain cycling on nine kilometres of rough mountain roads

6. Sir Bani Yas Island

Sir Bani Yas Island in Al Dhafra is an off-the-coast nature reserve.

The island is home to over 10,000 free-roaming animals, including giraffes, cheetahs, and Arabian oryxes. Take a safari tour and spot the diverse wildlife in their natural habitat.

At Sir Bani Yas Island, you can take part in a range of outdoor activities, such as kayaking, mountain biking, and hiking.

7. Abu Dhabi Heritage Village

The Abu Dhabi Heritage Village near Marina Mall is a replica of a traditional Emirati village and showcases the rich cultural heritage of Abu Dhabi.

Stroll through the village's traditional architecture and watch artisans work at their craft. It will surely take you back to and help you appreciate the traditional Emirati way of life.

8. Al Wathba Wetland Reserve

The Al Wathba Wetland Reserve in the southern suburb of the same name is a legally protected area that was once a coastal salt flat but has now evolved into a wetland reserve.

Its collection of natural and human-made lakes is home to over 250 species of birds, including flamingos, herons and eagles. 

This is the perfect place for bird-watching, but if you want an activity that’s a little more adventurous, you can trek the self-guided walking trails.

9. Women's Handicraft Centre

The Women's Handicraft Centre on Karama Street in Al Mushrif is a social enterprise that empowers Emirati women by providing them with a platform to showcase their traditional handicrafts.

Here, you can buy handmade products, such as embroidered clothes, jewelry and pottery, and join workshops to learn the skills and techniques Emirati women use to create their beautiful creations.

10. Al Jahili Fort

Al Jahili Fort on Mohammed Bin Khalifa Street in Al Ain is a historic fort built in the 19th century using sun-dried mud bricks.

It used to be the city's defense against raiders, but it has since been restored and turned into a cultural centre featuring permanent and temporary exhibitions that showcase the history and heritage of Abu Dhabi.

Choose the Off-the-Beaten Path

Abu Dhabi is a city known for its modernity and luxury, a place where someone carrying limited-edition Herm├Ęs Birkin and Kelly handbags can feel right at home.

However, there's more to Abu Dhabi than the glitzy things that meet the eyes.

Visit the off-the-beaten-path destinations listed above and get a unique insight into the city's history, culture, and natural beauty.

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