Where to go in Abu Dhabi: the 6 must-visit neighborhoods

Made up of over 200 islands, the UAE’s capital is a vibrant city and boasts a whole variety of neighborhoods, each with its own personality.

At the heart of the city is Downtown Abu Dhabi, from where the emirate began to rise after the discovery of oil in the eighties. Newer neighborhoods have been added as it has evolved, with many of them purpose-built for leisure travel. Yas Island is one such spot and it’s a good choice for families thanks to its multitude of theme parks. Beach lovers will want to head to Saadiyat Island, the capital’s postcard perfect locale which also has a healthy side of culture.

Here’s our guide to the don’t-miss neighborhoods of Abu Dhabi. 

Yas Island

Best neighborhood for families

On the eastern edge of the emirate, Yas Island is best known for hosting the annual Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – a spectacle that brings F1 cars, super yachts and motorsports fans to town. But the island is action-packed any time of year, as it is home to several theme parks – including Ferrari World, where you’ll find Formula Rossa, the fastest roller coaster on the planet. The world’s first Warner Bros–branded theme park is also here, as well as the first ever Warner Bros hotel, where Bugs Bunny is on hand to deliver room service. On hot days, cool off at Yas Waterworld – a mega-sized Emirati-themed waterpark. Evenings are best spent at Yas Bay, the island’s buzzy waterfront promenade lined with unique dining and drinking spots – The Lighthouse and Art Market come recommended.

Visitors looking at exhibits in the 2nd Gallery of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, dedicated to The First Great Powers.
Beyond the beaches of Saadiyat there’s the art and architecture of the Louvre Abu Dhabi to soak in © LizCoughlan / Shutterstock

Saadiyat Island

Best beachside neighborhood

Saadiyat Island is where you’ll find golden beaches backed by impossibly azure waters – it’s so pristine that beachgoers have spotted dolphins frolicking not far from the shoreline. Peppered with luxury resorts, it’s a place for travelers looking to ease into sun-worship mode. If you don’t have the budget to stay on the island, it’s still worth a visit – Soul Beach is open to the public and the Mamsha waterfront promenade is lined with cafes, bars and restaurants – try Ting Irie for boppy beachside Jamaican vibes.

Beautifully manicured with endless swaying palm trees, Saadiyat Island also has culture covered thanks to Louvre Abu Dhabi – a world-class art museum with 12 curated galleries. Elsewhere, the Abrahamic Family House, opened in 2023, is designed to foster understanding between faiths, and the Islamic-art-latticed Manarat Al Saadiyat boasts a busy calendar of arts events, film screenings and workshops.

A person stands on a shoreline looking out towards the skyscraper's of Abu Dhabi's skyline
Watching the sunset over the Corniche skyline © Flickr Open / Getty Images


Best locale for waterfront vistas

Running the entire length of the northwest shore of Abu Dhabi, the Corniche is a bustling spot and one of the few places in the city where there are always people walking, cycling, swimming, and running (yes, even in the height of summer). On the opposite side of the road, several parks and green spaces come alive in early morning or late afternoon when families venture outside to make the most of cooler climes.

Hotels for every budget are dotted along the length of the Corniche – from Al Ain Palace Hotel, the oldest in the city, to the skyscraper five-star St Regis Abu Dhabi. Just beyond, at the tip of Abu Dhabi Island, is Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental – famed for its gold-dusted cappuccinos – and Qasr Al Watan, the presidential palace that welcomes visitors to learn more about the country’s fascinating history.

Old Arabic brass coffee pots on metal tray in Abu Dhabi
You will find more traditional buildings, cafes and restaurants Downtown © Christina-J-Hauri / Getty Images

Downtown Abu Dhabi

Best neighborhood for a glimpse of the past

Downtown Abu Dhabi is as close as the emirate has to a city centre and the neighborhood is a melting pot of old and new buildings, resort hotels and budget accommodation, shopping malls, restaurants, bars, cafes and cultural spots. It’s a good pick for travelers visiting for the first time who are keen to glimpse what the city was like before all of its gleaming skyscrapers popped up. Qasr Al Hosn is Abu Dhabi’s oldest building and the traditional heart of the nation’s capital, making it a good pick for history buffs.

Downtown is also the place to find cuisine from nearly every corner of the world – from Indian and Pakistani, to Ethiopian, Filipino, Chinese and more; the culinary tapestry reflects the city’s diverse population. Many of the hotels in this part of town are older and some are showing their age, but room rates reflect this so it can be a good pick if you’re looking for a resort stay on a budget.

Modern buildings on Al Maryah Island (formerly known as Sowwah Island) lit up at dusk
 Al Maryah Island bustles on weekdays but is quieter on weekends © Buena Vista Images / Getty Images

Al Maryah Island

Best neighborhood for retail therapy

Al Maryah is the place to go for luxury shopping as The Galleria is the city’s swankiest mall. Home to the Luxury Collection, which boasts boutiques from the likes of Tiffanys and Cartier, it’s also the address for several upscale restaurants including Coya, a sister restaurant of the swanky London outpost. But it’s not all luxury focused – high-street stores are also to be found here, and there’s an outdoor weekend market when the weather allows. This is also the financial district, so it’s typically bustling during the week but quieter on weekends. Connected to Al Maryah via a bridge is Al Reem Island, a natural island that’s largely residential and is also home to Snow Abu Dhabi – a sprawling indoor snow park where temperatures are always a chilly -2°C (28°F). 

Khor Al Maqta

Best as a base for sightseeing

Located between the bridges that connect Abu Dhabi with its outlying islands, Khor Al Maqta’s most famous landmark is Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Dominating the skyline, the gleaming white marble structure is an architectural icon and a must-visit for travelers hoping to understand more about the country’s Islamic culture.

A smattering of hotels on the mainland bank command front-row views of the mosque, plus private beaches and turquoise swimming pools. Not far from here is Al Qana – an area of the city that’s been redeveloped and boasts the marine-life-filled National Aquarium Abu Dhabi. The surrounding walkways here come alive in the evening as it’s a popular destination for locals heading out for a stroll or a spot of dinner. Almost equidistant from Downtown Abu Dhabi as it is from Yas Island, Khor Al Maqta’s central position makes it a good pick for those hoping to take in several of the city’s neighborhoods.

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