At the beginning of last year, while I was living in Spain for a few months, I manifested finally getting to visit the African continent, a trip that materialised in the final two months of 2022. While I was on the road somewhere in Namibia or Botswana, I decided that my goal for 2023 was to make it out to the Middle East and spend some time exploring the Gulf, a part of the world I'd never visited, nor knew much about aside from the skewed media views. I'd heard some tales of the oppulently wealthy cities, but beyond that my knowledge was limited and I was determined to get out there this year.
Lo and behold, I found myself in Dubai and four additional countries in the Gulf. I booked a day tour down to visit the nearby Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the country's capital and the wealthiest, thanks to its source of oil.
Note that, as with everywhere in the Middle East, you should always have your knees and shoulders covered out of respect for the local culture.
Best Day Tour of Abu Dhabi
Of course, the main thing I wanted to see in Abu Dhabi was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque so I was sure to book a guided tour that included that, but I was definitely keen to visit the other opulent monuments the Emirate had to offer.
I booked a full day tour through Get Your Guide, which is the platform I use to book most of my guided tours, and chose the Full-Day Sightseeing Tour of Abu Dhabi which had three main stops, plus a place to stop for lunch (not included).
I loved this tour mostly because I met some really wonderful people - Jessica from Colombia, living in Switzerland, and Kayle and Jack from USA - and we took some stunning photos together. You always meet the best like-minded people on the road!
If you do this tour on a Friday, you visit the mosque last because it is used for prayers on the holy day of Islam in the morning; every other day you go to the mosque first.
Stop 1: Etihad Towers
Etihad Towers is actually a hotel, but there is a sweet view from the observation deck where you can get a panoramic look over all of Abu Dhabi. The guide tried to tell us it rivals the view from the Burj Khalifa - in my opinion they're two different cities and two different views and you should really do both 😉
Stop 2: Qatr Al Watan
Qatr Al Watan is the recently built presidential palace in the heart of Abu Dhabi. No one lives there, it's the seat of the UAE President, used for work and for formal functions. It's opulent, enormous and was only opened to the public in 2019.
Stop 3: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was the grand finale and the highlight of my time in Abu Dhabi. It's by far the most gorgeous mosque I've ever visited in the world. Home to the world's largest mosaic, the entire mosque is white marble and exquisite. It was built between 1994 and 2007, a vision launched by the late UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1918-2004). It faces Mecca and was designed to unite the cultural diversity of the Islamic world with the historical and modern values of architecture and art.