Standing its ground as the second most expensive city in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi can certainly be a costly place to visit. But despite the hefty price tag, with a bit of insider knowledge you can enjoy the city without leaving a big hole in your wallet. Whether you’re paying a fleeting visit to the city or sticking round for longer, here are some of the best ways to enjoy Abu Dhabi for free.
1. Explore the Area
Abu Dhabi is rich in sites that allow tourists to gain an insight into the culture of the city. Free guided tours of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world, are available at 10am from Saturday to Thursday. The breathtaking mosque sits on land the size of five football fields, whilst the columns shine with marble panels and semi-precious stones.
The Heritage Village is a mock village set amongst gardens and includes a souk (open marketplace), a recreated Bedouin encampment, a traditional mosque and a barasti house. Located at the breakwater near Marina Mall, the village displays traditional crafts and farming methods. It is free to enter and you can even see some of the crafts being made. The castles and forts of Abu Dhabi can also make interesting places to visit, with the 19th century Al Jalili Fort including a permanent exhibition which can be viewed for free. The nine forts in Liwa are also worth a visit if you’re nearby.
If you can avoid buying anything, shopping in Abu Dhabi can be an interesting free experience, with plenty of souks to explore. The fish market at the mina end of the city can make for a great early morning walk, with the locally caught fish being on display. An Iranian souk can also be found near the fish market, which boasts an interesting range of plants, pots and other homeware items that are brought across the Arabian Gulf to be sold as they are unloaded by Iranians. The gold souk next to Madinat Zayed shopping centre, the carpet souk in the port area and the fruit and vegetable souk close to the Central Post Office on Airport Road give an insight into the daily life and culture of the city.
3. Get Active
The Jebel Hafeet Mountain is the third largest in the United Arab Emirates, and whilst it has a road from the bottom to the top that you can drive up, it is also possible to walk all the way to the summit of the mountain too. The peak of the mountain offers panoramic views of the country and the walk up provides a mixed range of flora and fauna to admire.
If you fancy taking a run around the city, Abu Dhabi Striders organise speed-work and interval training every Sunday at 6.30pm. Meeting at the Hilton car park, this free programme helps to build any serious training plan. For something a little less intense, you can head to Corniche, opposite the Hilton Baynunah, for basketball courts that are free to use.
4. Appreciate the Art
Located in the middle of downtown Abu Dhabi, the Cultural Foundation is the artistic centre of the city. Open daily, the centre has a range of performances to catch with exhibitions and lectures being free. The Manarat Al Saadiyat is an arts and cultural centre that features four gallery spaces that often provide great free exhibitions as well. Showing works by flourishing national and international artists, the Ghaf Gallery is a villa-based gallery that is slowly becoming one of the most established in the city, which can also be explored for free. The Barakat Gallery specialises in ancient art, with displays including antiquities from Africa, Asia and Europe. Whilst every item is on sale for those who wish to make a purchase, the galleries can be explored at no cost.
5. Watch a Camel Race
Taking place in the revolutionary Al Wathba Racetrack stadium every weekend is the highly competitive camel race that locals flock to watch. If you have a 4×4 available, you can join in by driving alongside the camels for the best view. Starting at 8am every Thursday and Friday morning, the race is one of the most traditional sports in the United Arab Emirates, however in recent times robots have replaced jockeys, giving the race a futuristic feel. Other races that can be watched for free are the annual dhow races in February, the Red Bull Air Race in March, the powerboating races in November and jet skiing races which take place throughout the year.
6. Take a Stroll Through the Gardens and Parks
With the city being home to numerous parks and gardens, it can be hard to know which ones charge a small entrance fee. The Khalifa Park (which charges a small fee of 1 or 2 AED) is the largest in the city and is full of fountains, gardens and also holds an aquarium as well as putting on special activities for children.
You can relax in the Paradise Gardens at no cost, which is a park set on four acres of ground. The park is home to some 10 million flowers, holds an Eiffel Tower replica and almost 300 hanging baskets, making it a Guinness World Record holder. The Al Ain Oasis provides 3,000 acres of cool green terrain and farms that have been in action for over 3,000 years, giving a calm release from the surrounding desert.