Flying to Europe? Most travellers stopping over in the UAE en route to Europe spend a few days in Dubai, but what a lot of Aussie travellers don’t realise is that another opulent city lies just an hour and a half drive south of Dubai. Abu Dhabi is a very do-able day trip that offers a whole host of other experiences and things to do for visitors to the UAE. Here’s our guide to the five best things to do in Abu Dhabi:

Need for speed

Formula One fans will immediately recognise Abu Dhabi as home to the Yas Marina Circuit. One of the world’s most eye-catching race tracks, the Circuit sits just outside the CBD and is straddled by a five star hotel, the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi. The racetrack cost more than $100 million to build and, along with the hotel’s distinctive diamond-shaped glass cladding, is a pretty spectacular sight. But, you don’t just have to be in Abu Dhabi during the big race to get a feel for the track.

Yas Marina Circuit

F1 fans can book in for extreme driving experiences right on the Yas Marina Circuit, clocking up track time in everything from Aston Martins to Formula Yas 3000 cars. This is one of the few places in the world where you’ll have the chance to experience something that’s pretty close to an F1 car – a V6 engine, high revving, with 0 to 100 kmh in a blistering few seconds, on an actual F1 track, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of safety briefings and a professional driver to teach you a few tricks and tips before you head out on the track!

Definitely not Disneyland

Abu Dhabi really is a car lover’s dream destination. Just around the corner from the F1 track is a whole theme park dedicated to the famous Italian sports car brand Ferrari. You’ll find more big kids at this theme park than little ones, which is open year round, even in the height of summer. The entire park is undercover, housed in the largest space frame structure in the world, roughly the same size as seven football fields. The roof itself is 200,000 square metres. And tucked inside are display Ferraris, mini go kart Ferraris for kids, rollercoasters, history displays, restaurants, cafes and plenty of Ferrari merchandise. The most popular ride is the Formula Rossa roller coaster, which has the same G force as an F1 car and feels just as fast.

Outrageously OTT

Emirates Palace

What would you expect in a hotel that took three years and $300 billion USD to build? A lot. The Emirates Palace does not disappoint. As the name suggests, it looks just like a palace, with stunning grounds, fountains, and a long winding driveway leading up to the cavernous main entrance. You’ll find guests sprawled around the enormous grounds, perhaps saying hello to the three resident camels, relaxing on the private beach, or one of the many pools, but most day visitors make a beeline for Le Café for a very special caffeine fix. Forget chocolate sprinkles on your froth, the Palace Cappuccino is dusted with flakes of 24 carat gold. It will set you back around $20 and comes with a date, chocolate and a glass of water to cleanse the palate. Not into coffee? There’s also gold flaked sweet potato fries!

Emirates Palace gold coffee

A dip in the Arabian Sea

Dubai has dozens of beautiful hotels on the water, but you’re usually never far from other skyscrapers and construction sites. At the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi, the private beach looks straight out at endless ocean. The water is a colour that needs to be seen to be believed, and spending a day on a sun chair on the private beach is a day done right. The hotel’s Beach House sits just back from the sand and whips up cocktails, salads and melt in your mouth meat dishes day and night.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque Sunset Tour

Sheik Zayed Mosque
The grand Sheik Zayed Mosque is a beauty. There’s no other way to describe this sprawling place of worship. Built between 1996 and 2006, it is a study in gold tipped domes, prayer towers, marble walkways and pillars inlaid with semi precious stones. Sunset tours are simply stunning. Watch the marble change colour with the sinking sun, before heading into the main prayer hall, where Swarovski crystal chandeliers tower overhead and underfoot is the world’s largest hand knotted carpet.

Lisa was the guest of Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture