There are a lot of incredible things to try in Abu Dhabi, a lot of which have an incredible price tag.
The UAE isn’t famed for its value for money but there are plenty of perfectly nice things to do that don’t cost a dirham. Here is a list of just ten of my favourites.
1. Picnic in the Park
There are lots of parks in Abu Dhabi. Many of the main parks are incredibly designed and maintained and as such, charge a nominal fee of 5-10 aed. But there are countless other grass verges along the Corniche or Eastern Mangroves promenades, and the Lake Park, across from the Corniche East, that are completely free to access.
2. Check Meetup.com
Let me never hear you say you are bored again. Meetup is a great way to meet people, discover new places and try new things. There are tonnes of things to do on here that won’t cost a penny (or a fil). I’ve been jogging with the Reem Island Runners, found my zen by the beach by candlelight with RAW Yoga, been to a free screening of the Back to the Future trilogy with the Abu Dhabi Movie Club. All for free.
3. Heritage Village
Yes it’s a little old and tired, but Heritage Village still has something to offer if you’ve never got round to visiting. If you go at the right time of day there are some cute little stalls, a few animals and a heritage museum which hosts objects from the community across the ages. Not least, there’s a lovely beach right in front and the best view of the Abu Dhabi skyline.
4. Turtle Spotting
Did you know the endangered Hawksbill turtle nests along the coast of Saadiyat Island? I recently discovered resident Marine Biologist at the Park Hyatt, Arabella Willing, via her Instagram account after seeing all her cute turtle pics. She was more than happy to have us along on her morning nest patrol. We took a lovely walk with her down the beach and learned loads about the species. Unfortunately no hatchlings on that day, but we’ll be back. Be warned though, this one requires a 5.30am start, but if you are lucky enough to see one, it’ll be totally worth it.
You can get in touch with Arabella to find out more by email arabella.willing(at)hyatt.com.
5. Soak up the ambiance at Cafe Arabia
Cafe Arabia is popular amongst expats and locals alike. It has a super fun and relaxed vibe. The walls are adorned with quirky art and the ceilings with colourful glass mosaic lamps. This is a place you can come and chill and feel at ease. No airs and graces. You should probably extend to at least buying a coffee out of courtesy, but once you are there, you can enjoy the free wifi or borrow a book from their community library. If books are your thing, you might also want to check out the Abu Dhabi Book Club on Meetup.com, also free of charge, that often hosts meetings at the caf. If you are feeling flush, I highly recommend the Fatteh dish, made from yoghurt, pomegranate, mint chickpeas and balsamic reduction and served cold, or the red velvet cake is a good shout too.
6. Beach Day
There are bucket loads of really amazing beach clubs available to visit, most with a luxurious day fee too boot. Beach clubs have a lot of benefits (waiter service, gorgeous cabanas, licenced bars and chilled pools) and they are a great treat every now and again. But when money is tight and you are craving some vitamin D, the section of the Corniche closest too the Hilton beach club is groomed and maintained just as immaculately as the chargeable areas just further down. White sands and warm Arabian waters for nothing.
Camping is one of my absolute favourite things to do whilst living in the UAE. Being from Britain, camping used to be associated with the cold and mud. In the UAE, we go camping in perfect temperatures in the rocky mountains, the expansive desert, the lush wadis, and right on the beautiful beach. I got started with Meetup group UAE Trekkers, which does have a fee for its trips, but is well organised and loans kit to people who don’t have it. But eventually we learned our favourite places and whenever the feeling takes us, we pack our gear in the car and escape for the weekend.
8. Train Yas
Among many of my friends this is a staple in the calender every Tuesday. Others have been meaning to go but not yet got round to it. I urge you to go ahead and get out there! All year round this great work out venue is free to use, for runners and cyclists. There is a great vibe; everyone from serious athletes to full families with toddlers go. No bike? No problem! Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi offer complementary use of fifty bikes and helmets on a first come first served basis.
9. Home Grown Fun
Wherever you live, its always nice to have a few people over and enjoy a night in. But what is special about doing in in Abu Dhabi is that we get to do it in great weather. We can sit out until the late hours and chew the cud in perfectly lovely temperatures. The other great thing is maybe you, or the people you know have a barbecue pit or a swimming pool at their villa or residence. Sometimes with all the time we spend in shiney hotels and fancy dinners, nothing beats a beer and a BBQ on the terrace. If you want to keep the spend to an absolute minimum, make it a pot luck party.
10. Most Importantly SAY YES
I’ve been invited to do so many things since moving here. Some things just come down to being in the right place at the right time, or by knowing the right people, but the key is to seizing those opportunities. A while back I got an opportunity to watch the in port race of the Volvo Ocean Race (all inclusive!), my friend who had the tickets even struggled to give them away, as everyone had other plans. Maybe sailing wasn’t their thing, it isn’t mine either, but it was a fabulous and unique experience. I also got to ride free on a hot air balloon across the desert because I was willing to get up at 4am and drive to Dubai to catch the morning ride, where as others turned it down in favour of a lie in.
Other opportunities that came my way include getting to watch ballet, Arabic pop and classical orchestral performances at the National Theatre and the Emirates Palace, a two night stay in a hotel in Al Ain, taking a Thai massage class, attending training workshops with an Olympic triathlete, seeing the original FA cup and taking a swing dancing class.
Last year I even signed up to a 10km run because I got offered free entry (but then, I did pay for that in blood sweat and tears!).
Some of these things turned out to not be my ‘bag’. But it doesn’t matter! They were all an experience, and they didn’t cost a dirham.
What was the best thing you have tried that didn’t cost a thing? Let me know your tips in the comments below.