Beyond staycations: 11 cool things to do in Abu Dhabi this summer

From moonlit kayaking to swimming with horses, there’s fun to be had in the UAE capital

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For many of us, this is likely to be the only year that we will spend the whole summer in the UAE. With coronavirus-related travel restrictions in place in several destinations around the world and uncertainty lingering over travel rules and regulations, there’s low incentive to travel overseas right now. And, with Covid-19 tests required to enter Abu Dhabi, the price of which can reach up to Dh500 per person, even venturing to other emirates can prove costly.

Instead, many Abu Dhabi residents are staying put this summer and staycations at hotels have become a staple activity with bookings rising as private beaches and swimming pools reopen. But, if you've had your fill of hotel stays for the moment and are looking for some alternative ideas on what else to do this summer, here are 11 great ideas to get you through the season.

1. Cool down at Yas Waterworld

New rules mean you need to book ahead of arrival at Yas Waterworld, even if you’re an annual passholder. Courtesy Yas Waterworld 
New rules mean you need to book ahead of arrival at Yas Waterworld, even if you’re an annual passholder. Courtesy Yas Waterworld 

After being closed for five months, Yas Waterworld has reopened to the public with enhanced safety and hygiene measures. This water-filled playground has been called one of the best water parks in the world and it's well worth a visit if you're here all summer. The Emirati-themed park offers family-friendly fun via rides such as Al Raha River or the Amwaj wave pool and there are high-thrill rides for the adventure seekers – try the Jebel Drop or the Liwa Loop. New rules mean you need to book your place at the park online, even if you're an annual passholder, and visitors will have their temperature scanned upon entry. Face masks must be worn at all times, except when you're in contact with the water. Open daily from 1pm to 10pm, with Mondays and Thursdays reserved for women. Prices start from Dh250 for adults, and Dh210 for junior tickets;

2. Speed through the mangroves

Life jacket – check. Natural mangroves – check. Personal speedboat – check. Abu Dhabi's Rhino Rides have all the ingredients needed for a few idyllic hours on the water. After a safety briefing and a demonstration on how to operate your vessel, guests can captain their own mini speedboat through the mangroves. Flat calm lagoons make for an easy ride and the boats are small enough to navigate the narrow waterways getting you close to the region's wildlife. Dock on a deserted island where you can cool down with a dip in the water before heading back to base. Trips are suitable for anyone aged 2 and above, so long as children are water aware. Face masks are compulsory on the docking area and social distancing rules should be followed when on the island. Tours last 90 minutes and departure times avoid the hottest parts of the day. Sailings take place daily at 8am, 9.45am, 4pm and 5.45pm. During August, prices start from Dh350 per boat, for two people (a small child can be a third passenger);

3. Swim with horses at the beach

What better way to cool off this summer than with a dip in the ocean alongside majestic Arabian horses? Dhabian Equestrian Club offers riders the chance to do exactly that every Saturday morning. Gear up and ride out from the stables just as the sun is coming up. You'll walk or trot towards the beach then let the horses dash into the water. You can swim with them as they spend time bathing and cooling off. In summertime, because it is too hot to transport the horses by trailer, the experience is only for advanced riders who can demonstrate that they can control a horse in walk and trot. Sessions cost Dh150 and take place every Saturday from 5.30am-8.30am;

If you're not an experienced rider, but keen to spend some time with horses this summer, Ride to Rescue offers an introduction to the centre's rescue horses where guests can get to know the animals, learn grooming skills and try an easy sunset ride. Daily sessions start at 5.15pm and last two hours, suitable for anyone aged 12 years old and over. Sessions are Dh200 per person, with proceeds supporting the non-profit organisation. More information is at

4. Have a shoot-off at Al Forsan

Get some target practise under your belt or blow off some steam with a shooting session at Al Forsan International Sports Club. Inside the air-conditioned building, there is a 25-metre and a 50-metre indoor range, each with 10 lanes and a wide choice of guns. There's also the option of an enclosed 300-metre rifle range, or you can try the sporting clay ranges for moving target practise. If that all seems a bit scary, there are two indoor laser simulators that let you get a feel for the real thing without firing any bullets, or go traditional with a spot of indoor archery. Age limits vary depending on activity and weapon choice, but the minimum age is 12 years old. Prices also vary, from Dh120 for laser simulator and archery to Dh280 in the pistol range. Open daily from 2pm-11pm;

5. Watch the sunset at Fossil Dunes

Escape the city and enjoy nature with a summertime trip to Fossil Dunes. Located in the Wathba area of Abu Dhabi, these striking natural structures tower above the desert and look somewhat otherworldly. It's a great place to unwind and one of the best places in the emirate to watch the sun go down. While this is definitely not a good pick for those who can't stand the heat, if you time it so that you arrive in the early morning or right before sunset, temperatures are bearable, even in August. It's about 40 minutes from Abu Dhabi, and easy to find on Google Maps. Pack some cold drinks and snacks to have at the site but please take all your trash away with you. The dunes are accessible every day with no entry fee. GPS directions can be found here.

6. Kayak around Louvre Abu Dhabi after dark

Guests kayak around Louvre Abu Dhabi in the evening.
Guests kayak around Louvre Abu Dhabi in the evening.

If you enjoy being out on the water, the moonlight kayaking tour around Louvre Abu Dhabi is a good activity to try this summer. Book one of the later slots and you will have the museum almost to yourself, as well as the cooler night air so that you don't get too hot. A guide will offer plenty of little-known facts about Louvre Abu Dhabi as you paddle under the building's huge dome, below its bridges and along the narrow canals. The experience lasts about an hour and while you'll definitely get a bit sticky as humidity rises, the setting sun means that you're not going to overheat, even in August. Pre-booking is required and social distancing measures are in place. There are also only 10 seats per trip – so make sure to secure your spot in advance. Tours run daily at 5pm, 6pm and 7pm and cost Dh126 per person, for ages 6 and over only;

7. Scale the walls at Clymb

Get your sweat on at Clymb Abu Dhabi – home to the world's tallest indoor climbing wall. The Yas Island centre has reopened with new safety rules in place including health screenings on entry, reduced capacity and social distancing. All bookings need to be made online and face masks must be worn at all times – even when on the ropes. Whether you're looking for a serious workout or simply want to give indoor climbing a go, there's something for all the family. Take your pick from five climbing and bouldering routes – including the Summyt, a 42-metre-high wall that's only for the experts. Beginners can book a 60-minute introductory session that includes instructor supervision, and access to what's known as The 3 Peaks – the bouldering wall, beginner wall and intermediate climbing slope. All gear is included and it's carefully sanitised after each use. Climbing sessions are available daily from 11.30am to 7.30pm and open to anyone aged 4 years and over. Prices start from Dh120 for beginners or Dh100 for a half-day pass;

8. Strike out at Zayed Sports City

Escape the heat and get competitive at Khalifa International Bowling Centre. Abu Dhabi's biggest bowling alley in Zayed Sports City has reopened with safety precautions including compulsory masks and social distancing in all public spaces. It's open from 2pm until 10pm on weekdays, and until 11pm at the weekend, there are 40 lanes available and it costs only Dh20 per person, per game, so can be a fairly cheap way to spend a few hours. You can also book an entire lane by the hour from Dh125. Open to over 12s only;

9. Escape to Al Maya Island

The sun sets over Al Maya Island, Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Al Maya Island
The sun sets over Al Maya Island, Abu Dhabi. Courtesy Al Maya Island

For a holiday-like experience, book a day trip to Al Maya Island and you’ll have a pristine shoreline and perfectly chilled pool to enjoy all day. A short boat ride from the jetty near Abu Dhabi’s Presidential Palace will get you there, passing untouched islands and sandbanks as you sail. Boats leave regularly, with sailings from 9.30am and temperatures are checked as you board.

Safety is also taken seriously on the island – Al Maya Jetty and boats are sanitised several times a day and every 10 to 14 days a medical team arrives on the island to test all members of staff. Water quality in the pool is also carefully monitored, meaning you can safely enjoy the huge temperature-controlled swimming pool, swim-up bar and Jacuzzi. There are some poolside and beach cabanas and the whole island is family-friendly, with free access for children from Monday to Thursday and their own dedicated pool. Throughout August, children also eat free on Tuesdays. There are plenty of gazelles on the island, sure to enthral youngsters, and good snorkelling opportunities. Return boat trips run until 7.30pm on weekdays and 8.30pm at the weekend, so you can stay on the island until the sun goes down. In line with Covid safety restrictions, guests should bring their own towels. Dh199 per person, with Dh150 back to spend on food and drinks. Family passes available for Dh495 (for two adults and up to three children) include Dh350 to spend on food and drinks;

10. Get a bird’s-eye view of the city at Observation Deck at 300

While Dubai might be home to the world's tallest tower, Abu Dhabi isn't afraid of heights, either, and Observation Deck at 300, at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, is the city's highest building. Perched 282 metres above the city, the glass-fronted restaurant on level 74 of Tower 2 offers amazing views of the capital with vistas over the Arabian Gulf, the Corniche and Emirates Palace. Telescopes are available for zeroing in on any specific parts of the view you want to see in more detail, and if you time your visit for sunset, you're in for a treat. There's no entry fee, but there is a Dh55 minimum spend per person. Open Monday to Saturday, noon to 8pm, over 12s only;

11. Go stargazing at Al Qua'a

Make the most of the desert sky and head out to Al Qua'a where you'll find some of the best stargazing opportunities in the country. It's located about 120 kilometres from Abu Dhabi airport – follow Google Maps to this isolated spot, which has a reputation for being the best for views of the Milky Way. Although deep in Al Razeen desert, it's easy enough to get to – you don't need a 4x4 – and parking is available near an old mosque. Surrounded by sweeping dunes and a couple of trees, there's zero light pollution, making it a prime spot for stargazing and photography. If you're serious about taking pictures, keep an eye on the Moon cycle – go when there's a new Moon for less light pollution and a more vivid star-filled sky. You can find directions here