Abu Dhabi is known for its man-made marvels, but its natural attractions set it apart. Step just beyond the city limits to explore savanna-like wildlife reserves, serene mangroves and fossilised sand dunes.
Many people consider the United Arab Emirates to be little more than a desert, but a visit to its capital, Abu Dhabi, proves that the country’s varied landscapes are as unforgettable as any. The emirate is home to the majestic Rub’ al Khali desert (also known as the Empty Quarter), the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, where you can summit dunes hundreds of metres high. In Liwa Oasis, watch preening flamingos flock to the wetlands. Abu Dhabi’s coastline is equally impressive; here you can kayak through tranquil mangroves or catch boats to wildlife-rich islands – you might even catch a glimpse of a cheetah. Whichever you choose to explore, these secret spots will change how you think of the desert.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Liwa Oasis and Tel Moreeb
The Rub’ al Khali desert spans 650,000sqkm (251,000sqmi) from the UAE to Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen. On its outskirts, surrounded by honey-coloured sand, is Liwa Oasis – a village area with dense date palm groves, camel farms and traditional forts. Tel Moreeb – considered one of the world’s largest sand dunes – looms above it. This incredible 300m-high (984ft) dune attracts off-roading enthusiasts from around the country to race to the top in the annual Moreeb Hill Climb event, part of the Liwa International Festival. Climbing Tel Moreeb on foot is not for the faint of heart, but if you can make it to the top by sunset you’ll be rewarded with the best view in the emirate. If you’d rather not work up a sweat, there are plenty of desert safaris that include a visit to the dune.
Al Wathba Wetland Reserve
The Al Wathba Wetland Reserve is a tranquil slice of nature, where more than 4,000 flamboyant greater flamingos migrate during autumn and spring. With 3km (2mi) of self-guided trails, you’ll be able to delight in the incredible bird life from the hide and other viewing points, plus there are plenty of informative signs to help you identify lizards and interesting wildlife. In keeping with the preservation of the delicate ecology of the reserve, there is no cafe on site, so you’ll need to bring your own refreshments, especially in the warmer months.
Sir Bani Yas Island
Admire a cheetah dozing beneath a tree and watch giraffes stroll through a savanna-like landscape on Sir Bani Yas Island, home to the Arabian Wildlife Park where more than 17,000 animals roam free. Make the most of the island with an overnight stay in one of the luxury resorts. On a wildlife safari you’ll spot hyenas, caracal and the Arabian oryx – a species that was previously extinct in the wild – while kayaking expeditions into the surrounding waters offer the chance to encounter turtles and dugongs. Don’t miss a guided walk to notable sites across the island, including surreal rainbow-coloured wadis and a Christian monastery thought to have been built around 600CE.
Mangrove National Park
Although this ecological park is right in the middle of Abu Dhabi’s islands, kayaking along its many channels feels as though you’re miles from civilisation. The best time to visit is the morning, when the mangroves thrum with the activity of herons, flamingos, crabs, fish and more. There are wooden walkways throughout the reserve, but kayaking is the best way to get a closer look at this indigenous forest and the wildlife that inhabits it.
These ancient rock formations in Al Wathba were whipped into shape by the elements over thousands of years after calcium carbonate hardened the sand. Experts believe they could have formed as far back as the last ice age. The fossil dunes are most memorable at sunset, when you can watch the light transform the landscape into something Mars-like. The view changes once again after dark when the 1,700 formations are illuminated from below. Make sure to stick to the designated trails to help protect the fragile structures from damage.
Explore the Coast
The beaches in and around Abu Dhabi are the best in the UAE. With the city’s southern coastline almost entirely undeveloped, you don’t need to venture far to find gentle waves and clear waters. Visit Saadiyat Beach for white sand and an unobscured horizon over water that wouldn’t be out of place in the Caribbean. Lounge in luxury for the day on Zaya Nurai Island, with its quiet beaches, breezy palms and hammocks over the shallows. Or escape the city altogether and head to peaceful Mirfa Beach in Al Dhafra – it’s a little over an hour’s drive from the city and the small town nearby offers picnic supplies and traditional tasty karak (sweet, spiced tea made with evaporated milk).
Discover cultural and natural wonders on your next trip to Abu Dhabi. Click here for more information and to book your visit today.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.