120 Interesting Facts About Abu Dhabi

Fun facts about Abu Dhabi, UAE

Why did Garfield always try to mail Nermal to Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates? What is this city (and emirate) like, and what else is it famous for?

You’ll find the answers below and several other facts about Abu Dhabi, the Manhattan of the East!

General Abu Dhabi Facts

  • Abu Dhabi is the capital and 2nd largest city in the United Arab Emirates.
  • It is located on the Persian Gulf, about 100 km (62 mi) southwest of Dubai (the country’s largest city) and 285 km (177 mi) east of Qatar, a small neighborhing country.  
  • Abu Dhabi sits at the same latitude as the Bahamas.
  • It is antipodal to Adamstown, Pitcairn Islands.
  • “Abu Dhabi” refers to 3 possible things:
  1. Abu Dhabi City, which occupies all of Abu Dhabi Island.
  2. Abu Dhabi Metropolitan Area (or Abu Dhabi Central Capital District), which includes Abu Dhabi Island, several other islands, and adjacent urban areas on the Arabian Peninsula mainland. It covers an area of 972 km2 (375 mi2).
  3. Abu Dhabi Emirate, which is the country’s largest emirate, and occupies 87% of the country’s land. It covers an area of 4114 km2 (1588 mi2).
An aerial view of the coast of Abu Dhabi, beaches, and some offshore islands
Abu Dhabi city occupies Abu Dhabi Island
  • Abu Dhabi Island is considered the city proper of Abu Dhabi. It is only 250 m (820 ft) off the mainland at the closest point and connected to the mainland by three bridges.
  • Abu Dhabi Metropolitan area has a population of 1.5 million, about half the size of Dubai (3 million), but more than Sharjah (1.3 million).
  • Abu Dhabi Metropolitan Area has a similar population to Edmonton (Canada), Medina (Saudi Arabia), or Munich (Germany).
  • Abu Dhabi Emirate has a population of 2.9 million. In other words, 28% of the country’s population (10.2 million) lives in the emirate.
  • Abu Dhabi Emirate is similar in size to Rhode Island, the smallest state in the USA.
Some buildings in the desert in Abu Dhabi
A desert scene in Abu Dhabi
  • Because of its large size, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi has the lowest population density of the country’s 7 emirates, at 43 people / km2 (111 per mi2). Dubai’s population density is more than 10 times higher.
  • Abu Dhabi Island is connected by bridge to several other islands, including Saadiyat Island, Reem Island, and Hudayriat Island, all of which are considered part of the metropolitan area, and several others easily reached by boat.
  • In total, the emirate has over 200 islands off its 700 km (430 mi) of coastline.
  • The highest temperature ever recorded in Abu Dhabi was 123.3°F (50.7°C) in 2022, while the lowest was −28.4°F (−2°C) in 2021.
  • Abu Dhabi is Arabic for “Father of the Gazelle.” This name is believed to have originated from the region’s large population of gazelles and refers to Shakhbut bin Dhiyab al Nahyan, an early ruler of the emirate.
A gazelle in the desert in Abu Dhabi
“Dhabi” means gazelle in Arabic
  • Some common nicknames for Abu Dhabi are Abudabi, Udhab jyoti, Saurabh, UAE, Sђΐ????α Abud, and Abuu.
  • Abu Dhabi has been called “The Manhattan of the East.”
  • Tourism slogans for Abu Dhabi have included “Make it Happen”, “Travellers Welcome”, “Abu Dhabi. Safe and Secure”, “Experience Abu Dhabi, Find Your Pace”, and “From Abu Dhabi to the World”.
  • There is no specific term for residents of Abu Dhabi. Like residents of the other emirates in UAE, they are simply called Emiratis – though the term is mostly used for native Arabian residents, not expatriates.
The Abu Dhabi flag
The official flag of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi
  • Just 20% of Abu Dhabi residents are native Emiratis. The rest are expats. This is actually higher than the national number: only 11% of people in the country are local Emiratis.   
  • The majority of expats are South Asian at 59.4% (including Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indians), Egyptian at 10.2%, Filipino at 6.1%, and others – 12.8%.
  • Abu Dhabi’s flag was once all red, but under British protectorate, they were asked to add a white section, like the other emirates. On the Dubai flag, for example, the white strip goes all the way to the bottom.
  • Abu Dhabi has 9 sister cities, including Bethlehem (Palestine), Brisbane (Australia), Houston (USA) and Muscat (Oman).

Interesting Facts about Abu Dhabi Places

  • Abu Dhabi’s most famous tourist attraction is Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, often considered the most beautiful mosque in the world. It is the largest in the country, with a capacity of 41,000. It is named after the country’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
  • A carpet inside the mosque is considered the largest in the world. Weighing 35 tons and containing over 2 billion knots, it took over 1000 people more than two years to make it. The mosque also has one of the largest chandeliers in the world.
A courtyard with shiny ground and white mosque at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
  • The largest mosque in Qatar, Oman, and UAE have often tried to outdo one another by building a larger carpet and chandelier than the others to take the record.
  • Eastern Mangrove National Park, which occupies several islands right next to Abu Dhabi Island, contains 75% of the country’s mangroves. It is home to 60+ bird species, including flamingos and herons.
  • The Louvre Abu Dhabi is an art and civilization museum that has an agreement with the Louvre in France to use the name. It is considered the Louvre’s largest cultural project outside of France. It is the most visited museum in the Arab world and located on Saadiyat Island.
  • A new Guggenheim museum is under construction in Abu Dhabi. This will follow the ones in New York City, Las Vegas, Guadalajara (Mexico), Bilbao (Spain), and Berlin (Germany).
  • Yet another museum, Zayed National Museum, is also under construction. All three will be on Saadiyat Island.
Aerial view of a huge red roof at Ferrari World on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, with rollercoasters outside
Ferrari World on Yas Island
  • Yas Island, one of the largest in Abu Dhabi, is human-made. It wasn’t totally created, like the famous artificial islands of Dubai. Rather, it used to be part of the mainland, but was made into an island when a canal was dug out to separate it from the mainland. It is considered the second largest manmade island in the world, after Flevopolder in Netherlands.
  • Yas Island is home to Ferrari World amusement park, which features Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest rollercoaster. It reaches a speed of 240 km/hr (149 mi/hr).
  • Abu Dhabi has some of the country’s best beaches, including Saadiyat Public Beach, Corniche Beach, and many more.
  • The tallest building in Abu Dhabi is Burj Mohammed Bin Rashid, a luxury residential building with 88 floors that stands 1,250 ft (381 m) tall. That’s well under half the height of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
A collection of famous skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi with a water fountain in the foreground
Etihad Towers
  • Other iconic buildings in Abu Dhabi include Gate Towers (inspired by Stonehenge), Aldar Headquarters (globe shaped), The Landmark, Emirates Palace, Etihad Towers, and Sky Tower.
  • Abu Dhabi has an average elevation of 89 ft (27 m) above sea level. It’s highest point is Jebel Hafeet, which is 1240 m (4068 ft). It is the only mountain in the emirate and is shared with Oman. It is known for its prehistoric beehive tombs.
  • Around 70% of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is desert. It is on the edge of the Empty Quarter, one of the largest and driest deserts in the world.
  • Liwa Oasis is found is in the desert of Abu Dhabi. It is the traditional birthplace of the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Scenes from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Dune were filmed there.
A green oasis in the desert with some camels walking on sandy desert hills in the background
Liwa Oasis
  • Abu Dhabi’s police force is famous worldwide for driving supercars like the Bugatti Veyron and Lamborghini Aventador.
  • Other rare supercars used by the city’s police force include a Ferrari FF, a Camaro, a Mercedes-Benz Brabus G-Wagon, a Bentley Continental GT, and an Aston Martin One-77, and others.

Abu Dhabi Economy and Society Facts

  • The Bedouin people of the region of Abu Dhabi traditionally hunted with falcons and saluki, a greyhound-like dog.
  • While Islam is the official religion, because of the high population of expats, there are also many Hindus and followers of other religions.
  • English is widely spoken, as well as Hindi and other South Asian languages.
  • Approximately two-thirds of the $400 billion UAE economy is accounted for by Abu Dhabi, especually due to its oil reserves.
The hand of an Arabian man holding a hunting falcon with a leather mask over its face
Falcons were traditionally used for hunting in Abu Dhabi
  • Before oil fields were discovered, pearl trading was the key industry responsible for contributing to the city’s economy.
  • Some of the largest and most famous companies that started in Abu Dhabi include Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB), Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), and Abu Dhabi National Hotels (ADNH).
  • There are more than 20 colleges and universities in Abu Dhabi, with the largest being Abu Dhabi University.
  • Abu Dhabi has been ranked the safest city in the world for the last two years, with a safety index of 88.14. It is followed by Doha (Qatar), Sharjah (UAE), and Taipei (Taiwan).
Exterior of W Hotel in Abu Dhabi at night, with the roof covered in purple lights, and a boat harbor in the foreground
W Hotel on Yas Island
  • Yas Mall is Abu Dhabi’s largest, and the second largest shopping centre in the UAE. It has space for 10,000 cars. Only Dubai Mall is larger.
  • The richest person in Abu Dhabi is businessman Majid Al Futtaim, with a net worth of $6.1 billion.
  • The most popular newspaper in Abu Dhabi is the Khaleej Times, which is published in Dubai.
  • Movies filmed in Abu Dhabi include The Kingdom, Dune, 6 Underground, Sonic the Hedgehog, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and The Misfits.
  • Abu Dhabi has a huge street cat population, and even a cat island (actually called Lulu Island), but the city is dealing with the problem in a humane way. The city having so many cats is one of the reasons Garfield always threatened to send Nermal to Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi Sports Facts

  • The most popular sport in Abu Dhabi is football (soccer).
  • Popular traditional sports in Abu Dhabi include falconry and camel racing.
  • There are two Abu Dhabi-based Rugby clubs that compete against teams all over the UAE. They are the Abu Dhabi Harlequins and the Abu Dhabi Saracens.
A car racing track inside Yas Marina Circuit with orange sky
Yas Marina Circuit
  • The Abu Dhabi T10 is the only ten-over cricket tournament in the world that’s officially sanctioned by the ICC.
  • Other major events hosted in Abu Dhabi include the Special Olympics World Games (2019), International Judo Federation, and many major UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) events.

Famous People from Abu Dhabi

  • The current ruler of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is also the third president of the UAE. He has been listed by TIME as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. New York Times has also called him the most powerful Arab and one of the most powerful men on Earth.
  • Nayyan’s brother, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was the country’s second president, and their father, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, was the first one. He is the one who united the 7 emirates and founded the country.
The three rulers of Abu Dhabi and UAE presidents so far: Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (left to right)
  • Actors Curtis Fernandez, Abdulla Ahmed Alzaabi, and Nawaf Al Janahi, as well as actress Yasmine Al-Bustami, were born in Abu Dhabi.
  • Singers Ahlam, Balqees Ahmed Fathi, Eida Al Menhali, Shamma Hamdan, and Abdel Moneim Al Ameri were born in Abu Dhabi.
  • Some of the most well-known artists from Abu Dhabi include Ruwaida al-Mahrouqi and Afra Atiq.
  • Writer and poet Shamma Al Bastaki is also from Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi Food Facts

  • Some of the most famous dishes associated with Abu Dhabi include Khuzi, Al Machboos, Al Harees, Shawarma, Balaleet, Fattoush, and Thereed.
  • There is one traditional dish in Abu Shabi that involves stuffing a whole camel with eggs, chicken, lamb, and rice, and cooking it over a charcoal pit.
  • Seafood is a big part of the local diet, with Mina Market being the most famous place to buy fresh fish.
A plate of machboos, a common dish on the Arabian peninsula, with a bowl of onions and yogurt on the side
Machboos, a rice and meat dish
  • Some of the best drinks served in Abu Dhabi include Qahwa (Arabic Coffee), Jellab, Qamardeen, Laban (yogurt drink), and Sulaimani Tea (mint tea with lemon).
  • All the drinking water in Abu Dhabi comes from seawater that has been desalinated. The small amount of groundwater is used for agriculture.
  • The first Michelin Abu Dhabi guide, released in 2022, recognized 42 restaurants in the city, with three of them receiving 1-star listing. Those are: 99 Sushi Bar, the Cantonese Hakkasan Abu Dhabi, and the Italian Talea by Antonio Guida.  
  • Alcohol is allowed in Abu Dhabi, like in Dubai (but unlike in Sharjah). It is mostly only sold in hotels and bars.

Abu Dhabi History Facts

  • Evidence of humans in the area of Abu Dhabi goes back 5000 years.
  • Desert dwellers have for 1000 years come to the coast for pearl diving.
Gazelles standing and sitting at the Arabian Wildlife Center in Abu Dhabi, with hills in background
Local desert animals at the Arabian Wildlife Center
  • The Bani Yas confederation of tribes, ruled by the Al Nahyan family, has long been based in Liwa Oasis in Abu Dhabi.
  • After drinking water was discovered on Abu Dhabi Island in 1761, the Al Nahyan family settled the island, establishing their capital there in the 1790s.
  • In the 1800s, the British became involved in the area, mainly to protect their trade route along the “Pirate Coast”.
  • Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan became the ruler of Abu Dhabi in 1855, leading the emirate to wars against neighboring emirates. In 1892, he signed off all of Abu Dhabi’s international commercial relations to the British.
  • In 1928, Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan became ruler of Abu Dhabi.
  • In the 1920s and 30s, the pearl industry in the region all but died after Japan came to dominate the industry. Abu Dhabi was left essentially a poor fishing village.
An old wooden boat on a beach, with the buildings of Abu Dhabi visible in the background
Abu Dhabi was once just a small fishing village
  • In 1948, there was a dispute over the Dubai-Abu Dhabi border.
  • By 1950, the population of Abu Dhabi reached 5000.
  • In the late 1950s and early 60s, more oil was discovered off the coast and inland, and the oil boom began.
  • The city’s first airfield opened in 1955.
  • In 1962, oil exportation began from offshore from Das Island.
Al Maqta Bridge at night
Al Maqta Bridge was the first bridge to Abu Dhabi Island
  • Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan kept all the earnings from the oil in gold reserves and refused to spend it, so in 1966 is was deposed and his brother Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan became ruler of Abu Dhabi.
  • In 1967, the first bridge to Abu Dhabi Island, called Al Maqta Bridge, was opened.
  • Al Bateen Airport began operating on Abu Dhabi Island in 1969. Today, it is a private jet airport.
  • In 1971, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan united the seven emirates to form the United Arab Emirates.
  • Al-Ittihad newspaper began its publication in 1972, and two years later, Al Fajr newspaper followed.
  • In 1974, the population of Abu Dhabi reached 100,000.
A green, white, and black decorative column inside Abu Dhabi International Airport
Abu Dhabi International Airport
  • In 1976, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan founded the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which would grow to become the 3rd largest in the world, with nearly $ 1 trillion in assets.
  • The E 11 (Dubai-Abu Dhabi) road was completed in 1980.
  • In 1982, the Abu Dhabi International Airport was established on the mainland.
  • In 1994, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, launched the construction of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, meant to represent the uniting of the Islamic world.
  • Abu Dhabi Mall and Marina Mall opened for business in 2001.
An airplane parked on a runway with the word Etihad on the side
Etihad Airways
  • Etihad Airways was founded in 2003 as the country’s second main carrier after Dubai-based Emirates. Etihad is Arabic for “union”.  
  • In 2004, Sheikh Zayed and was buried at the mosque that he had named after himself. The mosque was 3 years away from being finished.
  • Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan became ruler of Abu Dhabi and country’s second president after his father died.
  • By 2005, the Abu Dhabi Corniche was completed.
  • In 2007, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque was completed and opened to the public.
  • In 2010, the third bridge connecting the mainland to Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Bridge, was opened. The complex design was developed by female architect Dame Zaha Hadid.
  • In 2011, the population of Abu Dhabi passed 1 million.
Sheikh Zayed Bridge, the third and newest bridge to Abu Dhabi Island
  • The Abu Dhabi Metro Project was put on hold in 2016 and still hasn’t been completed.
  • Ferrari World opened to the public in 2010, while the Louvre Abu Dhabi followed in 2017.
  • In 2019, Pope Francis became the first Pope to visit the Arabian Peninsula and the UAE when he stepped foot in Abu Dhabi.
  • Abu Dhabi hosted the Special Olympics World Summer Games in 2019, at Zayed Sports City stadium.
  • In 2022, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan passed away and was replaced by his brother, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Some tall buildings on the coast of Abu Dhabi island viewed from above
Grand Hyatt, Etihad Towers, and others
  • Etihad Rail has plans in place build passenger railway lines connecting Abu Dhabi with Dubai and Oman by 2030, with line between the former two already laid.

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