DESTINATION GUIDE: What fans can eat, see and do when they visit Abu Dhabi for this weekend's season finale
The Formula 1 season finale is always a truly spectacular affair, taking place under lights in the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi. Located on an island in the Persian Gulf, this culturally rich and progressive Arabic country always extends a warm – literally and figuratively – welcome to the visiting F1 fraternity and race fans, putting on a show that befits its standing as the last race on the calendar, ensuring that the season goes out with a pyrotechnic bang.
Seasoned F1 traveller Amy Overy has all the tips you need if you're heading to out to Abu Dhabi for the Grand Prix this weekend.
Where and what to eat
Abu Dhabi boasts a rich mix of cultural influences when it comes to its cuisine, taking inspiration from neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and India – which ensures dishes are imbued with flavourful spices – and ingredients from across the Middle East and Asia.
Its position as a key coastal trading post means there’s always an abundance of fresh fish and seafood on the city’s restaurant menus.
And with a growing number of well-known, big name international chef offerings in many of the luxury hotels you’ll be truly spoiled for choice when it comes to eating well in the city whatever your budget.
Traditional dishes to try include the popular al madrooba – a tasty sweet and savoury mix of salted fish and spices in a thick sauce, served with sweet caramelised onions and sugary saffron coloured rice.
And for a sweet end to your meal, be sure to order some luqaimat – deep fried dough balls smothered in date syrup, perfect when washed down with a cup of Arabic coffee flavoured with aromatic cardamom.
With several outposts across the city – including within the popular Yas Mall on Yas Island – and serving an extensive menu of Emirati dishes, Al Fanar Restaurant and Café aims to transport diners back to the nostalgic ambiance of the 1960s with its décor and artefacts on display, whilst preserving traditional Emirati food identity amidst a growing global culinary landscape.
For dinner with an ever-changing view, take a cruise on the Al Dhafra Restaurant’s beautiful traditional wooden dhow where you will be served a variety of dishes from delicious freshly caught seafood, to local dishes whilst enjoying breathtaking views of the Corniche.
Inspired by family traditions and Arabian hospitality, and with a warm and authentic atmosphere, Yadoo’s House (Grandmother’s house) is a charming restaurant where people come together to eat in true Emirati style.
The menu features many traditional dishes such as machboos – a mildly spiced pilaf-like rice dish, often served with chicken – and delicious kofta (meatballs), while those with a sweet tooth will want to save room for kunafa, a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made with thin noodle-like pastry or semolina dough, soaked in a sugar syrup and layered with cheese and nuts.
Located in the heart of Yas Island, Art Market is a unique space connecting food, art and music – with a barbers thrown in for good measure. With an international menu leaning towards healthier options and featuring locally sourced produce, Art Market is open early for breakfast and goes right through until dinner.
Nominated in the Best Restaurant category in Time Out Abu Dhabi’s 2023 restaurant awards, this is a popular eatery where diners can immerse themselves in the locally produced artworks surrounding them as they eat, and enjoy live music performances… oh, and get a haircut afterwards if they wish.
Yas Island Rotana Hotel’s Rangoli restaurant is a chic venue decorated in earthy colours, which imbues the space with a warm and inviting atmosphere.
Serving North and South Indian cuisine, with freshly cooked tikkas and kebabs from the authentic tandoor oven alongside flavourful curries and fragrant biryanis, paired with a carefully curated and extensive wine list, Rangoli is a popular and stylish restaurant which keeps locals and visitors coming back for more.
Where to stay
Without a doubt, the best place to stay for the race is on Yas Island itself, ensuring close proximity to the track and full immersion in the vibrant party atmosphere that surrounds it.
With plenty of hotels to choose from you can opt for one of the standard big name places within walking distance of the circuit, or go all in and opt for the W Hotel with its enviable position as an integral part of the 5.2km track and accompanying party vibe, thanks to its cool bars and dining options.
For a quieter stay and the opportunity to explore the heart of authentic Abu Dhabi, head over the bridge to mainland downtown where you will find many accommodation options just a short drive away from the action.
Where to watch the race
If you can’t get yourself a trackside view from a room at the W Hotel and don't have a friend with a boat in Yas Marina, the next best thing is to bag yourself a seat in the West Grandstand where you’ll have a great spot to watch all of the action going into Turn 6.
Alternatively, soak up the general atmosphere and enjoy the spectacular pyrotechnics by nabbing a seat in the Main Grandstand along the start-finish straight – but make sure to get a spot high up if you want to avoid the strong Abu Dhabi sun.
There is no shortage of entertainment on Yas Island and for thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies, Ferrari World is the place to get your fix. Adjacent to the F1 circuit, this world-class theme park boasts the world’s fastest roller coaster – Formula Rossa – where you will reach a top speed of 240 km/h in just 4.9 seconds.
It also has the world’s highest loop ride, the tallest space frame structure ever built, and over 40 record breaking attractions. It’s the ultimate destination for non-stop, heart racing fast fun, and a stone’s throw from the action on track making it the perfect destination between sessions.
Combining the UAE’s vision of bold cultural progression with France’s expertise in the world of museums and art, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is an architectural masterpiece which brings together different cultures to shine a fresh light on common stories of humanity.
Since its opening in 2017, the museum has quickly established itself as one of the city’s biggest attractions for both residents and visitors alike. Featuring pieces by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Henri Matisse, to more contemporary works by Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, the impressive art collection rubs shoulders with a treasure trove of antiquities such as ancient Egyptian tombs and beautiful Middle Eastern artefacts.
If the collections inside weren’t impressive enough, the building’s magnificent architecture is worth the visit alone. Designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel – who was also responsible for the striking National Museum of Qatar – the structure is a symphony of concrete, water and reflected light, with a design inspired by the museum’s unique location at the point where the Arabian sky meets the sands of Saadiyat Island and the warm waters of the Arabian sea.
Get a unique perspective from the water by taking a kayaking tour around the outside of the museum and learn all about the cultural gems inside with options to experience the iconic architecture at sunrise and during a full moon.
With its dazzling white marble exterior, vast mosaic artwork and gold-plated Swarovski chandeliers, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is undoubtedly the jewel in Abu Dhabi’s cultural and architectural crown – and is a must see.
This active mosque which welcomes up to 50,000 worshippers daily also has an open-door policy and welcomes visitors from all over the world who come to marvel at its majestic beauty and grandeur whilst gaining a deeper understanding of Islamic culture.
Take a free guided tour along the marbled halls decorated with columns embedded with amethyst and jasper, with an experienced guide who will direct your attention to the finer details you may have missed such as the extensive gold-leaf calligraphy which encircles the hollow domes of the mosque’s remarkable 82 domes.
Open to visitors until 10pm each evening, make sure to pay a visit as the sun goes down to witness the façade light up with the warm, golden light which is then reflected in the many still pools designed for quiet contemplation.
Alternatively, have some adrenaline-fuelled fun in the expansive desert landscape and go dune bashing! Traverse the golden sand valleys in a 4x4 and experience the desert with a side of thrills – or perhaps have a go at sand boarding in the beautiful dunes before combining your trip with a camel ride or falconry for the complete Arabian desert adventure.
Many tour operators offer add-ons, so there is plenty of choice when it comes to tailoring your experience to ensure you make the most of the stunning landscape.
With more palm trees than houses, the UAE’s oasis city of Al Ain is a natural wonder and located approximately an hour and a half’s drive from Abu Dhabi and well worth the trip to experience a taste of authentic Emirati life. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a heady mix of historic forts, bustling souks and camel markets, whilst ancient waterways nourish this desert oasis.
With its relatively short flight time from Europe, guaranteed warm winter weather coupled with an end of school term vibe, Abu Dhabi is an excellent choice for Formula 1 fans who want to see out the season in style with the added opportunity to extend their trip to make the most of the beach hotels, rich culture and an agreeable climate.
Nicknamed the ‘Rainbow Sheikh’ due to his love of colour, Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan al Nahyan of the UAE ruling royal family is a self-confessed petrolhead and over his lifetime has amassed a collection of rare and quirky automotive creations – some of which hold world records – housed across four museums spread across the UAE and Morocco.
Favouring supersized replicas and off-road vehicles over supercars, the Sheikh holds the world record for the largest collection of 4x4 vehicles with 718 cars, many of which are on display in the pyramid shaped Emirates National Auto Museum.
He also built a dedicated museum for some of the craziest automotive creations which were designed and built by the Sheikh himself, including a giant globe caravan which contains an astonishing nine guest rooms and nine bathrooms.
In a collection which includes the world’s biggest SUV and pick-up truck, the piece de resistance is a gigantic replica of a Word War II era Willys Jeep, which at 21 feet tall and weighing 4.4 tons was crowned the world’s largest motorised car in 2010.
And the reason for the Sheikh’s unusual moniker? In the 1990s he famously asked Mercedes to build him an entire fleet of S-Class cars finished in every colour of the rainbow as a wedding present.
Abu Dhabi Destination Guide
- Population: Approx 1.5million
- Currency: Emirati Dirham
- Language: Arabic
- F1 race first held: 2009