The sun setting on Mamsha Beach.

Perhaps you’ve been to Abu Dhabi before, perhaps it’s your first time exploring all the capital has to offer. Regardless, one big difference between the New York City and Abu Dhabi campuses is the sense of place! In New York, they say “the whole city is your campus.” Well, NYU Abu Dhabi can feel much more like a bubble! We call it “the Saadiyat bubble” since we’re located on Saadiyat Island.

No matter what your experience with Abu Dhabi has been thus far, I hope this guide helps! These are all my must-sees and must-dos of the city I’m lucky enough to call home. Ready to dive in on how to take advantage of the bubble and explore beyond it?

Blacksmith Coffee Company

Starting with my absolute favorite place and where I feel at home (even more than in my dorm room!): Blacksmith Coffee Company.

That’s right, it’s a coffee shop. But not just any coffee shop—it’s where you’ll find people who can instantly put a smile on your face. Say “hi” to Rema for me!

Here you’ll get the best cup of coffee you could wish for. Please get the almond croissant. It’s like getting one from a Parisian bakery!

Above all, Blacksmith is about community. Added bonus? It’s an amazing place to study. 

Barista showing off a foamy matcha latte.
How amazing is this latte art?
NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center and Art Gallery

NYU Abu Dhabi is nothing if not one of the greatest creative hubs I have encountered.

That is, we have so many amazing artists on campus, there is always a new exhibition, performance, or show to attend. For example, the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center offers programming almost every week. Sometimes, you could be on your way to the dining hall and see staff in the middle of installation for the next performance. It’s one of the many reasons I love our small campus: you’ll never miss a great show! Check out the upcoming recitals, film festivals and musical performances.

Several people standing outside of a violet-lit NYU Abu Dhabi campus building.
A flutist and pianist performing onstage at NYU Abu Dhabi.

I love being able to see an art installation just five minutes away from my dorm. Wouldn’t you?

Simply go to the NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery, which is right next to the NYU Abu Dhabi Welcome Center. Enjoy the latest exhibition, the only constant. One of the artists represented is the late Tarek Al-Ghoussein, who was a professor at NYU Abu Dhabi.  

Mamsha Al Saadiyat
The sun setting on Mamsha Beach.
Amina and a friend sharing an extravagant milkshake at Black Tap.

What’s better than a summer vacation, lounging on the beach and watching waves crash? Living 10 minutes away from one and enjoying it in every season!

You should take advantage of the incredible weather. Walk or get a bike from NYU Abu Dhabi to Mamsha Al Saadiyat! You can go swim in the sea for 50 AED (about $13 USD) on weekdays and 75 AED (about $20 USD) on weekends. Also, you can have some crazy milkshakes at Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer or satisfy your pasta cravings at the Italian restaurant, Antonia.

Abd El Wahab

On Tuesdays, we go to Abd El Wahab! It can definitely feel like a second campus that day, but the student discount for the delicious Lebanese food is ab-so-lu-tely worth it! In fact, my friends and I have the menus memorized. Our staples are hummus Beiruti, fattoush salad, grilled Halloumi cheese, and eggplant fatteh. You might be tempted to order a lot of food—we’ve done that one too many times!

Pro tip: Remember to always book a table!

Brunch at Circle Cafe

If Abd El Wahab is the go-to place on Tuesdays, then on weekends there is no better place for brunch than Circle Cafe on Saadiyat Island. Reserve a spot anytime from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., bring your friends, and feast on items from avocado toast and egg dishes to breakfast and yogurt bowls. Trust me, your stomach will be satisfied!

Two friends posing for the camera with their brunch orders and coffee.
Louvre Abu Dhabi and Manarat Al Saadiyat

Don’t get me wrong, I do think the Saadiyat bubble is real. However, when you have so many art venues to explore, it’s quite an appealing bubble. Louvre Abu Dhabi was born out of a beautiful cultural exchange between France and the United Arab Emirates. Now it hosts an array of world-renowned artists, from paintings by Monet, Pollock, and Kandinsky to sculptures by Rodin as well as religious symbols from different parts of the globe. 

Not only is the Louvre Abu Dhabi an iconic museum, it is also an incredible architectural feat. The way light passes through the cupola is breathtaking, especially at sunset. You can also kayak around the museum’s perimeter!

Amina sitting in a gallery at Louvre Abu Dhabi
At the Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi at sunset
The Louvre Abu Dhabi at sunset is GORGEOUS

Moreover, 10 minutes away you can find the gorgeous Manarat Al Saadiyat, which frequently hosts special exhibitions and art fairs. For example, the picture below was taken last fall at Abu Dhabi Art 2022.

the gorgeous Manarat Al Saadiyat
The stunning Manarat Al Saadiyat
Karak Tea and Thrifiting on Hamdan Street

The bustling site of Abu Dhabi thrifting is found at Hamdan Street. Look for ready-made stores—this is where you’ll find vintage and secondhand pieces. While you’re there, don’t miss out on karak tea. I have no idea what it’s made of, but I taste notes of cardamom and ginger. It’s delicious!

Some Parting Advice

Finally, I want to leave you with the best advice I have to make the most of Abu Dhabi. Yes, the campus is small—we’ve covered that already. But this is a great opportunity to build connections with both students and professors.

My advice? Participate in your class discussions. Our class sizes will leave you more inspired than ever! Get in touch with professors for any research questions, assignments, postcollege plans, or just because! You might be surprised at the opportunities you encounter. 

Amina’s home campus is NYU Abu Dhabi where she is pursuing a double major in Arab Crossroads Studies and Political Science with a Peace Studies minor, but she is originally from a tiny Eastern European country – the Republic of Moldova. She’s particularly interested in studying languages (she’s currently learning her fifth!) and in the intersection of education and conflict resolution studies. When she is not working, she loves exploring independent bookstores, looking for the next flower bouquet for her room, or sharing a cuddle with her dog.