Geography of Abu Dhabi
- Stunning

The geography of Abu Dhabi means you get all you could want in one place. White sandy beaches, sparkling sea, cool mountain oasis, stunning desert landscapes. However that’s not all there is.....

Where is Abu Dhabi?

Abu Dhabi Emirate itself is one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  

The UAE is in heart of the Middle East, on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula. It borders the Sultanate of Oman and Saudi Arabia.  Qatar, Bahrain, and Iran are close. With coastlines on the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, the UAE is a shining light in acceptance and cultural diversity.

It is this precise location that means it is perfectly positioned to become a world hub and international tourist destination.

Home to over 150 nationalities it is one of the most progressive and open minded countries in the region.

Abu Dhabi Emirates is by far the largest emirate. The other emirates are:

  • Ajman
  • Dubai
  • Fujairah
  • Ras Al Khaimah
  • Sharjah
  • Umm Al Quwain

Abu Dhabi Emirate borders Dubai and Sharjah.

It is made up of three distinct areas:

 Did you know?

The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is the largest of all the emirates.

Geography of Abu Dhabi Facts:

  • Abu Dhabi Emirate covers 67,340 sq. km.   
  • It makes up 87% of the UAE’s total land area.  
  • About 93% of land in the emirate of Abu Dhabi is low lying sand desert and arid land with sabkha (salt flats) and gravel plain.
  • Only 30% of Abu Dhabi Emirate is inhabited.
  • 1.2% is used for agriculture.
  • There are over 200 islands, most small and uninhabited.
  • The highest mountain in Abu Dhabi Emirate is Jebel Hafeet (1240m), south of Al Ain in both Oman and Abu Dhabi.
  • The highest mountain in the UAE is Jebel Yibir (1527m).
  • To the east of Abu Dhabi lie the Hajar Mountains. They form a backbone for the UAE running from the Musundam Peninsula (Oman) in the north, through eastern UAE to Oman.
  • Temperatures range from 35 to 52 in summer and 15 to 26 in winter.

Did you know? 

Rub Al Khali or ‘Empty Quarter’ lies in the south of Abu Dhabi. It stretches into Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen. It is the largest sand desert in the world. Sand dunes rise to more than 300m. It is spectacular.

Geography of Abu Dhabi Coastal Region

By the coast you will find the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi city. Abu Dhabi city is located on an island 250 metres off the mainland. The island city has expanded onto the mainland of the emirate in recent years, due to huge population growth. Many people when referring to where they live, will say, they live ‘on’ or ‘off’ the island. 

Most of the city is still ‘on island’.  It is  connected to the mainland by three main bridges, Maqta bridge, Mussafah bridge and Sheikh Zayed Bridge.

The suburbs ‘off island’ include:

  • Khalifa City A, B and C
  • Al Raha Beach
  • Al Bahia City A, B, C
  • Al Shahama
  • Al Rahba
  • Between 2 Bridges
  • Baniyas
  • Mussafah

People also live on on Al Reem Island (connected by Al Mafraq bridge) and Saadiyat Island (connected by a five lane bridge).

Abu Dhabi island is surrounded by other smaller islands: Saadiyat island, Yas island, As Sammaliyyah island, Umm yifenah island, Al Reem island, Lulu island, Hudayriat island and Futaisi island. 

Geography of Abu Dhabi Mountain Region

 Al Ain to the east of Abu Dhabi, is a natural oasis.  It lies 300 metres above sea level inland and 60km from the island of Abu Dhabi.

Al Ain was the birthplace of Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the UAE). The garden city of Al Ain has seven natural oasis so the land is suitable for farming. The farms still use the historic fajal system of irrigation. Water is drawn from underground aquifers and distributed along  a network of low walled aqueducts.


Al Ain is a very important city due to its location on the border of the UAE and Oman.  Historically, Al Ain acted as a stop off point and trade centre for traders coming from the Sultanate of Oman. In the past, therefore, there was always the threat of invasion. 18 stone fortresses were built surrounding the city.

Jebel Hafeet is a 1240 metre mountain which rises up to welcome you as you enter Al Ain. There are hot springs at the foot of the mountain which are thought to have healing properties.  People living on the mountain in the past lived in Bait Al Hassa- the mountain peoples house.

The mountain peoples house: 

  • built up of pebbles.
  • roof made from palm fronds. 

It is traditionally cool in summer and warm in the winter. The roof is made thicker by adding palm fronds and clay. This protects it from the rain and keeps the house cool in the summer. 

Geography of Abu Dhabi Desert Region

Al Gharbia is the western region of Abu Dhabi emirate, it has a spectacular coast and lying inland you will discover a magnificent desert landscape. 

Liwa is a large oasis lying inland and has drawn visitors and tribes to the western region for centuries. Liwa looks like an Arabian Tuscany: with rolling hills and valleys full of date and camel farms, stretching out to the horizon. The current ruling family of Abu Dhabi originally came from the Liwa area. As well as agriculture it also has a strong horticultural industry providing salad greens and fruits to local markets and supermarkets throughout the emirate. If you are in a supermarket look out for local produce - it tastes great!

Geography of Abu Dhabi Wildlife

While the desert may look empty there is a surprising amount of life to be found.  Camels and goats are often seen - beware on the roads! Arabian leopards and ibex are around but outside of special preserves such as Al Ain Zoo or Emirates Park Zoo they are unlikely to be seen. Other animals include sand cats, desert fox, gerbils, snakes, geckos and desert hares.  If you are really lucky you may get to see a camel spider. As big as a plate these spiders like to hide in any shade - if you are providing the only shade around it will feel like they are chasing you! Rest assured they are not. In reality you’re extremely unlikely to see one so don’t panic!

Sir Bani Yas Island, the largest natural island in the UAE,  is home to an internationally acclaimed breeding programme for endangered wildlife.  Thousand of large, free roaming animals and millions of trees are spread over 87 km². If you are staying at the Desert Islands Resort and Spa by Anantara, the only resort on the island, a horseback tour is the most incredible way to really get up close and personal.  For those less keen on horses, game drives, kayaking, mountain biking, hiking and snorkelling are all possible.

Abu Dhabi Emirate also has over 3500 native plants - most famously the date palm. When you’re travelling look around for dates growing high in the palm trees everywhere in the summer months. In the mountains acacia trees and wild grass abound.

Bird species are also on the rise. Abu Dhabi is on the route for birds migrating between central Asia and east Africa.  As the emirate gets greener, the number of birds increases. It must look more inviting from the air.

In the sea there is an abundance of marine life. On a lucky day you may see dolphins from the beach at Saadiyat. Or turtles laying their eggs. Mangroves can be seen throughout locations about Abu Dhabi city - a kayak tour is the ideal way to really experience them. 

The sealife is so amazing that Bu Tinah, a tiny collection of islands and reefs has been nominated as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Unfortunately it is not open to visitors as it is protected. The coral, seagrass, mangroves, flamingos, dolphins, turtles and dugong seen there can still be found elsewhere though! 


The geography of Abu Dhabi means that deserts, oases, mountains, coral reefs, mangroves and more can all be found in one visit.  Or take your time and explore one small area every weekend. You’ll never get bored!

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