In all of our world travels, the United Arab Emirates is one of the best countries we have visited. We literally included it in our list of the 7 most unforgettable places that we’ve visited. From the glamour of Dubai to the beautifully peaceful deserts, the United Arab Emirates is absolutely packed with things to do and see.
While many travelers flock straight to Dubai, we strongly advise setting aside some time to head to the country’s wealthy capital just an hour and a half to the west. Abu Dhabi is definitely worth visiting and shouldn’t be missed on your trip to the United Arab Emirates. If you’re also planning to go to Dubai, be sure to check out my Dubai travel guide!
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Best Things to Do in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi is absolutely glamorous, just like most of the United Arab Emirates. It is also an extremely unique country. Only a fraction of the people living in the United Arab Emirates are citizens, and less than 30% of the country’s population speaks the national language of Arabic.
The citizens are very well taken care of by the government because of the absurd wealth of oil that the country enjoys, and most of the workforce below the management level is comprised of immigrants. As a result of this absurd oil wealth and the high-class life that many of its citizens can afford, this country is bursting with absurd exhibitions of wealth. In this list of the top 6 things to do, you’ll see them in full effect!
Yes, you read that right. In the Emirates Palace, which is now an absolutely stunning hotel, you can order a golden cappuccino – or as it’s officially labeled, a “Palace Cappuccino” – in their ‘Le Café Under The Dome’. In my opinion, this is the best thing to do in Abu Dhabi.
If you know me, you know that I have years of experience in the coffee industry and consider myself to be a bit of a coffee snob. Needless to say, when I saw that this was an option, we put it at the top of our bucket list of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi.
Whether you follow Islam, Judaism, Christianity, or none of the above, you really need to head to the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque. It is one of the most breathtaking religious structures we have ever seen!
This gigantic, perfectly white mosque is one of the most iconic places in the city. Every detail is absolutely stunning, and it absolutely belongs on your list of the top things to do in Abu Dhabi.
Tips for Visiting Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque
If you haven’t been to a mosque before, don’t worry! The staff is very friendly. There are tours in many languages that go throughout the mosque as well, and we’d highly recommend joining one so that you can learn a bit about Islam during your visit.
A lot of people wonder about the dress code at the mosque in Abu Dhabi. While most mosques will simply turn you away if you are not properly dressed, the Sheikh Zayed Grande Mosque actually provides the attire for you to use during your visit, free of charge.
They have fitting rooms where you can slide it on over your clothes. Men will not be required to cover up, but we advise that you wear conservative clothing and remain as respectful as possible during your visit.
3. Ferrari World – Ferrari’s One and Only Amusement Park
Yes, this is what it sounds like. It is Disney World, but instead of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck walking around, it is Ferrari sports cars. You need to see it to believe it.
It is located on Yas Island which is a very upscale area of Abu Dhabi…if you couldn’t tell based on the fact that Ferrari – one of the most luxurious brands in the world — built its only amusement park there. From roller coasters, to games, to incredible restaurants, Ferrari World has it all.
Ferrari World Entry Price
It does come at a high price. Admission tickets cost around 295 dirham, which is about $80. That is a hefty price tag, but it really isn’t any worse than Disney World is. And let’s be real – saying that you went to Ferrari’s amusement park sounds pretty sweet.
If you decide to do this, be sure to buy your tickets in advance. The park has a limited capacity, and it would be a real downer to head all the way to Yas Island and find out that the park is full.
Abu Dhabi is just filled with surprises, isn’t it? The Louvre is in Paris, right?
Well, yes, it is. But they opened a second one in Abu Dhabi! That’s how glamorous Abu Dhabi is. A visit to the Louvre in Abu Dhabi will cost you 60 dirham, which is about 15 dollars.
This is actually marginally cheaper than general admission to the Louvre is Paris, which is 17 euros. While not everyone is an art lover, visiting a museum of such prestige can be enjoyed by almost anyone!
If you decide to visit, be sure to buy your tickets in advance and show up on time. The Louvre is one of the most prestigious museums in the world, and we definitely recommend checking out the only Louvre location outside of France if you have the time!
If you’re heading out to Yas Island for a trip to Ferrari World, you should consider making a pit stop at the Yas Mall as well. This mall is one of the nicest in all of the United Arab Emirates, and there are so many great restaurants and things to do.
We went rock climbing (on the tallest rock climbing wall in the world!) in the mall while we visited, but they have indoor skydiving as well! Going for a stroll around the Yas Mall is a great way to spend an afternoon or evening if you’re in the Yas Island area, and you will have countless great options for things to eat! The mall sells just about every name brand you can think of from around the world, and serves just about every type of cuisine.
The Corniche is essentially Abu Dhabi’s Riviera. Along the city’s entire coast, you can find great beaches with plenty of restaurant and snack options and a beautifully paved pathway stretching the whole length of the city. One thing that we recommend is using one of the electric scooters that are sitting around the area to zip up and down the riviera and find the perfect place for you.
As you explore the Corniche, you’ll find a great blend of local places and international brands. We opted to treat ourselves and get some ice cream from Coldstone Creamery and enjoy it on the beach. You can use any map application on your phone to look for anything that meets your craving, and I’m sure you’ll find something!
How to Get to Abu Dhabi
When figuring out how to get to Abu Dhabi from somewhere outside of the United Arab Emirates, you have two main options. Firstly, you could choose to fly directly into Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH).
Depending on the flights being offered from your point of departure, this may be a good option for you. The perk of this is that you land directly in Abu Dhabi, which is certainly a nice, streamlined advantage.
However, we found that coming from the United States you’ll get a much better flight deal 99% of the time if you fly into Dubai, which is only an hour and a half east of Abu Dhabi. Dubai has two large airports, but if you’re arriving on an international flight, you’ll probably land in Dubai International Airport (DXB), which is Dubai’s bigger hub airport. While this option requires you to then make your way from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, it can actually still be faster and cheaper than flying directly into Abu Dhabi!
The flights are almost always cheaper – normally by hundreds of dollars, in fact – and the connection times also tend to be shorter. On a recent search of flights from New York City to both Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I found that the best flight option to Dubai was $400 cheaper and 3 hours faster than the best option to Abu Dhabi.
So, by deviating a bit and heading to Dubai, you can save yourself a ton of time and money. For more information on using hub airports to save money on airfare as well as several other tips for cheap flights, check out my blog post on finding cheap flights.
If you choose to fly into Dubai instead of Abu Dhabi, your next question would be “How do I get from Dubai to Abu Dhabi?” You have a couple of options, and they’re pretty much what you’d expect: car rental, bus, taxi, private transfer, and Uber.
If you opt to take the bus, you can expect the journey to take about two hours and cost you 25 dirham each way, which is a bit under $14 round trip. The bus is very comfortable, is well air-conditioned, and perfectly safe. You’ll want grab the bus from Al Ghubaiba Station in Dubai and it will drop you at Al Wahda Station in Abu Dhabi.
- TIME & COST - Expect the journey to take about two hours and cost you 25 dirham each way, which is a bit under $14 round trip.
The busses depart every 15 minutes. We took the E100 route, but there are a couple of other bus lines that also take you there – just take the first one available! To pay your fare, you’ll need to buy a Nol card, which is essentially a Dubai public transit pass that you can reload as you go.
You can buy this at the bus station, and there are plenty of multi-lingual machines where you can top up your balance. Be sure to put enough on the card to cover your round-trip journey, as you don’t buy bus tickets – you just tap your card as you board the bus, and it automatically deducts your balance.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are both served by pretty much every rental car company you can imagine. As a result, you’ll have your full pick as to which company to use. Driving in the United Arab Emirates is very safe and very straightforward, and the roads are stellar.
If you’re a rookie when it comes to driving downtown in a metropolis, you might have a bit of anxiety exiting Dubai, but once you get onto the highway to Abu Dhabi, it’s just like home. They drive on the right side of the street, by the way.
- TIME & COST - Expect the journey to take about 1.5 hours and be prepared to pay tolls with cash (around 4 Dirham).
Check with the rental company to see whether or not your car is equipped with an electronic tag to pay the tolls. If so, you’ll just settle that balance when you return the car. If not, you’ll need to have some cash on hand (about 4 dirham booth) to cover the tolls.
In a car, the trip shouldn’t take you much more than an hour and a half. This option might wind up being very cost-effective, too, because Abu Dhabi is fairly spread out. Some of the best things to do are 15 to 20 minutes outside of downtown, and Uber’s or taxis within the city can get pricey eventually.
Taking a taxi is a convenient and safe option, but it will cost you. A taxi from Dubai to Abu Dhabi will cost you over $100 each way, which definitely isn’t a cheap option. However, if you’re not a fan of taking the bus and you don’t like the idea of driving in the United Arab Emirates, it might be the option you choose.
- TIME & COST - This is the most expensive option. Expect the journey to take about 1.5 hours and it will cost over $100 each way.
Taxis can be hailed anywhere on the street, but you can also have your hotel call one for you if you’d like. We took a taxi one way for the sake of being able to personally vouch for their security in this post, and we took the bus on the way back. Both options are perfectly safe, but honestly there’s no need to pay $100 when you can pay $7 for the bus.
Uber is our go-to option in most places in the world. It’s extremely safe, usually cheaper than taxis, and takes you directly from point A to point B with great service. In most scenarios, I’d recommend Uber as the second-best option, only below public transportation.
- TIME & COST - Uber will be around the same price as a taxi ($100+). Expect the journey to take about 1.5 hours.
However, for such a long trip, I don’t recommend it this time around. The United Arab Emirates is an expensive country, and Uber’s prices are inflated to reflect that. Uber is great for getting you around within one of the cities, but for such a long trip, it’s just as expensive as the taxi.
I would recommend it over a taxi, yes, but renting a car or taking the bus are both significantly better options, in our opinion. If you are worried about taking an Uber while in a foreign country, I recommend checking out this blog post that talks all about using Uber internationally.
If you’re not a fan of public transportation or public transportation isn’t very convenient to your day’s schedule, we fully recommend calling an Uber. Uber is one of our favorite creations of the past decade, and we use it almost daily while traveling. It is always safer than a taxi due to the GPS tracking and background screening of all of the drivers, and it usually is cheaper than a traditional taxi, too.
The app works the exact same in the United Arab Emirates as it does anywhere else in the world. If you’re apprehensive about using Uber during your trip, check out my post on using Uber in foreign countries.
While you could rent a car, I almost never advise this unless you’re going somewhere that will inherently require a lot of driving, like any kind of wine country. When you plan on visiting a city and only venturing out a couple of times, avoiding a rental car can save you from spending hundreds of unnecessary dollars.
How to Get Around Abu Dhabi
BUS | TAXI | UBER | ELECTRIC SCOOTER
Getting around Abu Dhabi is pretty straightforward. There is no metro system; the only public transportation option is the bus. However, the busses are very well connected, are air-conditioned, and are not a bad choice! If you don’t mind figuring out the bus route grid and waiting for buses, they’re a great option.
We didn’t feel like being so patient because we didn’t have a ton of time in this awesome city. Instead, we opted to either drive (did we mention Angel’s awesome cousin, Teresa, lives here and showed us around?), Uber, or walk.
Many of the things that are downtown are walkable, which is always a huge plus. Uber is also very fairly priced in Abu Dhabi, so calling a few rides won’t drain your bank account too far.
Another awesome option is using the shareable scooters that are available throughout the city. I mentioned this earlier, but using the shareable scooters is very cost-effective and can really be a lot of fun.
We used them to travel all around the city – from the center, to the Corniche, to the Emirates Palace, and beyond. They cost about 3 dirham (75 cents) to unlock and then 1 dirham (25 cents) per minute of use.
If you’ve never heard of these E-scooters or are curious about how to use them, check out my post on electric scooters. I break it all down for you, including how much they cost, how to use them, how to stay safe, and more. I’ve used them in about 15 countries, and they’re always my favorite way to get around!
What to Wear in Abu Dhabi
First and foremost, dress modestly. Yes, Dubai has in some ways earned the title of the “Las Vegas of the Middle East.” Don’t let that fool you in the slightest bit. It is a ton of fun, and everything is big and shiny, but the United Arab Emirates is still a Muslim country and there are certain modesty standards that need to be met.
First things first, Abu Dhabi is worlds different from Dubai in terms of conservativism. Both are conservative, but Dubai tends to be more accepting to those who aren’t conservative than Abu Dhabi is.
Abu Dhabi is More Conservative than Dubai
In Dubai, you might see some people walking around in some not-so-modest things, but you really don’t want to be that kind of person. You want to respect the country that you’re visiting, right?
In terms of what to wear, I’d say try to cover your shoulders, wear knee-length bottoms, and if you’re a woman, try to minimize the amount of cleavage that you show. Doing a little bit to show respect goes a very long way. I wrote a post about what to wear in Morocco, and I would say that Abu Dhabi has an even more conservative dress code than that.
But what if you’re going to the beach? Dubai and Abu Dhabi both have awesome beach scenes, and you will definitely want to visit! There’s no need to buy a whole new bathing suit to try and show respect.
There are plenty of bikinis on the beaches in Dubai – just try to pick your most conservative one, if you can, and be sure to cover back up before you walk along the boardwalk area or into the city, as the police turn a blind eye to the people on the sand, but are a bit less accepting once you leave the beach. In Abu Dhabi, there are also plenty of bikinis but the whole “only on the beach” rule is even stricter.
Our Abu Dhabi Tips
Abu Dhabi is an incredible place, and you’ll be so happy you took the time to visit. However, there are a couple more recommendations we’d like to toss your way to provide the best possible vacation.
That’s all I have for you about Abu Dhabi! Hopefully you learned a few things from my Abu Dhabi Travel Guide and are looking forward to your next trip to the United Arab Emirates. If you have any questions be sure to drop a comment in the comment section or shoot us an email.
If you’re planning a trip to Abu Dhabi, let us know! We’d love to chat ahead of time and answer any questions you have. Otherwise, have a wonderful day and stay present!