With a population of 1.5 million, Abu Dhabi, the smaller and less known neighbor of Dubai is actually the capital of the United Arab Emarites. Something that visitors will notice is that the city has just as much charm as its rival to the west. A visit to Abu Dhabi offers tourists the chance to experience both architectural marvels and stunning natural beauty.
The UAE offers a 90-day visa-free stay to nationals of the EU and GCC member states and a 30-day visa-free stay to nationals of the USA, Australia, Japan, and many more countries. Visit the government’s website to learn more about visa requirements before visiting the UAE.
Best time to visit Abu Dhabi
Because of the unforgiving desert climate, visiting Abu Dhabi is the most enjoyable during cooler months. Any time between October and May will provide pleasant temperatures, allowing you to explore the city and wander outside of the air-conditioned malls.
October – November: Expect summer weather, perfect for relaxing at the beach clubs, lovely dinners outside with stunning views and strolls along the Corniche.
March – May: Weather during this period is largely the same as in the fall. Warm temperatures make outdoor activities pleasant and enjoyable.
December – February: Comfortable temperatures in the day combined with chilly and windy evenings. Perfect to explore the souqs (open-air market), go kayaking, or attend the F1 Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit.
December 2nd is the UAE’s biggest national holiday with celebrations throughout the month, followed by New Year’s celebrations on the waterfront with spectacular fireworks.
Abu Dhabi: City tips
Most international flights land at Abu Dhabi International Airport, but you could fly to Dubai as well and take a bus or a taxi to Abu Dhabi. Mind that, if you are flying with Etihad, they offer complimentary buses to/from Dubai.
Getting around is possible by either bus or taxi. The taxis here are fairly cheap compared to other developed countries.
The UAE is a very international community and even though the official language is Arabic, English is the most spoken language and you will find all signs in both Arabic and English. However, it will be helpful to use some basic Arabic words when talking with locals. You can learn some basic phrases here.
When you visit Abu Dhabi it is important to abide by local customs. Although somewhat westernized, the UAE is a Muslim country, and visitors should be respectful of the local culture. The general dress code – for men and women – is to keep your shoulders and knees covered in public. However, on the beach and in beach clubs, western swimwear is acceptable.
The UAE has one of the most open policies in the area. However, alcohol consumption is only allowed in international hotels, where you will find bars, beach clubs, restaurants, and night clubs – and you will find hotels everywhere. While drinking is allowed in most hotels, restaurants, and clubs – most won’t let you in with flip-flops or open-toed shoes.
Showing romantic affection in public, especially between unwed couples, is frowned upon. As always, it’s best to behave more conservatively in Abu Dhabi.
Getting a Hotel in Abu Dhabi
Hotels in Abu Dhabi run the gamut from modest block-shaped hotels to jaw-dropping 5-star palaces. The UAE is not a typical budget destination, but there are plenty of options for all types of travelers. Check Booking.com for the latest rates and to find a hotel the suits you best.
Abu Dhabi Attractions
Abu Dhabi is a multicultural city and thanks to its pearl trading and Trucial Coast history you can find an international community, a diverse food scene, followed by spectacular architecture, which has been accelerated by the countries prosperous oil boom.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque is one of the most important and spectacular architectural treasures in Abu Dhabi. A visit to this mosque will give you an insight into its beauty and give you insight into the Islamic culture in the United Arab Emirates. Modest clothing and hair coverings for women are mandatory, and if needed, you can borrow a scarf at the entrance.
If you want to check out an opulent piece of UAE architecture, enter this marble-floored and golden plated dome lobby of this 5-star hotel and have a cup of tea in the lobby café. If you have some extra dirhams, stay for an amazing – if pricey – afternoon tea experience.
A thrill-seekers delight! Ride on the fastest rollercoaster in the world and learn about the history and making of Ferraris while enjoying over-the-top rides at this world-class amusement park.
What to eat in Abu Dhabi
You will find a very diverse gastronomic scene in Abu Dhabi thanks to its international population.
For a contemporary touch in Emirati food, visit Meylas Food Truck and get a sense of the local delicacies in a street-style atmosphere.
If you have extra dirhams in your wallet, try the Mezlai restaurant in the Emirates Palace Hotel.
You will not be disappointed if you visit any of the small Indian restaurants, where the food is genuine and affordable compared to restaurants in high-end hotels, which serve entrees and alcohol, at sky-high prices.
Best Abu Dhabi tours
Go for a walk or rent a bicycle and cycle down this 8-kilometer path between the beach and skyscrapers. There are parks and coffee shops all along the way for refreshments and it enables you to admire the Abu Dhabi skyline. On the southern end, you can find the Emirates Palace Hotel and on the peninsula just across from it is the Marina Mall, where you can go for dinner with a view in the revolving tower.
Mangrove kayak tour
If you want to see Abu Dhabi from a different perspective, this is a highly recommended activity. The creeks in Abu Dhabi are lined with mangrove trees and you can take a kayak tour through the exotic mangrove forests.
If you want something even more out of the ordinary, you can opt for an overnight tour, where you paddle to an island in the middle of the mangroves and spend the night under the stars with some BBQ and paddle back in the morning.
Speed boat tour
Book a tour with one of the companies that offer boat tours and enjoy speeding through the Gulf. The best way to watch the wonders of Abu Dhabi is from the water. The boat will make stops along the way in order for the guide to comment on the attractions. If you get lucky you might be able to see a pod of dolphins during the tour!
What to bring to Abu Dhabi
In the winter months the evenings are windy and cold, so bring a cardigan or a light jacket – especially if you’re planning on spending a night in the desert.
In the summer you will need light, yet respectful clothes to deal with the heat and humidity outside and a sweater to wear inside because of the A/C.
For women, a scarf is recommendable as you can use it to cover your shoulders or to keep you warm inside a mall.
Most licensed restaurants and bars are in high-end hotels, so packing some more elegant attire will come in handy when going for a dinner or night out.
An electric converter could be useful, even though most extensions already have converters build into them. Charging your phone or laptop in most coffee shops is completely acceptable.
If you are on any medication, check that they are not on the restricted and banned substances list before taking them with you. Many medications are considered drugs and hence blacklisted. Getting caught with them could get you into trouble. There is a zero-tolerance for any kind of drugs being brought into the country.
If you’re visiting during the holy month of Ramadan, mind that drinking, eating and smoking in public during the daytime is not allowed except in dedicated areas.