Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates is the country’s second biggest city after the more popular Dubai. In recent years it has followed in Dubai’s footsteps in becoming a great stopover city for visitors travelling via the middle east. This is because Etihad Airways (which is based in Abu Dhabi) now flies to destinations all across the world, including cities in Asia, Europe, America and Australia.
Although it’s still not as well known as Dubai, Abu Dhabi does not have a shortage of attractions that you can check out on your next stopover. If like us you prefer to break up your long haul flights, here’s how to spend 24 hours in Abu Dhabi.
Visit the Heritage Centre
Visit the Heritage Centre to see how the Emiratis lived before the U.A.E was founded in 1971. The centre is a reconstruction of an Emirati village that demonstrates how the nomads, pearl divers and fishermen lived back then. It’s not very big and you won’t spend long there but it’s worth a quick look, especially since it’s free. It also provides some incredible views of the city skyline from its beachfront area.
Take a stroll or cycle along the Corniche
The Corniche is a great place to take a relaxed walk. Alternatively, if you are into cycling, you can hire bikes and ride along the beachfront. Bike hire booths are located in the middle of the Corniche. The Corniche offers nice views of the beachfront and of Abu Dhabi’s skyline.
Admire the Emirates Palace
As one of the most luxurious hotels in the UAE, this hotel’s price tag was well above what we could afford. But if you’re dressed appropriately (no shorts, men must wear closed shoes, nothing too revealing for women), you are welcome to enter and take a sticky beak at its elegant and grandiose lobby. Its opulent 24 karat gold interior is pretty impressive.
Once inside you can visit “Le Cafe”, the hotel’s cafe where you can order a cappuccino with flakes of real gold on top! However, we preferred to save our money for later! Just in case you need one, they also have a gold ATM! While there you can also check out the palace’s well-manicured gardens.
Shop at the Marina Mall
Shopping is a popular thing to do in the UAE and just like Dubai, Abu Dhabi has some great shopping opportunities. The Marina Mall is just a short walk or taxi ride from the Corniche and is home to both local and high-end brands. If that’s not enough shopping for you, head to the Yas Mall on Yas Island.
Visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque
If you do just one thing in Abu Dhabi, this has to be it. This Mosque is the most beautiful mosque we have ever visited and is totally worth the visit. Newly built, it can hold up to 40,000 worshipers.
Visit the mosque either first thing in the morning or at golden hour, an hour or so before sunset. While it’s quieter first thing in the morning, the light just before sunset is incredible for photography. If you hang around after sunset, you can also take photos of the mosque at night.
Remember that you cannot enter the mosque before 4.30 pm on Fridays. The mosque conducts free tours several times a day. We believe the tour was well worth taking as they visit parts of the mosque that you can’t get to on your own.
There is no entry fee to visit the mosque. However, you need to respect the strict dress code. Women need to have long, loose-fitting clothes and a headscarf and men need long pants. You can rent abayas at the entrance if you don’t have appropriate clothing. A mosque is a holy place for Muslims, so please try to be respectful and follow their rules.
Opening times: 9am-10pm (Saturday to Thursday), 4:30pm-10pm (Friday)
What to wear in Abu Dhabi?
Although Abu Dhabi is a lot more relaxed than many other middle eastern countries, women still need to adhere to a stricter dress code. Respect their beliefs and avoid short skirts, shorts or plunging necklines. You do not have to wear a headscarf unless you are visiting a mosque.
48 hours in Abu Dhabi?
If you have an extra day in Abu Dhabi, there are plenty of other places to visit, such as Yas Island, Yas Marina Circuit, Ferrari World, Louvre Abu Dhabi. You can also take an evening desert safari, we did that in Dubai and it was the best!
Getting around in Abu Dhabi
Taxis in Abu Dhabi are pretty cheap, safe and easy to find. Most of the main sights are also on the Big Bus Tour route. Depending on what you decide to see that might be an option too. The tour costs US$66.50 if booked online. The first bus starts at 9 am and the last bus is at 5pm. Outside of those hours, you’ll need to catch a taxi. You can also use Uber in Abu Dhabi.
Where to stay in Abu Dhabi?
If like us, you only have a short stopover, you should stay near the airport. As we were arriving just before midnight and leaving at 6 am, 36 hours later, we decided to stay at the Abu Dhabi airport transit hotel, the Premier Inn International Airport Hotel.
We really were happy with our choice because it took only five minutes to walk there after clearing immigration and customs. The price was affordable and the rooms were spacious and clean and more importantly quiet (we couldn’t hear the planes).
Another good thing about this hotel is that it offers a free shuttle bus to the Marina/heritage centre, Yas Island and to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. There is also a rooftop pool with views across the airport runway if you have more spare time. Simon loved watching the planes land and take off from here!
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