Abu Dhabi is worth the stop…
Home to year-round sunshine, breathtaking desert landscapes, gorgeous beaches and a fascinating blend of tradition and modernity, Abu Dhabi makes for the perfect stopover on your way to destinations in Europe or the Middle East.
While this culturally rich capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) might seem glittery and filled with 24K magic (it’s okay to indulge in luxury once in a while!), the city is does not lack in budget options – you just need to know the right places to eat, stay and see!
Next time you’re travelling, consider making a longer stop in Abu Dhabi as it is a convenient way to explore a unique destination that you may otherwise never fly into (unless you live in Dubai or are on a business trip).
Need a little inspo to plan your stopover? We are ready to share our favourite must-see places, dining spots and experiences…
Where to stay:
Premier Inn Abu Dhabi International Airport Hotel is a no brainer considering the affordable price tag and brilliant location inside the airport (talk about hassle-free transits). The beds are comfortable and the WiFi inside the room is fast (and free!), not to mention to the rooftop outdoor pool and a fully equipped gym.
In case you need convincing, this laidback, mid-market hotel offers complimentary shuttle buses throughout the day that take you to some of Abu Dhabi’s main attractions (Yas Island, Marina Mall, Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the Corniche and more). Definitely a huge save on transportation and a convenient option for first-time visitors to effortlessly check off their sightseeing list.
If you are looking for accommodation in the city centre, Centro Al Manhal Hotel by Rotana is located right next to Al Wahda Mall and only a five-minute walk from the Abu Dhabi Main Bus Terminal. The rooms are clean, stylishly furnished and service is exceptional.
Where to explore:
The Corniche is ideal for a leisurely stroll or cycling along the beachfront, which is one of the most accessible and enjoyable activities in Abu Dhabi.
You will find a bike rental booth between Gate 3 and Gate 4, in the middle of the four mile long seaside boardwalk. While the sun can be quite strong in Abu Dhabi during the day, there are plenty of restaurant and café options (with an amazing view over the skyline of Abu Dhabi) around Gate 4 for you to escape the heat and refuel.
Apart from the public stretches of sand, the Croniche also features a paid family beach for those traveling with kids and Al Sahil Beach for singles and groups. With an entry fee of AED10 and sun loungers available for the whole day at AED25, these secluded beaches are perfect for travellers who’d prefer a calm holiday away from the crowd.
If you want to see what shopping is like the UAE, head over to Marina Mall (conveniently located just off the Corniche), a sizeable mall featuring everything from local to high-end brands. Looking for the ultimate shopping experience? The ultra-modern Yas Mall on Yas Island and The Galleria on Al Maryah Island are guaranteed to amaze even the pickiest (window) shoppers with a wide range of fashion and luxury goods.
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What to do:
Want to get a feel of what Abu Dhabi was like before the oil boom? Head to Heritage Village and visit a reconstruction of an Emirati village, which showcases the UAE’s humble beginnings to present riches. Explore the old souqs and get a glimpse of the past Bedouin lifestyle. Watch local artisans as they demonstrate traditional crafts and you may be invited to partake in your own artistry, too.
Looking for a little pampering after a long trip? Saadiyat Beach Club offers day passes which give you unlimited access to their Spa facilities (sauna, jacuzzi, steam room), swimming pool, loungers and gym, from 8am until 8pm. While the day pass rates at AED250 on weekdays and AED375 on weekends may not sound like a bargain, ladies only need to pay AED90 on Ladies Day (every Monday and Tuesday).
No trip to Abu Dhabi is complete without a desert safari. Emirates Tours and Safaris is a highly rated tour operator in the UAE, which offer various safari packages, covering different desert adventures. We couldn’t recommend enough the six-hour, half day desert safari, which includes dune bashing in a four-wheel drive (an adventure junkie’s favourite), camel riding, an Emirati-style feast, Henna tattoos and a belly dancing show, just to name a few.
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What to see:
If you only have time to see one thing in Abu Dhabi, a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE is an absolute must. Don’t miss the chance to slip off your shoes, walk on the largest carpet in the world, marvel at the vast arena of marbles and the world’s third largest Swarovski chandeliers.
While the grand mosque is open to non-Muslim visitors (for free), it is important for both men and women to respect the religion and follow the mosque etiquette. Don’t worry if you don’t have any long, loose-fitting clothes and a headscarf with you. Before you enter the grand mosque, there is a free abaya rental at the ladies’ entrance. Cameras are allowed in the mosque and the best time to visit is around 5pm-6pm, if you wish to catch a glimpse of golden hour.
It is worthwhile to join the free 45-minute walk-in guided tour (in English and Arabic), which gives information about the Islamic religion, the architecture itself and the intricate interior design.
Sassy tip: The grand mosque is closed for worship on Friday mornings and reopens at 4:30pm.
Visiting times: 9am-10pm (Saturday to Thursday), 4:30pm-10pm (Friday)
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Where to eat:
Keen to taste pure luxury, Abu Dhabi style? At the start of the Corniche sits Emirates Palace, the second most expensive hotel in world to construct (yes, the UAE is full of superlatives!). Located just passed the hotel lobby, Le Café offers the perfect setting to soak up the atmosphere.
Must-tries include the 24K gold-flaked ‘Emirates Palace Cappuccino’ and Camelccino (made with, you guessed it – camel’s milk!), along with the famous ‘Emirates Palace Gold Camel Burger’. If you’d like to opt for Emirati/Arab dishes, its mezze platter and umm ali are delicious, too. Surprisingly, the food prices are not as ridiculously expensive as you’d expect from dining at a ‘seven-star’ hotel, and walk-ins are accepted.
If you’re looking for something more down-to-earth, Meylas is the place to be for an authentic Emirati gastronomy experience. This beachside restaurant promises a good Emirati vibe with cultural references known to the locals as part of the retro décor (totally instagram-worthy), and each traditional Emirati dish (follows a unique recipe prepared by Emirati mums) is presented with a fun, modern twist.
Where to drink:
While drinking alcohol in public is forbidden in Abu Dhabi (and the rest of the UAE), you can still order alcohol in restaurants, bars and nightclubs affiliated with a hotel.
Rosewood Abu Dhabi’s Hidden Bar is one of the local’s favourite lounges specialising in Gin. Enjoy its sophisticated ambience indoors or step outside to the terrace for a gorgeous view of the Abu Dhabi skyline. Don’t miss out on the buy one, get one free happy hour offer at 6pm-8pm and 12am-3am daily.
A swanky lounge that will remind you of an upscale bar in New York City the moment you step in, The Manhattan Lounge located inside the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort serves up some of the best cocktails in Abu Dhabi. With an exquisite outdoor area that looks out over the Persian Gulf, this old-school venue is ideal for a (tasty) sun-downer (happy hour starts at 5pm). Be sure to try the bar’s signature cocktail ‘The Arabian Snapper’ – its very own Bloody Mary with a twist.