Thinking of heading to Abu Dhabi? Do it.
Often overshadowed by it’s big sister Dubai, Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the seven states – a hidden gem brimming with ancient tradition and soaring skyscrapers.
We recently spent 24 hours exploring the modern marvel and we’re already itching to go back.
So if like us, you happen to find yourself in the wealthy Emirate for a short stay, we’ve put together this guide to help you make the most out of your trip.
Things to Know Before You Go
Best described as a conservative cosmopolitan, Abu Dhabi is nowhere near as strict as you may have thought. Like anywhere that you visit, it’s important to respect a country’s culture and customs.
Here’s a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning a trip to Abu Dhabi.
- The UAE’S official currency is the Emirati dirham, but almost all hotels and restaurants will accept credit and debit cards.
- Tourists aren’t expected to wear traditional clothing but you should be aware of dress codes in certain areas such as shopping malls and places of worship. It’s advised but not compulsory to dress modestly and you can’t go wrong in long and loose clothing (this will also help to keep you cool.) It’s absolutely fine to wear swimsuits, shorts etc by the swimming pool or at the beach.
- Abu Dhabi receives sunshine all year round, but the summer months can get ridiculously hot and humid. The heat is most bearable between October – May, but this time of year does of course attract most tourists. It’s also worth noting when the holy month of Ramadan starts and ends, as tourists are not allowed to eat or drink in public during the daytime to respect those who are fasting. Many restaurants and attractions change their working hours during the period of Ramadan.
- It’s illegal to consume alcohol outside of hotels and intimacy between couples should be reduced to a minimum whilst out in public to avoid any unwanted attention.
What To Do
Here’s what’s not to be missed during your 24 hours in Abu Dhabi.
SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
Visiting the largest mosque in the UAE is an absolute must when visiting Abu Dhabi.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is an architectural marvel and you’ll find yourself picking up your jaw from the floor as you stroll around this stunning place of worship.
Predominantly white in colour, the mosque has been built using mainly marble as well as gold and other precious stones. It can hold an incredible 40,000 worshippers and features the world’s largest hand woven carpet as well as gold plated chandeliers.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, you will be blown away by it’s beauty.
Travel Tip: Visiting times are Sunday – Thursday from 09:00AM – 22:00PM (closed for tourists on Friday mornings during prayer time.) Visitors must dress modestly; men cannot wear shorts and women are only allowed their hands, feet and face to be on show. You will be provided with suitable clothing before you enter the mosque.
AFTERNOON TEA AT EMIRATES PALACE
Don’t miss your opportunity to visit Emirates Palace, one of the most luxurious and lavish hotels in the world.
We indulged in the Royal Afternoon Tea Affair in the hotel’s elegant tea lounge, Le Cafe.
We were served a selection of sandwiches, freshly baked scones, cakes and tartlets and our favourite – warm chocolate fondant.
We have tried afternoon tea all around the world, but never before have we had 23K gold flakes on our cappuccino – we really did feel like Royalty.
From the moment you enter the palace you’ll be overwhelmed by it’s outlandish interior, the hotel is decorated from head to toe with gold leaf and quite literally ‘glows.’
If afternoon tea isn’t your thing, you can take a guided tour of the Palace where you’ll learn about the history of the hotel and get to see some of the Palace’s most expensive suites.
Modern, sophisticated and luxurious – the Etihad Towers are a modern reflection of how far Abu Dhabi has come in recent years.
If the towers look familiar to you, you’ve probably seen the famous scene from Fast and Furious 7 when a car is ‘crashed’ through three of the towers.
After you’ve finished marvelling at the towers from the outside, you can visit the country’s highest vantage point at Observation Deck at 300 for unbeatable views across Abu Dhabi and it’s surrounding islands.
We were happy a few floors lower and decided to grab a drink at Ray’s Bar on Level 62 so we could check out the incredible view with a cocktail in hand.
ABU DHABI MALL
The UAE is a shopper’s paradise and you can’t leave Abu Dhabi without treating yourself to something nice.
Abu Dhabi Mall is directly connected to our hotel, Beach Rotana, and so we couldn’t resist taking a peek into it’s maze of shops. If you’re a shopaholic like me, you’ll enjoy wandering around this plush mall lined with big name brands.
Abu Dhabi mall is one of the country’s oldest shopping malls and we particularly enjoyed the more local-feel to this mall, with nuts, traditional sweets and ouds on offer as well as the big name brands.
Where To Stay
If you’re looking for a slice of luxury and a great base during your stay in Abu Dhabi, you won’t be disappointed with Beach Rotana.
This 5-star city resort is perfectly located right in the heart of Abu Dhabi – and location is key when time is precious.
Check-in was a breeze and we instantly fell in love with the lobby’s high ceilings and lavish decor. We stayed in a premium room with a private balcony offering spectacular views of Abu Dhabi’s skyline.
Our room was bright and spacious, and had absolutely everything ready on our arrival, from cakes and pastries to dressing gowns and body lotions – a lovely touch after a long flight.
Beach Rotana’s tropical gardens, gym, private beach and infinity pool are just a handful of the hotel’s 5-star amenities. We found it difficult to tear ourselves away from the awesome cocktail selection at the swim-up bar.
The hotel’s perfect location enables you not only to get out and explore the city, but also offers a relaxing retreat to escape the heat. The staff were incredibly friendly and really did go out of their way to ensure that we had a fantastic stay.
You can read a full review of our stay at Beach Rotana here.
Where To Eat
Calling all seafood lovers – you cannot leave Abu Dhabi without checking out Finz; the most scenic spot in Abu Dhabi to indulge in fresh fish and seafood.
Recently relaunched, the restaurant feels modern and stylish. The menu offers a vast selection of seafood dishes with influences from North Africa, including a number of shareable dishes.
The seafood at Finz was some of the best we’ve ever eaten, and paired with the stunning view – it’s easy to see how it’s gained the reputation of being one of the best restaurants in Abu Dhabi.
Got More Time?
Unfortunately we were limited to just 24 hours in Abu Dhabi, but if you’re lucky enough to enjoy a longer stay, here’s a few more experiences you may want to add to your list.
- Yas Island
- Desert Safari
- Heritage Village
- Saadiyat Island
- Qasr Al Sarab
It’s no wonder that Abu Dhabi attracts millions of visitors every year, and although it’s trying to catch up with Dubai, we enjoyed the fact that it was more peaceful than it’s bustling neighbour.
Whether you’re making the most of your layover, or taking the 90 minute drive from Dubai – be sure to visit Abu Dhabi during your next trip to the UAE.
The accommodation and food mentioned in this post were provided in exchange for an honest review. As always, all opinions are our own.
Click here to check out our full review of Beach Rotana.
What’s your favourite thing to do in Abu Dhabi?
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