You only have one day in Abu Dhabi / United Arab Emirates and still don’t want to miss the best things to do and highlights during your city trip? No problem with the travel tips and BIG5 checklists from JOURNICATION! This Abu Dhabi travel guide provides maps with the route to the best places within the UAE capital. In addition to my personal experience report, you’ll get recommendations on the best hotels, restaurants and photo spots in Abu Dhabi and an overview of costs. You’ll see, in 24 hours in Abu Dhabi there are more things to do and sights to discover to discover than only the sea, the Emirate Palace and the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Let’s go for a perfect day in Abu Dhabi in 2021!
What do you learn in this article?
BIG5 Things to do in Abu Dhabi
You don’t want to miss any sights? Find all the tips and your checklist for the city trip to Abu Dhabi here:
BIG5 Abu Dhabi – Speed Date
Be it architecture, leisure, dining or entertainment options, every aspect of the UAE’s capital city is hands down outstanding. Interestingly, some of its top sights such as Sheikh Zayed Mosque offer free entry and are open to all including non-Muslims.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi is more or less the same, but the latter lacks a well-integrated metro system which makes the moving around in the city a bit tedious.
Take some time to visit the cultural highlights of Abu Dhabi such as Qasr Al Hosn, the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum and the Heritage Village.
Abu Dhabi is unbearably hot, especially during the summer months from June to August. So it is not very smart to plan many outdoor activities in Abu Dhabi during these months.
Don’t tell your mother:
Disregarding certain rules can be punished very severely against the background of Islamic culture, drinking alcohol or smoking in public can lead to a hefty fine or even imprisonment.
BIG5 Abu Dhabi- Rapid Fire Q&A
- Is Abu Dhabi a safe city? Yes, Abu Dhabi is one of the world’s safest cities with almost zero-crime environment. That’s not all; as per the World Happiness Report, Abu Dhabi is one of the happiest Arab cities and even declared safe to travel here even in this pandemic time.
- What makes Abu Dhabi different from Dubai? Dubai is just two hours’ drive away from Abu Dhabi, but what makes the capital city distinct is its mix of unrivaled architecture, cultural landmarks and inspiring nature all set in a more relaxing and quieter ambience.
- What are the major things to know before I visit here? Abu Dhabi is an exceptionally amicable city but you’re expected to respect its culture, customs and traditions inspired by the Islamic roots. So wear comfortable modest dresses and don’t get into any action (like drinking alcohol or smoking in public) which leads to fine payment or even imprisonment.
- I’ve already traveled to Abu Dhabi some 4 to 5 years before; is it worth coming back here again? Abu Dhabi is an ever-evolving city with something extraordinary to check out in every visit. So don’t hesitate to return here; many attractions such as Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum, Warner Bros, and CLYMB Abu Dhabi vie for your attention.
- Is pre-plan a must to visit here? Booking your accommodation, transfers, sightseeing tours etc will definitely prove helpful to get the best out of your visit here.
BIG5 Abu Dhabi – Orga
Best travel time for Abu Dhabi
For pleasant outdoors, cool events and amazing beach / nature day outs, it’s most ideal to visit Abu Dhabi in winter months from November to March.
Arrival & Departure in Abu Dhabi
Visa: Check here whether you need a visa for Abu Dhabi with your passport
- Flight:Abu Dhabi International Airport (IATA: AUH) operates direct flights to and from various destinations across the world.
- Bus: To get around in the city, there are air-conditioned and spotless buses that cover almost routes and major attractions in the city. Inter-emirate buses are also made available.
- Train: As of now, there is no local train or metro stations in Abu Dhabi.
- Car: As with other transport system, Abu Dhabi’s taxi network is efficient. You can directly dial 600 53 53 53 or book it via the TransAD Abu Dhabi app.
Next it goes to … Dubai
Accommodation / Hotels in Abu Dhabi
Recommended location: It’s most ideal to pick an accommodation in a location that offers easy accessibility to all attractions or activities covered in your Abu Dhabi travel program.
- Budget:Al Jazeera Hotel is about 25 minutes’ drive away from Abu Dhabi International Airport. It’s located at Madinat Zayed, P O Box 36700, Abu Dhabi. The rate for one night here is approximately AED 170 per room for its standard room.
- Budget:Centro Capital Centre is at a distance of 20 minutes’ drive from the airport. With its location is in the heart of the city, this decent accommodation charges from AED 162 per night.
- Medium: Just 10 minutes away from the international airport in Abu Dhabi, Yas Island Rotana is located at Yas Island. It comes with most modern comforts and its rate start from AED 249 per night.
- Noble:Emirates Palace Hotel is one of the most luxurious hotels in Abu Dhabi, complete with all high-end amenities and facilities you could imagine. The rates can go up to as high as AED 1250 per night.
- Noble: Be it for a staycation or an island retreat like no other, the waterfront Zaya Nurai Island Resort is a complete package with all luxury thinkable. The choicest comforts here would set you back more than AED 3000 per night.
Price Level in Abu Dhabi
In UAE you pay with Dirham (AED)
Withdraw money: For this, you’ll find banks and ATM counters conveniently dotted all over the region.
Beer indicator: Beer or alcohol in general is served only in licensed bars mostly attached to hotels, resorts etc. And it costs around AED 40 for 500 ml of beer.
Cost of a taxi: The minimum taxi fare to get around in the city is AED 12.
Restaurants, Bars & Cafés in Abu Dhabi
- Egg Shack Café: This is one of the best choices in the budget category. You’ll find this at Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street.
- Lazeez: This is a favorite of Indian food fans. Tucked away at Hamdan bin Mohammed Street, it’s also a winner price wise.
- Beach House: For dining with a view, this Mediterranean Restaurant with a compelling location on Saadiyat Island is unbeatable.
BIG5 Abu Dhabi – Activities
- Visit Sheikh Zayed Mosque – This is an architectural masterpiece in the Islamic world. With a capacity to hold 40,000 people at a time, a trip to this all-white structure is genuine must-do for its stunning majesty with utmost tranquility.
- Spend some time at Yas Island – Whether you’re for leisure, entertainment or shopping, Yas Island is a one-stop destination for all. Thrill seekers are in for an absolute treat with its theme parks such as Ferrari World, YasWaterworld, and Warner Bros Abu Dhabi, while kids will thoroughly enjoy a few hours at KidZania Abu Dhabi. There is also CLYMB Abu Dhabi, Yas Marina Circuit and Yas Mall to name a few.
- Discover Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum – Regardless of you’re a sightseer or an art or culture lover, this floating-like structure by water is a must-experience for all. Thanks to its timeless exhibits that have been loaned from the iconic French museums, along with its mesmeric architecture with perforations that create a rain of light effect.
- Go on a dhow cruise – Seeing Abu Dhabi from water is altogether a distinct experience and one of the best ways to do it is on a cruise across the Arabian traditional vessel, known as dhow. This mostly includes food and live entertainment shows like Tanura.
- See Abu Dhabi’s skyline from Observation Deck at 300 – This observation deck at Tower 2 of Etihad Tower’s 74th level may not be as grand or high as that of the ones in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, but it still promises you an unrivaled vantage point over Abu Dhabi’s marvelous cityscape.
BIG5 Abu Dhabi – Photo spots
- Emirates Palace: Whether you’re planning for a stay here or not, be sure to make a quick stop at this palatial style hotel. It guarantees you a stunning setting to click some amazing pictures.
- Qasr Al Watan: A part of the presidential palace, Qasr Al Watan is an unequaled illustration of Emirati royalty and architectural fineness. In fact, a few snaps against its backdrop aresure going to be a treat for your Insta followers.
- Abu Dhabi Corniche: This iconic Abu Dhabi hangout spot is so imposing that it offers loads of options for your Instagram shots.
- Ritz Carlton: This hotel’s stunning Arabian style architecture and outstanding views around make for a perfect backdrop for some cool Abu Dhabi images.
- Wahat Al Karama: Literally meaning the Oasis of Dignity, this war memorial has been built to commemorate the Emirati heroes who lost their lives for the country. It directly overlooks Sheikh Zayed Mosque means it also allows you to snap some perfect shots.
BIG5 Abu Dhabi – Things to do off the beaten track
- Desert Safari: It is simply a quick drive out of the city center will take you to the region’s desert landscape which is still untouched by time. A perfect blend of thrill, fun, culture and traditional entertainment, a desert safari Abu Dhabi comprises dune bash, camel ride, Shisha smoking, belly dance, Tanura show and BBQ dinner (included only in evening and overnight desert safari).
- Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital: Falcon is the UAE’s national bird. It’s so integral to the Emirati culture that there is even an exclusive hospital dedicated to it. So don’t miss this unique attraction in Abu Dhabi.
- Mangrove Kayaking: Once in Abu Dhabi, you don’t have to travel any far for an invigorating rendezvous with nature. All you’ve to do is to head to Mangrove National Park which is a haven for kayakers, birdwatchers and sightseers alike.
- Liwa Oasis: Want to set out on an off-road journey enveloped by mystic adventure and fun? Venture out to the pristine Liwa Oasis that is nestled on northern verge of Rub’ al Khali or the Empty Quarter. It’s about 150 kilometers away from Abu Dhabi city centre.
- Al Ain: The UAE’s greenest city is a part of Abu Dhabi and hence a must-experience for anyone traveling here for nature and culture. Visit the UNESCO-listed Al Ain Oasis, the 19th century Al Jahili Fort, Al Ain Palace Museum, Al Ain Zoo, and Hili Archaeological Park, among others. It’s also where the UAE’s second largest mountain peak, Jebel Hafeet, lies.
BIG5 Abu Dhabi – Culinary Journey
- Shawarma: This is one of the Middle East’s most beloved street foods. It’s generally a wrap stuffed with meat, cucumbers, French fries etc. Its vegetarian version is also available.
- Luqaimat: This mouth-in-the-melt fried balls, with generous amount of date syrup or honey drizzled over it, are sure to delight anyone with a sweet tooth.
- Falafel: The main ingredient of this Arabic snack is mashed chickpeas, enhanced by several spices as well as herbs. Whether you prefer to take it as such or as a wrap or a sandwich, this is sure to go down well with both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
- Al Harees: This is one of the staple dishes served during Emirati gatherings, special occasions etc. And this thick dish which is cooked for long hours (about four to five hours) is available in most restaurants as well. Chicken or meat and wheat are the main ingredients that go into its preparation.
- Kunafah: This is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made using shredded filo pastry where its taste is super enriched with butter, cheese, pistachio nuts, and rose water.
BIG5 Abu Dhabi – Communication
In Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a whole, the official language is Arabic.
- thank you – شكراً (Shukraan)
- yes – نعم (Lem)
- no – لا (La)
- hello – مرحبا (Marhaba)
- goodbye – مع السلامة (Mae Alsalama)
BIG5 Abu Dhabi – Helpful Websites / Links
- VisitAbuDhabi.ae is the city’s official tourism web portal
BIG5 Abu Dhabi – Overview map for your city trip
Explore the best things to do in Abu Dhabi
With one day in your hand, you’ll surely get to see the best of Abu Dhabi in this short space of time. So check our proposed travel program for more inspiration.
A perfect day in Abu Dhabi 🇦🇪 – here is your overview
Best suited for screenshots 📷📝
Your morning in Abu Dhabi
- Sheikh Zayed Mosque
- Emirates Palace
- Qasr Al Hosn
- Viewing Platform 300
- Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum
- Date Market
Your afternoon in Abu Dhabi
- Abu Dhabi Heritage Village
- Yas Island
- Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
- Warner Bros Abu Dhabi
- CLYMB Abu Dhabi
- KidZania Abu Dhabi
- Alternative: Mangrove National Park
Your evening in Abu Dhabi
- Abu Dhabi Corniche
- Dhow or speedboat ride
- Sunset at Wahat Al Karama
In addition to the BIG5, I have summarized the things to do in Abu Dhabi and the circular route for you in an overview map:
Click on the icon at the top left to use the full range of map options!
Things to do in Abu Dhabi for one day
Abu Dhabi may not be the first destination that comes to mind when you think of a vacation in the Middle East or the Arabian Peninsula. Its more immediate neighbor, Dubai, usually takes center stage and shapes the general perception for a perfect vacation in the Arabian region.
But, Abu Dhabi is both the largest and the capital of the United Arab Emirates and a veritable bundle of surprises of everything you’re looking for in an exotic trip. There is an incredible amount of history, culture, nature, leisure and entertainment. All this makes a trip worthwhile, whether you want to spend a full vacation here or just a few hours as part of your Dubai or UAE trip. Sound interesting? Well then, let’s go!
To cover all aspects and the best sights in Abu Dhabi in your itinerary, you can join a guided tour or take a Big Bus tour (hop-on / hop-off). These usually start with a convenient hotel transfer from your accommodation, the airport or any desired location in Abu Dhabi.
But it’s also possible to explore Abu Dhabi’s highlights on your own – and save money, of course. Here’s a quick guide to how you can spend a perfect day in Abu Dhabi:
Things to do in Abu Dhabi in the morning
Immerse yourself in the splendor of the Arab world
And as always, it pays to get up early: one of the most impressive sights you’ll visit is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, an imposing example of Islamic art and architecture. Take plenty of time to stroll around the sprawling grounds and discover the many special and detailed works of art, such as the largest chandelier of its kind and the largest hand-knotted carpet in the world.
The mosque is also open to travelers who are not of the Muslim faith. It is worth arriving early. Then this imposing building is not yet too crowded and you can take great photos in the extensive porticoes.
Admire traditional and modern architecture
Another attraction you should visit is the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum. This architecturally special museum is located in the cultural district of Saadiyat Island and will take your breath away not only because of the precious exhibits of geniuses such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Van Gogh, etc., but also because of the impressive architecture that reflects the profundity of the Arab world.
Depending on your preferences, definitely plan to also stop at cultural and historical landmarks such as the Emirates Palace, Qasr Al Hosn and the 300 observation deck, leaving plenty of time here for great photos and lingering with this majestic sight.
Before or after, you should take a trip to the date market where you can buy delicious dates, local fruits and vegetables of the best quality at cheaper prices.
Oh my, surely an Arab market means negotiating, right? Absolutely! To master this like a pro, read my article Negotiating abroad | Money saving tips & tricks.
A very good location for an authentic lunch is the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village. Here you will get a great insight into the culture and history of the Emirates. Take as much time as you like into the afternoon.
Things to do in Abu Dhabi in the afternoon
After lunch and the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village, you can indulge in adventure, fun and thrills until the evening: Yas Island.
Dive into the entertainment world of Yas Island
There’s something for everyone here:
Make sure you’ve reserved the right pass or combo ticket in advance to make the most of your limited time here. For automobile and Ferrari fans, Ferrari WorldAbu Dhabi is one of the best attractions with rides and games for every ability. This includes the world’s fastest roller coaster ride, Formula Rossa.
In the mood for water adventures and fun? Visit Yas Waterworld with 40 unique and innovative rides that explore the rich culture and heritage of the Emirates. You can also visit Warner Bros Abu Dhabi, where you’ll find rides and attractions inspired by your all-time favorite DC superheroes and cartoon characters like Tom and Jerry, Hanna Barbera and the Loony Tunes.
Adrenaline junkies can ride the Yas Marina Circuit, one of the most expensive race tracks in the world. There is also an exclusive attraction for children, KidZania Abu Dhabi.
… or the tranquility of the mangrove forests
If you are looking for an alternative to Yas Island, take a trip to the unique nature of the Mangrove National Park. You can explore it by kayak or take a round trip by boat.
Things to do in Abu Dhabi in the evening
A relaxing evening at the Corniche or on the water
After fast-paced fun and thrills on Yas Island or a quiet ride through the mangroves, there’s no better way to cool off than at the Abu Dhabi Corniche. The seaside promenade is popular with tourists and locals alike. It stretches for more than eight kilometers, overlooking the sparkling Arabian Gulf and is a great place to relax after a day of action and entertainment. Take a relaxing stroll along the waterfront, while the kids can enjoy one of the exclusive play areas.
There are other ways to end a perfect day in Abu Dhabi here. Visit one of the many restaurants / cafes scattered throughout, or play an exciting game of soccer or volleyball on the promenade. You can even rent a bike to enjoy lively ambience and breathtaking skyline views in a relaxed way. Renting a bike for an hour costs only around AED 30 for adults and AED 20 for children.
Over all, the place is a haven for water sports enthusiasts, with numerous options for jet skiing, swimming, sunbathing and surfing, to name a few.
If you want to see the skyline and sunset from the water, a speedboat tour or a cruise on a dhow, the traditional Arabian ship, is absolutely recommended! Most dhow cruises also include dinner and a cultural entertainment program.
A perfect sunset at Wahat Al Karama
A great place for an unforgettable sunset is Wahat Al Karama: From the war memorial, whose name literally means “oasis of dignity”, was built in memory of the heroes of the Emirates who lost their lives for the country. It directly overlooks the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and allows you to take some perfect shots.
If you have several days in Abu Dhabi
- Desert Safari: After just a short drive from the city center, you will enter the region’s desert landscape, which seems untouched by time. A perfect blend of thrills, fun, culture and traditional entertainment, many tours are offered as a complete package including jeep safari, camel ride, shisha smoking, belly dancing, Tanura show and BBQ dinner.
- Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital: The falcon is the national bird of the UAE. It is so important to the culture of the Emirates that there is even an exclusive hospital. So don’t miss this unique attraction in Abu Dhabi.
- Liwa Oasis: Want to embark on an off-road journey filled with mystical adventure and fun? Venture to the nearly untouched Liwa Oasis, located on the northern edge of Rub ‘al Khali. It’s about 150 kilometers from downtown Abu Dhabi.
- Al Ain: The greenest city in the UAE is part of Abu Dhabi, making it a must-visit for anyone traveling here for nature and culture. Visit the UNESCO-protected Al-Ain Oasis, the 19th-century Al-Jahili Fort, the Al-Ain Palace Museum, the Al-Ain Zoo and the Hili Archaeological Park, among others. It is also home to the UAE’s second largest mountain peak, Jebel Hafeet.
This post was published for you in collaboration with Neha from Dubaiwikia.
24 hours in Abu Dhabi is probably not really enough to explore a place in detail. You see, Abu Dhabi has sooo many sights and highlights to offer. But with smart planning, you can already experience a lot in one day in Abu Dhabi. Don’t miss out on this exciting city!
If you are interested in other exciting destinations on the Arabian Peninsula, check out Rahma’s article on the best Wadis in Oman.
Let’s go to the United Arab Emirates! رحلة سعيدة (rihlat saeida) – Have a good trip 🇦🇪