Abu Dhabi is the name of the largest of the seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates and also the name of the nation’s capital city. The city of Abu Dhabi is an island, surrounded by beautiful beaches with warm, turquoise water. I recommend you spend one or two days here while in the UAE. Below are some tips to make the most of your visit to Abu Dhabi in two days.
Interesting Information: The emir of Abu Dhabi has traditionally also served as president of the UAE since the creation of the nation in 1971, when the emirates were joined together as one country, so the city is important both historically and politically.
Guidelines about Dress and Behavior: As you would anywhere in the UAE, be mindful of your behavior and how you are dressed while in Abu Dhabi. Below is a sign displayed in a mall in AD, which puts forth some behavioral guidelines. Although this was the only sign of its kind that I saw in the UAE, its basic expectations apply throughout the country. That being said, some areas, especially those that cater to expats, are more lax. As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t bring your shortest shorts or sexiest crop top to the UAE, although sleeveless tops, dresses, and modestly cut shorts are usually acceptable. The UAE probably isn’t the best place for a honeymoon either, as PDA is frowned upon and even punishable by law. These facts initially made me nervous about visiting the Emirates with my boyfriend, but I actually felt comfortable and safe while there.
Transportation to and from Abu Dhabi: It is easy and inexpensive to get to Abu Dhabi from Dubai and vice versa. Buses are available from centrally located stations. Bus tickets cost between 20 and 35 dirhams one way per person, which roughly comes out to between 5 and 10 USD. Buses leave often throughout the day, and the ride takes about two and a half hours. Bus quality can vary – usually based on the price – but I’d say they are a good call.
Taxis between Abu Dhabi and Dubai are more expensive than buses but not at all ghastly: a taxi will typically be 180 to 300 dirhams total one way, or roughly 50 to 80 USD. Split between two or more people, a taxi may not be a bad option. The length of the taxi ride should be about the same as that of the bus ride.
Transportation in Abu Dhabi: Taxis are the go-to method of conveyance in AD. They are fairly inexpensive and easy to find.
Activities: Itinerary for Abu Dhabi in Two Days
The Cultural Foundation. Start your time in Abu Dhabi with a visit to the Cultural Foundation to learn a more about AD’s interesting history. This exhibit is a worthwhile stop to see artifacts of Emirati culture and read more about how the ruling Al Nahyan family left the Liwa Oasis and first settled on the island of Abu Dhabi. The Foundation is next to the Qasr Al Hosn Fort, although the fort was closed for remodeling when we visited.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This impressive mosque is reminiscent of the Taj Mahal for its minarets, domes, and pearl white appearance. The mosque is one of the only mosques in the country – and the world – that allows non-Muslim visitors, so strolling through this sacred space is a special experience. The mosque is named for Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, former emir of Abu Dhabi and the founding father and first president of the UAE. I recommend you arrange your visit to coincide with a free guided tour. Before starting the tour, men and women are given traditional dress to wear out of respect while in the mosque. On our tour, we learned about the function of a mosque’s distinctive minarets: not only are they easily recognized from afar, but they are also the place from which the call to prayer is sent out to the community. In addition, our guide noted that the art in the mosque only depicts plants and flowers, reflecting Islamic tradition that prohibits the drawing of sentient beings, or beings “with souls,” as our guide explained. We also learned that the mosque houses the third largest chandelier in the world – clad in Swarovski crystals, of course– and the world’s largest carpet. Overall, I felt warmly welcomed and invited to learn more about Islam and Emirati culture as part of our tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque; in fact, I experienced this sentiment throughout my time in the Emirates.
UAE Heritage Village. This is a recreation of what a pre-oil era village would have looked like in Abu Dhabi. Although this is obviously not an original village, it is an interesting pit stop. The village is right on the water and includes a souk and a small museum. You’ll see traditional huts made of fronds from the date palm, a beautiful and integral part of Emirati culture. At the souk, we met a friendly man who allowed me to try my hand at pottery!
Central Market Souk – If you want to visit a more modern souk, head to the Central Market Souk, which is basically a mall with cafes and shops selling traditional food and crafts. This is a good place for lunch or a snack.
The Beach. The beach in Abu Dhabi is a beautiful, relaxing place. When we visited in early September, the water was a bit warm but still refreshing. You’ll see everything from burkinis to skimpier Western-style bikinis while here.
Le Meredien. If you’re looking for an easy place to grab dinner or drinks, Le Meridien, a hotel with a small complex of bars and restaurants, is a good call. It’s centrally located and full of expats – often a good sign for Westerners in a country like the UAE where alcohol is not always served or even legal.
Although we preferred Dubai, Abu Dhabi’s extravagant northern neighbor, this island city is a worthwhile visit while in the Emirates. Whether we were speaking to shopkeepers at a souk or listening to our tour guide at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, we found the people of Abu Dhabi to be quite friendly. Comment below if you have any questions about our itinerary for Abu Dhabi in two days!