Abu Dhabi Day Tour | Things to Do in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi is another sparkling jewel in the Arabian desert. On my recent trip to the United Arab Emirates, we discovered the best things to do in Abu Dhabi in a day. From the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to Yas Island and the excellent public beaches – an Abu Dhabi day tour is filled with one highlight after another. Not bad for a country that isn’t even 50 years old! I love the fact that all Abu Dhabi excursions take place in a modern, safe and clean environment. Read all about my experiences in this ultimate guide of things to do in Abu Dhabi in a day.
Abu Dhabi in a Nutshell
Did you know that Abu Dhabi, and not Dubai, is the capital of the United Arab Emirates? In fact, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is the largest of the United Arab Emirates. The city of Abu Dhabi, which lies on a T-shaped island in the Persian Gulf, has a population of around 1.7 million people, according to the World Population Review.
The Emirate of Abu Dhabi was only founded in 1971. Therefore, the city is still in various stages of development. The skyline is constantly changing as new projects begin to take shape.
Although Arabic is the official language, I had no trouble communicating in English on my Abu Dhabi day tour. The local people are friendly and helpful, making our Abu Dhabi excursions one big pleasurable adventure. Surprisingly, there are more expats than UAE nationals living in the emirates. Don’t be surprised if you are served by an Indian or a Pakistani rather than an Arab.
The local currency in Abu Dhabi is the UAE dirham. However, there is no need to carry around too much cash as credit and debit cards are widely accepted. The quickest way to get cash is to draw from an ATM. Your passport is required to exchange foreign currency at a bank or hotel.
Why visit Abu Dhabi?
An Abu Dhabi day tour is an absolute must if you’re in the United Arab Emirates. While boasting the same modern architecture and stunning beaches as Dubai, Abu Dhabi is a bit more traditional. It means you get a better glimpse into the Emirati culture and traditions on your Abu Dhabi excursions.
One could say Abu Dhabi is a bit more authentic than Dubai – a fact many tourists still need to discover. This in itself is a good reason to visit the city. While there is a big choice of things to do in Abu Dhabi, it’s much less crowded and busy during the peak tourist season.
Best Time to Visit Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi is a year-round sunny destination. Even so, the ideal time to enjoy Abu Dhabi excursions is from November to May. The warm and sunny winter months from November to February are especially lovely. During this time, temperatures rarely exceed 77°F. You may even need a sweater on some cooler December evenings.
If you must visit Abu Dhabi in a day between May and November, be prepared for the hot and humid weather. Fortunately, the air conditioning in Abu Dhabi’s hotels, shops, restaurants, and taxis is very efficient. And if you have to be outside, why not head for one of the beaches? You can also go on an excursion to the eastern mountains where it’s generally cooler.
Getting to Abu Dhabi
Two of the world’s best airlines fly to the UAE. They are:
Etihad – As the national carrier of the UAE, Etihad flies to Abu Dhabi International Airport to over 120 destinations. A public bus travels between the airport and the city every 40 minutes for just AED 4. Of course, you can also take a metered taxi. The 38 km trip from the airport to the city center will set you back about UAE 85.
Emirates – The largest airline in the Middle East, Emirates operates more than 3,600 flights per week from the Dubai International Airport. There are regular buses traveling between Dubai International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport.
It’s very possible to fit in an Abu Dhabi day tour from Dubai. The two cities are about 140 km apart. Allow at least 90 minutes to cover the distance – no matter whether you’re renting a car, taking a taxi or catching a bus.
Since the taxis are very reasonable at around UAE 250, this is probably the quickest and most convenient option for traveling between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in a day. It works out at around $30 to $35 per person if you are two people.
Top 10 Things to Do in Abu Dhabi
1. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Forget about the Taj Mahal, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was recently voted the second favorite landmark in the world by Tripadvisor. The architectural white wonder with its 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns, and 4 107-meter high minarets should top your list of things to do in Abu Dhabi in a day.
The Grand Mosque is named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the man whose brainchild it was in the 1980s. It took more than 3,000 workers 11 years to complete. It’s the largest mosque in the UAE and the 8th largest in the world.
A highlight to look out for at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on your Abu Dhabi day tour is the 12-ton chandelier. The landmark building is also home to the world’s biggest carpet.
Find out more during the free one-hour guided tours offered throughout the week. It is a good opportunity to learn more about the role of Islam in the Emirati culture. See if you can spot Sheikh Zayed’s final resting place in the mosque grounds.
Remember to dress appropriately when visiting the mosque. Ladies should wear a headscarf and men won’t be allowed inside in shorts. Get all the latest information about theSheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center here before your visit.
2. Emirates Palace
If you believe that a hotel can get 7 stars, the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi is perhaps one of the few in the world who deserve so many. That’s why I include Emirates Palace in my things to do in Abu Dhabi. Alone the 100 hectares of landscaped gardens make it worth including in your Abu Dhabi day tour.
The sprawling resort occupies more than half a mile of coastline along the Corniche. Looking at it from the outside you may wonder whether it’s a mosque or a castle. The buildings boast more than 100 domes, decorated with crystals, gold, and mother of pearl on the inside. Hundreds of chandeliers and luxurious handwoven carpets add to the opulence. With royals and dignitaries as regular guests, I guess it’s only fitting.
You can experience what it’s like to be treated like royalty even if you don’t stay in Emirates Palace. Non-guests are allowed to pop in for afternoon tea, have a Turkish bath, treat themselves at the Anantara Spa, or have lunch or dinner in one of the 9 restaurants.
Touring the public areas in the Emirates Palace costs nothing. Its position along the Corniche makes it very easy to include in your Abu Dhabi excursions.
3. Yas Marina Circuit
The 5,5 km long Yas Marina Circuit is another jewel in Abu Dhabi’s crown. While being their during the F1 weekend must be great, it doesn’t mean it has no attraction when the world’s best race car drivers have left. In fact, the experience of personally racing around the track is one of the most thrilling things to do in Abu Dhabi.
Okay, you may not reach the top speeds of 325 km/h or an average of 190km/h around the nine right turns and 12 left turns. But you can at least try by getting behind the wheel of a single-seater Formula 3000 Yas racing car. There are even Aston Marin GT4s to take for a spin on your Abu Dhabi day tour.
If you have no need for speed, there is an option to simply take a tour of the facility. The Yas Marina Circuit is an integral part of Abu Dhabi’s waterfront. The luxurious yachts moored in the marina which it wraps itself around remind a bit of Singapore and Monaco.
Landmarks around the Yas Marina Circuit which you can’t miss include the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi Hotel and the 60 meters solar powered Sun Tower.
4. Yas Waterworld
Visiting Yas Waterworld is one of the Abu Dhabi excursions that provides a lot of fun and action. The theme of the expansive water park, which is executed very well, is “The Legend of the Lost Pearl”.
There are 45 rides, slides, and other water attractions, divided into four “thrill” levels, to add some adrenaline rushing activities to your Abu Dhabi day tour. The four levels are called:
- Shaheen’s Adrenaline Rush
- Sultan’s Young Fun
- Dhabi’s Exciting Adventure
- Hamlool’s Moving & Grooving
You can guess on what level the Jebel Drop, a free-fall slide that will take your breath away, falls. Not surprisingly, Yas Waterworld is also home to two world firsts – a hydromagnetic tornado water rafting ride and the largest surfable sheet wave.
Yas Waterworld is especially attractive during the hot and humid summer months in Abu Dhabi. Don’t forget your bathing suit! Of course, there are enough restaurants and chill zones to catch a breath between rides. You can do some shopping at one of the many shops selling souvenirs and other Abu Dhabi products.
5. The Corniche
The Corniche is Abu Dhabi’s 8 km-long seafront development. Stretching from Emirates Palace to Mina Port, a stroll along the Corniche is one of the compulsory things to do in Abu Dhabi. If time is limited on your Abu Dhabi day tour, head for the middle section with its many restaurants and cafés.
The pedestrianized beachfront promenade is lined with palm trees. If you’re not in the mood for walking, rent a bicycle and cycle along the adjacent cycle track.
What stands out about the Corniche is that it’s safe and clean. You don’t have to worry about stepping into dog poo or someone stealing your handbag while you take a dip in the ocean. Corniche Beach (near the Hilton hotel on the southwestern section of the promenade) has the best amenities for catching a couple of hours of sun. Entry costs a meager AED 10. However, if you don’t like paying for beach access, there is a new, free beach known as the Western Extension further down the promenade.
Abu Dhabi landmarks to look out for from the Corniche include the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Heritage Park, and Emirates Palace. According to Wikipedia, part of the Corniche was built on land reclaimed from the sea.
6. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
The Yas Marina circuit isn’t the only Formula 1 attraction to include in your Abu Dhabi excursions. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi on Yas Island is a one of a kind branded theme park. Naturally, it includes a couple of world records.
Adrenaline junkies should head straight to Formula Rossa, the fastest roller coaster in the world. Put your goggles on, strap in, and be prepared to be propelled to 240 km/h in 4.9 seconds. Do you feel the forces of 4.8G?
From the fastest roller coaster, you can move on to the Flying Aces, which 63 m loop is the world’s highest. When you have your feet back on mother earth, why not check out the selection of Ferrari cars? Some models date back to 1947. The Ferrari factory tour may also be of interest on an Abu Dhabi day tour.
You can also let yourself be entertained by Ferrari-inspired shows. There are gravity-defying stunts, acrobats, and optical illusions. And if all the action makes you thirsty or hungry, take a break at one of the restaurants. The Italian Ristorante Cavallino is a good option.
7. Yas Mall
Abu Dhabi’s largest shopping mall is in the middle of Yas Island, making it easy to pop in on your Abu Dhabi excursions. With around 2.5 million sq ft of retail and entertainment space, it’s easy to lose yourself in Yas Mall. It’s not just a place to shop – it’s a social hub.
Yas Mall was completed in 2015. The result is a shiny new and bright shopping center featuring some of the world’s best brands. For fashion, look no further than Armani, Ted Baker, and Calvin Klein. Or get lost in Denhams of House of Fraser’s gigantic department stores.
If you want to escape the heat outside on your Abu Dhabi day tour, why not sit down for a movie in the 20-screen Vox Cinema? There’s also an adventure center with a caving network and a battlefield with electronic targets to shoot at.
Don’t forget to make your way to the Town Square, an impressive open space where you can catch your breath next to the calming fountain. There is a food court with well-known franchises but try the Lebanese or Emirati food at Cascade Dining. BouBouffe and Dish Dash are good options.
For the best tips about Yas Mall, read what other travelers have to say on Tripadvisor.
8. Mushrif Central Park (Umm Al Emarat Park)
It’s not one of the obvious things to do in Abu Dhabi in a day, but exploring Mushrif Central Park is so worth it. This large urban park is more than a green space in the city. It’s a place where locals and tourists mingle on the great lawns, a botanical garden, an amphitheater, and an animal barn.
Mushrif Central Park was recently reopened after an extensive redevelopment. Its official name has subsequently changed to Umm Al Emarat Park. However, most people still know it as Mushrif Central Park. It is centrally situated on 15th Street between Karamah Street and Airport Road.
The new park design honors the legacy of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan who was dedicated to preserving the natural and cultural history of the UAE. In this spirit, more than 200 mature trees of over 20 years old were saved during the redevelopment phase.
If your legs are tired after all your Abu Dhabi excursions, you can take a park train tour to see all the highlights. Also, keep an eye out for the many events held in the park.
9. Saadiyat Public Beach
Saadiyat Public Beach is a new public beach on Saadiyat Island. Its prime location in the Saadiyat Beach District makes it an easy quick stop when visiting Abu Dhabi in a day.
A small entrance fee to Saadiyat Public Beach is charged. The facilities and services are worth every cent. This includes the friendly staff of BAKE, the beach operator, to provide you with all the information you may need.
BAKE offers a variety of sport and recreational activities to make the Saadiyat Public Beach experience memorable on your Abu Dhabi day tour. You can opt for relaxing yoga to try your hand at windsurfing or sailing.
The Beach Café is a lively restaurant serving good food and drinks. Furthermore, more than 300 sun loungers are available to lie on, there are clean showers and changing rooms, a towel and locker rental service, and a retail shop.
10. Yas Beach
Yas Beach is last on my list of things to do in Abu Dhabi in a day. The reason is that if you go here first, you may not get around to going on any of the other Abu Dhabi excursions!
At Yas Beach, the actual beach is a very nice prop in a bigger setting. It’s a lively outdoor hub filled with restaurants, bars, fitness classes, swimming pools, and various other forms of watersports. Non-motorised watersports to participate in include snorkeling, kayaking, and sailing.
Try Tikki Bar, Mixed Drinks Bar, Hops Bar if you get hungry or thirsty on Yas Beach. And I heard the chefs from Yas Beach Pizza are authentic Italian chefs from Naples, Italy. You can always work the extra calories off by joining in the fun on the volleyball court or making use of the outdoor gym.
The new Yas beach lounge area is full of action with an open-air DJ booth, ellipsoidal bar, and an infinity pool. Those who like privacy on the beach can rent a VIP cabana. The only danger is that you may not want to leave! Yas Beach also charges a small entry fee for the use of its facilities.
5 Tips to Make your Abu Dhabi Day Tour More Enjoyable
Dress modestly, especially during Ramadan. A good guideline is to cover your shoulders and knees.
Don’t kiss and cuddle in public.
Alcohol consumption is prohibited in public areas.
Get permission before you photograph local people.
Tipping in Abu Dhabi is common practice, with 10% being the norm.
You can also check out these tips on CNN Insider Guides.
There is a reason why Abu Dhabi achieved record numbers of hotel guests in 2017. The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (DCT) released figures stating a record 4.875 million people stayed in Abu Dhabi’s 162 hotels and hotel apartments during 2017. This represents an impressive 9.8% year-on-year rise.
In a press release, Saif Saeed Ghobash, Director General of the DCT, was quoted as follow: “Record numbers of people are visiting Abu Dhabi year after year and we continue to go from strength to strength in positioning ourselves as a distinctive global tourist destination steeped in culture and heritage. A near double-digit year-on-year growth in the number of guests staying in all three regions of the emirate is a testament to our drive and determination in helping the emirate evolve into a ‘must-visit’ place on any traveler’s itinerary.”
So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your Abu Dhabi excursions with my detailed guide now!
Have you done an Abu Dhabi Day Tour? Any tips and recommendations?
Which were some of your favorite things to do in Abu Dhabi? Comment below!