Welcome to Abu Dhabi, UAE! So far I have lived here for one year and this is the best planned out itinerary I always use for my guests from abroad. I will try to keep it updated with all the new things Abu Dhabi has to offer!
The best airport to arrive in is Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). Another alternative is the Dubai airports (DXB and DWC). Most of the time, arriving into Dubai is cheaper than Abu Dhabi as there are more flights and cheaper airlines. The main airline in Abu Dhabi is Etihad Airways. I’ve flown on them a dozen of times and I always prefer them over any other airline in UAE.
There are many nationalities that can acquire a free tourist visa upon landing. Check the UAE government website for the specific information. As I am Canadian, I know that all Canadians get a free tourist visa upon arrival for a maximum for 30 days.
Getting to/from Airport
Car Rental – the rental companies are open 24/7 at the airports, be sure to make reservations online beforehand. Almost all rental companies in the city are closed on Friday. Most companies accept driver’s licenses from different countries. For me, I was able to rent and drive a car on a tourist visa using my Canadian Driver’s license. Some of the best rental companies in Abu Dhabi is FAST cars, Budget, Hertz, Eurocar. I have rented a few different cars on different occasions, most of the time it only cost around 50-80 dhs/per day for a sedan or 130-165 dhs/per day for mini SUV.
If you do not want to rent a car. The best alternative is taking a taxi. Coming from the Abu Dhabi Airport to a location in downtown Abu Dhabi will not cost you more than 100 AED. There is a 25 AED surchange when coming from the airport. When I take a taxi to the airport from downtown, it usually only costs me 60 AED (~20 USD) for a half hour ride. There is no need to book a taxi in advance. Many residents in UAE take a taxi as their main form of transportation. They are affordable and easily available to flag down.
Please be advised that they only accept cash. There is usually no negotiation allowed as all rides are by meter and monitored with CCTV. Also be sure to know how to get to your location unless it is a very popular hotel or destination as many drivers here are new and may not know the direction. Something to get used to in Abu Dhabi is that there is no exact address, all destinations are by landmarks and major hotels.
Forms of Currency & Tipping
In UAE, we use AED (United Arab Emirates Dirham). Currently the exchange rate is 1 USD = 3.5 AED. We also use the term DHS for more casual references. Most of time, every store and restaurant will accept credit/debit card. The only time you will need to use cash is for taxi rides and tipping. Tipping is not mandatory in UAE but is preferred. For example, I will usually round it up.
There is no tax in UAE at the moment. However, at all hotels, they include the service charge as well as a tourist fee. So be sure to check the bills.
4 Day Itinerary – What to do
- Corniche – Spend the morning taking a bike ride or a walk alongside the corniche. There is a whopping 8km long of waterfront. There is a public beach (free access), family beach (15 dhs) and beach volleyball (10dhs).
- Lunch at Heritage Center – where you will learn about emirati culture and history. Its free entrance for all and only open during the day. Eat lunch at Al Asalah Restaurant with a table right by the beach overlooking the beautiful skyline of downtown Abu Dhabi.
- Afternoon Tea at Emirates Palace – free entrance to emirates palace to view the stunning decor. Here you can see their grand lobby. At times, they do have a very strict security so be sure to dress appropriately (no shorts for men). When in doubt, book a reservation at one of their restaurants. Opt for a camel burger and gold cappuccino at le Cafe, or afternoon tea at Hakkasan.
- Sunset at Etihad Towers – these are the famous towers from the movie Fast and Furious. If you want to see Abu Dhabi from above, go to their Observation Deck 300 on the 74th floor. It is 75dhs with 50dhs redeemable on Food and Beverage. Another fairly good option is to go to Ray’s Bar at level 62 to enjoy sunset drinks & dinner.
I like to snap a picture every time we get a clear blue sky. It's the same but different! 🤔What do you find yourself constantly photographing? . . . #simplyabudhabi #amazingabudhabi #views #abudhabitye #abudhabimagazine #liveexquisite #abudhabiimages #stregisabudhabi #etihadtowers #liveexquisite #outoftheordinary #beautifuldestinations #mystregissonymoment #expatlife #abudhabiexpats #travellife
We will be celebrating our one year in Abu Dhabi soon! This amazing view truly won me over during our visit @stregisabudhabi (Oh, and the butler service!) #breakfastgoals . . . #amazingabudhabi #simplyabudhabi #stregisabudhabi #mystregissonymoment #breakfast #breakfastisserved #whatsonmytable #visitabudhabi #liveexquisite #expatlife #butlerservice #breathtakingviews
- Ladies Night at Jazz Bar – Every day of the week, there is a ladies night somewhere in Abu Dhabi. These nights offer unlimited free drinks for ladies! I like to head over to Jazz Club at Hilton Abu Dhabi (close to Etihad Towers). Every Monday and Wednesday, they have an amazing live band and complimentary drinks for the ladies. You can also enjoy dinner at Jazz Club, or at a handful of restaurants in the same hotel.
If you’re looking for dancing, there are only a few hot places on the weekends (thursdays and Fridays) – MAD on YAS, McGettigans, possibly Iris and Porters
- Mina Port – head over to Mina Port to get a glimse of the fishermen in action. You can also opt to choose your choice of seafood and have it cooked right away.
- Yas Mall – the biggest shopping mall in Abu Dhabi. If shopping is not for you. I really meant to suggest Ferrari World. Entrance is located inside Yas Mall and it houses the fastest roller coaster on the planet. However, this park does only have a handful of rides. If you get hungry, there are some restaurants with outdoor seating at Al Fanar or Buca Di Beppo next to the Ferrari Entrance.
- YAS world – if you have the time and energy, check out YAS waterworld next door. I went one time and we spent nearly 5 hours there and went through all their rides (some twice!)
- Viceroy – enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants at Viceroy where it overlooks the F1 YAS Marina Circuit. They host the finale for F1 here every November. Try out Angar or Ateyeb at Viceroy.
- Race on the YAS Marina Circuit – fancy actually getting onto the track? YAS Marina Circuit does host nights where you can rent a car and race on it, or even race your own car for a fee. If you don’t feel like paying, you can still race on it, on a bicycle for FREE on Sunday and Tuesdays, a free program sponsored by Cleveland Clinic and Daman. I use to go every week, and I still remember my first time biking around the 5.5km track – amazing feeling! And if you’re not a biker, you can still walk, jog or run it!
- Saudi Cuisine VIP – enjoy a meal at this restaurant for an authentic feel of arabic cuisine. I especially love the Saudi Cuisine in Khalidiya where the tables are in Bedouin style tents.
- Grand Mosque – this is the must-see landmark in Abu Dhabi. The most beautiful mosque you will ever visit. Be sure to dress appropriately (shoulders and knees covered) but they do provide abayas and kanduras. Also, there are parts of the mosque where you will need to take off your shoes. Free tours are provided so be sure to arrive to the schedule if you want a free tour by a local. I learned quite a lot the first time I took the tour. Best of all, it is free!
- Falcon Hospital – The falcon is the national animal of UAE. There are tours offered of the falcon hospital where you will see more than a dozen falcons. A live feeding demonstration is held and you get to hold one too while taking a photograph. You must reserve your spot and pay online. Spots are limited so be sure to reserve ahead of time.
- Half Day Desert Safari – a trip to the desert is a must if you are visiting UAE. There are so many companies that provide this and at different prices (you can negotiate with your provider). Some of the companies I know of are: Emirates Tour and Safari, Arabian Desert Tours, Desert Rose Tourism, Desert World Tourism. On a half day safari expect to pay 60dhs – 300 dhs per person which will include a pick up and drop off service from the city or hotel, dune bashing in a 4×4, and a drop off to a large bedouin tent with buffet dinner, shisha, shows (fire spinning, belly dancing), sand boarding (on the side, and unguided), camel ride (super short 2 minute ride for the photos). There are quite alot of other options that the tours also offer, you can go ATV riding, even camping there overnight. However, for a more luxurious experience, I would recommend a night at Qasr Al Sarab, the Desert Resort by Anantara.
- Kayaking Eastern Mangroves – Rent a kayak for an hour at the Mangroves and enjoy a beautiful serene morning. If you prefer something more exciting, you can rent Jet-skis on the Corniche for an exhilarating experience. There are tons of water activities you can try such as stand up paddle boarding, kite surfing (lessons required) and even scuba diving (lessons required).
- Brunch – enjoy your weekend like a resident. People in UAE love to go Brunching on the weekends – this means unlimited food and alcohol packages. There are tons of brunch deals all over town at most hotels in Abu Dhabi. Opt for a place with outdoor seating with the best views of the water – Ritz Carlton and St.Regis are great choices. Brunch is only available on Fridays (and sometimes Saturdays or a Week night)
- Trust me, after a brunch, you won’t be able to do anything else.
So there you have it, my personal recommendations on where to go and eat in Abu Dhabi for 4 days. Stay tuned for my itinerary recommendations for Dubai, UAE.