What to do with a 15 hour layover in Abu Dhabi?
Much like Dubai, the sights in Abu Dhabi are fairly spread out around the city. In my opinion, the best way to see the city in a day is to take a hop on hop off bus tour.
Unfortunately there is only one tour bus company in Abu Dhabi; Big Bus, and therefore competitive pricing does not exist ahah.
Here is a link to the website that shows pricing as well as a map.
The tour for the day was approximately $57 USD. It is quite steep but if you compare it to the cost of your cabs around the city for the day, it makes sense.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the closest bus pick up location from the airport. Take a cab from the airport to the Mosque for roughly 40 AED. (The cost is higher leaving the airport as there is a 20 AED airport fee. Therefore it will be 20 AED less on the way back to the airport).
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque offers a free guided tour which is a MUST.
Complimentary ‘walk-in’ guided tours are:
- City Tour, which includes all the sights you need to see in and around the city.
- Yas Island Drive, which gives you the opportunity to see the Formula One Yas Marina Circuit, drag racing centre, Ferrari World, theme park and waterworld park.
The map provides you with first and last bus times at the top left corner. I noticed the map says “Buses every 15 minutes”… more like every hour. Whenever we were dropped at a destination the next bus was set to arrive in approximately an hour.
From the Mosque, the first bus arrives at 9:45am for the City tour and 9am for the Yas Island tour.
On our tour we made stops at:
- The Etihad Art Gallery: It was a very small gallery. The art was done by mostly young and local artists and it was all for sale. The gallery takes about 15 minutes to go through, and then you’re left with 45 minutes waiting in heat for the next bus. There was a cafe attached to the gallery, we had a quick glance at the menu but the prices were quite high. 20 AED for a coffee. Roughly 8 CAD or AUD. There is a small grocery type store directly across the street from the gallery if you need any drinks or snacks!
- WTC Souk: We were expecting to find Souk’s like we saw in Dubai, but found more of a mall with a few Souk shops in the lower level. Everything was fairly overpriced compared to the Dubai Souk’s.
- Heritage Village: The village was cool to see, but again something that only takes you 15-20 minutes to go through and then you’re stuck waiting for the bus. The village is water front so there are some beautiful views of the city. There are also some great little museums that you can walk through to learn about the culture.
- Marina Mall: We decided to walk from the Heritage Village to the mall as we could see it in the distance. Terrible decision. We both ended up with mild heat stroke after this 20 minute walk. The mall again is overpriced but a good way to get out of the heat. **No free Wifi in the food court unless you have an Abu Dhabi phone number.
There were many other cool places to visit and many of them are in walking distance of each other, in case you do not want to wait for the bus. The Heritage Village, Corniche Cruise, Marina Mall and Etihad towers are all in close proximity to each other.
We finished the day with a guided tour of the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. In order to go into the Mosque you must be dressed appropriately. Men are to have knees and shoulders covered while women must wear Traditional Dress.
The staff will tell you which direction to go and you take an elevator to an underground parking lot where you trade your license for an abaya and a card with a number on it.
An abaya is a long black robe with a hijab.
When you are finished the tour you bring the abaya and numbered card back to the parking lot area and they give you your license back.
Cabs back to the airport are very easy to catch from just outside of the Mosque.
Here are a couple of tips that you may find helpful:
- There is a shower in Abu Dhabi airport in the departures area. They are located between gates 32 and 37. Follow the signs to a stair case that brings you to the men’s and women’s public bathrooms.
- It is extremely HOT. Carry water with you at all times.
- Keep in mind appropriate dress wear!!! Girls and guys should cover their shoulders and knees. On our previous layover in Dubai I wore a long sleeve shirt and a light pair of pants. This was too hot! I saw many women wearing dresses or shirts that showed their shoulders off. On the way through Abu Dhabi I opted for a long summer dress with a cardigan. I wore the cardigan in most places but walked around without it occasionally when it got too hot. While you’re not going to get in trouble for it, you will get blown kisses and honked at quite often.
- Wear comfortable shoes.
- Bring sunglasses.
- If you are traveling with your significant other be careful of how much physical contact you show when in public. **
- Premarital sex is illegal. It is very hard to get a hotel room with someone of the opposite sex unless you can prove that you are married. You can go to jail for this.
- Homosexuality is illegal.
- Pornography is illegal.
- No photos of government or military organizations.
- When traveling to the UAE check if you are traveling during Ramadan as you will not be able to eat during the day!!!
- The Big Bus staff were very helpful! They have a person waiting at every destination that are more than happy to suggest things to see and how to see them.
Overall, Abu Dhabi was very beautiful. However at this current time there is a lot of construction going on. One of the new builds is the new Abu Dhabi airport (give it a quick google it is incredible).
I have no desire to travel back to Abu Dhabi, but I am glad I got to tick it off of my list. 🙂