Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second-largest city of the United Arab Emirates. Although the city has a long history, real development started in recent decades, and it has become a significant destination for those visiting the UAE. The city now offers numerous attractions, whether you’re looking for entertainment, family activities, cultural, historical, or natural sights.
Its style is somewhat different from Dubai, leaning towards tradition and being less metropolitan. That’s why we believe Abu Dhabi is a must-visit during a trip to the UAE, providing different attractions and a unique atmosphere compared to Dubai, and both are worth experiencing.
In this article, we present a one-day itinerary for a short visit to Abu Dhabi. We focus on a single day because most visitors spend only 1 day exploring Abu Dhabi, and we aim to assist with their tight schedules through our ideas and travel tips.
Fitting all of Abu Dhabi’s best places into one day is not easy – some might say impossible. Nevertheless, we’ve attempted to create a one-day itinerary that showcases as much as possible from the capital of the UAE.
Let’s start by addressing some basic questions about traveling to Abu Dhabi, followed by the one-day itinerary.
Best time to visit Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi, much like the rest of the UAE, is best visited during the winter months, spanning from November to April. For beach lovers, we recommend November, March, and April when the sea is pleasantly warm. Although December, January, and February offer the most comfortable temperatures for sightseeing, the sea might be a bit chilly for some during these months.
How to get to Abu Dhabi
To get to Abu Dhabi from abroad, the most common way is to fly, unless you are traveling from neighboring countries. The popular airline for the city is Etihad Airways, which operates flights to Abu Dhabi from many locations. Additionally, you can find budget airline flights, such as Wizz Air from Europe.
Just keep in mind that Abu Dhabi International Airport is quite on the outskirts of the city, far from many attractions.
If you want to take a day trip to Abu Dhabi from Dubai, we will detail your options below.
How to get around in Abu Dhabi
We recommend renting a car to get around Abu Dhabi. By car is the easiest, most flexible and fastest way to get around the city. Parking is easy everywhere, free in many places, and its flexibility allows you to make the most of your time.
If you prefer using public transportation in Abu Dhabi, it might be a bit more challenging. In the city, the only option for public transportation is buses, which are slower and less convenient than using a car. The advantage of taking the bus is that it’s quite affordable, and for some AEDs, you can reach almost any part of the city. To buy a ticket, you need to get a Hafilat card, which you can load with credit, and the fare for bus rides will be deducted from the card.
Another option is taking a taxi, which might be even faster than driving, as you don’t have to deal with parking. The downside is that it can be expensive.
If you’re just in the city for a day, for example, due to a layover at the airport, then taking a taxi could be worth it. If you’re arriving from Dubai, it’s recommended to consider renting a car or taking guided (bus) tours instead.
Another great idea for exploring Abu Dhabi is choosing Big Bus Tours. This means you can buy a 24-hour or 48-hour ticket for unlimited hop-on-hop-off tours. The Big Bus has two routes that take you to almost all the major attractions, and during the ticket’s validity, you can use the designated buses as much as you like.
Day trip from Dubai to Abu Dhabi
If you want to take a day trip to Abu Dhabi during your Dubai trip, there are also plenty of options.
We highly recommend car rental for traveling between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There are 4-5 lane highways connecting the two cities with numerous rest stops, providing a smooth journey.
If you prefer not to drive, consider booking a tour through a private travel company. Platforms like GetYourGuide and Viator offer various private and group day tours. With this option, the tour organizer takes care of your transportation from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, getting around the city, organizing activities, and more.
Another option is the bus mentioned earlier. However, taking the bus involves multiple transfers and can be quite slow, so it’s not the most recommended.
You can also reach the capital by taxi, offering flexibility and speed, but it can be expensive.
Is one day in Abu Dhabi enough?
One day is very limited, and you’ll only have time for the absolute must-sees or your favorites. Even if you plan almost 24 hours in Abu Dhabi, you can’t fit in more than 3–5 attractions, which will give you just a taste of Abu Dhabi by visiting the most important sights.
If you wish to explore more, consider planning more time – our article provides enough ideas for that too.
What can fit into 1 day in Abu Dhabi?
As mentioned, you can fit a maximum of 3–5 activities into one day, making the itinerary quite packed.
Our plan includes the 4 best places to visit, which we consider essential. Additionally, we’ve included extra locations in case you have more free time to fill.
Where to stay in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi, although offering a smaller selection than Dubai, still boasts a variety of wonderful hotels. Whether you’re seeking budget accommodation, mid-range options, or luxurious stays, Abu Dhabi offers plenty to choose from.
The best hotels in Abu Dhabi we recommend:
- Pearl Rotana Capital Centre: an affordable four-star hotel, a short drive from the Grand Mosque
- Andaz Capital Gate Abu Dhabi – a concept by Hyatt: a five-star hotel at an affordable price, with excellent views from the roof terrace. Good value for money
- Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, Abu Dhabi Corniche: also a five-star hotel at a reasonable price, offering private beach, pools and a very wide range of services
- The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal: five-star luxury hotel near the Grand Mosque (optionally with views), with 8 restaurants and private beach
- Emirates Palace, Mandarin Oriental, Abu Dhabi: One of Abu Dhabi’s most famous luxury hotels, where you can not only stay but also experience the iconic golden snacks and beverages
One-day Abu Dhabi Itinerary: How to Spend One Day in Abu Dhabi
Morning: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Start your day with a visit to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is one of Abu Dhabi’s best attractions.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the world’s largest mosques, and it’s worth seeing due to its beautiful design and size. It can accommodate up to 40,000 worshipers and has vast spaces with enormous prayer halls adorned with massive chandeliers and beautiful motifs. The mosque’s exterior is made of white marble, surrounded by reflective pools, and its impressive columns are decorated with intricate floral patterns and golden palm shapes, creating a truly enchanting atmosphere.
Before visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, there are a few things you should know:
There’s a strict dress code for entry. For women, almost everything must be covered except the face, and loose clothing is required. For men, clothing covering the knees and arms is sufficient.
Additionally, there are designated photo points where you can take pictures. The staff is vigilant and may ask you to move if you attempt to take pictures elsewhere (annoying, but that’s how it is).
You can reach the mosque on foot through the visitor center, located in an underground passage. Here, you’ll find many shops where you can buy clothes and souvenirs.
After the shops, there’s a security check with rules similar to airport security. Then, you’ll use an escalator to ascend to the mosque.
It’s important to note that visiting the mosque is free. But although there’s no entrance fee, make sure to check the opening hours before your visit!
Overall, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a must-visit in Abu Dhabi, definitely don’t miss it!
If you want an excellent photo spot for the mosque, head to Wahat Al Karama, where you can capture the mosque from a distance, perhaps with the reflection in a fountain!
Afternoon: Qasr Al Watan
Qasr Al Watan Abu Dhabi is a cultural landmark providing insight into the country’s culture and heritage. Visitors can explore the opulent presidential palace and visit the impressive Great Hall, as well as the House Of Knowledge, housing Arabian artifacts, manuscripts, and historical items.
The entire palace, with its magnificent decorations, its huge central dome (there are several smaller ones too), gardens, and attractions, is all impressive and genuinely breathtaking. That’s why it deserves a spot in our one-day Abu Dhabi itinerary.
While here, don’t miss the stunning Power of Words golden sculpture, which is one of the most unique attractions in the place and a favorite photo spot for Instagrammers.
If you like the Power of Words sculpture, here’s a lesser-known fact: there are two more silver-colored sculptures in the palace garden! All three sculptures feature various wisdom sayings of Sheikh Zayed in Arabic letters.
You need to purchase a ticket for entry to Qasr Al Watan, which can be done online on the official website or on-site. After entry, tourists are shuttled to the palace entrance by buses.
Among the ticket options, you’ll find an extra option called Palace in Motion, featuring an evening light show.
If you’re looking for something to eat or souvenirs, you’ll find them here too.
So, if you have a day to spend in Abu Dhabi, make sure not to miss Qasr Al Watan. It’s one of our favorite buildings in the UAE, and we highly recommend it.
Late afternoon: Etihad Towers: Observation Deck at 300
The Observation Deck at 300 is the highest viewing point in Abu Dhabi, offering a stunning view of the city’s impressive panorama, including the Corniche and the Arabian Gulf.
Situated on the 74th floor of Tower 2 in the Etihad Towers complex, the Observation Deck at 300 provides a breathtaking 360-degree view of the city from a height of 300 meters. Visitors can also indulge in the delicious offerings of food and drinks available on-site.
To access the 300th-floor observation deck, tickets need to be purchased, which can be done online or on-site. The ticket usually includes a certain amount for food and beverages, although there are options available online without any included consumption.
The observation deck is an ideal afternoon activity for those who want to enjoy the amazing views of Abu Dhabi with a snack or a cup of tea or coffee.
Evening: Emirates Palace
The Emirates Palace is one of the fanciest hotels in Abu Dhabi, known for its luxurious atmosphere and unique offerings. The place is all about a fantastic and stylish look, making it a great choice for spending your evening. Try out the special drinks at the hotel’s café, enjoy the wonderful atmosphere, and admire the views around the Emirates Palace Fountain.
What truly sets this place apart is the gold-themed delights they serve, like golden coffee, adding a bit of luxury to your day.
It’s important to note that there’s a dress code at the Emirates Palace for both men and women.
In a nutshell, the Emirates Palace is the right spot if you’re looking for a bit of luxury and uniqueness in Abu Dhabi.
If you have some time left, visit one of Abu Dhabi’s best shopping malls. These include Marina Mall, located near Corniche (next to the spectacular Rixos Marina Abu Dhabi hotel), Abu Dhabi Mall, and Al Wahda Mall.
If you’re looking for a shopping center near the airport, Yas Mall is the best choice.
Other places to visit in Abu Dhabi
For art lovers: Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island is the city’s famous art museum. The museum displays a diverse collection of global artworks in a stunning architectural setting.
It is also a famous Instagram spot. Recommended for those who are interested in history and art and who want to take special photos in Abu Dhabi.
For car and fun enthusiasts: Ferrari World
Situated on Yas Island, Ferrari World caters to car enthusiasts and families alike. As the world’s first Ferrari-themed amusement park, it features thrilling rides, interactive displays, and shows. The park is suitable for all ages, providing a dynamic blend of entertainment and education about the iconic Ferrari brand.
For families: Warner Bros World
Perfect for families, Warner Bros World, also on Yas Island, brings beloved characters to life. The theme park offers an immersive experience with interactive attractions, live shows, and dining options.
For history lovers: Heritage Village and Qasr Al Hosn
For a glimpse into Abu Dhabi’s history, Heritage Village and Qasr Al Hosn are key locations. Heritage Village, near Corniche Beach, showcases traditional craftsmanship, while Qasr Al Hosn is the city’s oldest stone building. History enthusiasts can explore these landmarks to understand the emirate’s cultural evolution.
For nature enthusiasts: Jubail Mangrove Walking Park and Al Wathba Fossil Dunes
Nature lovers can explore Jubail Mangrove Walking Park in Abu Dhabi. Take a stroll along the wooden walkways, surrounded by green scenery and water, a truly relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Al Wathba Fossil Dunes, located southeast of Abu Dhabi, offers a unique natural landscape for those interested in ancient geological formations.
For those looking for the best beaches: Corniche Beach
Corniche Beach, along Corniche Street, is a popular beach destination. Ideal for relaxation, it offers a beautiful sandy beach, promenade, playground for children, bike track and stunning views of the Arabian Gulf. It is ideal for those looking for a pleasant seaside break in Abu Dhabi.
For desert fans: Desert safari
Adventure seekers can embark on a desert safari to experience Abu Dhabi’s deserts. These excursions typically include dune bashing, camel rides, and the chance to witness a captivating desert sunset. The desert safari is recommended for those looking to explore the region’s natural beauty and traditional Bedouin culture.
So here were some additional recommended attractions and activities that we believe are the best things to do in Abu Dhabi.
In summary, spending a day in Abu Dhabi gives you a quick taste of its best features. Even though one day is short, it introduces you to the city’s diverse attractions, making you want to come back for a more thorough exploration.
Abu Dhabi’s unique charm and impressive sights make it a worthwhile destination in the United Arab Emirates.