Headed to Abu Dhabi for 48 hours? Here’s what you can’t miss during your time there.
How to get to Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi is the hub for Etihad airlines. Not only does it offer flights to Abu Dhabi from numerous airports in the world, it also allows free or cheap stopovers, meaning you can spend a few days in Abu Dhabi before making your connection flight to your final destination, at the same price as continuing on immediately. If you’re flying from Europe, it’s also worth looking at Turkish Airlines, Royal Jordanian or Qantas, which are all offering pretty reasonable flight prices at the moment, although usually with a connection.
Where to stay
If you are flying with Etihad, check out their “Essential Abu Dhabi Stopovers” (https://www.etihad.com/en-us/plan-and-book/book-stopovers/) offers, which offers two nights at the price of one with several hotels in the area. We used this offer to stay at the Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche, a five star hotel on Corniche road on the waterfront. Whilst it’s not directly on the beach, our room did have great views of the city and the sea. The room was beautiful, came with a giant bath tub and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in. The highlight for me was the breakfast though, a massive buffet with dishes from all areas of the world. Just the juice bar alone was crazy – we did a juice testing of six different mixed juices, all made from fresh ingredients. Give the bar a miss though, cocktails were overpriced and not very impressive, and as of 2014 allowed smoking inside so the air was incredibly stuffy and smokey.
What to do in Abu Dhabi
Enjoy breakfast at your hotel, then take an orientation walk through the Corniche area and the waterfront to get your bearings. Abu Dhabi is on an island very close to the mainland and connected to it by several bridges. The downtown Corniche area is an urban jungle of skyscrapers, similar to, even though not quite as crazy as Dubai. If you’d like a view from above, head to the Etihad Towers which boasts an observation deck 300 meters above the ground on the 74th floor.
From there, follow the locals to one of Abu Dhabi’s malls to indulge in some shopping. These gigantic shopping centres offer every luxury imaginable, but also have the usual everyday brands from Europe and the US to fit a slightly smaller budget. Marina Mall can be reached by foot from Etihad Towers, it’s a short walk along the water. Alternatively, the massive Abu Dhabi Mall with over 200 stores is just a short drive away on the other side of the Corniche. Browse the shops, or try some Arabic coffee and dates at one of the coffee shops.
If you’re not amongst the few lucky ones staying at the Emirates Palace, it’s still worth taking a stroll to see it. As the name suggests, this hotel is more like a palace than a hotel! They serve a traditional afternoon tea – optionally with champagne – every day, and you don’t have to be staying at the hotel to indulge in their tea treats.
Like amusement parks? Check out Ferrari World, a Formula 1 & Ferrari themed amusement park on Yas Island featuring the fastest roller coaster in the world.
Abu Dhabi offers a great choice of both traditional and modern cuisine. Whilst the city has several restaurants of Michelin star chefs, my personal recommendation for dinner is the Lebanese Mill. What it misses in ambience, it makes up by serving amazingly tasty food. Food so good it causes traffic jams: when we were there, there was a massive line of giant SUVs parked in the street outside by people grabbing take out grill platters from this restaurant. Despite the fact that the place looked a bit grubby from the outside and clearly lacked charm, we went in with the theory that if so many locals went, it had to be good. We were not disappointed. For roughly $15, we were served up a massive grill platter with breads, salads and a selection of meats, plus some falafel on the house. Simple, but great.
Head out to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the morning and prepare to be dazzled by this massive white landmark set in pristine gardens, filled with artful mosaics, sparkling chandeliers and gigantic handmade carpets. It’s the largest mosque in the UAE, and can hold up to 40,000 people. The mosque offers tours throughout the day, you can also just walk through at your own pace. It’s worth timing your visit so you’re there during prayer time, to experience the atmosphere.
Note: On Friday mornings, the mosque is only open for worship, not for tourism activities, so plan your visit well. Opening times change during Ramadan. All opening times are available on their website.
In the afternoon, it’s time to leave the city and head into the desert for a desert tour: you’’ll get picked up in a massive SUV and drive out to the desert. After a short stop at a camel farm, you’ll meet up with other cars and go racing up and down the dunes, “surfing” along the edges of the dunes. It’s as close as I’ve gotten to feeling like being on a roller coaster without actually being on one! Doing this activity in a big group is a safety measure by the way, as we found out the hard way: it’s not uncommon for a car to get stuck and need towing.
After your dune bashing session, most afternoon desert tours will take you to a desert camp where you can try your skills at sand boarding or camel riding before having dinner under the stars. It’s a great way to finish your 48 hours in Abu Dhabi.