Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is a great place to visit. Whether you get there as a day trip from Dubai or have a layover in Abu Dhabi, here are the best things to do in one day in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi is an exceptionally pretty city and although it’s bigger than Dubai, it’s much quieter and has fewer attractions.
However, you can easily spend days in Abu Dhabi without getting bored. If you are visiting or passing through for just one day, then read on for my top recommendations.
Even if you stay only 1 day in Abu Dhabi, here are some tips to keep in mind when visiting.
Do´s and Don´ts in Abu Dhabi
- Any intimacy between couples should be reduced to a minimum (even holding hands) and is forbidden in some places (mosques etc.).
- Never drink in public (except in restaurants etc.) and do not get totally drunk.
- Follow the dress code – Abu Dhabi is a bit more conservative than Dubai, but you can show some skin (arms, legs) but my tip is always to respect the culture and religion and don’t forget that it is not an European country.
Disclaimer: This post also contains affiliate links – this means I might earn a small commission when you buy a product/service via my links (at no extra cost to you). More about it here.
Is Abu Dhabi Safe for Tourists?
I personally think Abu Dhabi, like Dubai, is a great place to visit as a tourist, because it is safe. Abu Dhabi tourist places are safe in terms of crime, terror, and also a great solo female travel destination (read more about safety in the UAE here).
Solo Female Travel in Abu Dhabi
I visited Abu Dhabi several as a solo female traveler and absolutely loved it. Abu Dhabi is safe – for female and male travelers, for solo and family travel. As always, exercise common sense, but you should not be afraid to travel to this Islamic country (as I also think Dubai is great for solo female travel). Abu Dhabi is one of the best destinations in the Arab world for solo female travel, so enjoy!
Best Time to Visit
I recommend visiting between October-March, as it gets really hot in summer (which is from April to beginning of October).
In December however, some days were really foggy and it was hard to do “sightseeing” as I wished to do. Luckily, I had seen many parts of Abu Dhabi before, but it can be a bummer for Abu Dhabi first-time visitors.
If you visit the UAE (or any Islamic country) you probably should avoid the time during Ramadan as well. During this time, which last about 4 weeks, Muslims are not allowed to drink or eat during the day, which has also an effect on tourists as some restaurants are not open during the day and drinking and eating in public is not welcome.
There is also a stricter dress code and less alcohol available. In 2021 Ramadan is during the months April/may.
Where to Stay
If you stay overnight, then I have some hotel recommendations for oyu. Though hotels here seem a bit more affordable than in Dubai it is not a budget destination, even cheaper hotels offer good value for money.
Here is my detailed accommodation guide for Abu Dhabi – or click on the links below to find some of the places I recommend staying a
Luxury Accommodation: Emirates Palace (one of the most luxurious hotels in the world)
Mid-Range Accommodation: Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri (a beautiful 4* hotel with a view of the Grand Mosque)
Budget Hotels and Hostels: Click here to find budget-friendly hotels and hostels
How to Get to Abu Dhabi
If you spend 1 day in Abu Dhabi it is most likely, you will most likely get to Abu Dhabi from Dubai and do a day trip or you will have a stopover. So, here are tips on how to get to the city center from Abu Dhabi airport or from Dubai.
From Abu Dhabi Airport
The great thing about Abu Dhabi’s airport is that it is close to the city center and its main attractions, so even if you only have an eight to ten-hour layover you can still take advantage of a lot of the great places to visit in Abu Dhabi.
There is public transportation from the airport in Abu Dhabi. Buses take about 40 minutes and costs around $1 (24 hours a day).
If you take a taxi, you have to pay $6-20 (depending on the exact location).
Abu Dhabi is easily reachable from Dubai via bus or taxi. Depending on your exact location a taxi ride might cost around 55€ ($65) and takes about 90 minutes. A bus ride is much cheaper, but it will take more time and you are less flexible.
From Dubai to Abu Dhabi
Sightseeing bus tours from Dubai to Abu Dhabi
If booking one of the tours, either by hop-on and hop-off buses, or if you do guided tours, you can make some decisions on the itineraries and see which of the activities mentioned here are the most appealing to you. Many tours have bundled a couple of great activities in Abu Dhabi.
So my tip if you do an Abu Dhabi tour from Dubai is to check which places are the highest on your list.
If you visit Abu Dhabi by yourself, either by eating there by a normal public bus, taxi or (rental) car, you have more flexibility but it might be a bit more stressful when it comes to finding parking spaces.
If you want to do a full day in Abu Dhabi (including an overnight stay) then an in depend trip is for sure the best option.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links which mean I might earn a small commission when you buy a product (at no extra cost to you) after clicking on my link. More about it here.
If you have only one day in Abu Dhabi, my tip is not to waste time and start with the highlight first.
I’ll begin with what in my opinion, is one of the most awe-inspiring places to go in Abu Dhabi in one day.
This important sight in Abu Dhabi is the Grand Mosque which is located towards the inland side of Abu Dhabi Island, about 20 kilometers from the airport.
The mosque is probably the most beautiful building in the world and even if you are not religious or Muslim, I still highly recommend a visit. The mosque is always open to the public except on Fridays or on special occasions.
It’s extremely beautiful both day and night and if you want to feel a special atmosphere you can visit during prayers.
When the muezzin calls for prayers although you are not able to enter the prayer room itself, you still get a feeling for this really special experience that makes it one of the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi in one day.
There is a dress code and if you are interested in finding out more, you can click on this link. Females have to cover their heads, legs and arms and there are closets where you can find extra coverings and can get changed.
Men also have to cover their arms and legs and also have the option of either using their own things or taking advantage of items available to get changed into. Of course, it depends on how busy it is but I would plan in one to three hours for a visit as if it’s busy you may have to wait in line to get changed. Here are my travel tips for the Grand Mosque
I would then head to the Emirates Palace which is another must-see in 1 day (at least to me).
The Emirates Palace is one of the most expensive hotels in the world and it is open to the public. Normally you would need a reason to be allowed to enter, but here, the guards are very nice will let you in so that you can and take a look at the amazing, stunning lobby or have a meal or some coffee. Of course, it’s not very cheap, but it is worth it.
There are buses running between the Emirates Palace and the Grand Mosque, though even then, it can be a little bit difficult on public transport as it is not yet perfect in Abu Dhabi. An alternative if you prefer is to take a cab.
If you are looking for more places of interest in Abu Dhabi, from the Emirates Palace you could also go to Heritage Village, a reconstruction of a traditional oasis village that gives you a little feeling of ancient Arabia.
It’s quite small but it’s very lovely. It’s located at the Marina Mall which is then a great place to have a quick lunch or get some retail therapy.
One of my favorite free things to do in Abu Dhabi is to take a walk along the Corniche, a very beautiful promenade with some public (and some hotel owned) beaches.
If you’re fit enough it is a great walk to do and it’s fun to see how far you get along its eight-kilometer stretch.
Abu Dhabi’s beaches are, in my opinion, a bit nicer than the ones in Dubai and if you walk to the public beach section it is free of charge. It’s a lovely place to relax after the walk or you can take a taxi as it is not too expensive or you can hop on to a bus.
If you spend a lot of time at the beach then you can probably spend half a day there and have the time fly by.
So, the above top activities actually would fill one day (unless you are super fast).
However, you might not be into all of those things to do in Abu Dhabi and this is why I have a few more alternatives you can do if you want to swap out thing or if you stay in Abu Dhabi for 2 days or longer.
I am a big fan of desert safaris – I have enjoyed a few in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi as well.
You will get picked up in the afternoon and arrive back in Abu Dhabi before midnight.
HOWEVER, with only one day in Abu Dhabi you need to make sure you have time for it because it takes time and will not allow you to see many other sights/places that are on a typical 1-day Abu Dhabi itinerary.
So, if you do a guided tour a desert safari is often not included in the one-day Abu Dhabi itinerary. However, if you get to Abu Dhabi by car/taxi/Uber this might be a good way to end your day in Abu Dhabi.
Click here to find out about desert tours in Abu Dhabi in the evening. If you want to do a morning desert safari, then check out this tour. Keep in mind, that if you arrive early in the morning in Abu Dhabi that late flights etc can occur so plan in a buffer so you don’t have to worry.
Louvre Museum is beautiful museum with a stunning architecture that opened in late 2017 and you can add it to your one day in Abu Dhabi itinerary.
Squeezing all above mentioned activities in one day in Abu Dhabi is impossible (I did them in a few days, but traveled slowly) – you can combine this museum trip with a trip to the Grand Mosque and probably a quick visit to Emirates Palace.
Abu Dhabi at Night
If you stay a full one day in Abu Dhabi and spend the evening/night in Abu Dhabi, then you have several options for the evening.
If, however, you want to do something a little more exciting after and are looking for places to visit in Abu Dhabi at night, you can always go back to Emirates Palace where the area is illuminated very nicely after dark.
Or you could go to Downtown Abu Dhabi which is not very far from the beach section where you have more shopping areas, restaurants and cafes. Plus, it’s a fab place to stop for dinner!
Visit a Theme Park
If you are looking for really cool things to do in Abu Dhabi, another thing that you could squeeze into your trip or layover is a visit to Ferrari World on Yas Island which is perfectly situated if you are heading back to the airport or going to Abu Dhabi as it is close to the airport.
It is ideal for those of you who either love Ferraris and cars in general or are totally into rollercoasters as there is a big theme park which you could also do in one day in Abu Dhabi. Some tours from Dubai have the Grand Mosque and a trip to Ferrari World as one tour.
However, you will not have much time to do much more if you head to Ferrari World. To check out day tours from Dubai to Ferrari World click here.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON ONE DAY IN ABU DHABI
These are the most interesting places to visit in one day in Abu Dhabi. I hope these have given you some great inspiration for what to do in Abu Dhabi in 1 day – whether you explore Abu Dhabi as a layover or a day trip from Dubai.
P.S: As you have seen, I have added tours here for you. I personally love GetYourGuide and use them regularly for my own tours and used them for some activities in Abu Dhabi as well. They are quite new but great, so definitely a good choice for booking tours (Viator is also a good option)