Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, a Middle Eastern powerhouse nation composed of seven different emirate “states.” Abu Dhabi is not Dubai. In fact, Abu Dhabi has long fended off its reputation of being the stodgy bureaucratic sibling of a decidedly more glamorous Dubai.
But times are changing. Over the past decade, Abu Dhabi has built its fair share of glitzy-glassy skyscrapers and pristine artificial beach fronts. And while Abu Dhabi is yet to command the cosmopolitan aura of its arch-nemesis just 90 minutes north, you’ll do just fine here – especially if you’re only staying for a few hours.
So if you’re debating whether or not to leave the airport for your ultra-long 6+ hour lay-over, the answer, in my humble opinion, is an almost definite yes.
That is, unless you have a particular personal or medical aversion to heat. This country gets hot. Very, very hot.
Lucky for me, I was arriving to AUH well after the sun set, staying just long enough to see the first few hours of the sun’s scorching rays, well-insulated inside an air-conditioned terminal, the next day.
Visas & Money
United States passport holders will be issued a 30-day visa, free of charge, upon arrival. You don’t have to get a visa before you leave for your trip. Citizens of the following countries may also forego visa worries prior to departure:
Australia, Andorra, Austria, Brunei, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America and the Vatican State. Source
The official currency of the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham, abbreviated AED. Generally speaking, it’s just under 4 dirham to the dollar or 3 if you want to budget more conservatively while accounting for foreign transaction fees.
Abu Dhabi isn’t necessarily the “cheap” budget destination it was a few years back. But it’s not exorbitantly pricey either. Count on getting a decent meal for under $10 – or splurge for around double that price. Taxis are slightly cheaper than what you might find in New York, and UberX is now widely available in the city. Unless you’re planning to live it up in the presidential suite at the Shangri-la down town, you can enjoy your long layover without breaking your budget.
If you’re used to munching on free carrot sticks and nibbling complimentary cheese product at airports in the United States, you may wonder about the airport lounges at AUH. Indeed, there are many. But I realize that not everyone wants to read about airport lounges, so I’ve devoted a super-exclusive post on this matter separately. It’s just not ready yet, but check back soon!
Check back soon for the ultimate guide to AUH airport lounges!
Airport-Convenient Hotels & Lodging
If you find yourself in Abu Dhabi overnight (and you’re traveling from the West), you’ve probably already gotten at least a few hours of rest on the plane.
But if you’re keen to catch a few hours of sleep in a real bed, you’ll find no shortage of airport hotels for well under $100 per night. There’s also a hotel inside the airport in Terminal 1 right next to the Al Reem lounge.
Generally, I’d recommend against using points for your stay since the paid rates are relatively low, but you do what you want. You can also opt for this futuristic sleep pod between Terminals 1 and 2 for about 10 bucks an hour:
Safety & Common Sense
Generally speaking, Abu Dhabi is a safe city. Yes, this means that one can visit major tourist attractions at midnight with little to no issue. But no, this does not mean that crime is non-existent. As as is the case when traveling to anywhere abroad, don’t be stupid.
There are a few other safety considerations that make the UAE unique, however. The culture veers towards the extremely conservative, so keep that in mind. Dress modestly. Public displays of affection are frowned upon – and can even land you in jail. Getting overly frisky in a public-ish place (such as your car) will also land you in jail. Homosexual acts are similarly strictly forbidden, and – you guessed it – will land you in jail. And while the country’s made it easier to enjoy your choice martini at a ritzy hotel bar, drinking culture isn’t exactly big here. Drugs? Just say no – unless you like jail.
You’re only here for a few hours. I’m sure you’ll keep it together.
Things to do, places to see
How else might you spend your short time in this far-off desert land? If you’re into cars, the kind of cars that hide some deep-seeded insecurity of yours, then Ferrari World might be just the place for you. Even if you’re not into obnoxiously-supercharged sports cars, Yas Island (or the Corniche) could be a prime place for a leisurely stroll. You can also try your hand at a world-class golf course, but good luck getting past hole 9 in the blazing summer heat. If none of these sound like your cup of tea, there’s always a Groupon for everyone.
My recommendation? The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the country. Check it out; you won’t regret it.
Spending an overnight layover in Abu Dhabi in Dubai
Huh? Why, yes. I did decide to schlep it over to Dubai during my overnight layover after all. If I’m going to be stuck in a mostly deserted near-utopian crystal metropolis overnight, I might as well do it at the capital of them all. More on how to get to Dubai for free, and what to expect, in the next post!