Whether it’s your first time visiting the capital city of the UAE, or you’re a returning tourist, there are important things to know before you arrive.
Use this guide to help plan your visit and make the most of your stay.
Things to know
before you arrive in
For the best experience (and to avoid trouble), you must familiarize yourself with the customs and traditions in Abu Dhabi.
As with any other Muslim city, Emiratis are conservative dressers. You will often find people donning traditional attire. And while tourists are not expected to dress the same, you are expected to respect their customs by dressing modestly, especially in places of worship (mosques) and public places (parks, malls etc.).
You can’t go wrong with loose-fitting clothes that cover the shoulders and go beyond the knees. This applies to both men and women. You can also wear clothes with a higher neckline. Needless to say, you should avoid see-through and form-fitting clothes.
Swimming attire at beaches and hotel pools is allowed, but just to err on the side of caution, it would be best to choose swimwear that is not too revealing.
When visiting places of worship such as mosques, women are required to cover their heads by wearing an abaya (traditional scarf). Most mosques provide this for free though, including the world-famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Time your visit
Make sure to know when the holy month of Ramadan starts and ends before visiting Abu Dhabi (or any cities in the UAE). Ramadan isn’t a good time for travelers, since nobody, including tourists, is allowed to eat or drink in public during the daytime as a show of respect to those who are fasting. Most businesses also have reduced operating hours.
Consider the climate
The best time to visit the city is between October and April. The potential for rain and strong wind is quite low, and the weather is quite cool, ranging from between 77F (25C) and 82F (28C).
May to October is the hottest season, and if you are not used to it, it can feel unbearable. The average June to September temperature, for example, can go up to 104F (40C).
You must consider your clothing depending on the season of your visit.
Know the unwritten rules of photography
Taking random photos of strangers (especially local women), and posting them on the internet is frowned upon, and may be illegal.
This may feel odd and tricky to navigate for modern globetrotters, especially in this time of social media, Instagram, and Tiktok. However, just because you are in a public place doesn’t give you the right to snap photos or take videos of people around you. Emiratis are big on privacy. Thus, it would be best to ask permission first.
Moreover, taking photos or recording videos of government-owned buildings, military installations, aircraft, etc., is strictly prohibited for security reasons.
On drinking and getting drunk in public
While most hotels and restaurants serve alcohol, drinking, getting drunk, and acting disorderly in public is prohibited and can get you in trouble with law enforcement.
Public displays of affection are not just frowned upon, they are illegal too. You can find plenty of signs posted around the city to remind you of this. While you can, of course, hold the hands of your wife or husband, hugging and kissing in public is considered offensive and may lead to jail time if caught.
The UAE’s official currency is called Emirati Dirham. While major credit and debit cards are accepted, local stores and smaller shops only accept cash. Thus, you may want to make sure you carry local cash with you to avoid any hassle. You can exchange your money at licensed currency exchange offices, and at banks and hotels.
There you have it – the essential information you need to know before you arrive in Abu Dhabi
Now, we’ll guide you through the must-see places in Abu Dhabi. Make sure to take note of these destinations to plan your itinerary.
Places to visit in Abu
There are several things to see and do in Abu Dhabi. Here are the attractions you must add to your travel itinerary.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
With its sophisticated architecture and luxurious combination of marbles, gold, and other precious stones, The Grand Mosque is an absolute must-see in Abu Dhabi.
Visiting times, however, are only from 9 AM to 10 PM, Saturday to Thursday. The last entry is at 9:30 PM. The mosque is closed on Friday mornings for worship, and usually only opens from 4:30 to 11 PM.
Again, visitors must dress modestly upon entering. Both men and women must wear clothing that covers their shoulders, arms, and legs. Women should wear a headscarf.
There are more than 200 islands in Abu Dhabi, many of which are man-made. While you can visit most of them, two islands stand out.
Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island made a huge buzz during the pandemic by hosting multiple UFC events when no other sports organizations in the world dared to hold live events.
The island is also the home of the Yas Marina Circuit, which hosts the annual Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
Yas Island is already famous for speed and adventure, as it’s the home of Ferrari World – a Ferrari-based theme park perfect for speed fans looking for adrenaline-pumping things to do. The theme park has more than 20 rides. They even have a Formula One circuit for F1 fans. If you want some real heart-pumping action, you should try the Flying Aces rollercoaster ride. It’s the only rollercoaster ride in the world that can go up to 120 km/h (75 mph).
If you happen to visit Abu Dhabi during summer, then you should check out Yas Waterworld theme park (though they are open year-round). With more than 40 rides and slides, there is one for the whole family in this water park.
Saadiyat Island is a world-class leisure, business, and cultural hub in Abu Dhabi. It is home to the best beaches, golfing, and fine-dining destinations in the city.
The city is surrounded by some spectacular beaches, and Saadiyat beach is a prime example of that. The pristine, white sand beach has a great combination of exclusivity, tranquility, and luxury. There are many beach and water activities to choose from.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi
This museum is a result of a partnership between the UAE and France. And like the Louvre Museum in Paris, the Abu Dhabi counterpart also features spectacular architecture, and a rich collection of permanent collections, exhibitions, and artworks.
Saadiyat Beach Golf Club
This 72-par beachfront golf course is designed for golfers from all skill levels. And if you ever feel tired or hungry, you can rest at any of its restaurants.
There you have it, the most important things to know before you arrive in Abu Dhabi and the best places to visit. Familiarize yourself with these and you will have the adventure of a lifetime.