After visiting Jordan earlier in the year and falling in love with the country, I decided I wanted to visit more countries in the Middle East.
With the holiday blues setting in, I don’t think I lasted more than a few days before my friend threw a newspaper onto my desk with an amazing deal to Abu Dhabi, UAE. That was it, I booked my next Middle Eastern adventure.
As always, I had a few reservations… what should I wear to be respectful? Are there extra rules in place of what I can/cant do given I was travelling during Ramadan?
A little research before you travel anywhere is always advised and hopefully this blog will answer the questions above, as well as some of your own whilst giving you an insight of what Abu Dhabi has to offer with some tips along the way.
So 72 hours doesn’t seem like a long enough time to visit Abu Dhabi I hear you say.
Although I always want a little extra time anywhere I visit, I actually got to see everything I wanted to plus more on this holiday. Below is a breakdown of what 72 hours in Abu Dhabi can get you.
A Trip to Yas Island
On Yas Island you’ll find the Grand Prix track, Yas Mall as well as not one, not two, but THREE theme parks!
Unfortunately, I didn’t visit the Grand Prix track on this occasion but you are allowed to cycle around the course as well as take a supercar for a spin. The supercar will set you back a pretty penny but for true car fanatics I’m sure it’s a once in a lifetime experience so well worth it.
I was lucky enough to do two out of the three theme parks, the first being Ferarri World. This is another must for car fanatics and roller coaster lovers alike. The park offers the history about Ferarri, white knuckle roller coasters as well as a display of Ferrari’s finest from over the years.
Theme park two that I visited was Warner Brothers World. This is the worlds largest indoor theme park and is a fantastic visit. It has white knuckle rides as well as smaller rides and simulators. So whether you’re an adrenaline junky like me, or fancy flying around Gotham with Batman, this theme park has something for everyone.
The park is split into sections so you can spend your morning visiting Metropolis or Gotham, have your lunch with the Looney Tunes, dessert in Bedrock and finish the day with a trip around Tom and Jerry’s & Scooby Doo’s House.
One of my favourite/scariest things about the theme parks, is that you can’t actually see most of the roller coasters so you’re basically blind as to what you’re getting on to, until you’re strapped into the seat and being flung around. 😱😱😱
The third theme park which I didn’t visit (as I had a free buffet to get back to 😂) was the water park. I did, however, drive and walk past it. The slides and roller coasters (that’s right, coasters in a water park!) looked insane and I would make sure I visited this on my next trip to Abu Dhabi.
Yas Mall is also worth a visit, it has LOTS of shops for the shopaholics out there as well as lots of places to eat/drink, including a rather delicious Cheesecake Factory – not exactly local cuisine but pretty damn tasty none the less.
- Wear comfy shoes, many people went in flip flops but the theme parks are large and take some walking!
- You can buy tickets for multiple parks which will make it cheaper and during Ramadan, you can buy a ticket for all three parks for the price of one so make sure you look for this offer online before you book.
- Take suncream, the parks are indoors but some of the rides take you outside. You can also walk between the parks.
- During Ramadan, food and water cannot be consumed in public. You can still eat and drink in all of the restaurants as they cover up the restaurant fronts so you cannot see inside them. No need to worry about not being able to eat and drink. There are also drinking fountains in the toilets.
- Take a cardigan or jacket. Yes it might be 40°C outside but no matter where you go inside the aircon is pumping hard!
Visit Skeikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Whether you are religious or not, you MUST MUST visit this mosque not only for the peace and serenity but also to see how truly stunning this building is.
I would have happily paid an entry fee to see this magnificent building but very lucky for us, it’s free entry! Bonus! 😁
The mosque was completed on 20th December 2007 and cost a whopping 2 billion Dirhams ($545 million USD) to complete!
The mosque has 82 domes in total of 7 different sizes. The carpet in the main prayer room is considered to be the biggest in the world weighing in at a back breaking 35 tonnes, taking around 2 years to complete.
The floor is absolutely stunning. It was made from white marble tiles and the floral inlays are made from mosaic, carved and sand blasted glass.
The mosque can hold 41,000 worshippers at one time and during Ramadan, 20,000 Muslims come here each evening to share Iftar together.
- Visiting this mosque during sunrise or sunset is highly recommended, the low sun hits the perfectly white marble giving it an orange glow. Unfortunately, as I went during Ramadan, the mosque was shut to the public at these times.
- As above, check on the website before you go to find out the opening times. These may vary due to times of worship.
- Check the website for what clothing is appropriate. Long sleeves, both legs and arms is required. Ladies must also where a head scarf. Do not worry if you aren’t dressed appropriately, you will be given a hooded gown to wear before you enter the mosque.
- Be respectful, keep noise levels down and only walk and take pictures in the designated areas.
Etihad Towers again offers shops and restaurants however, I went here specifically to go up to the 74th floor to the Observation Deck. No matter where I go on holiday, I’m always in search for a good spot for sunset and the Observation Deck offered a 360° panoramic view over the city. Just beautiful.
The deck does cost 85AED ($23 USD) to go up and you can pre book this online. The views are well worth the price.
- The Observation Deck has a restaurant at the top which does really good food (without breaking the bank) including afternoon tea. As this restaurant is pretty much on top of the world, it doesnt have to be covered up during Ramadan.
- The Observation Deck closes at 7pm so find out what time sunset is at (if that’s why you’re going up) and I’d advise to go up an hour before that so you can watch it go down over the ocean.
- Pick your perfect seat, the sun goes down in the west which falls just to the left of the Emirate Palace and just to the right of the UAE Presidential Palace.
- Don’t expect to be able to take the best photographs of your life. Being so high I imagine the window cleaner doesn’t visit all that often so there is a lot of glare from the dirt on the windows.
Although the Emirate Palace is a hotel, non guests can enter the building for a little snoop around until early evening.
The hotel is generally used by the rich and famous so no pictures are allowed inside the building although I managed to take a couple.
Inside is very grand as you might expect so definitely worth a look around. Even the wall clocks are Rolex!
For me, it was worth it just for this view of the Abu Dhabi skyline when you step out of the building.
The Emirate Palace also has a pretty garden outside with many large fountains making for good picture opportunities.
- The Emirate Palace is opposite Etihad Tower so you can incorporate this into your tower visit. I went here first so that I could capture the skyscrapers glistening in the sun.
- Emirate Palace can be visited by non guests until late evening but you must adhere to their dress code. Smart casual, no shorts or flip flops. You should be covered to a respectable level- please check their website for further details.
Kayaking in the Mangroves
To say Abu Dhabi is in the desert partly sat on man made islands, I didn’t expect it to have luscious green mangroves with a whole host of wildlife to see.
Here you can take a boat, kayak and even paddle board.My friend and I hired a kayak for a few hours to get out of the heat of the city.
A guided two hour kayak tour with only set you back about £30 and I would highly recommend doing it.
Unfortunately our taxi got lost trying to find our marina so we missed our tour however, the company gave us kayaks anyway and showed us on a map where to go.
There are lovely beaches to moor the boat at so that you can take in the nature. It felt very odd to me because it seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere yet you could still see the Abu Dhabi skyline looming in the distance.
Whilst paddling around and sitting on the beach you’ll probably see a fair bit of wildlife such as Mottled Crabs, Western Reef Heron, Greater Flamingos and Eagles. If you’re very lucky you might spot Turtles, Dolphins or even a Manatee!
- Although it may feel cooler, you’re still in Abu Dhabi… look after yourselves, take water, snacks and plenty of suncream. If you book through a company they will often supply you with water so check that out before you go.
- If you use your phone for photography, take a waterproof cover so if you go for a swim or while youre paddling it won’t get splashed. You can see these below in my section of what I recommend you to take.
- I’ve been informed that the best time to go to the Mangroves is Jan/Feb time. The temperature is lower and the water is higher so you can paddle down some if the smaller channels.
- It was a windy day when my friend and I went out so make sure you have the stamina to keep going. If you share a kayak make sure your friend pulls their weight otherwise you’re in for a hard slog!
Take a Desert Safari
This was my favourite part of the trip. There are many trips like this but I chose mine as it seemed to incorporate all of the elements of the others. My trip included:
- Sand dune bashing- this is where your guide hurtles you up/down into the sand dunes in your geep. It’s so much fun!
- Sand boarding – I thought this would be like snow boarding but I was wrong! You basically lie on your stomach on a board, face down, hanging over the edge of a sand dune…. and then you get pushed down! This was brilliant, although the walk back up the dune was pretty tough!
- Visiting a camel farm- here we got to feed and pet the camels who were lovely.
- A camel trek in the desert- this was short but sweet.
- Traditional dinner in a Bedouin Camp- so very tasty. There are meat dishes, veggie, salads, dips, breads. Delicious!
- Henna painting- this is included in the tour price and available once into the Bedouin Camp.
- Once in the camp you can change into traditional dress should you wish for a photo opportunity.
- At this particular camp there was a hawk living there who you could have your photo with.
- Live entertainment- this could change from dancing to belly dancers.
- Sunset over the desert- I do love a good sunset!
- Stargazing- always a favourite of mine.
- Open fire and sheesha pipes.
- Optional quad biking (at an additional cost).
There are two tours a day but I chose the evening tour so that I could see sunset and the stars…. it didn’t quite turn out that way…We had a huge rain and thunderstorm!!
At first I was a little disappointed however, after thinking about it for all of a few seconds, I realised how lucky I was. Not many people get to witness a storm like this in May…. in the desert in Abu Dhabi. My tour guide said he’d been here for 13 years and never known it rain in May before.
I decided to embrace it and not hide with the others in the shelter but to sit outside with my dinner in the rain, it was really quite refreshing.
I can recommend the tour I took, our tour guide Imran Khan (not the cricketer) was a fantastic. He was very knowledgeable and made our experience really fun. You can find the tour I went on here.
- You will be advised not to eat two to three hours before you go on the tour. The sand dune bashing is rough and trust me, your dinner will repeat on you if you don’t follow that instruction!
- The dune bashing and sand boarding aren’t for the faint hearted so pick a tour that’s more appropriate for you.
- If you’re going into the desert on a hot day, I’d wear long but thin sleeves to keep the sun off you. No amount of factor 50 will stop you burning.
- Take an extra layer for the evening. Although the desert is scorching hot in the day, the temperature can plummet at night time.
There are many other trips you can take in the city. A day trip to Dubai perhaps or a Big Red Bus tour of the city. The bus tour, I didn’t find worth the money as I was always going to see all if the sights myself but see what you think!
Overall Top Tip and Answers to Commonly Asked Questions.
- Alcohol– you are able to drink in Abu Dhabi, the hotel is serve alcohol and many have a happy hour in the evening. The happy hour is a little different to how I’m used to it as the alcohol is free and self served! Don’t go crazy, this isn’t the place for you to be caught drunk and disorderly.
- What to Wear- Abu Dhabi is a pretty westernised place so you can wear what you like. Please note, wear what you will be comfortable in, whether this being due to the heat or due to the amount of attention you might attract. Remember to cover up if you’re going to a religious building.
- Visiting During Ramadan- food and drink isn’t to be consumed in public, this includes in your vehicle. Restaurants are still open so you can still be fed and watered. The restaurants just have their fronts covered up with sheets so that you can’t see inside and the food smell doesn’t come out. I don’t know if it was due to Ramadan (my tour guide said not, as Abu Dhabi is always quiet compared to Dubai) but everywhere I went was so quiet, even the theme parks. We didnt need to queue for entry or to get on any of the rides! This meant we covered two theme parks in one day! The shopping malls were also deserted which for me, was great!!
- Getting around- I found the best way to get around was by taxi. They are everywhere, all of the time and cheap. A lot of the taxi drivers and Christian and Hindu so there won’t be a shortage even if you do go during Ramadan. A taxi from the airport will set you back around 90AED and a taxi back to the airport round 60AED.
- Is Abu Dhabi Safe? I felt very safe in Abu Dhabi. Normally walking around a city at night is not something I would recommend but here, I really did feel safe. Crime is low due to the severity of the punishment.
Things To Pack
- Clothing for slightly cooler weather and aircon buildings. You’ll need long sleeves to keep out of the sun and a warm layer for the desert.
- Sensible walking boots.
- Camera and equipment. I always carry mine on me as you just never know when the perfect picture opportunity will arise.
- Beach wear with suitable shoes for the kayaking. I would recommend wet shoes with a rubber sole and NOT flip flops.
- A sun hat, sunglasses and sunscreen, it will also get very hot. The sunglasses will also help keep the sand out of your eyes in the desert.
- A power bank to charge your phone. If you have a similar itinerary to mine and use your phone to take photos, then you’ll probably need a recharge at some point. I use the one below which gives me about 5 charges.
- A sturdy rucksack to put your water bottle/flask in plus all over the above! I use the one below as it comes with a detachable day bag. I always take my stainless steel cutlery set as shown below, you never know when you’ll need them. The set does come with a set of straws but again it cant hurt to take some extra with you in case you can’t wash them. These ones are stainless steel so reusable and more environmentally friendly. When you’re off the beaten track and buy a drink, it’s more hygienic to drink from one of your own straws rather than the can/bottle.
- A waterproof case for your phone in case you decide to go kayaking/swimming. These cases can allow you to take underwater photos without damaging your phone.
If you have any others questions that I may not have answered above then please do drop me a message. you can find more imagines from my trip on Instagram @w_w_andtheworld.
I cant wait to explore this vibrant city again in the future and who knows, next time I might have saved up enough to take a lap around the Grand Prix track!