Abu Dhabi Layover – A Complete Guide

Are you thinking about an Abu Dhabi layover? Here’s all you need to know to plan your layover and decide what to see in Abu Dhabi during the time you have!

It is no mystery that the two main Emirati airlines – Emirates and Etihad – are among the best in the world, and a great option to travel between Europe and Asia (and onwards to Australia). 

Personally, I’m not a big fan of Dubai – I mean, Burj Khalifa is amazing and all, but I much prefer Abu Dhabi, both as a place to stay and for a layover. In my opinion, Etihad is a wonderful airline, usually a little cheaper than Emirates but comparable in terms of service and entertainment. Ah, and before you roast me in comments, I would repeat that is IN MY OPINION. 

Abu Dhabi is also a great city, buzzing and lively but not as hectic as Dubai. There are wonderful sights like the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, just a short taxi ride from the airport and ideal to visit during an Abu Dhabi layover. The city is also perfect as a base to explore more of the United Arab Emirates – the country is associated by most travellers with glitzy cityscapes, but also has some amazing nature to explore!

Etihad also offers Abu Dhabi layover tours and packages, including free (or discounted) hotel stays – keep reading our Abu Dhabi layover guide to learn more!

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Abu Dhabi is wonderful for a layover or stopover!

Things to Know Before an Abu Dhabi Layover

Abu Dhabi International Airport is divided into 3 terminals. Terminal 1 is for Etihad Airways, while the two remaining terminals serve all other airlines.

You can easily walk between the different terminals in about 20 minutes. Alternatively, there is a free shuttle bus between the different terminals that leave every 20 minutes.

Note that there are security checks between each terminal, so even though you do not exit the airport, you must pass the security check when changing terminals.

If you leave the airport, there are lockers for a fee where you can store your luggage.

Can I Leave the Airport During Transit in Abu Dhabi?

Of course you can, provided you either have pre-arranged a visa, or get a visa on arrival. Remember that traffic can be really heavy in Abu Dhabi, so make sure you allow enough time to get back and clear immigration before your onward flight. 

Transport from and to Abu Dhabi Airport


There is a bus service running between Abu Dhabi Airport and the city center every 40 minutes 24/7 that only costs 4 AED (approximately 1 USD.) The journey takes about 45 minutes but might be affected by traffic, so when returning to the airport, make sure you leave extra time for delays so that you do not risk getting late for your next flight. The buses leave from all three terminals.


There are taxis available at all three terminals. Taxi rides are metered and start at 25 AED (approximately 7 USD) and the cost is usually 70-80 AED (18-22 USD) between the airport and the city center. However, the prices will be affected by traffic. The taxi journey is 30 minutes without traffic. 

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Ready to explore Abu Dhabi?

Immigration and Visa for Abu Dhabi Layovers

If you have a layover in Abu Dhabi that is long enough to give you time to leave the airport and explore the city, you need a visa.

Luckily, a lot of nationalities are granted a free visa on arrival. Most European nationalities as well as American, Australian, and New Zealand citizens, followed by a number of Asian nationalities are eligible.

For citizens of GCC, a visa is not required at all. 

If you need to apply for a visa for your Abu Dhabi layover, certain hotels might be able to apply for you. The only airline that can apply for your visa is Etihad Airways. You should apply in good time before your layover to secure that you get the answer before your trip and can start planning your layover.

You can find out more and check if you need to apply for a visa or not here.

What to wear on a Layover in Abu Dhabi

The United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country and even though the dress code is not as strict as in other destinations, you should assure that you dress respectfully even on a short layover.

A general rule of thumb for both men and women is to cover the knees and shoulders. On top of that, avoid showing cleavage or wearing clothes that are transparent or show too much contour.

It is not mandatory for women to cover their heads, but it can be a good idea to bring a shawl with you to use if you plan on entering the mosque.

The dress code for entering Sheikh Zayed Mosque for women is to cover up completely from ankles to wrist including the head. For men, pants covering ankles and a t-shirt covering shoulders are required.

For tourists that do not comply with the dress code, women will be provided with an Abaya and Shayla, and men will get a Kandura before entering.

Source: Sheikh Zayed Mosque website

5-hour (or shorter) Layover in Abu Dhabi

If you have a short layover in Abu Dhabi of up to 5 hours it is not worth leaving the airport as you will waste a lot of time traveling to the city and back. You must also consider the time you will use in security controls at the airport.

Luckily, there are enough things to do to fill your time at the airport. Here are the top things to do at Abu Dhabi airport that you can take advantage of during a short layover.

Enjoy the Lounges

Abu Dhabi Airport has fabulous lounges that you can enjoy during your layover. If you fly first class or business class on Etihad Airways, you have access to most of them.

However, if you fly economy or come with any other airline that does not collaborate with Etihad Airways, Al Dhabi Lounge (Terminal 1) offers luxurious dining opportunities, showers, and a selection of movies.

If you do not fly first class or business class, you can pay a reasonable walk-in rate of only 210 AED (approximately 57 USD) for 3 hours in Al Dhabi Lounge which is perfect for a 5-hour layover. The lounge is open 24/7.

Shop at the Tax-Free Shops

In Terminals 1 and 3 you find world-class shopping in the tax-free shops. If you need a new electronic device, want to freshen up with a new perfume, or are looking for traditional Middle Eastern items, they have it all. You can also get delicious food items like dates, pistachios, and other kinds of dried fruits and nuts. 

Stay Connected

The airport has free Wi-Fi across all terminals including free internet kiosks where you can connect with family and friends about your whereabouts. It is also a great opportunity to catch up with work if you have anything pending.

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The Abu Dhabi Louvre outside

Relax at a café

There are cafés across the airport where you can relax with a good book, freshly brewed coffee, and a bite to eat.

Stay at an Airport Hotel

If you need to catch up on sleep or your layover is at night, you might like to take advantage of the airport hotels.

The airport also has sleeping pods, but they have not been functional since the pandemic and there is no information stating when or if these will be available for transit passengers again.

Aerotel Abu Dhabi Airport Hotel – Situated in Terminal 1, you can fuel up at their excellent restaurant, relax in comfortable beds, and take advantage of the wake-up service so that you do not have to worry about getting late for your next flight. Minimum booking for 6 hours, but you might find it is worth it if you are tired.

Premier Inn Airport Hotel – This hotel has direct access to Terminals 1 and 3 via the Skypark retail corridor, and offers a selection of rooms, conference spaces and facilities including a spa, swimming pool and gym. There is also a free shuttle bus running to Yas Marina, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the Corniche.

6-hour Layover in Abu Dhabi

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The wonderful Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

With a 6-hour layover, you have just enough time to leave the airport to visit Abu Dhabi’s biggest tourist attraction, the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Mosque. The grand mosque is one of the biggest in the world and features an exceptional fusion of different Islamic architectural styles.

It was built between 1994 and 2007 and after his death, Sheikh Zayed was laid to rest in the mosque’s courtyard.

You can book a guided tour of the mosque which will last an hour and take some time after to take in all the incredible architectural details.

Entry Fee: Free

Opening Hours: Saturday-Thursday 09:00-22:00 and Friday 16:30-22:00

You can also take advantage of the free shuttle bus between the airport and Yas Marina, but 6 hours is not long enough to see all there is to see, so I would save Yas Marina for a longer Abu Dhabi layover! 

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Another view of this architectural marvel

12-16 Hour Layover in Abu Dhabi

With a 12-hour (or longer) layover in Abu Dhabi, you can see a lot more than the Grand Mosque. Here are our top suggestions.

Emirates Palace

If you are fascinated by gold, you cannot miss out on the Emirates Palace. Gold-covered domes meet you once you enter the lobby of this incredibly luxurious hotel that stretches over a kilometer from one side to another. You can even pamper yourself with a cappuccino covered in gold flakes in their prestigious café.

If you want to see more than the lobbies and exhibitions which are free to enter, book a guided tour of the ballrooms, palatial suites, and over 100 hectares of perfectly trimmed gardens. The palace even boasts its own private beach for guests.

If you want to spend more time at the palace, a day pass gives you access to some of the luxuries you would have as a guest at the hotel, including the spa and pools.

Entry fee: Free (lobbies and exhibitions only) – 150 AED (approximately 41 USD) for a guided tour

Tourist opening hours: 24/7

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Yep, plenty of gold in Abu Dhabi!

Yas Marina

Yas Marina is one of the world’s most outstanding marinas and a lovely place to go for a walk, cool down in the musical water fountain, watch the luxury yachts as they leave the dock, or if you feel adventurous – go jet skiing.

The marina hosts different seasonal events that are exciting to catch a glimpse of. Especially if you happen to be there during the Formula 1 races, there will be a lot going on!

In fact, Yas Marina Circuit is the most popular tourist attraction at the marina. You can visit every day between 09:00 and 24:00. Guided tours of the circuits cost 130 AED (approximately 35 USD) and is a great way to learn more about the race tracks.

You can also go running or cycling along the race track on selected nights, and even rent road bikes for free – you can learn more about it on the TrainYas page of the Yas Marina Circuit website!

There are restaurants lined up on the marina where you can have lunch or dinner with a view – especially beautiful at sunset.

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The striking architecture of Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum

Abu Dhabi Louvre Museum

The Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi is the result of an agreement between France and Abu Dhabi lasting from 2017 to 2037 where they can use the name and exhibit items from the Louvre and other museums in France. The museum itself is an impressive architectural attraction and is the first universal museum in the Arab world.

Inside the Louvre, there is a permanent exhibition featuring incredible archaeological artifacts from around the world like pottery, sculptures, and jewelry. You can also admire paintings by artists like Gustave Caillebotte and Jean-François De Troy.

In addition to the permanent exhibition, they host temporary art exhibitions throughout the year.

Entry fee: 60 AED (approximately 16 USD)

Opening hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10:00-18:30 (last entry 17:30) Mondays are closed.

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The Abu Dhabi skyline at nightfall

Etihad Stopover Packages

If you are staying in Abu Dhabi for 10 hours or longer, Etihad offers a range of stopover/layover packages, including free or discounted accommodation. 

There are two main programs available – Transit Connect (for shorter layovers) and Stopover on Us (for stays for up to 2 nights). 

Transit Connect is for those stopping in Abu Dhabi for 10-24 hours, and includes a stay in one of the two Premier Inn hotels – either the one in the airport or the one in the city centre. You need to book at least 5 days in advance, and terms and you need to meet the follow eligibility criteria – see below (source Etihad website – Stopover in Abu Dhabi page).

  • Meet all vaccination and testing requirements in Abu Dhabi
  • Have a pre-arranged visa to enter the UAE or are eligible for a visa on arrival
  • Are connecting to and from an Etihad operated flight
  • *Are not travelling to or from GCC, the Middle East and select destinations in Africa
  • Are 21 years or older
  • Meet the minimum fare requirement of US $500 for one-way flights, and US $750 per person for return flights, including fares and taxes
  • Have completed your outbound flight if you are booking Transit Connect for your return journey

Stopover on Us includes a free stay for up to two nights with buffet breakfast and complimentary Wi-Fi at a range of three and four-star hotels in Abu Dhabi.

Eligibility criteria also apply:

  • Meet all vaccination and testing requirements in Abu Dhabi
  • Have a pre-arranged visa to enter the UAE or are eligible for a visa on arrival
  • Connect to and from an Etihad operated flight
  • Book at least three days before you plan to arrive at the hotel
  • Book your hotel at etihad.com – direct bookings will not be accepted
  • Be at least 21 years old as the lead booker
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Don’t miss Abu Dhabi for your next stopover!

20-Hour Layover in Abu Dhabi (or Longer)

There’s plenty to do in Abu Dhabi to keep you busy for several days – during our last trip to Australia we had a week-long Abu Dhabi layover and never ran out of things to do. Here is our post on how to spend one day in Abu Dhabi!

You take advantage of the Stopover on Us package described above, and you can follow this 2-day Abu Dhabi itinerary including some of the main sights already discussed as well as some nature experiences like a desert safari and mangrove tour. 

If two days in Abu Dhabi are not enough for a stopover, fear not – Etihad also has one more package available, called Best of Abu Dhabi. This includes a room discount of up to 40% for up to 4 nights, with buffet breakfast and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Some of the best Abu Dhabi hotels participate in this deal, including some luxury properties like Anantara Eastern Mangroves and the Grand Hyatt. 

Eligibility criteria also apply:

  • Meet all vaccination and testing requirements in Abu Dhabi
  • Have a pre-arranged visa to enter the UAE or are eligible for a visa on arrival
  • Connect to and from an Etihad operated flight
  • Book at least three days before you plan to arrive at the hotel
  • Book your hotel at etihad.com – direct bookings will not be accepted
  • Be at least 21 years old as the lead booker