Are you planning to spend one day in Abu Dhabi? Choosing what to do and planning your visit might be a bit confusing, check out this 24 days itinerary to make things easy!
Do you have more time? Here’s our 2 Days in Abu Dhabi itinerary!
Abu Dhabi is one of the most popular options for a layover, or for a quick winter break from Europe. Before visiting last year en route between Australia and Europe, I knew very little about the Emirati capital, and I thought that there wouldn’t be much to see and do besides the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and a couple of other sights.
How wrong I was! We ended up spending one full week in Abu Dhabi and loved the blend of culture, nature, beach time, and glitz that the city has to offer. The city is fun, safe, easy to get around, and it offers a selection of great hotels and restaurants. It’s also a good base to explore more of the United Arab Emirates, or get to Dubai to see Burj Khalifa and other famous sights.
However, the easiest way to visit is a layover if you are flying with Etihad, which uses Abu Dhabi airport as its base. We’ve got a post helping you plan your ideal Abu Dhabi layover, with options for a layover between 5 and 20 hours.
If you have an entire day, keep reading to find out what to do for one day in Abu Dhabi!
Abu Dhabi in One Day – Practical Info
How To Get Around Abu Dhabi
If you’re spending only one day in Abu Dhabi, one of your first questions will be how to get around. There are two options – bus and taxi. However, buses are not recommended for such a short stay – routes are not easy to figure out, and you need a rechargeable card to pay for your fare.
It’s much better to opt for taxis – rides are metered and start at 25 AED (approximately 7 USD), and you’ll spend between 50-100 AED (14-27 USD) on rides between sights mentioned in this article. The cheapest way is hailing taxis off the street, which usually doesn’t take too long, and in our experience, it’s perfectly safe – the driver’s name and photo are always clearly visible, and all drivers that picked us up were always very professional.
Ride-share apps like Uber and Careem also work in Abu Dhabi, and tend to cost a little extra compared to street taxis. They are a good option at night, or if you’re getting away from the main sights – which you probably won’t do if you’re just spending 24 hours in Abu Dhabi.
Best Time to Visit Abu Dhabi
The best time to visit Abu Dhabi is definitely the Northern Hemisphere winter, from December to March. It’s usually sunny and dry, and temperatures are hot but bearable – we visited in late March and minimum temperatures were around 20-22°C, rising to about 25-30°C during the day.
From April onwards, temperatures start to warm up considerably and by June, it’s unbearably hot. We visited Dubai in August once and it was downright unbearable, with 38°C and extreme humidity in the middle of the night.
It’s also worth bearing in mind when Ramadan is. Tourists are not required to fast, but there will be less food and drink options available and it’s not recommended to eat/drink during daylight hours to respect those who are fasting. On the other hand, it would be wonderful to experience iftar, the traditional evening meal to break the fast.
Here are Ramadan dates for the forthcoming years:
- 2023 – March 23rd – April 21st
- 2024 – March 10th – April 8th
- 2025 – February 28th – March 29th
- 2026 – February 17th – March 19th
What to Wear in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi is a Muslim-majority city, but the dress code is not as strict as in other Middle Eastern countries. It is recommended to avoid wearing skimpy, transparent or very tight clothes, and prevent showing cleavage. In general, it’s best to wear long and loose clothing, and have your shoulders and knees covered – regardless of your gender.
To visit Sheikh Zayed Mosque, women are required to have long sleeves, long trousers/skirts and cover their head. It’s possible to purchase abayas at the entrance in case you don’t have the required clothing. Dress code is not as strict for men, but you’ll still need to have your elbows and knees covered to be allowed in. Please refer to the infographic below.
If you’re planning to stay in your hotel or visit beach clubs, you can wear whatever you like, and bathing suits/bikini are ok on the beach. Sportswear is ok to run along the Corniche or visit gyms.
Is Abu Dhabi Safe?
In our opinion, Abu Dhabi felt perfectly safe. We travelled there as a couple, but also spent some time touring independently, and never felt unsafe or in any kind of danger. As a woman, I never attracted unwanted attention, and I spent a fair amount of time running alone down the Corniche.
One Day in Abu Dhabi – Morning
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Start your one day in Abu Dhabi by visiting the city’s most prominent site and tourist attraction, the imposing Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Not only is it one of the most beautiful mosques in the world, but it is also a unique example of innovative Islamic architecture.
Already as you approach the mosque, the four minarets towering above the 82 perfectly rounded white marble domes will take your breath away. It is worth taking a guided tour of the mosque to learn more about what lies behind its construction. Inside, lays the tomb of Sheikh Zayed which passed before the mosque was finished in 2007.
The main prayer hall is decorated with the largest hand-knotted carpet in the world and crowned with an opulent light crown dropping down from the largest of the white marble domes.
You can also tour the mosque without a guide, though the best way to get the most out of your visit is to combine a guided tour, where you will learn more about the place, with walking around on your own to take in all the incredible details in every column, wall, light crown, dome, and window.
The decorations are so carefully and elegantly distributed from neat, colorful flowers climbing up the clean, white columns, and the perfectly symmetrical arches above.
There is no entry fee to enter the mosque, but you can expect to pay 60 USD and up for a guided tour. You can easily spend a couple of hours exploring the sumptuous place of worship.
Sunset is also a very popular time to visit, but to be honest I preferred visiting the mosque when the sun was high in the sky, to admire the shine on the domes and the gleaming white marble.
Opening hours: Saturday-Thursday 9 am – 10 pm and Friday 4.30 pm – 10 pm
Qasr al Watan
Besides Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the presidential palace Qasr al Watan is one of the most extravagant landmarks worth visiting during one day in Abu Dhabi. The architectural wonder is incredibly elegant with magnificent details weaving their way up columns, across arches, and majestic domes.
Unlike many palaces you can visit across the world, Qasr al Watan gives you vast knowledge and cultural understanding of the country and what lies behind the formation of the UAE, its politics, values, and traditions. All while taking in the impressive Arab architecture.
A tour of the palace takes you through different halls and rooms where official summits and meetings are held. Among the highlights is the Great Hall with marble floors and sprawling golden walls, arches, and columns. Inside this opulent hall, you will also see the golden “Power of Words” monument. In the gold, you can read “Wealth is not money or oil, wealth lies in people and it is worthless if not dedicated to serving the people” in Arabic which is a quote by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayan.
Further, the palace houses exhibitions and an extensive library with around 50.000 books, magazines, e-books, newspapers, and other materials. Also the “House of Knowlege” exhibits a series of ancient and rare manuscripts and books. The “Spirit of Collaboration Room” is where the Cabinet and Federal Supreme Council of the UAE hold their official meetings and the display of the banquet hall gives you a hint about the affluence of Abu Dhabi.
Another room in the palace that will leave you in awe is the Majlis with impressive decorations no matter if you look down, sideways, or up.
You can expect to spend one and a half hours visiting the Qasr al Watan palace – if you are visiting in the evening, you can opt to stay for the sound and light show.
Opening hours: Sunday-Thurday 10 am – 8 pm (the last admission is 1 hour before closing time.)
One Day in Abu Dhabi – Afternoon
Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first universal museum in the Islamic world. It is an initiative between France and Abu Dhabi where the UAE capital can use exhibit items from different museums in France and the name of the Louvre for a 20-year period, from 2017 to 2037.
The museum is surrounded by water so you can reach it both by land and by sea. It is made up of 55 low-rise buildings resembling houses in the region, almost like a little medina, where you can find the 23 galleries with different art exhibitions.
The structure is designed by Jean Nouvel, which has incorporated a futuristic look with a natural feel elegantly playing with light, shadows, and water. The most unique feature is the silver dome which is composed of 7850 geometric stars of different sizes spread across 8 layers.
This means that the ceiling slips through soft rays of light into the museum, much like the palm trees in Abu Dhabi will slip through the sunlight. It is also referred to as “The Rain of Light”. Additionally, the design plays a role in the energy efficiency of the building with the dome functioning as a natural shade and cooler in the relatively hot weather conditions that Abu Dhabi sees, while stone floors and walls help keep it cool.
Also recognized as “Museum City,” the Louvre in Abu Dhabi houses permanent and temporary exhibitions. The permanent exhibitions consist of around 700 art pieces from across the globe showcasing antiquities from different civilizations from prehistoric times until today. There is a multitude of items like vases, statues, porcelain, paintings, and more which are truly interesting to see. Especially as they show the connection between the different ancient cultures and civilizations that are situated far apart on the map, yet have so much in common.
The temporary exhibitions vary in content but what they have in common is that they have loaned items from the Louvre in Paris and other French museums. These display one year at a time and all touch upon topics that you will find in the permanent exhibitions.
The Louvre also has cafés and restaurants where you can have a bite to eat or a cold drink to cool down before continuing your Abu Dhabi itinerary. You will likely spend a minimum of 2 hours in the museum, so a break before or after is worth considering.
Louvre opening hours Monday to Sunday: 10:00 – 24:00
Exhibitions and galleries Monday to Friday: 10:00 – 18:30
Exhibitions and galleries Saturday to Sunday: 10:00 – 20:30
After all this sightseeing of today, you might be tempted to go for a dip in the crystal clear water at the 2-kilometer-long beach. Corniche beach is situated right off Corniche walkway and the soft, white powdery sand invites you for walking barefoot down to the turquoise waterfront. Whether you want to relax a bit on the beach, go for a swim, or stroll on the beach, it is a great break from the rest of this day in Abu Dhabi.
The beach is divided into 3 sections – two of them are closed with fences so that people can get their privacy from people walking past. These have a lifeguard, changing rooms, and toilets.
However, if you prefer to keep your toes dry and want to keep your shoes on, the Corniche Road stretches for 8 kilometers along the coastline. Separate bike and pedestrian paths make it fantastic for an afternoon or evening stroll to wind down after a busy day of sightseeing.
This is also a beautiful place to catch the sunset, breathe in the salty air, and gaze at the pastel-colored horizon elegantly reflecting in the water.
There are plenty of restaurants and bars where you can have dinner with a view and take in the lovely seaside as it gets dark and the lights reflect in the water. An alternative is to go on a dinner cruise from the Corniche for a completely different and exclusive experience.
One Day in Abu Dhabi – Night
After dinner, it is time to explore Abu Dhabi at night. The city transforms completely once the darkness falls and the city lights dominate the skyline. While there are a wealth of things to do at night, one of the most memorable sights is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque when it is all lit up at night. Even though you have visited in the morning, it is worth taking the trip to see it at night from the outside as a sight that will stay with you forever.
For an alcohol-free drink with a view, you can head to Observation Deck at 300 where you get sweeping views from 300 meters of altitude of Abu Dhabi at night. This is the highest view you can get from the Etihad Towers. It closes at 8 pm, but you can walk there from Corniche in 20 minutes or grab a taxi which would take you only 5 minutes.
Also in the Etihad Towers, you find the luxury Lobby Lounge which is open to midnight. Also an alcohol-free venue, they serve exquisite Arabic coffees and teas that you can enjoy with a magnificent view.
If you want to have a drink of alcohol, however, head to Yas Island where you find luxurious lounge bars, cocktail bars, and nightclubs where you can party all night. As this is where you will find celebrities and upper-class tourists, expect the prices to reflect that too. That said, it is truly an experience worth it while you are in Abu Dhabi for one day.