How to Spend 24 Hours in Abu Dhabi

How to Spend 24 Hours in Abu Dhabi

A trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi go hand-in-hand, or at least they should, even if you’re short on time. Even if you only have 24 hours to spend in Abu Dhabi like we did during our recent jaunt to Dubai, you’d be remiss not to visit the UAE’s capital city.

So exactly what can you do in the UAE’s second most populous city when you’re crunched for time? Read on for tips on things to do in Abu Dhabi when you only have a day to spare…

Get on the bus

Located about 100 miles south of Dubai, it only takes about 1.5-2 hours to get to Abu Dhabi by car or bus. And if you’re flying economy on Emirates like we did, the airline offers a complimentary shuttle service to/from Abu Dhabi. I was looking forward to the free ride, but when I called to reserve our seat, I was told that because we planned on going to Abu Dhabi a few days after our actual arrival in Dubai, we wouldn’t be able to book since the service is only for passengers who want to go to/from Abu Dhabi on the day of their flight. Bummer.

(l) Ibn Battuta metro station; (r) Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station
(l) Ibn Battuta metro station; (r) Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station

But after doing some research about alternative, cheap ways to get to/from Abu Dhabi, we decided to catch a public bus which departs hourly throughout the day. We took the metro from our hotel to the Ibn Battuta metro station and once at the station, we bought our ticket for the #E101 bus to the Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station. Our total per person bus ticket cost: 25 AED ($6.80 USD). Very cool!

Although we waited for a little over an hour to get on our bus (they fill up fast!), our ride to Abu Dhabi was easy peasy, and it sure beat hiring a taxi or Uber which would’ve cost us upwards of $100.

*For more info on the free shuttle service offered by Emirates, click here. For info on public bus schedules, click here

Check-in at Southern Sun Abu Dhabi


Once we arrived at the bus station in Abu Dhabi, we caught Uber to our hotel, Southern Sun Abu Dhabi, in the heart of the business district. I’ll write more about our hotel stay and room as part of my Where to Stay series, but for now, just know that Southern Sun is a great, affordable option in a very central location. And the rooms are incredible!

Go to dinner at Sambusek


After checking in and resting up a bit, we freshened up and headed out to dinner at Sambusek, a seriously delicious Lebanese restaurant that I mentioned was my favorite restaurant abroad of 2015.

The view from the outdoor seating area
The view from the outdoor seating area

Located in the luxurious Rosewood Abu Dhabi Hotel, Sambusek has a very contemporary ambiance with a beautiful outdoor seating area (we chose to sit inside because we had the place to ourselves). However, the menu features very traditional Lebanese selections including the restaurant’s namesake, sambusek, an empanada-like pastry filled with meat (usually minced lamb) or veggies and lots of mixed spices like cardamom, nutmeg, and sumac.



We also ordered some muhammara (my favorite) which is a spread of walnuts, breadcrumbs, olive oil, tomato and chili pastes, and an order of falafel. By the time our entrees came out – lamb kebabs for me and chicken kebabs for Jave – we were already stuffed. Like to the point of barely being able to breathe stuffed.


The carryout boxes are so classy
The carryout boxes are so classy

But, we ate on like the troopers we are although we ended up having to take food back to our hotel with us. Nevertheless, we managed to leave room for a few pots of Moroccan tea and baklava.

Eat breakfast in bed


Despite all of our good eating the night before, we still somehow managed to get up and indulge in a sumptuous breakfast in bed before heading out for the day.

Head to Emirates Palace


The Emirates Palace is a “beyond 5-star luxury hotel” suited for royalty, and because of that, I’ll be writing a separate post about our visit to this Abu Dhabi landmark. For now, I’ll just say that I’ve never stepped foot in a hotel like Emirates Palace. Ever. Non-guest visitors are only allowed to explore the hotel’s lobby, but from what I hear, the rooms are decked out in gold and marble, and the most expensive suites can be booked for upwards of $5,000 per night.

Visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque 


During our final few hours in Abu Dhabi before catching our bus back to Dubai, we visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, another Abu Dhabi landmark that’s not to be missed during your visit. Again, I’ll be writing a separate post covering our visit to this amazing wonder of architecture and art that happens to be the UAE’s largest mosque.

Say farewell


After leaving the Grand Mosque, we took Uber back to our hotel to pick up our bags and then headed to the bus station for our ride back to Dubai. While I’m glad that we got to visit Abu Dhabi, there are some places that we missed that I’d definitely like to visit the next time around like the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, Yas Island and some of the emirate’s beaches like the beautiful Saadiyat Beach.



Is Abu Dhabi on your travel wish list? If you’ve already been, what other sites would you suggest?

  • RattlesandHeels

    This was so informative! I wish they informed you ahead of time that you would have to use the complimentary service the same day but it the price of the bus was really cheap and the drive wasn’t bad at all. I would love to go to Abu Dhabi when I make it to Dubai so thanks for the informative post.

  • Hi Carmel, a travel Abu Dhabi is definitely on the horizon so I’m glad to read to wonderful post of yours. Nice tips and recommendations. Lovely photos, too. Will surely check it back before I go.

  • Frank Thomae

    Some great photos. I love the one of you in front of the Grand Mosque.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  • Saving These Coins

    AMAZING PICTURES!!! I hope to visit the UAE one day.

  • OH MY! This is absolutely STUNNING!!! Now I totally have to place this on my vision board as my “must go to” spot. LOVE reading your blogs and always looking forward to your next post. Keep it coming!!!

  • Valerie Robinson

    I am now super excited to visit!!! I have all the info I need right here! Nice pics!

  • Shana Lee

    I can’t wait to take a visit there! I looks so beautiful! Nice pictures!

  • OMG you guys travel to some amazing places! Adding Abu Dhabi to my list of places to travel to.

    • It’s really a great destination – hope you make it there soon!

  • Kemkem

    We had a layover there, but it was only for 3 hours. I really liked the airport though. I wouldn’t mind exploring the city at some point. The food looks great 🙂

    • When you go – and I know you eventually will – definitely eat at Sambusek. Soooo good!

  • One of the best decisions I ever made was moving to Abu Dhabi. I’ve lived here four years and would love to stay a bit longer. Great write up.

    • Oh wow – living there must be an amazing experience! Are you moving from Abu Dhabi soon?

  • I loved reading about your experience in Abu Dhabi! I had a really similar experience – we spent about 6 hours there before our flight home from the UAE and saw all the major sights. It’s an amazing place.


    • Thanks, Allison. Glad you got to squeeze in some sightseeing during your layover. Abu Dhabi really is an amazing destination!

  • Oh my gosh, I want to go!!! Take me now.

  • WOW!!! First of all, your header pic for this post is incredible!! I want to visit Dubai soon! Looks like you had a great time and thanks so much for sharing this post. I’m bookmarking it for reference when I finally visit Dubai.

    • Thanks so much, Ty! When you go to Dubai, you should definitely be sure to spend at least a day or two in Abu Dhabi.

  • foodfashionandflow

    Dubai is on my bucket list of places to visit. The food looks so good and I can imagine what an opulent experience it is to stay in the Emirates Palace. WOW!

    • The “cheap” rooms at Emirates Palace I believe start at $350 or so depending on the season. I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to splurge on a night or two in a “cheap” room. YOLO – right?!


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