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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.