How to Spend a Layover in Abu Dhabi - God & Wanderlust
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How to Spend a Layover in Abu Dhabi

How to Spend a Layover in Abu Dhabi

Have a layover in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) capital? It’s the largest of the seven Emirates and often competes with Dubai for tourism. It is home to stunning western and traditional Arabian inspired architecture, a large percentage of expats from all corners of the world, and the fastest roller coaster on earth. It is also the seat of the United Arab Emirates Government. Federal government offices take up space and is home to the President of the UAE, Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

How to Get to the City

Abu Dhabi International Airport is conveniently located near the city centre. There are many modes of transportation to and from the airport. There is a bus that runs every 40 minutes along four different routes within the city, you can take a taxi,  or Uber. Etihad Airways guests travelling in First or Business Class can enjoy the convenience of the free Etihad Chauffeur service for departure and arrival transfers anywhere in the UAE as long as they reserve up to 24 hours beforehand. Economy Class guests can also use the Etihad coach services to Dubai and Al Ain when arriving or departing from Abu Dhabi International Airport. The Etihad Coach service can be reserved online up to 24 hours prior to the flight and is a free service for guests with Etihad Airways flight bookings.


During your layover in Abu Dhabi, renting a car is a simple process, requiring only a driver’s license (or international driver’s license if you’re not from a western country) and a credit card. A car rental offers a convenient way to get around, however Abu Dhabi has a fleet of air-conditioned public buses that operate frequently. Taxis offer another transportation mode; silver taxis serve all people while pink taxis are driven by females and only pick up female passengers and boys under 10.

What to Do

Mina Fish Market

A paradise for seafood lovers. Visit the Fish Market at the Mina Seaport. There are many vendors selling various types of fresh fish and seafood, all caught within a mere 24 hours beforehand. You can buy fish, ask them to clean it and cook it to your liking on the spot. It’s quick and relatively inexpensive. Many locals go here to buy fresh fish for the day.

Mina fish market a must see during your layover in Abu Dhabi

Jet Skiing

Jet skis at available for rent at Mina Seaport. You will meet a jet ski rental worker by Mina Fish Market who will take you to Zayed Port (or you can drive there yourself). Whether you’re experienced or it’s your first time, you can haggle an inexpensive price, present your passport and zip through the crystal clear turquoise Persian Gulf waters with Abu Dhabi’s skyline in full view. It’s recommended that you know how to swim, although life jackets and first-aid kits are provided.

Jet ski

Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital

The UAE takes great care of its most prized animals, which often have hospitals dedicated just for them. There’s a camel hospital, however the falcon hospital is a spectacular sight. The tour guides are fun and knowledgeable and will thoroughly explain falconry and its history with UAE sports. Watch a falcon go through a medical exam, surgeries, such as a feather transplant, and different methods of treatment. Hold and feed falcons and watch their grooming process.


Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Inside Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

This is the largest mosque in the UAE and took ten years to construct. It’s easy to see why; the mosque hosts 82 domes, has the world’s largest hand-made carpet flooring and one of its seven chandeliers is the second largest in the world. The mosque can accommodate 41000 worshippers at a time, although when it is open to the public you will hardly see any. Visiting the mosque requires adherence to a strict dress code, however if you aren’t dressed appropriately don’t worry. There are long robes located at the entrance which can be slipped on before entering.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Emirates Palace

This is a majestic 5-star hotel surrounded by lush, landscaped gardens, but it isn’t just for hotel guests. Make a restaurant or cafe reservation beforehand to be allowed entry on the premises. Some restaurants will ask that you spend at least 100 dirhams per person before confirming the reservation. The guards by the gates will ask to see your reservation notice prior to letting you in. Emirates Palace is a beautiful gold hotel designed intricately and lavishly and is a fantastic place to sightsee. The luxurious ambiance really hits you as soon as you drive through the gates.

See Emirates Palace during your layover in Abu Dhabi
Emirate's Palace ceiling

Corniche Beach

White sand and turquoise waters; it’s where people go to relax, socialize and enjoy the sunset. Corniche Beach is complete with fountains, parks, cafes and a great view of Abu Dhabi’s skyline. The beach constantly has events and entertainment and private deck beds for rent if your company would like some privacy. You can also rent a bicycle and ride down its cycle path while enjoying views of the manicured waterfront. Corniche beach is fantastic for water activities or enjoying a romantic evening.

Sheikh Zayed Bridge

Sheikh Zayed Bridge is a unique arch bridge (some say the arches replicate sand dunes) and is named after UAE’s former president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. A well-designed bridge that dramatically changes colour throughout the night. The easiest way to get here is to park at Al Maqta Fort and walk back along the fence until you see an opening in it. Climb to the bridge’s peak and watch traffic zoom past on both sides if you feel daring.

Abu Dhabi is famous for Ferrari World, home to the world’s fastest roller coaster, and Yas Waterworld. Visiting these parks would take an entire day, so if you’d like to visit, forgo the above itinerary and purchase a Two Park Pass ticket, which allows you to visit both in one day.

What to Eat

Emirati cuisine is influenced by Middle Eastern spices like saffron, cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric. Other popular ingredients include chick peas, rice, yogurt and meats like chicken and goat. Abu Dhabi also has a large Indian population, so authentic Indian cuisine is easy to find. However, it’s also home to cuisines from all over the world so there is something for everyone.


A delicious taste of Lebanon in Abu Dhabi. Enjoy fattoush, cheese rolls, manakeesh, grilled meat and so much more of what many describe as “fresh, home-made” Lebanese food. Open early at 8 am, Mosiac is ideal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Meylas Emirati

Authentic Emirati food. Try al majboos, a traditional and tasty Emirati dish with seasoned meat served with saffron rice or al madrooba, salted fish blended with nuts in a thick sauce and served over white rice. The staff are helpful and friendly, the tea is lovely and locals frequent Meylas Emirati so it’s definitely good.


This trendy restaurant is known for its top-notch seafood creations, unique cocktails and desserts. Not only are the meals aesthetically pleasing, you can enjoy a full skyline view of the Gulf while eating. Make sure to try their mochi ice cream, a soft, sticky rice cake wrapped around flavoured ice cream. Try it in flavours ranging from include green tea, coconut yuzu and lychee.

Abu Dhabi offers a unique cultural experience; it’s a fusion of Arab with many other parts of the world. If you’re here for a layover, make sure to try most, if not all, of the places above. You’ll be sure to leave this spectacular city feeling enriched and cultured.

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