How to Stopover in Abu Dhabi

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I could have spend weeks in Abu Dhabi (and I hopefully I will in the future), but if you fly Etihad (which you should because they are AMAZING!) you may find yourself with a day or two in Abu Dhabi on the way to your destination.  Etihad offers a few different stopover programs to allow you to explore Abu Dhabi en route to somewhere else.  A little known fact is that Etihad is one of a few airlines that will provide a hotel free of charge if you have a layover of 8 hours or more.  The only catch is that you have to request it from them and there can’t be a shorter layover available.  Etihad is also offering a 2-day stop over where the second night’s hotel is free!  Both of these are great deals and worth checking out, but I had booked a very bizarre itinerary from Chicago-Abu Dhabi-Mahe,Seychelles-Johannesburg-Abu Dhabi-Paris on Secret Flying and was not eligible.  I did have about 19 hours to explore Abu Dhabi and was able to do so quite easily on my own.

How to Stopover in Abu Dhabi - Mags On The Move

*Tip* Don’t book a cab from any of the kiosks in the airport!  The prices are about 3x as much as the cabs outside, which are very reasonable.


If you only have a day to discover Abu Dhabi, there are a few highlights you must hit!

The beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE in the hot desert sun.

No trip to Abu Dhabi would be complete without a visit to the largest mosque in the UAE, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque

This iconic mosque has become a symbol of Abu Dhabi and best of all, it FREE!  The detailed chandeliers, marble work, and architecture are absolutely jaw dropping!  Women are required to dress modestly.  This means long sleeves, ankle length pants or skirts, and hair covered.  As a western traveler, we often don’t travel with such a modest wardrobe, especially to someplace as hot as Abu Dhabi, but they do offer the traditional abaya for a deposit that’s returned upon exiting.  This is a great option because it’s kind of fun to try out the traditional dress as well.

Try out the traditional dress or "Abaya" at The beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE


Eat Something Gold!

Even the desserts are gold in Abu Dhabi

There’s not shortage of options in Abu Dhabi, the whole city is gilded and they are great at desserts!  I opted for this opulent cake which was actually served at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque (2 birds with one stone!).


Go On A Desert Safari

Dune bashing in Abu Dhabi is not for the faint of heart (or stomach)

I’m not usually one for package tours, but when time is tight it’s a great way to experience a maximum number activities in the minimum amount of time.  There are several companies that offer similar desert safari, however I used Emirates Adventures Tours and Safari, and they were great.  One of the ways I save money when traveling is by signing up for the local Groupon (or equivalent).  UAE has Groupon and I found a great deal on a Desert Safari that included a round trip transfer from town, Dune Bashing (not for the faint of heart or stomach), Camel Rides, Dune Surfing, a BBQ dinner, henna artist (bring money for tips), and belly dancing show.  The price with the Groupon was only AED299 or about $80 for two people… not too bad!  This was a great way to get out of town and see the desert, but also get a quick dose of UAE culture in just a few hours.

No trip to Abu Dhabi is complete without a bit of henna


Enjoy a night cap or try some camel milk at the luxurious Emirates Palace

Enjoy a camelcino (camel's milk cappuccino) at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates Palace is the ultimate showplace of Arabian luxury, and while the prices were a bit out of my budget to stay there, I had to stop by and check it out.  They offer local flavor like camel burgers and gold covered fries, but having just enjoyed a delicious BBQ on my desert safari, I just had an adorable camelccino (that’s a cappuccino made with camel milk).  This is one of the more expensive coffees I have ever had at around $10, but it was worth it for the ambiance and to say I tried camel milk.  I thought it might taste a bit different, but I wouldn’t have known it wasn’t regular milk if I didn’t know.  It also came with a camel chocolate, a yummy date, and a super cute camel on top!

Enjoy a camelcino (camel's milk cappuccino) at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi

Of course I hardly scratched the surface of all that Abu Dhabi has to offer, but I think I did pretty okay for 19 hours!













14 thoughts on “How to Stopover in Abu Dhabi

  1. If I travel with Emirates and land in Dubai, can I still do a 24-hour stopover in Abu Dhabi?

    • Mags

      Definitely! Abu Dhabi is only about 80 miles from Dubai. There were many excursions available between the two, but if I only had 24 hours I would probably use it to explore Dubai if that’s where you land!

  2. Thanks for all the tips and you seem to have packed in quite a bit into the day. The desert safari is something I have been wanting to do for quite some time and the tip about taking the taxi from outside is appreciated.

  3. wow, those are all fabulous options, I would definitely try any of these if I end up doing a layover, any worth doing if you have shorter timeframe under 10 hours?

  4. Such great tips, thanks for sharing! You really made the most of your layover. Great to know about the free hotel offer with Etihad. The desert safari looks really fun!

  5. I loved the idea of Desert Safari. I do agree with you that Etihad is a good branch and you can definitely use Groupon there.

  6. Such great, useful tips in this article! I didn’t know that about Emirates at all! Such great advice. I totally agree on taking a tour when time is tight and fab that you got such a great deal on Groupon. You really fit a lot in!

  7. I really wish I had ventured out of the airport last year when I had a 30-hour layover in Abu Dhabi! I was under the impression you couldn’t leave and then someone told me in the last two hours that you could. I was so bummed! It looks like such an amazing place.

  8. Wow the opulent cake looks delicious! My colleague recently went on a stopover in Abu Dhabi and she loved it, super surprised about what there was to see!

  9. Thanks for the advice. Definitely, Abu Dhabi is such a beautiful country, in fact, 80% of the beautiful places I’ve seen was in there. btw, hoping to desert safari is great.

  10. Abu Dhabi is so gorgeous, magsonthemove. Yes, it’s fun to try out the traditional dress.

  11. Great, that is an awesome place and it have so many good things to enjoy. i really like beauty of that place and shared so enjoyable things. Food is another good thing and so stunning photos you shared.

  12. Sofi leen

    Wow, great blog. Thanks guys.
    I’ve been traveling with my daughters (ranging from 8 yrs to 1 yr) 3 times domestic driving and flying overseas. Experience was great as a whole family. Apart of small things that can happen to every traveler.

    Our last was only 2 weeks ago. It was going great till the time we were returning on Emirates to Sydney. My older daughter got vomiting and diarrhea on-board. It was a bad experience for her in addition to mom and myself. The airlines crew response during the flight was really bad

  13. wow, your blog is very nice and all the pictures are perfectly captured. Dubai is one of my favorite city thanks for sharing this wonderful pictures with us

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