Abu Dhabi is the perfect city for a layover! It acts as the intersection route between thousands of flight paths. Abu Dhabi connects east and west, as well as North and South. It’s pretty common to get a 6 – 24 hour layover in Abu Dhabi, and we’ll show you how to make the most out of it! This itinerary for a 12-hour layover in Abu Dhabi includes the Corniche Beachwalk, kayaking in Mangrove National Park, visiting the Emirates Palace, the Etihad Towers and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Etihad Airlines makes it easy to stopover in Abu Dhabi. If you connect through Abu Dhabi with a multi-city itinerary, they’ll give you free nights at one of many premier hotels. With more time in Abu Dhabi you would be able to visit Sir Baniyas Island, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Jebel Hafeet Beehive Tombs (an UNESCO World Heritage Site).
The challenge of visiting Abu Dhabi is transportation. Abu Dhabi is not well connected by public transit. In fact, you absolutely need a car of some kind to get to most attractions. You can rent a car for the day, or take Ubers and taxis. A 30 minute cab ride in Abu Dhabi will cost you approximately $15 USD. We opted for using cabs and Ubers because we didn’t want to have to worry about parking. Although, parking seemed plentiful outside of downtown.
How to get from Abu Dhabi airport to the city
The Abu Dhabi International Airport is located about 35 km from downtown. It’s a quick 30 minute drive with a taxi. Unfortunately, there isn’t a direct public transportation route from the airport to downtown Abu Dhabi. This cab ride will cost you approximately $15-20.
You may want to budget about $200 for getting around Abu Dhabi via taxi. The more economic option is to rent a car. Car rental with taxes and fees could be less than $40 for the day. However, this is a more time consuming option. It may take upwards of an hour to go through the initial rental proceedings and you would also be responsible for returning the car.
Get driving directions & access to more attractions with this Abu Dhabi Tourist Attractions Map.
What to do in a layover in Abu Dhabi
Breakfast is best at Shakespeare and Co. They’re open from 7 am, so it’s the perfect place to get an early start on your Abu Dhabi layover! Shakespeare and Co. is a local favorite —a breakfast & tea franchise in the UAE.
They have a distinctly unique design & style. The decor is overwhelmingly floral, colorful and ornate. All pastel colors, upholstered furniture and crystal chandeliers. It’s girly, kitschy & so cute.
Shakespeare and Co. offers a massive menu with classic English breakfast favorites, but also Emirati flavors. Also, endless breakfast options. It’s the perfect place to get a hearty meal after a long haul flight.
The Shakespere and Co. most centrally located is in the Mall World Trade Center.
From the Mall World Trade Center, it’s a 10 minute walk to the beach. Start somewhere near the intersection of Corniche Street and Al Hisn Street. First, you’ll walk past Abu Dhabi Beach before hitting Corniche Beach. The whole beachwalk trail should take about an hour to complete.
This one one of the most beautiful stretches in Abu Dhabi. You’ll see the stunning modern skyscrapers on your left, and calm turquoise waters on your right. The Corniche Beachwalk is lined with cafes, restaurants and activities for all ages. We had to stop for ice cream here!
Walking on the Corniche Beachwalk is free, If you wish to enter the beach, there is a fee of 10 dirham. The beach area is sectioned off into a few zones. Head to Al Sahil which is for singles and groups. The other sections are reserved for families and children. You can snorkel, play volleyball or rent jet skis. Towels and lounge chairs are also available.
If you’re looking to see as much as possible in Abu Dhabi, I would stick to the beach walk and skip the beach. Next, you’ll head to Abu Dhabi’s Mangrove National Park.
Kayaking in Mangroves
The Mangrove National Park is one of Abu Dhabi’s top natural attractions. You’ll need to drive to the Mangrove National Park. It’s a 20 minute cab ride from Corniche Beach.
You can rent kayaks or stand up paddle boards at the Mangrove National Park. It costs about $25 USD or 95 Dirhams for a 2 hour rental. The Noukhada Adventure Company offers rentals and kayaking tours. They have a really fun 2-hour ecology tour through the mangrove forest.
Abu Dhabi’s mangrove forest is the UAE’s largest. It’s a hot spot for biodiversity. The mangrove trees act as shelter and refuge for many aquatic and avian organisms like crabs, herons, turtles, flamingos and many species of fish. Mangroves also purify the water and serve as a natural windbreaker.
Spend at least an hour at the Mangrove National Park. Bird watching, kayaking & taking in the stunning natural beauty.
Next, you’ll head to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. The Falcon Hospital is a 25 minute cab ride from the Mangrove National Park.
You’ve got to take the “Falcon World Tour.” The tour is 2 hours and takes place daily at 10 AM and 2 PM. It costs 170 AED (about $45). You can reserve your spot online. During the tour, you’ll learn about the history of falconry, the cutting-edge science that takes place at the Falcon Hospital and the modern sport of falconry.
The Falcon Hospital in Abu Dhabi is a state of the art facility leading the world in falcon medicine. Since opening in 1999, they’ve treated over 100,000 falcons. Falcons are brought in from all over the world for treatment at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. They also treat all kinds of birds and serve as a community animal shelter.
Falconry is an expensive sport, associated with nobility and honor. A bird can cost more than $250,000! Falcon training involves patience, courage and commitment. You must form a deep and true bond with the bird. Eventually, the falcon should learn how to swoop down and attack on command. Falconry has been practiced in the UAE for over 4,000 years! It was a way of life for people who lived in the resource scarce desert.
Observation Deck 300
After you’ve experience the ancient UAE tradition of falconry, head to the Etihad Towers to see the modern side of Abu Dhabi. The Etihad Towers are a complex of 5 buildings that are an iconic part of Abu Dhabi’s skyline.
Head to Observation Deck 300 on level 74 of Tower 2. This is the perfect place for fancy afternoon tea. It does cost 95 AED (about $25) to enter the observation deck, and then you will receive a credit of 55 AED. Use the credit to grab a cocktail or snack. Otherwise, admission is included if you decide to have afternoon tea. It costs 250 AED (or $70 per person) to have high tea at Observation Deck 300. Also, reservations should be made in advance. Afternoon tea takes place between 2PM and 6PM.
Observation Deck 300 offers breathtaking panoramic views of Abu Dhabi —the islands, beaches, skyscrapers and coastline. It’s Abu Dhabi’s highest restaurant in one of Abu Dhabi’s tallest buildings.
Grand Mosque at Sunset
Just before the sun is setting, you’ll want to head over to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This is Abu Dhabi’s crown jewel & most popular tourist attraction. Also, it’s the largest mosque in the country. It’s a 20 minute drive from downtown. The mosque is most beautiful to visit at sunset.
You’ll want to catch the 5:00 PM cultural tour. It’s offered most days. Check the website for the most up to date times. Visiting the mosque and going on the tour is free. You don’t need an appointment in advance. The cultural tour lasts 45 minutes and takes you behind the scenes. It’s the only way to get access to the mosque’s prayer room. In the prayer room is where you’ll see the famous and enormous crystal chandeliers and the largest handmade carpet. You’ll also learn more about Islamic art and culture.
Don’t worry about dressing differently for the mosque visit. You’ll be provided appropriate attire to borrow, and there are changing rooms on the way in. Although, it’s always a good idea to dress modestly in the UAE. Avoid short shorts or short skirts, cover your shoulders and don’t show cleavage.
Emirates Palace for dinner
Finally, head to the Emirates Palace to finish your day in Abu Dhabi. The Emirates Palace is located in downtown Abu Dhabi. It’s 20 minutes away from the mosque.
The Emirates Palace looks especially beautiful lit up in the night. It’s an incredible example collage of different Arabic architectural styles. The Emirate Palace is a 5 star ultra-luxury hotel with shopping, dining and entertainment.
Have an authentic Emirati dinner at Mezlai in the Emirates Palace. It’s an award-winning upscale restaurant.
More time in Abu Dhabi?
- Visit Ferrari World. It’s an incredible Ferrari themed adventure park that’s home to the world’s fastest roller coaster.
- The Jabel Hafeet Beehive Tombs are Abu Dhabi’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. They’re located 3 hours outside Abu Dhabi.
- Saadiyat Island Beaches are the most beautiful in Abu Dhabi, known as the Caribbean of the Middle East.
Valentina’s Destinations was born from my obsession with meticulously researching, organizing and planning my travel itineraries. I’m originally from Serbia, but I grew up in Chicago. I love hunting down local restaurants, unique experiences and hidden gems. Social Media Links: Pinterest | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram
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