At some point, a traveler will come across a flight that is outrageously inconvenient but offers a long layover in another country, which gives them the opportunity to add another country to their list. When I booked my flights from Egypt, one of the cheaper options left at an absurdly early time but had a rare 15-hour layover through Abu Dhabi that happened to be during the day. Of course I booked it.
What I didn’t realize was that my trip to Egypt would leave me in a state of exhaustion I hadn’t felt in a long time. Nearly every day in Egypt, we were up and going at 3-6am. I was up at 2:30am to get to the airport unnecessarily early (but the tour I was on insisted upon it, so what can you do?). Ironically passport control was down and they didn’t let anyone through for an hour before it came back up, which is fun to do at 4 in the morning. I was on about 2 hours of sleep when I arrived in Abu Dhabi at 11am.
HOW EASY IS IT?
Extremely. I read online that you could get a tourist visa for the day but when I asked someone about it, they put me in line with everyone else, no one asked any questions and I was stamped in. Simple as that.
WHAT SHOULD YOU WEAR?
The UAE is a Muslim country and I always like to dress more conservative so as not to draw attention to myself or cause a commotion. I’d save the butt-baring shorts for another time. The problem with this is that it. is. HOT.
As you can see, it got up to about 108 degrees and LET ME TELL YOU I FELT EVERY DEGREE OF THAT. I had dressed relatively conservative in Egypt but for some reason I put on jeans and a long sleeve button down instead of a nice cool flowy skirt for the UAE. Not only was I quite literally dragging myself around from exhaustion (I can’t sleep very well on planes), I nearly got heat stroke. More on this in a minute.
HOW TO GET AROUND
You can actually find day tours that will pick you up and drop you off right back at the airport, if you want to spend the money. The UAE is notoriously expensive and I was determined not to spend an arm and a leg within 15 hours.
Hiring a car for the day is also an option if you want to spend the money on it. Taxis are fine too but can add up pretty quickly. The perk of the above is the INSTANT AC PEOPLE.
Otherwise, the affordable option is to take the bus. This sounds like a viable option until you have to wait for the bus in the 108 degree heat. There is no breeze and the only shade you might find is from the pole of the bus stop sign.
By the time the bus came, I had melted through my clothes and was near collapsing. BUT I only spent $6 on my bus pass HA. Since I survived, I can say that it’s worth it.
WHAT TO DO?
On my $6 bus pass, I was able to go down to the Marina Mall, to Emirates Palace and to the Sheikh Sayed Grand Mosque.
I honestly did not even care what was at the Marina Mall as long as there was food there. I ate the most expensive Shake Shake of my life but it revived me enough to get me through the afternoon.
If you’re into shopping, go to the Marina Mall, otherwise, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to visit.
Next up was the Emirates Palace, WHICH SOMEONE TOLD ME YOU COULD WALK TO. Let me specify to all the other unsuspecting souls roaming Abu Dhabi, you cannot walk there in 108 degree heat. First of all, the Marina Mall is on a separate little island and far enough away that you’d need transportation. I walked about 50 feet before turning back around and waiting for the bus.
I walked up to where the bus dropped me off and the bus driver WOULD NOT LET ME ON and instead told me to go down to the pick up point that was 200+ meters away. He then proceeded to drive to the pickup area and then DRIVE OFF literally as I was running to try and get there. I was offended.
The next bus driver was evidently on a prolonged lunch break so I bailed and took a $7 taxi.
I read on several blogs how wonderful and ornate this place is and that you definitely need to go and drink a $25 coffee with gold flakes. I was intrigued by the opulence and the other blogs made it sound like a wonderful place to hang out and feel fancy.
The truth is, I felt unwelcome from the moment I stepped inside. The hotel is 5 stars and is the 3rd most expensive hotel ever built (about 3 billion). The people who worked there knew I wasn’t staying there and I just felt like they keep an eye on you, which is also ironic because a bus full of Chinese tourists rolled up and they were running all over taking pictures.
I decided to check out this famous cafe and to be honest I was underwhelmed. Maybe because I read about it before going but it was just…a place to get expensive coffee.
There weren’t many people in the hotel, which drew even more attention to the outsiders. Clearly my sweat soaked clothes and tennis shoes fit right in here. At one point I went down the stairs and was yelled at for being there because it was ‘only for guests’.
It is an amazing place but like…it’s just a hotel. And unlike the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore or the Cosmo in Vegas (#1 and #2 respectively on the list of most expensive hotels in the world), there just wasn’t much to do or see here, besides fancy design.
Worth it? Only so I can say I’ve been to the top 3 most expensive hotels in the world (which I just found out while writing this). It is neat to see, but there are some other places I think would have been more worthwhile.
Sidenote: the bus stop right outside the palace is not the one you need. Luckily I ran into a NICE bus driver this time who drove off his route to take me back to Marina Mall so I could get on the correct bus.
Sheikh Sayed Grand Mosque
If there’s anything you need to see in Abu Dhabi, this is it. The Sheikh Sayed Grand Mosque is the largest in the country and is all white. While it is neat to see the bright white during the day time, stick around at night to see it all lit up.
After I walked around nearly the entire thing because I couldn’t figure out which entrance was the real entrance, a security guy in a golf cart actually came and picked me up and drove me right to the door. (My fail count is fairly high at this point but maybe the golf cart savior counts as a win?)
You do need to be covered to go inside the mosque. My jeans and long sleeve shirt did not pass because they were too tight. Luckily they do have robes they will lend you.
Again, somehow I ended up getting yelled at twice for going in the wrong direction and going in an area I wasn’t allowed in (even though I saw other tourists there), but there are guards to guide you and signs when you need to remove your shoes.
I got there just before sundown and got a soda in the cafe to wait until the sun was all the way down before going back out to shoot, and like I said, it is well worth it to see it with the lights on!
And by the time I was done photographing, I decided to head back to the airport and wait for my 3am flight.
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO?
It was hard to choose what to see in Abu Dhabi. The Grand Mosque was a definite highlight but I think if I were to do it all again, I would have chosen something different besides the Emirates Palace. So what else is there?
Ferrari World is located on Yas Island which is right next to the airport. There are rides, attractions and all things Ferrari. It definitely looks like a fun place and a mini theme park and since it’s in such close capacity to the airport, an easy thing to do on a layover.
Plus Yas Island also has Yas Mall, Yas Marina and Yas Waterworld.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened in 2017 and is basically a piece of art itself. If you’ve read my article about the OG Louvre in Paris, you’ll know I’m not a big fan of museums. But the building’s architecture is that cool and definitely a draw for me. If it had been a bit closer and I didn’t have so many bus debacles, I would have definitely tried to make it.
Or if the heat is too much, which it is, head to Saadiyat Island and cool of at the beach. Saadiyat Beach is a public beach and although I didn’t make it there, the pictures look pretty nice!
Corniche Road is a boardwalk by the water that gives you great views of the city. I would have loved to walk along this had my health not been on the verge of a situation.
This is a reconstruction of a desert village where you can find craft stands and a market to shop at.
And there you have it.
15 hours in Abu Dhabi and I survived on my own AND made it back in time for my flight. If you find yourself on a long layover in Abu Dhabi, definitely get out to see the city!
And if you want to attempt my bus management skills, here are the bus numbers and routes I took!
From the airport: Take bus 300 to Al Wahda Mall. Switch to Bus 34 to get to Marina Mall, Emirates Palace, Corniche or Heritage Village. Take Bus 32 to the Grand Mosque and from the mosque get a golf cart to drop you off at the bus stop (not kidding, they will do it!) and wait for Bus 162, 290 or 300 back to the airport.