Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates, is only a short hour and a half drive from Dubai. We figured it would be a shame to pass up the opportunity to visit while we were so close. There were a lot of tours to visit Abu Dhabi from Dubai, but we typically prefer to travel on our own when possible to save money and avoid being constrained to a group tour on someone else’s agenda. Keep reading to find a breakdown of our day, including costs, tips, and travel stories.
Total budget cost
Cost 383 AED (~$104 USD) for two people, 191.50 AED (~$52 USD) per person including rental car, gasoline, lunch and museum entry. The cost would be cheaper if you are traveling with three or four people, as you can split the cost of the car with more people.
Getting from Dubai to Abu Dhabi
Rent a car to drive across the desert to spend the day in Abu Dhabi.
- Car: 135 AED (~$36 USD) with Sixt Car Rental
- Tank of Gas/Petrol: ~92 AED (~$25 USD)
Many people (taxi drivers included) told us to take a cab, Uber, or Careem (local version of Uber), but we saw the price on our Uber and Careem apps were around 240 AED (~$65 USD) one way so we estimated roughly 480 roundtrip (~$130 USD). You can try negotiating with a driver for a deal, but we found renting a car to be much cheaper and more convenient as we could travel at our own pace.
We went with Sixt Car Rental because they were cheap and the location was convenient (next to First Abu Dhabi Bank stop on the metro so we could get there easily to pick it up and get back to our Airbnb after dropping it off). We did not purchase their additional car insurance as we traveled with our own travel insurance that covers rental cars.
TIP: Be very careful of speed signs and traffic laws in Abu Dhabi, we were warned they have radar machines and cameras that will ticket you if you are even 1 km over the speed limit (which seems hard to believe when cars are whizzing past you). Plus you would also have to pay an additional fee to the rental car company on top of the ticket prices. We were told Abu Dhabi traffic laws are much stricter than Dubai’s.
We used Maps.me for navigation and preloaded the following destinations:
- Shiekh Zayed Grand Mosque (bottom)
- Wahat Al Karama War Memorial (bottom right)
- Shish Shawerma – Lunch (top left)
- Louvre Abu Dhabi (top right)
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
My main draw to Abu Dhabi was visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the country. I had seen the impressive white-marble domes of the mosque in many photos and I wanted to see this stunning piece of architecture and monumental site in person. The mosque is impressive in size, as it is large enough to accommodate over 40,000 worshippers.
Cost: Free 🙂
- Saturday – Thursday: 9:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
- Friday: 1:00 p.m. – 10:00pm
- Note that during the month of Ramadan hours change to only being open to 1:00pm and the mosque is closed on Fridays
To enter the Grand Mosque you have to go through a security building, which has a separate entrance for males and females. I was surprised to find that the doors led into the same room, which looked like airport security by the two lines were divided by gender.
There is a strict dress code for the mosque, that is also checked in the security room. If you do not meet the dress code, you are given an abaya, which is a loose full-length dress with a hood, offered in either black or light brown.
- Women: Full body covered in loose fitting attire from head to wrists to ankles
- Men: Legs and shoulders covered with loose fitting attire
- Clothes may not be transparent, sleeveless, or
- Shoes are not to be worn in the mosque, there are cubbies to put your shoes in
I wore a long skirt with a long sleeve cardigan over my t-shirt and a scarf to cover my head. Matt wore jeans and a polo shirt. We were allowed to enter in our clothes, although I saw a woman with a long sleeve dress that stopped just above her ankles showing a little skin and she was made to wear an abaya.
The scoop on the bathrooms: After our drive from Dubai, we both had to use the restroom. The male and female bathrooms are at opposite sides of the mosque, so we went our separate ways. Since you have to remove your shoes at the mosque entrance, I was instructed to grab a pair of “slippers” (slip on sandals) before taking the escalator down to the women’s bathroom. Stepping off the escalator, it looked like I had arrived in a spa. In front of me stood a beautiful fountain and three rooms through arched entrances, the two to either side of me had no photo signs and held what looked like a giant fountain in the middle of the room surrounded by sinks and seats that appeared to be for washing your hands and feet. The perimeter of the room was also surrounded with intricate seats and sinks.
I passed through the center arch where other women were coming in and out and found myself in the bathroom. Like the rest of the mosque, the bathroom was luxurious with white marble and soft lighting, so I was surprised when I stepped into one of the many stalls to find nothing more than a hole in the ground with spots for my feet to crouch. I checked a few others, wondering if they just forgot to put the toilet in that one, but learned it was definitely intentional. No wonder slippers were required! I had encountered this type of bathroom before in my travels (like in a pubic restroom in Morocco), but never somewhere that seemed so upscale.
The courtyard of the mosque is absolutely breathtaking. You aren’t able to walk directly into the middle of the courtyard but there is an area of the courtyard roped off for the purpose of viewing and taking photos. While Matt was taking a picture of me, we quickly learned from a guard that “posing” of any kind was not allowed (I was holding my skirt but being careful not to reveal any skin). When we set up our tripod to take a photo of us together, the guard came over again when Matt put his around my shoulders for a photo, and told us we weren’t able to show any displays of affection in the mosque.
Mosque Manners and Photo Etiquette:
- No “posing” – raising arms up/out, holding your dress/skirt
- No “displays of affection” – arm(s) around someone else, hugs, kissing
Inside the mosque is cool with air conditioning, which feels wonderful in the heat of Abu Dhabi. The chandeliers inside were magnificent, unique to any other I had seen before – shining with brilliant red, green, and yellow Swarovski crystals.
Wahat Al Karama War Memorial
Wahat Al Karama War Memorial was not a planned destination on our itinerary as we headed to Abu Dhabi. Wahat Al Karama, which literally translates to “oasis of dignity” and is a war memorial to the nation’s soldiers and others who have scarified their lives for the country.
Cost: Free 🙂
While visiting the Grand Mosque, we noticed a large empty park like area across the highway. I mentioned it would have a great view of the mosque and on our way out we decided to make a little detour to see if we could reach it. We passed a round-a-bout that in one turn stood the grand entrance to the Ritz Carlton hotel and continuing onward we found ourselves surrounded by government and military buildings where we knew we had no place being. We turned around back towards the “park” and pulled over behind it, where I jumped out and asked a guard if we could take photos of the mosque from this area. He seemed a little hesitant and then told us we could, so we tried to park there but he told us about a parking lot further ahead.
Be careful not to get your camera confiscated: After parking in the official lot, we headed up to the auditorium-like structure, and asked another guard if we could take photos of the mosque from here. Once we had the OK, Matt started setting up the tripod and we waited for gaps in traffic to get a clear shot. Shortly after we started shooting, I noticed another guard was walking urgently over to Matt.
I shouted at Matt to hurry and get the shot, as this guy looked like he meant business. I couldn’t hear what he said to Matt, but apparently he told him “confiscate.” Matt asked why and told him no, as he was just taking photos of the mosque. The guard told him no videos and Matt assured him we were only taking photos and started showing him our pictures. The guard asked what the photos were for, commercial use? We told him no, for personal use (we weren’t taking any product photos there) and after more assurance from Matt he walked away and let us continue. The heat was extreme and we didn’t want to overstay our welcome so after we got a good shot we headed out.
Tip: Ladies, go to the bathroom here instead of at the Grand Mosque!
We went into a building to look for a restroom, which turned out to be a museum honoring Emirates military and were directed to another building for the bathroom. I was relieved this one had real toilets!
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Another big draw to Abu Dhabi was visiting the new Louvre. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is an art and civilization museum that opened in November of 2017. You’re likely familiar with the famous museum of the same name in Paris, which is home to the Mona Lisa among many other famous works of art. The museum in Abu Dhabi marks an unparalleled cultural collaboration between the UAE and France.
Cost: 60 AED (~$16 USD)
- Saturday- Sunday/Tuesday – Wednesday: 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
- Thursday – Friday: 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
- Monday: CLOSED
The building itself is absolutely gorgeous and is a stunning work of modern architecture. It is comprised of 55 detached buildings, 23 of which are galleries. We crossed a pedestrian bridge over water to reach the museum, which is covered by a giant patterned dome that filters in sunlight, known as the “rain of light.” The dome, made of 7,850 star shapes, weighs 7,500 tons, which is the same as the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The main collection houses pieces from all over the world, spanning thousands of years of history. It also aims to bridge art and history from Eastern and Western worlds. We were impressed by both the quantity and quality of the pieces on display, which is apparently constantly growing and evolving.
The museum hosts rotating exhibit space, that displays four temporary exhibitions a year. During our visit in October 2018, the space hosted “Japanese Connections: The Birth of Modern Decor.”
Where to eat
Between our visit to the Grand Mosque/War Memorial and the Louvre Abu Dhabi, we stopped to get lunch at Shish Shawerma. Like most places we eat at, we found Shish Shawerma highly rated on TripAdvisor’s “Cheap Eats.”
Cost: 36 AED (~$9.80 USD) for two people = 18 AED (~$4.90 USD) per person
- Hummus = 16 AED (~$4.36 USD) – to share
- Shawerma = 10 AED (~$2.72 USD) – one per person (although we could have shared!)
We ordered the hummus, which came with pita and chicken shawerma sandwiches. Not only was the hummus beautifully presented, it was absolutely delicious. We loved the shawerma sandwich and found it very filling, realistically we could’ve split it since we also got the hummus.
For more travel stories from the UAE, read my blog on Swissgear.com.
Heading to the UAE? Make sure to read my guide on fun FREE things to do in Dubai!
6 thoughts on “Self-guided day trip to Abu Dhabi from Dubai”
This is such a great idea. Looking forward to doing this whenever I finally make it to UAE.
Omg wow! What an amazing mosque! No wonder you wanted to visit Abu Dhabi! Also good to know about the strike traffic laws where you get ticketed for going 1 km over the speed limit! Great article!
The Grand Mosque is stunning! It’s been on my bucket list for the longest time I can’t decide if it’s prettier inside or outside. What a great day trip ❤
I love self-guided tours! I am saving this for when we go to Abu Dhabi. I love that you included free things to do, a pre-loaded map and a bit about local cuisine. That has to be the most beautifully presented hummus I have ever seen!
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