How to make the most of a stopover in Abu Dhabi



How to make the most of a stopover in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is an increasingly popular transit hub, especially with those flying further afield with Etihad or connecting to a Virgin Australia flight. While neighbour Dubai is often seen as a destination in its own right, Abu Dhabi is generally more of a blank slate. This is changing – it has opened a series of eye-catching attractions, such as the Ferrari World theme park, and more are on their way. Branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim should open in the next couple of years.

But whether it’s worth stopping in for a few days or not depends on what you’re wanting, and the following should be borne in mind.

There is no real centre

Abu Dhabi is a series of fairly disjointed clusters. Yas Island has a lot of the fun stuff – the Grand Prix circuit (which can be cycled around on Tuesday nights), Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld. But it is a fair old distance from the nominal downtown area. Saadiyat Island is the up-and-comer, where the big museums are going to go, but at the moment it’s a slightly lifeless work in progress.

The main area, on the main island, is sprawling. And although much of it is walkable, few people do walk around, meaning there’s a notable lack of street life. The city’s energy tends to be confined to hubs – mainly the hotels and malls, rather than spilling out all over the place. You kinda have to know where you want to do – serendipitous finds while ambling around are rare.



The hotel bargains are in the mid-range options

Abu Dhabi can be a phenomenally expensive place to stay at the top end, and a thoroughly depressing one at the budget end. There is, however, some excellent bang for buck in the middle of the range. £70 to £120-ish a night can get you a big resort, usually with an excellent beach club, several restaurants and a couple of sizable pools. The likes of the Hilton, Beach Rotana and Le Meridien fall into this category – they’re older than most, and the rooms aren’t flashy, but they’re good value for money. If all you’re wanting is a couple of days’ relaxation, Abu Dhabi can work fabulously well as a flop destination.

Leave the hotel, and it gets cheaper

Eating in the hotels can get very expensive – many of them treat guests as a milkable captive audience, with basic mains creeping around the £15 to £20 bracket. That tends to apply at lunch as well as dinner. For cheap eats, you need to venture further afield – either to the malls or the drab-looking Lebanese/ Indian/ Pakistani restaurants that can be found all over the place. Mercifully, taxis are so cheap they’re near-as-damn-it free.

Drink is very expensive

You can get alcoholic drinks very easily (although only in hotels), but expect to pay through the nose for them. We’re talking £9 a glass of wine, and £7 or £8 for a beer, and that’s at the bare minimum. This is why most expats have an encyclopaedic knowledge of when the happy hours are. It’s a good idea to take advantage of said happy hours.

Alternatively, just stock up in duty free on the way over. There’s a remarkably generous four litres per person limit.

You probably need to book ahead

There is a lot to do in Abu Dhabi, but a lot of it needs pre-booking. You can easily fill up days doing mangrove kayaking, dune buggying tours, water parks and daytrips to oasis towns (amongst others) but opportunities for spontaneous walk-in fun are relatively thin on the ground. Either go purely to relax, or plot ahead to explore properly.