I visited the capital of the United Arab Emirates on my way to Thailand, and it was a big deal to me because it was my first solo trip. Sure, I’ve gone around a few English-speaking cities by myself before and I usually fly alone, but this was the real deal.
Abu Dhabi is a nice city, but don’t expect another Dubai here. The people are friendly, the streets are clean (apart from random piles of dry cat food to keep the rats at bay), and it’s a city made for the people with parks, historic museums, lovely promenades, malls and restaurants.
I found that the best way for me to see the city was with Big Bus Tours. I bought a Premium 2-day ticket which cost me $72. I would just like to add that I haven’t been sponsored by them. It’s just a really handy way to travel around a new city (Abu Dhabi is pretty spread out) when you don’t have a lot of time to spare. They also have an on-board fridge with complimentary water bottles, so bring a few of those with you!
I landed in Abu Dhabi at about 8pm and I got the A1 bus from the airport to the city centre. It’s a long way, takes about an hour, so don’t do what I did and have an internal meltdown because all you can see is darkness and the silhouette of a highway, without one clue as to where you are. I asked a couple of men on the bus where we were and they all told me they’d never heard of the stop I was looking for. But, eventually, the city appeared and I got to my hotel safe and sound!
After settling in to my room, I decided to venture out in search of food. I was tired from the plane so I wasn’t in the mood to sit in a restaurant. Just some pot noodles would do me for the night! I was a bit apprehensive about going out – a blonde girl in her twenties by herself – but I needn’t have been. Only one guy who I was polite to in the shop waited outside for me to ask me out for a beer. I declined and he left. All was good.
I came to Abu Dhabi with half a plan. I wanted to enjoy the city too, do what I felt like, test my independence, but at the same time I didn’t want to miss anything. This was my chance!
My number one thing to see here was the Grand Mosque, but I knew I didn’t want to go on a Friday (my day 1). The Mosque is open to visitors on a Friday but it’s restricted hours as it’s Muslim’s Holy Day. I thought it would be too busy and knowing my luck, I’d plan the bus wrong and wouldn’t be allowed in!
So today was the day to get my bearings and see what Abu Dhabi had to offer!
I started at the Corniche. My hotel was only a 10 minute walk away so that was my closest bus stop. I went to the pot noodle shop again to grab myself a croissant-y thing for breakfast and strolled down the Corniche in the morning sun.
As I walked along the blue tiles, looking for my stop, I no longer felt nervous about being alone in this big city. I got this surge of power. This was my first real solo trip. 3 nights in Abu Dhabi might not sound like a lot to you, but to me it was everything. I finally had the chance to prove to myself that I could do it. To learn more about myself, to be comfortable by myself, to do what I wanted to do, to make my own decisions without wondering what anybody else thought of them. They seem like such tiny things until you do actually do it.
The bus arrived and I went upstairs to the open top. I was giddy when the engine started and the bus pulled away, the sea breeze blowing my hair everywhere, the skyscrapers surrounding me. This is what life is about – enjoying the little thing as it happens. I had no reason to be worried, to be stressed. In this moment, everything was perfect.
I decided that I’d go to Marina Mall first. I’d heard that there was an observation tower there for free and I wanted to check that out before Emirates Towers. Unfortunately, the observation deck in the mall is now closed.
Marina Mall is the first stop with Big Bus so I thought this was as good enough a place as any to start and do the whole tour at once, to see where was worth hopping off.
Marina Mall, Etihad Towers, Sheikh Zayed Centre (closed), Etihad Museum, Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Eastern Mangroves, Galleria & Rosewood, Abu Dhabi Mall, Louvre Museum, Abu Dhabi Corniche, WTC Souk, Al Hosn Fort (closed), Markaziyah Park, Public Beach, Heritage Village (closed on a Saturday, when I was there), Dhow Corniche Cruise
These are all the stops on the Red Line (the Green Line goes to Yas Island) on Big Bus. I’ve bolded the ones I think are worth getting off the bus at, but some of these were also closed when I was there so maybe I missed something that could have been brill. (Let me know if you think I did!) I don’t recall seeing Markaziyah Park on the route when I was there, and I’m a sucker for a park so I think this is a new addition to the Big Bus route. There’s no way I wouldn’t have gone, it looks awesome!
I also know that a lot of people want to see Capital Gate when they visit Abu Dhabi. I did pass it on the bus but it didn’t stop there.
When I was planning for Abu Dhabi I read that if you go to the Observation Deck at 300 at Etihad Towers you can buy a ticket which gives you a voucher for food upstairs. So, entrance to the 74th floor costs AED 95 (E22, £20, $26) and that includes AED 55 (E13, £11, $15) for a snack (a very tasty and filling sandwich!). I was super chuffed about this so I had it planned weeks in advance! Sad, I know, but can you blame me? I was so excited to say I had lunch at the top of Etihad Towers!
There are 5 towers at Etihad Towers. (One’s a hotel, the others are offices and apartments). The tallest tower is the one with the Observation Deck at 300 on the 74th floor, at 305 metres. It’s the highest tower on the Abu Dhabi Island. The Sky Tower on Al Reem Island is the tallest!
Did you know? In the film Furious 7, Vin Diesel’s character drives a stolen car through three of the five Etihad Towers!
Across the road from Etihad Towers is the famous Emirates Palace Hotel, which you can catch the sunset over from the bridge near the Marina Mall car park.
The only “problem” I have with Big Bus, and I’m being picky here, is that the last bus leaves Marina Mall (first stop) at 5pm which is kinda early. I didn’t want to be caught out anywhere so I was back at the Corniche by 6pm with not a lot to do. However, if you want to go to a nice restaurant or enjoy a romantic walk down the Corniche, this is probably the perfect time for it.
Tip: There’s a Carrefour on the lowest level of the Marina Mall and it’s huuuuge! I got most of my food from the deli here. Not only was it cheaper than a restaurant, but I could eat it anywhere (usually on the square across from the skyline/Emirates Palace) and it’s still local food! They also sell cheap headscarves here too, as well as clothes and toiletries.
There was an hour long cruise on a dhow (traditional Arabian boat) included in my 2 day ticket so I didn’t want to miss out on that. I decided to do that in the morning so I definitely wouldn’t, and also because I was planning to visit the Grand Mosque in the afternoon and I didn’t want to trip on my maxi skirt and fall off the boat!
The cruise was a great way to see Abu Dhabi’s skyline, plenty of photo opportunities! I don’t know how much it would have cost without the bus ticket, but considering it was included, it was a nice break.
The cruise is the last stop on the route, so I walked over to Marina Mall and changed into my floor-length skirt, cardigan and hijab/headscarf ready for the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. The mosque has its own website and shows you what is acceptable/non-acceptable to wear while on the grounds. They are very strict about this so please do your best to be respectful and conform.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque really is a sight to behold because when you see it – wow! The bus takes a few turns to get there, teasing you with some glimpses. It’s stunning in photos, but it’s absolutely beautiful when you see it with your own eyes. Its bright white domes and walls, its marbled floor, the incredible amount of details that has gone into every inch of this holy building… It’s genuinely breathtaking. And it was then when I wanted to spin around to the person next to me and tell them this, just to look at them, and then the main hall together with our jaws on the ground. That’s the only downside to travelling alone that I’ve found so far.
This mosque is the biggest in the United Arab Emirates, and it’s up there as one of the largest in the world! The main prayer hall can fit up to 9,000 worshippers at one time! The mosque is named after the first president and founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed.
You can’t go to Abu Dhabi without coming here.
After the Grand Mosque, I went to the Louvre Museum and Abu Dhabi Mall. I didn’t go in to the Louvre, I just wanted to see it as it was still new. There’s a park beside it and it’s lovely. I stayed there for a while, watching the sunset, the boats, the people, until the next bus came and I went to Abu Dhabi Mall. I’m not that big into shopping so I didn’t spend long at the mall. I just wanted to compare it to any I saw in Dubai – and it doesn’t compare (but I don’t think it’s trying to).
I ordered a taxi to the airport from my hotel and it didn’t cost much, I’ve forgotten the price but it was less than E20. Don’t forget to order in advance if it’s an early flight and specify which airport you’re going to. My driver nearly took me to Dubai airport!
Abu Dhabi, you’re definitely worth a stopover! 🙂