A guide to day tripping to the capital of the United Arab Emirates while staying in Dubai
It’s an easy freeway drive of just over an hour between the two biggest cities in the UAE – Dubai and Abu Dhabi – making it an incredibly popular day trip destination for Dubai visitors.
On this page, we’re going to share with you exactly how you get from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and the mustn’t-miss attractions to see in the UAE’s capital city.
PLEASE NOTE: Since 28 February 2022, the ABU DHABI-DUBAI BORDER CROSSING CHECKPOINT HAS BEEN REMOVED. This means no PCR tests required for border crossing. Furthermore, the need for Green Status on Al Hosn App to enter public spaces, and the need to wear masks indoors has been completely abolished for Abu Dhabi & the UAE.
Abu Dhabi from Dubai Tour Packages
One of the most convenient ways to get between the two cities is to join an organized tour group.
They will arrange your pick-ups from Dubai and transfer you in air-conditioned comfort to Abu Dhabi’s biggest tourist sites (more on these below!)
There are so many different Abu Dhabi tours to choose from, so here’s what we suggest you look out for when choosing the best tours to Abu Dhabi:
- Is the tour private and personalised, a small group, or a large group?
- Will you be picked up from your hotel or need to meet at an arranged rendezvous point in Dubai?
- Are meals included or will you need to budget extra for a meal stop?
- Can you add any additional stops, not in the itinerary?
Larger group tours to Abu Dhabi may be more budget-friendly, but will also give you limited flexibility in what you want to see and do in this beautiful city.
We highly recommend you book your tours through a reputable tour provider such as Get Your Guide. The reason being they have vetted all their tour providers giving you a variety of itineraries to choose from all in one spot. You can read reviews from past customers and most importantly they offer the ability to cancel up to 24 hours before for most tours, giving you flexibility in your plans.
- Half Day Grand Mosque tour transfers to and from the Sheikh Zayed Mosque only from Dubai. This is a shared tour bus leaving Dubai around 8:45 AM and only taking 5 hours, you’ll be back to Dubai by early afternoon. Perfect if you only want to see the country’s largest mosque.
- Abu Dhabi Full-Day Premium Sightseeing Tour – this is a great all-rounder tour for getting a taster of Abu Dhabi. You will, of course, see the mosque, but also a driving tour around the city’s other highlights including the picturesque Corniche, Marina breakwater, Etihad Towers and a stop at Qasr al Watan, all with a guided tour in your chosen language. Note you’re given a lunch stop but lunch is not included, excluded The Louvre.
- Full Day Private Tour Dubai to Abu Dhabi is best for a small group who wants to travel with a guide. Your itinerary will see you to the Mosque, Emirates Palace and Yas Marina Circuit with a buffet lunch thrown in (but note, no Louvre or Qasr al Watan stops).
- Abu Dhabi Full-Day Trip with Louvre & Mosque – if you just want to see the Grand Mosque and the Louvre, this is the tour for you. You get two-hour stops at each which will be plenty of time if these are the main highlights you are after. Can be run as a small group with other guests or privately.
Unfortunately, few tours will take you on a more flexible itinerary that takes you more in-depth through the souks and older parts of the city (not that there are many left, like in Dubai!). Most Abu Dhabi city tours stick to the main tourist attractions.
What are the biggest tourist attractions to see in Abu Dhabi?
This will really depend on your interests, but undoubtedly the number one stop in Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque – sometimes simply referred to as the Grand Mosque (not to be mistaken for Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai).
There are tours that exclusively shuttle customers back and forward to the Grand Mosque, but you really need to see more in the city! (And be warned the day-tripping buses from Dubai all seem to arrive en masse in Abu Dhabi making it a very crowded experience by mid-morning).
Main cultural attractions in Abu Dhabi
In addition to the Grand Mosque, the next three most important tourist destinations in Abu Dhabi are:
- The Louvre Museum Abu Dhabi – a stunning Museum on Saadiyat Island that covers the “History of Humanity” in a superb waterfront setting is one of the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi after the Mosque. Just the building itself is a Middle East masterpiece. NB Closed Mondays.
- Qasr al Watan – the Presidential Palace of the United Arab Emirates is an incredible new building to rival the beauty of the Grand Mosque. Open for daily tours, it’s situated at the end of the Abu Dhabi Corniche (about the furthermost point from Dubai!). Can occasionally be closed at short notice for diplomatic visits.
- Qasr al Hosn – a brilliant insight into the history of the United Arab Emirates and Abu Dhabi from early Bedouin days and ancient history, through to the discovery of oil, federation and the modern-day city – tours special workshops and daily events are offered, but few tours seem to include this important stop on their pre-arranged itineraries.
You can find a complete guide to Abu Dhabi’s best cultural attractions on our sister site Abu Dhabi Travel Planner.
Other sightseeing in Abu Dhabi
For general sightseeing, some popular attractions you might want to include:
- Step inside the stunning Emirates Palace Hotel. You can simply get some amazing snaps on the front steps, or head inside to enjoy some local delicacies from camel burgers to gold leaf tea at one of Abu Dhabi’s most opulent buildings. A respectable dress code (knees covered) is required for men and women.
- Capture the city from above at Observation Deck at 300 – the city’s highest observation tower from Level 74 of Etihad Towers, (Conrad Etihad Towers). Not the city’s tallest building – that building does not have an observation floor – but nonetheless, Etihad Towers is a great place to get your bearings over the city and lovely for a morning or afternoon tea stop.
- Visit the Founders Memorial and walk along the Marina Breakwater for some fresh air.
- Visit the newly opened National Aquarium Abu Dhabi and explore the new Al Qana Waterfront district.
- Take a trip out to the Falcon Hospital a great insight into local culture and a really worthwhile stop if you can join one of their twice-daily Falcon World Tours.
- Enjoy a unique walk through the wetlands of Abu Dhabi at Jubail Mangroves Park – it sits between Yas Island and Saadiyat Island, a superb nature stop you won’t believe is so near the city.
- Wahat al Karama – the war memorial that sits opposite the Grand Mosque. A poignant spot and a beautiful photo opportunity of both the memorial and the Mosque.
- Some tours may still include a stop at the Heritage Village – but in all honesty, we’d recommend Qasr al Hosn above as the better and more comprehensive stop for history buffs.
- Desert Safari’s in Abu Dhabi are just as popular as in Dubai, though you’ll get a pretty similar desert experience with camel rides, dune bashing and a traditional dinner, so just choose one of the other.
Yas Island Theme Parks & Grand Prix track Abu Dhabi
For theme park fun, you really need to allow at least 4 to 6 hours to tackle even one of the mega theme parks on Yas Island – these are Yas Waterworld, Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi, and Ferrari World.
Technically you could squeeze in a theme park alongside a day trip to the cultural sites, but we highly recommend you make a full day for each experience so you are not rushed. There’s really no time to fully enjoy a water park or rollercoaster day if you’re being rushed back on a bus.
Yas Island is also home to the famous Yas Marina Grand Prix track. You may not get time on a day tour to do much more than snap some photos, but motorsports fans should put aside extra time on a day trip to Abu Dhabi to take part in either a behind the scenes guided tour of the track, or even better a circuit driving experience.
For something truly unique, on a Monday and Wednesday night from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM, you can walk, run or cycle the Yas Marina Grand Prix track! Join in with local residents to enjoy this truly unique track experience – completely FREE! See the timetable and any planned track closures here.
Transfers from Dubai to Abu Dhabi
If you are seeking to self-tour in Abu Dhabi, all you will need to arrange is getting yourself by public or private transport to Abu Dhabi or arrange a hire car.
By road, the journey from Dubai to Abu Dhabi takes between 1 and 2 hours depending on your mode of transport and exact locations. The cities sit about 160kms apart.
Note the bus will take you to the central bus station in Abu Dhabi, Al Wadha; all the tourist attractions we have set out here are quite spread out over the city so you will then need to take local bus services, or several taxis to jump between the various sightseeing destinations.
Taxi from Dubai to Abu Dhabi
If budget permits, you can simply take a standard Dubai Hala taxi from off the street in Dubai, or book one on the Careem App to your location
Depending on your pick-up and drop-off points, this should cost you around 300 AED from Downtown Dubai to Abu Dhabi Airport.
From Dubai Airport to the Abu Dhabi Corniche area, you are looking at more like 400 AED. All taxes run on a meter and are a reliable form of transportation in the UAE.
(NB since COVID some taxi drivers may be reluctant to cross the border and may ask you to swap cars with a local Abu Dhabi taxi at the first ADNOC petrol station after you cross into Abu Dhabi emirate.)
Hiring your own car from Dubai to Abu Dhabi
Hiring your own car will, of course, grant you the most flexibility but may not be the cheapest.
You will also need to drive on Dubai’s freeways which can be challenging at times with the fast and heavy flow of traffic!
With the (very) high-speed limits on the E11 Freeway, it is a quick drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi. Most tourist locations, other than in the city centre of Abu Dhabi have free visitor parking (otherwise you’ll need a few dirhams in change for meters or use a parking app).
Hiring a private driver
If you are not interested in a private tour but simply want someone to drive you from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, you can use ride-sharing apps such as Uber or Careem, or try these driver options:
- Private driver from Dubai to Abu Dhabi – the best choice if you’re after a reliable driver service one way to Abu Dhabi (NB this is just a point-to-point driver, they won’t take you around all the tourist sites)
- Get Transfer – is a great app to plan your daily driver needs, you can ask drivers to “bid” on your journey cost and choose the driver that fits your needs best in terms of vehicle, pricing and availability
- Welcome Pickups – a good site for sourcing reliable, English-speaking driver services to and from Dubai
Staying overnight in Abu Dhabi – Hotel Recommendations
If time will permit, an overnight stay in Abu Dhabi is essential to fit everything we have mentioned here – a day tour to Abu Dhabi will barely scratch the surface
- If you are visiting the theme parks on Yas Island, then the Yas Plaza Hotels should be your top pick – there are several to choose from; our favourite for the most unique experience is staying in the W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island which straddles the Yas Marina GP race track.
- Alternatively, try two newly opened hotels – The WB Abu Dhabi (Warner Bros. themed hotel) is perfectly located for accessing WB World and Yas Waterworld, whilst the Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island is the top choice for the happening new area of Yas Bay if you want to be surrounded by restaurants and nightlife.
- If your main focus is seeing the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, there are several hotels in an area known as Bab Al Bahr – just on the mainland before you cross to Abu Dhabi island. Why not try the Fairmont Bab al Bahr, or the Shangri-La Hoel Qaryat Al Beri. A great budget alternative (still 4 star!) is Traders Hotel Qaryat Al Beri. These are all glorious spots to watch the sunset behind the Grand Mosque to the west. There are lots of dining choices in the Souk at Qaryat Al Beri or take a traditional abra (paid) across the Grand Canal to the Venetian Village at the Ritz Carlton for a great range of restaurants and buzzing nightlife.
- If you’d like to mix in some resort sunshine with your stay, Saadiyat Island, adjacent to where you will find the Louvre Abu Dhabi is our top pick. Here there is a string of 5 luxury resorts to choose from. They don’t come cheap but are simply stunning (and maybe just a few dirhams cheaper than their Dubai counterparts – worth checking!)
- On a budget? There are plenty of inner-city hotels in Abu Dhabi offered with reputable brand names attached that you can comfortably get a room for two under 300 AED per night. You can try Al Maha Arjaan by Rotana, Ramada Abu Dhabi Corniche or Southern Sun Abu Dhabi.
More Frequently asked questions Abu Dhabi tours from Dubai
The cooler months of winter from around November to April are the best time to visit Abu Dhabi and the UAE for the most comfortable experience and pleasant weather.
We’re never going to deny the UAE in the summer months is HOT!!
That said, not impossible to visit. Prices are cheaper, and crowds are low. An Abu Dhabi tour will largely see you in air-conditioned comfort. The Grand Mosque will involve a fair bit of walking outside but stops at the Louvre, and Qasr Al Watan, for example, will see you largely indoors.
Take plenty of water with you and something to protect your head out in the sun.
No, the rules requiring regular PCR tests and the use of the Al Hosn App were abolished on 7 November 2022. You can now freely move between Dubai and Abu Dhabi without a border crossing and without needing a PCR test result to show on the Al Hosn App.
Learn more about the current entry rules to Abu Dhabi on the Visit Abu Dhabi website.
Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Dubai, a handy guide on what to pack, and top tips for first-timers on the do’s and don’ts, laws, and customs to be aware of.
- Check out this incredible list of 150+ places you should visit when you’re in Dubai.
- Pick up a Dubai Pass from iVenture or a Go City Dubai Pass to save up to 50% on top Dubai attractions.
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!!!
- Discover the best areas to stay in Dubai, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here:
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