Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates and is the largest Emirate taking up 80% of the country’s landmass. Traditionally it's more conservative than Dubai as it has a more regimented legal system and is deeply rooted in tradition. It’s the richest of all the Emirates and holds nearly 10% of the world’s known oil supply.
Here's what you need to know before you go...
1. What to wear
If you’re a female visiting Abu Dhabi, clothing that covers your shoulders and your legs from your knees should be worn whilst visiting public places like shopping malls. Beachwear is perfectly fine at public beaches and at hotels and resorts. If you’re dining out or going to beach clubs or nightclubs, it’s recommended to cover your shoulders to and from the venue. This will help prevent any unwanted attention, or cause offence. It’s a good idea to keep a pashmina with you at all times, as it can be cold in many air-conditioned venues.
2. Speaking Arabic isn't necessary
If you’re visiting Abu Dhabi as a Western tourist and you’re staying in a 4 or 5 star hotel, all of the staff will speak English. Many five-star hotels employ Russian, German, Chinese and Arabic speaking staff to accommodate those who don’t speak English. As there are more Arabic speaking people living in Abu Dhabi, it’s helpful if you know a few of the basic words, especially at the airport:
Hello: As-salam alaykom
To reply back you say: Wa Alykom As-slam
Thank you: Shukran
Tipping your waiter, hotel staff, taxi driver and car valet for good service is common practice in Abu Dhabi. However, be sure to check your bill in restaurants as some of the high-end dining establishments add 10% gratuity to the bill automatically. It’s recommended to leave a 10% tip in cash as opposed to leaving the tip on the credit card bill.
4. Getting around
Taxis are common and easy to find in Abu Dhabi. Due to cheap petrol prices, taxi are relatively inexpensive compared to other Western countries. You can hail a taxi anywhere, just as long as it’s safe for the driver to stop. Most shopping malls and hotels have dedicated taxi stands.
If you'd prefer to book a taxi, you can call the TransAD hotline +971 600 535353 and your driver will call you when he has arrived at your pickup location. Calling a taxi works best when you’re calling from a local mobile number as opposed to a foreign number.
There are several types of taxis in Abu Dhabi. The silver taxis have the largest fleet operated by an authorised taxi company with fares priced by meter. The white and gold taxis are older. They’re equipped with meters, however some drivers may negotiate the fare in advance. Pink taxis are driven by female drivers and are available exclusively for female passengers and families.
Most drivers are familiar with landmarks, such as hotels, shopping malls and building names, rather than street names. If you’d prefer a more luxurious form of transportation, Uber is available through the Uber mobile app, however you’ll need data or to be on WiFi. Alternatively, you can hire a chauffeur from most five-star hotels. If you plan on staying for longer than a month, it’s worth renting a car, especially during hotter months.
Marina Starwood Hotel
5.The best time to visit
Abu Dhabi has sunshine all year round, however it gets uncomfortably hot during the summer months. Between October and May is the best time to visit. During this period the weather is pleasant with sunshine and warm, comfortable temperatures. Avoid visiting during the summer months (June to September) as temperatures can reach up to 48°C in July and August with high levels of humidity. January and February are the coolest months where temperatures can reach below 12°C in the evening with even a few days of rain.
Before booking your holiday, check when Ramadan starts and finishes. It begins 10 days earlier each year and lasts for 30 days. Throughout the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk and Dubai tends to be very quiet. Businesses have shorter working hours and there are laws against eating and drinking in public to respect those who are fasting. This is also the period where the majority of expats take their annual leave.
6. Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
If you visit Abu Dhabi, a tour of the Grand Mosque is a must. Admission is free and general visiting hours are from Saturday to Thursday (9am to 10pm). The Mosque is closed for tourism activities (and open for worship) on Friday morning and opens again to the public at 4.30 pm.
It's important to adher to the dress code when visiting the Mosque. Long, loose fitting, ankle length trousers for men or skirts for women must be worn. All women must cover their hair with headscarf. Women can buy an abaya (traditional Emirati dress) to wear which makes a great photo outside of the stunning Mosque. Just be weary not to take photos of locals without asking first. If in doubt refer to Mosque Manners.
© Kyle Taylor
7. Sunglasses are a must
Take this opportunity to show off your latest pair of shades. Going without can be painful for your eyes, especially if you plan on taking up outdoor activities. If you happen to forget them, visit the Galleria Mall for a great selection of high-end shopping.
8. Drinking alcohol
Alcohol can be purchased in restaurants, bars and nightclubs that are affiliated with a hotel. Many food and beverage venues have sommelier service and talented mixologists that create fantastic concoctions. However, it’s forbidden to consume alcohol in public and doing so could land you a hefty fine or even a night in jail. Buying bottles of alcohol from a store is not easily available unless you’re a resident with a license to buy alcohol.
9. No PDAs
Public displays of affection are not permitted in Abu Dhabi. Holding hands is tolerated, but anything more than that may be offensive to locals and could get you into trouble with the law. The police do not patrol the city looking for people who are kissing in public, however if someone reports it or if a police officer happens to see you there will be a consequence.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Before planning a trip to Abu Dhabi, you should find out what events are happening around the time you plan on visiting. Abu Dhabi plays host to many different events including concerts, exhibitions and sporting events. You never know, you might find something of interest that will be a great experience. Many tourists visit during November for the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix.