10 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Abu Dhabi

Desert Safari

If you’re arriving in Abu Dhabi as part of your adventure in the middle east region, or just for a short break, then you’re definitely in for a treat in this superlative city.

In my most recent posts, I shared with you two Abu Dhabi experiences which you can easily do in a day or even within three hours. However, making the most of your time in Abu Dhabi is as equally important as understanding some dos and don’ts of this place.

While in Abu Dhabi, there were some details during which I wish I would have known before I arrived. Some were expected but I thought of sharing them with you anyway and hopefully provide some practical insight that could prove useful when you decide to visit Abu Dhabi one day.

From safety to transport connections, accommodations to discovering Abu Dhabi beyond its skyscrapers, to why you’ll sweat and that one selfie you shouldn’t take. These are essential things to know before you visit Abu Dhabi.

|1. Drinking Water are Mostly Desalinated Sea Water

Geographically, the United Arab Emirates don’t have many natural rivers, ponds or streams to source from. Plus, there is very little rainfall, and groundwater levels are on a steady decline. Essentially, sea water is the country’s prime source for drinking water.

96% of UAE’s water that are suitable for human consumption are desalinated. Sea water is pulled into desalination plants to go through several levels of cleaning and purifying processes before being supplied to homes and businesses.

After water is processed, it travels through 50km of pipeline leading into homes and buildings in the city. Is it safe to drink you ask? Some locals are sceptical about this. There is no way of knowing if the pipes are well maintained or cleaned frequently. A lot of them don’t take to drinking from the tap and most would prefer buying their H20s from the store.

|2. It’s Hot. Like, Really Hot but Not Always

On my arrival to Abu Dhabi on April 14th, the weather was pleasant. I remember that even though the sun was shining bright, there were still cool chills in the air even at mid-day. But within a couple of days, I remembered that ‘UAE Hot’ is on another level – and that’s before you factor in the average humidity of 90% and a zero chance of rain.

Tip: November to April are considered the Winter season. This usually coincides with the travel season due to temperatures ranging from as low as 13 °C on a Winter night to as high as 42°C on a Summer day. So yes, it’s not always hot hot.

In terms of travel, you should save drinks in the shade, hang out in a museum, shopping malls or indoor entertainment fun parks where there’s strong air-con. It’s just not enjoyable wandering around in desert heat. Hats and sunnies will be your best friend in the UAE and if you can, use suncream.

|3. Beyond Skyscrapers, There are Mountains, Oasis and Fjords

It was clear that when people arrived in Abu Dhabi they were only thinking of skyscrapers, traffic, and high-end malls.

They’re (kind-of) wrong. Heck…I was wrong.

Yes, Abu Dhabi does have city beaches and desert safaris, but there’s more than that. Just an hour and the half drive out of Abu Dhabi is Al-Ain. It’s one of the world’s oldest and permanent inhabitant settlements. You can take a drive to capture stunning views of the city with a cab or if you have stamina you can cycle to the top of Jabel Hafeet – a rocky winding highway leading up to the highest peak in Emirates. It’s also the second highest in the UAE.

Or you can wander in the Oasis of Al-Ain under shady walkways and discover a 3000-year old falaj irrigation system and camel markets.

Feeling adventurous and have time to explore the Emirates? Definitely venture to hiking and biking trails of Hatta Mountain, discover ancient palaeolithic era in Mleiha and check out the Norway of Arabia, an Omani enclave with fjord-like inlets. But bear in mind that this is much closer to access if you were from Dubai and check visa requirement into Oman too.

|4. To Convert or Not to Convert, The Power Socket

The three-prong power socket in Abu Dhabi and throughout the United Arab Emirates are the same as the UK. Similarly, Malaysia uses the same type as well. But if you’re coming in from the US or Europe you’ll need an adapter. An essential piece of my travel kit is this trustworthy travel adapter I got out of desperation during one of my trips. It converts and plugs into any socket, plus I don’t have to bring a bunch of different ones anymore.

|5. Budget Travellers Can Definitely Visit

The thing to know about Abu Dhabi (and Dubai) is that they are ranked in the top 50 most expensive cities in the world. However, most cities in the UAE relatively offer good value for money, especially with the introduction of the 5% VAT in 2018 for any goods and services purchased at any point. It’s just worth noting for budget travellers planning their route.

Minus the luxury shopping and classy fine dining, budget travellers will still enjoy their trip to this city without burning a hole in their pocket. You would typically spend around AED 58 per day (or less) for food. Typically food in restaurants can be steep so best to avoid that.

In terms of accommodation, there are zero hostels and not much affordable hotels. One fairly decent hotel I stayed in was the Premier Inn which only costs about AED 135 per night. That’s actually not too bad, and it’s connected to the Abu Dhabi International Airport and you can access to many attractions via the public bus.

Save on your hotel - hotelscombined.com

Some free attractions:

The Sheikh Al Zayed Grand Mosque

Jabel Hafeet and the Camel Souk

Emirates Palace

Al Jahili Fort

Heritage Village

Al Ain Oasis

|6. How Long Do You Need in Abu Dhabi?

Personally, I’m really big on ‘slow travel’. I like to spend my time and go deep with every place I visit, connect a little more and not rush into going around.

However, I know that it’s not always possible for a lot of people.

For long-term backpackers or curious travellers, four nights is a decent amount of time and it may extend if you decide a road trip out of Abu Dhabi and explore natural locations near Dubai or into Oman.

|7. Digital Nomad Hangouts

If you are a Location Independent professional looking for a place to setup your laptop, work and have real interaction with people in your field, join Cocohub!

They are essentially a group of Digital Nomads who live and work in the same neighbourhood and the same workspace. Or if you are simply looking for a good space to work in minus the coliving, CoWorker is a good platform to use to find one.

|8. Cash is King and Pay in Dirham

The local currency in the United Arab Emirates is Dirham (AED). It’s also pegged to the US Dollar which means the central bank of the UAE controls the value of the currency so it will rise and fall when the US dollar does. Almost always, one dollar will equal to Dh3.67.

I say it’s always best and much safer to arrive with either an ATM card that doesn’t charge or a card that charges a small fee rather than bringing loads of cash. You can easily exchange international currencies once you have arrived in the UAE. But if you are looking for competitive rates, most malls and shopping districts have bureau de change.

As far as payment options, cash remains one of the most popular mode in UAE. There are an abundance of ATM machines you can find to withdraw money safely such as airports, shopping malls, large supermarkets, gas stations and hotels.

|9. Taxis, Busses or Walking?

The city and all its main attractions are rather far away from each other. I wouldn’t recommend walking. Unless if they are close to where you stay then yes definitely walk.

Taxis in Abu Dhabi are the most comfortable mode of transportation for most travellers (even for local commuters). Busses are also a great option.

Public Transportation:


Remember that there will always be a flagfall fare in addition to the metered fare.

Flagfall Fare: 3 to 5 AED (6am – 10pm). Other times, fares can go from 4 AED to 5.50 AED.

Additional Metered Fare: 1.82 AED /km

The fleet of taxis in Abu Dhabi are quite substantial. You can almost always hail a taxi from anywhere just as long as it’s safe for the driver to stop. Most drivers are familiar with landmarks rather than street names but just in case, make sure to have the full address of your onward location. Tips are not mandatory but always appreciated.


The public busses in Abu Dhabi is another convenient as well as an affordable way to get around. The busses operate within Abu Dhabi city as well as in the suburbs.

Single Trip within Abu Dhabi: AED 1

For frequent commuters, you can purchase Orja Bus passes at any Red Crescent Kiosk in Abu Dhabi Island.

Orja Day Pass: AED 3

Orja Monthly Pass: AED 40 (unlimited travels on any Department of Transport (DOT) city busses for one month from the first day you use it).

|10. Photo Faux Pas

Does a trip count if you don’t have the selfie to prove you were there? In this case, yes. If you visit the grand mosque (or any mosque) you’ll have to refrain from taking selfies in a group with your friends. This also includes an all-girl group. My friends and I were told to delete our photos on the spot.

Related Reads: Evening Desert Safari Adventure in Al-Khatim, Abu Dhabi

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