A Weekend in Abu Dhabi: The Best Things to Do as a Solo Traveller

Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is fast emerging as an alternative to its glitzier neighbour, Dubai. With a firm focus on cultural activities and a more measured approach to tourism development, for my money, it is the more attractive of the two states.

But is Abu Dhabi safe for solo female travellers? And where can you go alone in Abu Dhabi?

From the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the superlative-busting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to coffee & cake sprinkled with gold, here’s my guide to the best things to do during a weekend in Abu Dhabi as a solo traveller.

At the end of the article, you’ll find more practical information, including solo travel tips, where to stay in Abu Dhabi, how to get there and how to get around.

man walking in front of gleaming exterior of mosque during 3 days in abu dhabi

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>>> Be inspired to book your solo trip to Abu Dhabi with this pick of the best quotations about travelling alone or these wondeful books about solo travel

Planning your Weekend in Abu Dhabi

Getting your hands on a good guidebook to help you to plan your long weekend in Abu Dhabi and to explore this Emirate whilst you are there, is a smart move. I recommend the Lonely Planet Pocket Abu Dhabi guide, which was my constant companion during my visit.

Are 3 Days in Abu Dhabi Enough?

Three days are enough to allow you to get a feel for this Emirati state. During your weekend break, you will be able to soak up Abu Dhabi’s main highlights and explore its cultural heritage.

Best Things to Do Alone in Abu Dhabi in a Weekend

Here’s my pick of the five best things to do during a weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Discover the story behind the world’s largest rug at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Commissioned by, and named after, the first president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque can hold up to 40,000 worshippers and cost in excess of $500 million to complete.

Whilst referencing traditional Islamic architectural styles,  the interior has a contemporary feel. Think of traditional geometric ceramic details contrasted with delicate floral designs inlaid with semi-precious stones.

With its domes and minarets rising from manicured gardens, and a 12-ton chandelier sparkling with Swarovski crystals, your eye is inevitably drawn upwards.

But look beneath your feet also.

A triumph of design and craftsmanship, the Iranian handwoven carpet covers 60,546 square feet in the mosque’s main prayer room, incorporates 2.2 billion individual, hand-tied knots and weighs 12 tons. 1,200 craftsmen from Iran’s Khorasan Province took two years to weave it.

man walking across a carpet in a mosque
VISITING SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
  • Entrance to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is free
  • The free guided tour (in English) is highly recommended. Check the mosque’s website for times. Pre-booking online may be required.
  • Observe mosque etiquette. All visitors must wear loose-fitting clothes and long trousers. Women also need to wear a headscarf.
  • Although the mosque will loan women an abeyya with a hood at the entrance, I borrowed one from my hotel.

Stroll along the Corniche

Stretching five 5 miles along Abu Dhabi’s beachfront from the Heritage Park in the northeast to Emirates Palace in the southwest, and lined with restaurants and hotels, the Corniche is a popular place for an evening stroll. Take in views of the shimmering Persian Gulf and the city’s skyscrapers skyline, go for a swim or rent a bike.

Visit Louvre Abu Dhabi, the largest art museum on the Arabian Gulf

One of the best cultural things to do in Abu Dhabi as a solo traveller is to visit the Louvre Museum (LAD).

The largest art museum on the Arabian peninsula, Louvre Abu Dhabi has a small but exquisite art collection from around the world, with particular focus placed upon bridging the gap between Eastern and Western art.

The building is architecturally stunning.

Its dome, an intricate tapestry of 7,850 stars, allows rays of sunlight to rain down in a play of light and shadow. Its reflective pools seemingly merge into the sea, and then across to the Abu Dhabi skyline. 

pool of water with reflections from honeycombed roof
VISITING LOUVRE ABU DHABI
  • The Louvre Abu Dhabi is located in the Cultural Area of Saadiyat Island. Although a public bus (#94) stops there, going by taxi is easier. As a guide, a taxi from my hotel near Emirates Palace Hotel in 2018 cost around AED 30
  • The admission fee is AED 63 (March 2022 price). It is closed on Mondays
  • Download the LAD app to create your very own guided tour. Free wifi is available at the museum.
  • Free lockers are available to store your stuff

>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY YOUR SKIP-THE-LINE TICKET FOR LAD

Receive a warm welcome at Abu Dhabi’s Heritage Village

sign saying keep away at entrance to tourist village

Or not, as the case may be.

This reconstructed village showcases the Bedouin lifestyle and gives some insight into the pre-oil era in the United Arab Emirates.

So what’s here to see?

There are artisan workshops – although there were few artisans in evidence on the day I visited – next to an enclosure with random animals. A faux desert camp comprising a patch of sand and a neglected tent.

Add to these, a peculiar museum exhibiting a splendid collection of guns, daggers and coins. And let’s not forget the inevitable shops selling tourist tat.

I’m probably not selling the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village well, but I have a strange weakness for slightly naff attractions like this, particularly when they are done with the best of intentions.

Highly entertaining.

Abu Dhabi Heritage Village is located near Marina Mall, Breakwater.

Have your gold-topped cake and eat it at The Emirates Palace Hotel

The Emirates Palace Hotel is the last word in opulence.

Situated at the far western end of the corniche, it features ornate domes – 114 of them but who’s counting? –  gold leaf and a lot of marble.

Sadly, the ATM dispensing gold bars has gone but you can indulge in chocolate cake, sprinkled with gold. Highly recommended by yours truly!

Or swap a dusting of cinnamon on your cappuccino for 24 karat gold sprinkles?

Doesn’t your weekend in Abu Dhabi deserve some sparkle?

chocolate cake flaked with gold on a plate
Chocolate cake at Emirates Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi

To be sure of admission, book a table in the lobby cafe or restaurant. Your hotel should be able to do this for you.

Get a bird’s eye view of Abu Dhabi

Finally, your 3 days in Abu Dhabi will not be complete until you ascend to the Observation Deck on the 74th floor of the Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers Hotel for a 360-degree view of its skyline.

Have that cocktail; you deserve it!

aerial view of Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi
Panoramic view of Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi
VISITING THE OBSERVATION DECK AT CONRAD ABU DHABI ETIHAD TOWERS HOTEL
  • Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers (formerly the Jumeirah At Etihad Towers Hotel) is located at the far western end of the cornice, opposite Emirates Palace Hotel.
  • The entrance fee is AED 95. This is pricey but it includes a voucher for AED 55 which can be redeemed against food or drinks on the day of your visit.  Free entrance for hotel guests.

Other Things to Do in Abu Dhabi

Three days is enough time to cover Abu Dhabi’s main attractions. But if you are spending a little longer there, here are my suggestions for other things to do in Abu Dhabi. Alternatively, you could just relax in the sun with a good book.

Channel your inner Lawrence of Arabia on a desert safari

My one regret is that I didn’t manage to squeeze in a desert safari when I spent the weekend in Abu Dhabi. As the largest uninterrupted sand mass in the world, the Empty Quarter (Rub Al Khali)  is the perfect setting for desert excursions.

Multiple companies offer organised tours, picking you up from your hotel. These can include a ride in a 4×4 vehicle, camel rides, belly dancing shows, traditional nomadic cuisine and a pit-stop at the Liwa Oasis.

To set your heart racing, take a wild dune buggy ride, also known as dune-bashing.

These are popular excursions; book in advance.

Dune-bashing desert safari

Take morning or evening safari by 4WD Land Cruiser. Try your hand at sandboarding, take a camel ride and watch a traditional belly dance show. The evening option includes a barbecue dinner.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK

Desert safari with BBQ dinner, belly dance & Tannura dance

This tour evening includes the option to race through the sands on a quad bike or dune buggy.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK

Increase your heart rate at Ferrari World

Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is not only the biggest indoor theme park in the world but is also home to Formula Rossa, which is the world’s fastest rollercoaster. If this isn’t your cup of tea, more sedate rides will take you on imaginary tours of the Ferrari factory and through the narrow streets of Italy.

To quicken the pulse further, take the Scuderia Challenge and become a racing driver for the day in a state-of-the-art simulator. One of the best things to do in Abu Dhabi for adrenaline junkies!

Have the drive of your life at Yas Marina Circuit

Yas Marina Circuit is the venue for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Why not get your heart pumping behind the wheel of an Aston Martin GT4?

Aston Martin GT4 Driving Experience at Yas Marina Circuit

Have the drive of your life behind the wheel of the Aston Martin GT4, as you race around the Yas Marina Circuit track.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK

Cool off at Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi

Escape the blistering summer heat in Abu Dhabi by spending the day at Yas Waterworld. Located on Yas Island, Yas Waterworld offers more than 40 rip-roaring rides over four thrill levels.

Visiting Abu Dhabi as a Solo Female Traveller

Is Abu Dhabi safe for a woman travelling alone?

Abu Dhabi ticks many of the boxes for a good destination for a female solo traveller, even if you are travelling alone for the first time.

Safety is an important consideration for solo travellers, especially for women on their own. Strict laws have led to a largely crime-free environment, making Abu Dhabi a safe Arabian metropolis.

That said, use your common sense.

As in your home city, be wary of strangers who try to befriend you. Politely decline drinks or food from strangers if offered.

People are generally welcoming and there’s a spectrum of activities to occupy even the most restless solo traveller.

However,  Abu Dhabi falls down a notch as a solo travel destination when it comes to transport infrastructure and cost. As city transport is limited, you are reliant on taxis to get around.

Abu Dhabi is not a cheap destination for eating and drinking. It is one place that I would consider half-board options.

Can you wear shorts in Abu Dhabi?

Although the United Arab Emirates as a whole is not as conservative as other parts of the Gulf, this is a Muslim country and both men and women should observe the local dress code.

Modesty is key. This means that shorts are a no-no in public areas. 

Comfortable loose clothing, which covers your shoulders, arms and knees, is the order of the day for your weekend in Abu Dhabi. Restrict beachwear and more skimpy clothes to lounging around your hotel pool or lying on its private beaches.

Plan Your Weekend in Abu Dhabi

What is the best time to visit Abu Dhabi?

The best time to visit Abu Dhabi is between December and April. During these months temperatures are generally quite comfortable and rain is rare.

Avoid visiting Abu Dhabi during summer May to September) when temperatures average 45°C with a stifling 95% humidity.

How to get to Abu Dhabi

From the UK, British Airways and Etihad will fly you directly to Abu Dhabi from London.

Abu Dhabi Airport is 38km southeast of the city centre. Although there is a bus service running between the airport and the city centre, your best bet is to take a metered taxi van to your hotel.

For more choices, fly into Dubai Airport. Reckon on paying around 80 USD for the 90-minute taxi journey to Abu Dhabi.

I splashed the cash and flew business class to Dubai with Emirates. Not only does Emirates offer a great business class product, but they also provide a free chauffeur service to and from the hotel.

Where to stay in Abu Dhabi as a female solo traveller

Much like its glitzier neighbour, luxury hotels dominate Abu Dhabi’s accommodation scene.

There is a wide variety of 5-star hotels near the eight-kilometre-long waterfront Corniche, including the Emirates Palace.

If you want to be close to Abu Dhabi’s more cultural attractions, stay in the arts district of Saadiyat Island.

Cheaper options are clustered in the downtown area.

Is shopping more of your thing? If so, pick a hotel on Al Maryah Island, home of the luxury mall, The Galleria.

4 skyscrapers behind dancing fountains
Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi

Luxury hotels in Abu Dhabi

Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers 

I stayed at this luxurious 5-star hotel, home to the Observation Deck, which is in the Corniche area. Booked as part of a package with Emirates Holidays, it was good value. Look out for similar deals.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK A ROOM OR HERE TO READ REVIEWS

The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi 

If you really want to splurge, take a look at this beachfront property close to LAD.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK A ROOM OR HERE TO READ REVIEWS

Budget hotels in Abu Dhabi

Budget is a relative term when it comes to Abu Dhabi accommodation, but there are cheaper options in the downtown area. Here are a few that I have found that may suit those travelling on a tighter budget:

Premier Inn Abu Dhabi Capital Centre 

I love a good Premier Inn and was delighted to discover that Abu Dhabi is home to a few of their hotels. This Premier Inn which is opposite the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre is an absolute steal and has good reviews.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK A ROOM AND OR HERE TO READ REVIEWS

Southern Sun Abu Dhabi 

This 4-star property in the business district, close to the Corniche is another excellent option if you are travelling alone in Abu Dhabi on a budget. 

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK A ROOM OR HERE TO READ REVIEWS

>>> None of these hotels take your fancy? Search for more here.

How to get around Abu Dhabi

The main sights are a considerable distance apart. Although Abu Dhabi has a bus network, I used taxis which were affordable and more convenient.

There is also a hop-on-hop-off bus service, offering one, two and five-day tickets. The routes have 14 stops including the Presidential Palace, Emirates Palace, Heritage Village and the Louvre museum.

When I did the maths, taking a taxi to and from the places on my itinerary worked out cheaper. However, depending on where you plan to visit, the HOHO bus may be worth considering.

BUY YOUR ABU DHABI HOHO BUS TICKETS

>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY A 1-DAY TICKET

>>> CLICK HERE TO BUY 2 AND 5-DAY TICKETS

If you prefer to take a guided tour, take a look at those on offer from GetYourGuide.

I have used this online platform to book day tours on other trips. It offers a good selection of tours that you can cancel up to 24 hours before your excursion for a full refund.

Half-Day Guided Abu Dhabi Tour

Discover the highlights of Abu Dhabi on a 5-hour guided tour. Includes Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the Heritage Village, the fishing harbour and Yas Island.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK

Abu Dhabi City Tour with Sheikh Zayed Mosque

This 4-hour tour includes Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the Founder’s Memorial plus the Gold Souk and Dates Market.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK

Is Abu Dhabi Worth Visiting?

Abu Dhabi has something for everyone. 

With its balmy climate and beautiful beaches, it’s a sun seeker’s paradise.

It has a rich cultural heritage, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and LAD are reasons enough to visit Abu Dhabi. Its cultural crown will be further embellished by the opening of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum.

For the thrill-seeker, there’s dune bashing in the desert or the Ferrari driving experiences. 

Throw into the mix some of the world’s finest hotels and you have the recipe for the perfect weekend city break for a solo traveller.

2 thoughts on “A Weekend in Abu Dhabi: The Best Things to Do as a Solo Traveller

  1. Sher Jan Khan says:

    Can I go to Abu Dhabi I am staying in Sharjah in my own car. Please let me know
    Thanks and Best Regards

Comments are closed.