If you happen to find yourself flying somewhere in the world on Etihad Airways, there’s a good chance your ticket will include a (free) stopover in Abu Dhabi for one day or longer. As we regularly travel between Australia and Europe, we think that spending 48 hours in Abu Dhabi is the perfect way to break up the long trip. The next time you find yourself traveling on Etihad with a (free) Abu Dhabi stopover, you can follow along this detailed 2 days in Abu Dhabi itinerary to see the best highlights this beautiful city has to offer!
Originally used mainly as a layover city for international tourists, Abu Dhabi has literally sprung out of the desert in a short period of time. The oil-rich capital city of the United Arab Emirates is now a destination in its own right. There are so many things you could squeeze into your 48 hours in Abu Dhabi itinerary, from desert safaris to marveling at the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Pro Tip: Etihad Airways regularly offers flight deals which include a free stopover for two days in Abu Dhabi with hotel accommodation included. The next time you plan to book flights via the UAE, why not check out Etihad Airways and extend your long layover to 48 hours in Abu Dhabi.
The Etihad Airways free Abu Dhabi Stopover deal is a great (and cheap) way to explore a new destination!
2 Days in Abu Dhabi Itinerary Overview
This Abu Dhabi 2 day itinerary is divided into 6 locations and is designed to give you a taste of the must-do Abu Dhabi attractions and activities:
- Day 1: Abu Dhabi Palaces & Hotels, The Corniche & Grand Mosque
- Day 2: Saadiyat Island, Downtown Area & the Abu Dhabi Desert
After visiting the United Arab Emirates many times, we think this is the perfect itinerary for 48 hours in Abu Dhabi!
Before You Go – What to Know for 48 Hours in Abu Dhabi
How to Get There
Etihad Airways in the main airline based in Abu Dhabi that services hundreds of destinations around the world. If you’re visiting Abu Dhabi from Dubai, it’s only a one-hour drive away. Pre-book a private vehicle transfer from Dubai here.
How to Get Around
A relatively cheap and effective way to get around is via taxi. A taxi ride between most places in this guide will cost between 20-50 AED. It is also possible to arrange a private vehicle and driver for the day. Pre-book a private transfer from the airport to your hotel here.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit is during the winter (November to March) when the temperature is mild, between 20-26°Celsius (68-79°F). The desert heat can be brutal during the summer, often reaching temperatures of 50°Celsius (122°F) during the day. Avoid visiting during the month of Ramadan, as you are not permitted to eat or drink in public areas during the hours of daylight and many restaurants close down during this time.
Where to Stay
Jumeirah at Etihad Towers – Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel offers sweeping views over the Arabian Gulf and the Corniche. It also boasts free access to the Observation Deck at 300 – a great spot for High Tea.
Beach Rotana – with its own private beach, the Beach Rotana is conveniently located in the downtown Tourist Club Area.
Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort – not far from the Louvre, located on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi’s premier beach resort area.
Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri – located on a private beach with spectacular views across to the famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
St. Regis Abu Dhabi Corniche – great location, excellent Friday brunch and a rooftop bar with a view over the Arabian Gulf.
How to Spend Two Days in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi Itinerary – Day 1
Start the first day of your 48 hours in Abu Dhabi with a coffee and croissant from % Arabica along the Corniche. Let’s face it after a long flight you will probably need a caffeine fix before visiting one of the grandest and most famous tourist attractions in Abu Dhabi; the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
9 am: Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was constructed between 1996 and 2007 and is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. It is the brain-child of the late great Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President and founding father of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The mosque is a place of great religious significance to the people of the United Arab Emirates. Over the years it has become a very popular place for tourists to visit, and it’s not hard to see why. It is arguably the grandest Mosque in the world.
The first time I visited, tourists were allowed to wander freely around the central courtyard, however, now the area has been roped off, most likely to protect the intricate mosaic tilework. Visitors must stick to the outside hallways around the courtyard and the roped off photo areas.
The best time to visit the grand mosque is first thing in the morning before most of the tourists arrive. Alternatively, if you visit during the hotter months (April-October), I suggest visiting after sunset.
There is no entrance fee to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It’s free! Tourists are required to dress appropriately; women must cover their heads. Traditional Islamic garments are available for men and women at the entrance and are free to rent – most tourists are required to wear these.
The mosque opening hours are 9 am to 10 pm, most days of the week. Friday is holy day and the mosque is closed most of the day for worship, opening to visitors between 4:30 pm and 10 pm. During the holy month of Ramadan, the mosque operates reduced opening hours from 9 am to 3 pm, and it is closed to tourists on Fridays.
For more tips on visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, check out this article from the Travel Sisters.
12 pm: Visit the Emirates Palace Hotel
The Emirates Palace is a lavish 5-star luxury hotel that somewhat resembles the Sultan’s Palace in the movie, Aladdin. Located at the end of the Corniche, the Emirates Palace Hotel is a great spot for lunch or afternoon tea and a wander around the impressive hotel grounds.
Head to Le Cáfe where you can try a Camelccino (made with camel milk), or their signature delicacy – the 23K Gold sprinkled Camel Burger. For an indulgent afternoon affair, stay for the High Tea at Le Cáfe, served daily from 2 pm. Bookings are recommended.
It is free to visit the Emirates Palace Hotel but be aware that some areas are only accessible by guests staying at the hotel.
3 pm: Visit the UAE Presidential Palace
The Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi has recently opened to tourists after many years of construction. It is possible to visit the Qasr Al Watan wing of the palace compound and the surrounding gardens. The Emiratis certainly know how to take the notion of grandeur to the next level. The Palace is absolutely incredible.
The Qasr Al Watan wing of the Presidential Palace opening hours is daily from 11 am to 10 pm. Entrance fees are paid at the main entrance – 60 AED for adults and 30 AUD for children aged 4-17 years. Alternatively, a garden only ticket to access the grounds and visitor centre costs 25 AED for adults and 12 AED for children, but I highly recommend paying the extra to see the palace itself. It’s simply spectacular! Tickets for general entry and tours can be pre-booked online which allows you to skip the queue on arrival.
From the main entrance, tourists are driven by bus to the Qsar Al Watan wing and are allowed to wander around on their own or join one of the tours that run every 30 minutes. Inside the palace, you’ll see the cavernous main hall with intricate tilework, gold trim and elaborate chandeliers. There is also the banquet room, the Islamic library as well as several other smaller rooms showcasing paintings and an explanation of the UAE rulers and hierarchy and treasured artefacts of Arabian craftsmanship.
It is possible to take photos around the palace grounds, but it is forbidden to take photos or film security staff and security systems.
5 pm: Sundowners with a View
For a spectacular sunset view, head to one of Abu Dhabi’s outdoor or rooftop bars. Check out the Azura Lounge Rooftop Bar at the St. Regis, which offers a spectacular sunset view of the Corniche or the Observation Deck at 300. Head to BOA Steakhouse for cocktails and a sunset view of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
8 pm: Dinner at One of Abu Dhabi’s Best Restaurants
No Abu Dhabi stopover is complete without experiencing one of their best restaurants. And there are so many to choose from! If you’re into seafood, head to Finz at the Beach Rotana complex. For traditional middle eastern cuisine, Li Beirut at the Jumeirah Hotel Etihad Towers is possibly the best I’ve ever eaten. Also check out Zuma (Japanese), BOA Steakhouse, Hakkasan at the Emirates Palace Hotel, or Tamba (Indian).
Pro Tip: Ask your hotel concierge to make a reservation on your behalf, and book early during the peak tourist season (November to March).
Abu Dhabi Itinerary – Day 2
9 am: Wander Around the Louvre, Abu Dhabi
On the second day of your Abu Dhabi itinerary, start with a wander through time at the modern Louvre Abu Dhabi museum. You’ll see various artworks and artifacts, sculptures, and paintings, dating as far back as the ancient Egyptians to the 21stCentury. The architecture of the Louvre is also a feature in itself and it’s well worth a wander around the grounds even if just to marvel at the spectacular helix dome roof (pictured above).
The Abu Dhabi Louvre costs 60 AED to visit (30 AED for children). It’s well worth paying the extra 22 AED for the audio tour, as the written descriptions on the artworks are not very detailed.
12 pm: Experience one of Abu Dhabi’s famous Brunches
If your Abu Dhabi stopover happens to fall on a Friday, then you’re in for a real treat. Perhaps one of the UAE’s most favourite past time is their elaborate Friday brunch buffets. If you’re visiting any other day of the week, you can still experience brunch on a smaller scale. Most of these venues offer brunch any day of the week.
Some of the best Friday brunches can be found in the Downtown Area or Saadiyat Island. Try The Foundry Steak House, Safina at Saadiyat Beach Club, or The Terrace on the Corniche, St Regis. For something a little more upmarket complete with spectacular views and French Champagne, check out Aqua at the Rosewood Hotel or Brunch in the Clouds at the St. Regis. Beware, these last two are extremely elaborate and will put a big dent in your hip pocket. Bookings are recommended.
Pro Tip: The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is not open during the day on Fridays, so if the first day of your visit falls on a Friday, then consider swapping days one and two of this Abu Dhabi itinerary.
3 pm: Go on a Sunset Desert Safari
One of the most popular things to do in Abu Dhabi is a desert safari through the sand dunes. Abu Dhabi has some of the largest dunes in the country and the drivers are very experienced at handling a 4WD in the sand.
Watching the sun dip below the sand dunes is a highlight of the sunset desert safari experience. Alternatively, you could opt for a sunrise desert safari if you prefer. After sunset, you’ll be treated to camel riding and an evening of traditional Arabic-style BBQ dinner and belly dancing. There are many tour operators to choose from. Some even offer overnight desert glamping as part of the experience.
Additional Information for Your Abu Dhabi Stopover
Other Things To Do in Abu Dhabi
Do you have more than 48 hours to spend in Abu Dhabi? You could extend this Abu Dhabi itinerary and plan a visit to Dubai. Or perhaps swap one of our recommended activities with something from this list of top things to do in Abu Dhabi:
- Spend an afternoon at Ferrari World and try go-karting at the Yas Island’s Formula One Circuit.
- Take a glimpse into the United Arab Emirates rich cultural history on a visit to the Abu Dhabi Heritage Centre.
- For a unique experience, visit the Falcon Hospital.
- Go on a safari around Sir Bani Yas Island and see a variety of animal species such as the Arabian Oryx in their native habitat.
Recommended Tours in Abu Dhabi
- Desert Safari with Camel Riding, Sandboarding and BBQ
- Abu Dhabi City Tour with Grand Mosque & Royal Palace Visit
- Full-Day Tour to Al Ain Desert Oasis
- Sheikh Zayed Mosque Tour with Professional Photographer
Other Things to Know
Currency – The main form of currency accepted in the UAE is Dirham (AED). At the time of writing, 1 USD is worth 3.7 AED and 1 AUD is worth 2.5 AED.
Tipping – Tipping is not expected in the UAE but is commonly practiced, at your discretion.
Visas – Apply for a United Arab Emirates Visa (or check if you need one) using iVisa.com.
Language – The native language in the UAE is Arabic, but most locals also speak English very well. Abu Dhabi is a truly international city with many expats who speak a variety of languages.
Safety – Abu Dhabi has a global safety score of 56 according to GeoSure (1 = low risk, 100 = high risk), which is average for the high population, urbanized environments. Driving in the UAE can be quite hazardous.
Power – The United Arab Emirates type C, D and G power outlets (European, Indian and British).
Dress Standards – The United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country with conservative dress standards. Women should always ensure their shoulders are covered and wear long skirts/pants. Men should wear full-length trousers.
Don’t forget to Bring – A camera, a pair of sunglasses, and a lightweight scarf for the ladies. It will be useful in case you need to cover up at any time.
Can you recommend any other great activities that are perfect for someone planning to spend two days in Abu Dhabi? Let our readers know about them in the comments below.
Planning a trip soon? Here is a list of the websites and resources we use for booking everything from flights, to accommodation, tours, and more:
- Skyscanner for booking the best flight deals
- Booking.com | Agoda | Hotels.com for the best rates on hotels
- Airbnb | HomeAway to find the best apartment and home rentals
- Rentalcars.com for quick and easy car rentals
- Luxury Escapes for luxury package holiday deals and tours
- Get Your Guide for a great range of day tours
- Tourradar | Intrepid for multi-day experiential and adventure tours
- Priority Pass for airport lounge access in hundreds of locations around the world
- Skyroam to stay connected to WiFi everywhere I go
- iVisa to apply for entry visas for most countries in the world
- World Nomads for the most comprehensive worldwide travel insurance
About the Author:
Amanda Twine is the founder and creator of Fly Stay Luxe – a luxury travel blog sharing informative travel guides, food guides, hotel reviews, itineraries and tips about how to make luxury travel more affordable.