Day Trip to Abu Dhabi from Dubai
My friend, Maryam, came to visit me in Dubai recently and while she was here, I planned a day trip to Abu Dhabi for us. We had such a lovely day exploring the capital, so I wanted to share our itinerary with you in case you are looking to make a day trip to Abu Dhabi too. There are so many things to do in Abu Dhabi. Fitting them all in one day is impossible. We focused on experiencing art and culture for our trip, so this post is a guide for doing that.
GET AN EARLY START
LEAVE DUBAI AT 9 A.M.
I like to get an early start by leaving Dubai at 9 in the morning. We ate breakfast at home before we left. It takes about one and a half hours to get to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque from Dubai (depends on your exact location). I usually hire a driver when I go because I only go about once per year when someone comes to visit me. There is ample parking at all the locations on this day trip so you can drive yourself if you want to.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
10:30 A.M. TO 12 P.M.
We started our day at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I highly recommend the mosque to everyone who has the chance to go. I have been three times now, and each time it’s as impressive as the last. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the number 1 must-do for any tourist coming to the UAE. Even if you live in Dubai, it’s worth going on your day off. The structure itself is one of the most impressive pieces of architecture you will ever see in your life. The attention to detail and sheer scale of some aspects like the chandlers and carpet is spectacular. The mosque is so immaculately maintained you can feel the pride and respect Abu Dhabi has for this holy site.
Tickets and Timings
The mosque is open Saturday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday from 4:30 p.m to 10 p.m. I would recommend going on a weekday if possible.
Ramadan timings are limited. The mosque is open Sunday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and closed to visitors on Friday.
Tickets to the mosque are free and available on location. No pre-booking required.
What to Wear
Women must wear abayas or be fully covered from ankle to neck in modest clothing and wear a headscarf to enter the mosque. I think wearing the abaya is a beautiful way to participate in the culture and be respectful of the religion. They provide the abayas for ladies who do not have their own. It is most appropriate to wear modest clothing to the mosque as well. Avoid short, tight, see-through, and revealing clothing. Don’t forget sunglasses. Even on a cloudy day, the light reflecting off the marble is very bright.
Make it Less Touristy
I recommend reading up on the facts before you go and just experiencing the mosque. See it, take it in, notice every detail, and think about how it makes you feel. Put yourself in another’s shoes and think about what it must feel like for a Muslim to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. If you can, go with a Muslim friend, experience it together, and ask them after what the experience was like for them and share what the experience was like for you. The experience at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque can be a point of dialogue to learn from each other.
Things to Know Before You Go
When taking pictures, do not make any gestures or put your hands like you are praying. They will ask you to delete the photo if you pose inappropriately. Smile and keep your hands by your sides and you will be fine.
Some of the photos posted by influencers working with travel boards are in areas visitors cannot go to take pictures. There are plenty of places to capture a great photo, but I wanted to mention that if you were looking at Instagram for inspiration before your visit.
If you can manage to get up even earlier than me, I would suggest going as soon as they open at 9 a.m. There were many busses of tourists arriving around the time we went so even I will try to get there at 9 a.m. next time I go.
try a local dessert made gluten-free
12:15 P.M. TO 1:15 P.M.
Before going on our day trip to Abu Dhabi, I researched gluten-free restaurants for our lunch. I found a 100% GF restaurant, Tawa Bakery. They have an extensive menu of healthy and treat food options available. A great way to experience any culture is through their food. Tawa Bakery in the only place I have found in the UAE that makes a GF version of the traditional Arabic dessert Legaymat. This dessert is a must order in my opinion. Check out my full review here!
Get lost in the Louvre
1:45 P.M. TO 4:30 P.M.
The last stop on our day trip was the Louvre Abu Dhabi. I was most excited about this part of our trip because it was my first time to the Louver Abu Dhabi.
While the Louvre Abu Dhabi is much smaller than the Louvre in Paris, it is still worth a visit. Quite frankly, I prefer the size of the Louvre Abu Dhabi because it is capable of being fully digested in one day without getting “museum fatigue.” They have a few key pieces you might have studied in an art history class like Leonardo DaVinci's “La Belle Ferronniere” (on loan from the Louvre in Paris). They also have some interesting lesser-known, though still significant, works that I generally would skip over while trying to make sure I saw all the famous paintings at a more massive museum. I enjoyed having the time to learn about the works I did not know previously without feeling rushed.
A fascinating thing about the Louvre Abu Dhabi is the way they have curated the pieces. Each gallery is curated in a way that shows how art and cultures across the world intertwine and influence each other. The first gallery sets the tone for the whole experience by showcasing three same objects under a single glass display. Each of the three objects is from a different culture, so you instantly see the similarities and differences. They are enticing the viewer to think about art in a way they might not at other art museums. I highly recommend reading all the panels at the entrance to each gallery. They not only give context to the pieces in the room but also continue the discussion of how cultures are linked.
I also appreciated that the Louvre Abu Dhabi emphasized the Middle Eastern influence on art and culture where appropriate. Art is often curated and talked about from a European centric view, so I learned quite a lot about the role of the Middle East in influencing and spreading art and culture throughout history.
Tickets and Timings
Daily timings here
Tickets are 63 DHS and can be booked online or purchased at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Architecture to notice along the way
Abu Dhabi has some notable architecture you will see while you are there for the day (depending on which way google maps takes you) that is worth looking at but doesn’t require a separate stop. The Aldar HQ building, fondly known as the “coin building,” was the first circular building in the Middle East. The Sheikh Zayed bridge designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid is “said to be the most complex bridge ever built” according to Visit Abu Dhabi. It took seven years to construct and is the most imaginative bridge I have ever seen.
Return before the after work traffic gets bad
LEAVE ABU DHABI AT 4:30 P.M.
I try to avoid exhausting myself with a day trip and driving long distances at night, so I like to leave Abu Dhabi somewhere around 4:30 in the afternoon to go back to Dubai. By leaving Abu Dhabi at this time, you will get light evening traffic in Dubai, but you will avoid the worst bit between 6:30 and 8.
What other day trip from Dubai would you like me to write an itinerary for next?