This might be shocking for you, but are you one of those people who always think of Dubai whenever someone mentions the United Arab Emirates? Well, are you aware that Dubai is actually not the capital city of the country? Instead, it’s Abu Dhabi.
And despite the popularity of Fly Emirates as the world’s best airlines in the world, there’s also some other Emirati airlines whose headquarter is located in the United Arab Emirates: Etihad Airways.
So, if you by any chance fly with the airlines, chances are you’ll spend some time on a transit in Abu Dhabi. And to feed your adventurous desire, you might as well want to figure out how you could spend as little as possible in the city.
That, if you’re planning to explore the city for a bit. And thanks to Keri, the mom of Family Travel in the Middle East, we will cover the city for this week’s $10 series.
Some Freebies and Budget-Friendly Activities in Abu Dhabi
The UAE dirham is fixed to the US Dollar at an exact rate if 3.67, so – give or take your exchange commission – you should end up with 36AED to spend.
Small change isn’t common, most things are rounded to the nearest dirham but with the introduction of 5% VAT you now find somethings a little oddly priced. You may also need to use a 50 fil coin (half a dirham) or 25 fils (a quarter of a dirham).
So, in a city with a glamorous reputation, how far will your $10 go?
Entertainment & Sightseeing in Abu Dhabi
The most visited attraction, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque including abaya/kandura hire has no entry charge. Don’t miss heading over the road to the war memorial Wahat al Karama as well, see this beautiful tribute and commanding mosque views.
Many of the cities other great buildings can be seen and photographed driving by at no cost – like Emirates Palace or Etihad Towers.
When it comes to parks and outdoor time, there are loads of free options – the popular Corniche beach front which includes new entertainment zone A’l Bahar, free to walk around and a big line up of evening entertainment.
There are also free public beaches at al Bateen Beach, parts of Saadiyat Beach and the newly opened al Hudayriat Island. For marina views, stroll around Marba, al Bateen, or stroll along the Grand Canal front Bab al Bahr from the Fairmont to the Shangri-la for great Mosque views and the perfect sunset spot.
Visit the Heritage Village, near the Marina Mall for a taste of what Bedouin life was like. You’ll find a display here of traditional housing, handicrafts and an opportunity to see falconry and speak with Emirati volunteers about their culture.
If you are staying out on Yas Island, there’s a free shuttle to take you between attractions (You won’t get far without packing your dirhams for a marina cruise, or visiting the theme park trio Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld, and Warner Bros World), but you CAN experience the Yas Marina Grand Prix track without charge.
On a Sunday and Tuesday night fitness fanatics can walk, run or ride the track, just register if you’re a one-off visitor. Early comers can also hire a bike for free too.
If you wish to hire a bike, Cyacle runs a bike share scheme where 20AED will give you unlimited 60-minute hire blocks for 24 hours. There are several bike stations spotted all over the city, popular spots include along the Corniche and around al Raha Beach and Yas Island.
Eating time in Abu Dhabi in under $10
While there’s plenty of fine dining to indulge in Abu Dhabi, there are plenty of fast food options to fit within your $10 budget too.
In any of the malls, you will find popular fast food chains. A medium Big Mac meal deal comes in at 25 AED or a KFC twister meal 14 AED. A subway meal is 31 AED. Traditional Arabic meals can vary hugely depending on your suburb or street you are in – a quick shawarma might cost you 10 AED.
If you’re sticking to your major chains, a Starbucks coffee at the mall will cost you 17 AED for a Grande Latte.
To self-cater, there are plenty of supermarkets offering some cheap and easy eat alternatives. A freshly roasted chicken leg may set you back 8 AED, a breadstick 2 AED and a can of soft drink 2.25 AED.
What your $10 probably won’t cover – Transport in Abu Dhabi
Taxis are relatively cheaper than many other cities and a quick and easy way to jump between attractions but even if you’re actual fare is small, costs can add fast. The flag fall is 5 AED but minimum fare is set at 12 AED even if you don’t travel that far. Pre-booking will add 5 AED to your bill and you’ll be slugged 25 AED extra for an airport taxi.
If you just wanted to enjoy the Grand Mosque during a stopover, you could catch the A1 Bus from the airport, get off at the Zayed Sports City stop and walk (4AED) – your return taxi from the Mosque should then come in about 40 AED– just shy of the $10 budget!
Whilst the UAE might have a reputation for being a glitzy, glamorous place you can still enjoy A LOT on a budget but you will need to balance where that money is spent.
Contributor: Kerry from Family Travel in the Middle East
Keri is a UAE resident, having lived in Abu Dhabi for the past 6 years. She is a freelance family travel writer, a blogger at Our Globetrotters and the founder of Family Travel in the Middle East.