It’s always daunting making a move regardless of whether it’s to another country or the next city. There are so many questions, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some are obvious (visa, driver’s license, health insurance) and some you may not consider until further down the line (can I drink the tap water? Is the postal system any good?)
We’ve taken the most commonly (and maybe not-so-commonly) asked questions and tried to answer them as best we can.
Is Abu Dhabi a country?
No, but it is the capital of a country – the United Arab Emirates, a country on the Arabian Gulf made up of seven emirates.
Abu Dhabi is the largest of the seven and the second most populated. The bustling metropolis is the centre of politics and industry as well as being an important hub of culture, blending the old and the new, housing the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Formula 1 fans flock to the capital each year to close the season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the bustling city meets the needs of residents and tourists alike.
Does Uber work in Abu Dhabi?
Yes, Uber is available as well as our local car-hailing service, Careem, but Lyft is not available. Both require you to have the app installed on your phone and the price differences between the two are negligible though both are slightly more expensive than local taxis.
Where can I try Emirati food?
Emirati food shares many similarities with its neighbours Oman and Saudi Arabia as well as the wider Middle East, and dishes are flavoured with a range of spices such as cardamom, turmeric, saffron and thyme. Tomatoes and cucumbers, which are easily grown, feature prominently in the dishes comprised of meat, grain and dairy. Food plays one of the leading roles in UAE culture and thankfully, it can be enjoyed frequently at several places.
For a more “traditional” experience, head over to Yadoo’s House (Grandmother’s House) which brings family together over a meal cooked with care. Just like visiting grandma, the portions here are generous and the lamb and chicken machboos (similar to biriyani) are recommended. Finish off with luqaimat, a type of sweet dumpling, with a cup of tea or coffee (02 441 1311).
For a slightly more refined experience Mezlai is a great option. Located in Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace, Mezlai offers the full experience. The design is reminiscent of a Bedouin tent, leaving guests feeling like they’re dining like royalty on dishes inspired by the region with ingredients derived from the sea, mountains, oases and desert (2 690 7999).
For something a little more on-the-fly Al Fanar Restaurant & Cafe (02 877 2272) and Lygmat & Rgag (02 666 3881) are two accessible chains located conveniently around the city, offering budget-friendly meals with the full scope of warm Emirati hospitality.
Where are the main shopping areas?
The UAE has a reputation for being one of the world’s best shopping destinations for good reason. Dubai may have the world’s largest mall, but Abu Dhabi is no slouch when it comes fantastic retail offerings. Covering a decent portion of the city, there are plenty of malls worth visiting.
Located on Yas Island, Yas Mall is the capital’s largest luxury mall boasting 400 international brands, a 24-screen cinema, and a huge entertainment zone for family entertainment.
The Galleria Al Maryah Island gives shoppers the chance to walk along the waterfront promenade between store visits. The Galleria also offers many events, such as sporting tournaments and yoga classes.
The Abu Dhabi Mall has been going strong since 2001 and is located right in the heart of the city and offers the full retail experience for families.
For something a bit different and a bit more traditional, pay a visit to a souk (‘marketplace’ in Arabic).
The Mall at World Trade Center Abu Dhabi (or just WTC for short) is the rebirth of the old trading hub into offices, a souk and a mall.
The souk is the perfect stop for henna, spices, jewellery, Arabic perfumes, clothing and accessories. The Carpet souk on Al Mina Street is the best place to purchase machine-made and traditional handmade carpets, rugs and cushions.
Where can I get the best city views?
The sprawling Abu Dhabi skyline and ocean views are truly breathtaking, and everyone should take the opportunity to drink them in.
Observation Deck at 300 on the 74th floor of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers provides a panoramic, 360-degree view of the city while Stratos at Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi is the only revolving bar and lounge in the capital. Guests have the option to enjoy a beverage and selected offerings from the grill menu while savouring the city and sea views.
Sheikh Zzayed Grand Mosque & Grand Canal views
Li Jiang (02 818 8282)
Puesta Del Sol (02 654 3238)
Souk Qaryat Al Beri (02 558 1670)
Pearls Lounge, Shangri-La, Khor Al Maqta,Qaryat al Beri (02 509 8888)
Venetian Village, The Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal (056 996 8845)
Tamba (02 672 8888)
Level Lounge (02 616 6800)
Stratos (02 695 0490)
Sky Lounge 31 (02 495 3916)
Azura Panoramic Lounge (02 694 4553)
Breeze Lounge (02 690 7999)
Catch Rooftop (02 611 0909)
Hakkasan Terrace (02 690 7739)
Ray’s Bar, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Corniche Road (02 811 5666)
Mare Mare (02 811 4444)
Pacifico TIKI (050 696 9298)
Saadiyat Beach Club (02 656 3500)
Turtle Bay Rooftop Bar (02 6970 000)
Cabana Beach Bar & Grill (02 694 4553)
Buddha-Bar Beach (02 498 8888)
Can I go into Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque?
One of the most beautiful buildings in the country, is the largest mosque and the key place of worship for daily prayers. Not only a place of worship, the mosque is also a popular tourist attraction as visitors are welcome. The mosque is open for daily tours between Saturday and Thursday from 9am to 10pm and on a Friday afternoon between 4.30pm and 10pm.
Visitors entering the mosque must abide by the dress code of no transparent clothing, no tight-fitting clothing, no sleeveless shirts, no short skirts or shorts, no clothing with any profanity and no swimwear or beach wear.
Can I wear a bikini on the beach?
The short answer is yes, though any topless sunbathing is prohibited. If you are next to the pool or on the beach, swimwear (including bikinis) is completely appropriate.
However, since the UAE is a Muslim country it’s important to remember that while foreigners and expats are largely accommodated here, it is still culturally conservative. If you leave the pool to enter your hotel or leave the beach to enter a shop, make sure you cover up.
How should I dress in public?
Abu Dhabi is a cosmopolitan city with large western expat population so while a dress code isn’t expressly laid out and enforced, it is better to err on the side of conservative dressing. Make sure your shoulders and knees are covered, avoid sheer material, and try steer clear of anything too tight. Ladies are not expected to cover their heads unless they visit religious sites, so it’s a good idea to keep a pashmina to hand just in case.
I’m a tourist, can I rent a car?
Yes, you can. To rent a car in the UAE, you must be 21 years old and your driver’s license must be issued in the same country as your passport, and both need to be presented to rental agency.
Tourists from Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea (North), Kuwait, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States of America can rent a car with a valid driving license issued in their own country.
Tourists from any other countries are advised to apply for an international driver’s license.
Where can I smoke?
The rules on smoking throughout the UAE are clear and enforced. Smoking and the purchase of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18 is prohibited. Places where smoking is banned include houses of worship, educational institutions like universities and schools, health and sports facilities, public places such as malls, supermarkets, cinemas, government buildings, etc.
Also, smoking inside a private vehicle is prohibited if a child under the age of 12 is present. Anyone who wishes to smoke will need to do it in the designated outdoor smoking spaces. Many bars permit smoking indoors, as do some restaurants.
Shisha cafés are common but unless they have applied for a special license they are banned from operating within 150 metres of residential areas, schools and mosques. Pregnant women are also prohibited from entering a shisha café.
Where’s the best place to buy gold?
You’re able to find some of the finest gold, diamond and pearl jewellery at affordable prices from a choice of 70 stores at the Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre & Gold Centre. Pieces are sold by the weight of the gold with the maker’s fee added on top, so don’t be upset if there isn’t much room for bargaining. Don’t let the choice of stores overwhelm you, there is a collective desire among shop keepers to provide a great, authentic souk experience.
Daily 9am-11pm. Sultan Bin Zayed the First Street (02 633 3311).
What’s the weather like?
With its arid climate Abu Dhabi has absolutely gorgeous weather between October and April with the temperature falling anywhere between 20C and 35C.
November to February are the cooler months, often requiring a light jumper in the evenings and it’s during this period that the emirate may experience a couple of days of rain. Things start to heat up and get humid around May, with summer being stiflingly hot and humid from June to September.
It’s during these months that Abu Dhabi experiences intermittent sand storms which can make driving more dangerous due to reduced visibility.
What’s the best way to get around?
Abu Dhabi has buses which operate internally and between emirates. Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah have their own payment cards (the Hafilat smart card, Nol card and Sayer card respectively), which can all be used on the buses, since cash and credit cards are not accepted by the drivers.
Buses run on a fairly regular schedule, and if you’re planning to visit other emirates, you’ll need to make your way to the Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station.
In the event you’re not close to a bus station, either flag down an Abu Dhabi taxi, or book a taxi for a specific time (600535353) or through the Abu Dhabi Taxi app, which is available on iOS and Android. As mentioned previously, if you prefer travelling in a bit more luxury, you also have the option of Uber or Careem.