In case you missed it, Alex and I got a ridiculously low fare to fly to South Africa on Etihad Airlines (only $300 each for the round trip) and recently returned from our short, but unforgettable trip. Our itinerary included a stopover in Abu Dhabi so we took advantage of the long layover and spent a night exploring Abu Dhabi and getting some sleep in a comfortable hotel room bed. Having a night in Abu Dhabi definitely broke up the long journey and was a bonus addition to our time in South Africa!
Before we get started, I want to share a few general tips for Abu Dhabi.
Transportation: First, make sure you have cash or get some immediately upon arriving. Taxis only accept cash and you will undoubtedly need a taxi to get around unless you are renting a car. Second, consider renting a car if you would prefer not to constantly rely on taxis. Abu Dhabi is sprawling and it is imperative to drive from place to place. With that said, the taxis in Abu Dhabi were great! They all have automated machines that remind passengers to buckle their seatbelts and alert the driver if he is speeding. All of the taxis were clean and modern and we felt very safe traveling in them.
Dress: Make sure to carry a scarf with you if you are a female. You’ll need to wear one in the Mosque and may need one elsewhere. Also, pack clothing in light materials. It was incredibly hot in Abu Dhabi, even well after dark. Sandals are fine, even at the Mosque. There was no need to cover your feet.
Once we arrived in Abu Dhabi and made our way through the beautiful airport, we got cash and hopped in a taxi to head to our hotel to change and drop off our baggage. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi using points. Our suite was beautiful, with a large bathroom and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city. The hotel was quiet and comfortable and the staff went out of their way to be friendly and helpful. We were even greeted in our room with a large plate of fresh fruit and a handwritten welcome letter. We were also given a letter explaining that because it was Lailat al Miraj, there would be no alcohol served in public (although you could still order it to your room).
After changing, we took another taxi to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre, a short ride away. I’m sure you will visit the Mosque if you plan to visit Abu Dhabi as it is a major site. It is absolutely beautiful (pictures don’t do it justice) AND free! The Mosque is open long hours so it is very convenient to visit day or night. We left around 10pm and it was still open when we left. I dressed in long pants, sleeves, and a head scarf, but it isn’t necessary to completely cover up because there is an option to rent the proper attire. However, if you prefer to wear your own clothes, you must dress appropriately. I was reminded to put on my head scarf well before we even entered the Mosque.
Make sure you devote at least an hour as the Mosque is quite large and you’ll want to take photos. Do not forget that there is no touching, hugging, or kissing at the Mosque. The guards were quite strict about that and reminded us not to touch when we were taking a photo even though we were standing several inches apart at the time. The guards even asked to see our camera to make sure that we were not touching! Also, free tours of the Mosque are available a few times a day if you can time it right. Unfortunately, there weren’t any running when we were there, but I was told by a friend who visited Abu Dhabi just before we did that the tours are quite informative!
From the floor to the ceiling, the Mosque was full of ornate details. Here are some detail shots inside the Mosque
The hotel has two restaurants, a cafe with international fare and an outdoor lounge with Middle Eastern cuisine and hookah. Out of consideration for time, we ate at the hotel at the latter option, the Hubbly Bubbly. Our meal was excellent and consisted of a grilled meat platter, hot mezza, and mint hookah, which was cool and refreshing in the hot desert air. Also, we had to leave for our flight to South Africa before breakfast service began, so the hotel packed us nice packages filled with fruit, yogurt, and pastries. I was very impressed with the service!
I also want to mention we had a wonderful experience with Etihad Airways! All four of our flights were very comfortable, the cabin crew was very kind, the food was great (most of the dishes were Middle Eastern or Indian), there was a large selection of multimedia to choose from, and each seat had outlets to charge your electronics. Each flight began with a travel prayer from the Quran along with the Nicole Kidman commercial, which I am pretty sure I now have memorized. I highly recommend flying Etihad and if you have the means to fly in a private business class cabin, they look incredible.
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed Abu Dhabi. I would love to return one day, perhaps in the winter when the heat is less stifling! Next up, South Africa and all of our safaris!
Stay and eat:
Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi, 31st Street, Between Muroor and Airport Road, Abu Dhabi 46668
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre