A Day Trip to Abu Dhabi

Etihad Towers - Abu Dhabi - Jan Willem Plug - the Instatripper

You will not get bored while visiting Dubai. But when you are there anyway, Abu Dhabi is just 2 hours away! So why not take a day trip to go sightseeing there? Read where to go on a day trip to Abu Dhabi.

Just like Dubai, Abu Dhabi is one of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates. And it is the second-largest city after Dubai. Abu Dhabi is the political centre of the country and a very wealthy city, just like Dubai. It is home of the President of the UAE and his palace is one of the places to visit. But first, the less than 2-hour drive from Dubai to Abu Dhabi will take you straight through the desert. If you love the dunes as much as I do, you will find some nice photo opportunities.

Dubai from the dessert
Desert dunes
Desert dunes are beautiful. But don’t get sunburnt.

1. Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi

The first thing you see when arriving in Abu Dhabi is the skyline. It is smaller than Dubai, but really nice to look at. Most prominent are the Etihad Towers, a complex of 5 buildings with hotels, offices, restaurants and more. The towers were used as a filming location for Furious 7. In one of the scenes a car gets stolen and is driven through three of the towers. It’s not hard to find a parking spot to walk around these skyscrapers and admire the views. It’ll be a good start of your day trip to Abu Dhabi.

Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi - Jan Willem Plug - the Instatripper

2. The Presidential Palace

Not far from the Etihad Towers is the humongous Presidential Palace of Abu Dhabi. You can see if from afar and it is easy to get there. The parking lot is huge too. But no worries, as soon as you park your car attendants will drive towards you to pick you up with a special open bus and take you to the palace. Because of the desert heat here this is service is very pleasant.

The palace is locally known as Qaṣr Al-Waṭan: Palace of the Nation. It opened to the public only recently in March 2019. The ruler of Abu Dhabu decided to open it to celebrate the heritage of the country. The authorities still uses it for all official and government purposes. What to expect here?

Open Spaces Outside

Above all, expect to be impressed by the size of the palace, both inside and outside. You may have to wait outside a little bit before you can enter the Great Hall through the huge doors at the entrance. But while you wait, you can enjoy the big open spaces outside, the long open corridors lined with pillars and the view of the city skyline.

Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace - Qasr al Watan - Jan Willem Plug - the Instatripper
Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace – Qasr al Watan – Jan Willem Plug – the Instatripper

Arabic Architecture Inside

Upon entering the palace, the first thing you do is marvel at the size of the interior. A huge corridor leads to the Great Hall, surrounded by two wings to the east and west. The hall itself includes one of the biggest domes in the world with a diameter of 37 metres (121 feet) and a chandelier with 350,000 pieces of crystal. Of course, tastes differ from country to country but it is very obvious that the architects and builders here have a great eye for detail. There are intricate ornaments and decorations wherever you look, on the floor, on the ceilings, on the walls, on the pillars – everywhere!

Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace - Qasr al Watan - Jan Willem Plug - the Instatripper
Inside the Great Hall
Looking up at one of the biggest domes in the world

Eastern wing

The eastern wing has the House of Knowledge, which contains a museum with many important objects, artefacts, gifts from visiting officials from other countries, and 2 religious texts from the Quran and the Bible. In addition, there is also a library with more than 50,000 books about the cultural, social and political history of the country.

Presidential Palace - Qasr al Watan - Jan Willem Plug - the Instatripper
Inside the Eastern Wing
Presidential Palace - Qasr al Watan - Jan Willem Plug - the Instatripper
Even the doors are huge

Western wing

The western wing has halls which are used for official purposes. In the room known as the Spirit of Collaboration, meetings of the UAE Cabinet and Federal Supreme Council take place . International summits of of several organisations take place here too, including the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League. You can have a look at the dining halls for there events here. Or you can just room the halls and look around in wonderment.

Presidential Palace - Qasr al Watan - Jan Willem Plug - the Instatripper
One of many large halls inside

3. The Grand Mosque

Another place you should definitely visit on a day trip to Abu Dhabu is the Grand Mosque, officially known as Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is the largest mosque in the country and fits as many as 41,000 people. Outside hours of worship, the mosque is open to the public. It is special place. For two years running, TripAdvisor voted it the world’s second favorite landmark.

Front and entrace of the Grand Mosque

About the Mosque

The Grand Mosque was constructed between 1996 and 2007. Sheik Zayed wanted to establish a structure that would unite the cultural diversity of the Islamic world with the historical and modern values of architecture and art. Mosques from all over the world inspired the design and it incorporates architecture from many diffrent styles. The complex also houses offices and a large library and educational centre with old publications in many languages.

The Grand Mosque has many special and unique elements. The carpet in the main prayer hall is the world’s largest carpet. It measures 5,627 m2 (60,570 sq ft), weighs 35 ton and was made by around 1,300 carpet knotters. There are seven chandeliers that incorporate millions of Swarovski crystals. The largest chandelier is the third largest in the world with a 10 m (33 ft) diameter and a 15 m (49 ft) height.

One of seven chandeliers
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The main prayer hall
At the main prayer hall in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
At the main prayer hall

The pools along the arcades reflect the mosque’s columns, which become illuminated at night. The unique lighting system reflects the phases of the moon. Beautiful bluish gray clouds are projected in lights onto the external walls and get brighter and darker according to the phase of the moon.

Good to Know When Visiting the Grand Mosque

There are some things to take into account when visiting the Mosque on your day trip to Abu Dhabi. Visiting times, dress code and other things relating to manners are important. You can register online to avoid the queues. You can do that here. It’s also possible to book a tour on the official website. But you can visit on your own too.

  • Visiting hours are generally from Saturday-Thursday 9am to 10pm (last admission at 9:30pm). On Friday, the Mosque is open from 4:30pm to 10pm.
  • There are no exceptions to the dress code in the mosque. You must wear long, loose fitting, ankle length trousers or skirts, both women and men. Women must wear a headscarf.
  • Light trousers and other clothing are provided to those who did not bring any themselves and you can change in dedicated changing rooms before going into the complex. Shorts are not allowed.
Beautiful interior inside the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
Beautiful interior inside the Mosque
The main prayer hall surrounded by 96 pillars

A Day Trip to Abu Dhabi may Not be Enough

There is a lot more to see in Abu Dhabi then the three sights I mentioned in this article. There’s also a very nice beach and a beautiful marina and marina village, for example. Or you could go on a boat tour and a desert tour. In that case, a day trip to Abu Dhabi is not enough and you should definitely stay a bit longer. It will be worth it!

Click here for more tips about sightseeing in Dubai.