Abu Dhabi might have a reputation as a luxurious and rich city, laden in gold leaf tea and fine pearls, but is it really an expensive city to visit?
Can you manage an Abu Dhabi city stopover on a budget, or will it break the bank?
We’ll take a look through all elements of costing out an Abu Dhabi trip and money matters you need to know before you go.
Abu Dhabi Currency
The currency in Abu Dhabi and all of the United Arab Emirates is the Dirham (AED). The Dirham is fixed to the USD but will fluctuate against other currencies.
- The fixed-rate is $1USD = 3.6725AED
You will find it written as AED, DH or Dhs – all mean the same thing. The notes come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 & 1000 AED denominations. Don’t be surprised if an ATM spits out large denomination notes and you then need to find a shop willing to break it for you!
Each Dirham is divided into 100 fils – there are 50 and 25 fil coins (small denominations are rarely seen and no longer in circulation). You will usually find shops round to the nearest half dirham to give you change.
Wave Pass for cashless payment is slowly catching on, though not everywhere. You will still want some walk-around cash as well as taking debit or credit cards with you.
Always choose to be charged on a credit card in AED, not your local currency, as your bank will charge you an extortionate exchange rate.
Currency exchange in Abu Dhabi
Given the vast expatriate population in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, there are lots of cash exchange shops available in the UAE. Do not pay airport prices! You can get cash out at an ATM or from a currency exchange in a shopping mall with your photo identification.
VAT in Abu Dhabi
In January 2018, VAT (Value Added Tax) was introduced by the UAE government of 5%. VAT should be included in the price you pay for any goods and services in Abu Dhabi and the whole of the United Arab Emirates.
You can get the VAT Refunded on certain purchases via the Tax Refund for Tourists Scheme – learn more here.
What does a flight to Abu Dhabi cost?
This is largely variable on where you set out from and how far in advance you book. The most obvious choice is to use the local carrier, Etihad, but it’s certainly not always the cheapest!
Top Tip: Use a pricing tool such as Skyscanner to see all direct and indirect options, as well as budget carriers that may be able to get you into other UAE airports much cheaper. Look for flights operated by Air Arabia and WizzAir, two new discount operators out of AUH.
You can also check flights with Emirates in comparison too. There’s a detailed guide here on how the free airline buses work to transit from DXB into downtown Abu Dhabi.
How expensive are Abu Dhabi Hotels?
Whilst you can find some of the world’s most expensive and luxury hotels in Abu Dhabi, there are plenty of other budget options too.
Price is hugely variable on location and number of guests (upgrading to a suite or 2/3 bedroom apartments can substantially add to the cost). Also, look out for busy travel periods; prices will substantially increase during popular holiday times, including around the Grand Prix.
You can search for prices on the likes of booking com. Their search features are second to none on the online market and make it easy to compare both in map view and with hotel features by those who like to self-plan their trips.
As a next step, we like to use HotelsCombined as this allows us to compare search engines and the hotel itself to see who has the best price.
Bear in mind quoted prices almost always don’t include the municipality charges, tourism fee, service charges, and VAT. These can add >25% to the final price that you pay for your Abu Dhabi accommodation.
Are there any budget hotel options in Abu Dhabi?
Yes! Don’t be mistaken into thinking everything in Abu Dhabi has to be about glitz and glamour. With only a few small compromises, perhaps on amenities, there are still plenty of hotels in the budget range, suitable for singles, couples through to families for under 300 AED per night.
We suggest you search in the areas of Mussafah and MBZ or Mafraq for serious budget digs but don’t be surprised if you can find some exceptional good-value brand-name hotels in the heart of Abu Dhabi island too.
How much should I budget for food and restaurants in Abu Dhabi?
Food and restaurants come in all different price categories. It really depends if you are coming for a romantic getaway, a solo adventure or having a family to cater for. You can find pretty much any sort of food you want in Abu Dhabi, it’s up to you how upmarket you want to go and how much you can spend.
The practical dining options for most tourists are around hotels and malls, where you can get a huge variety of cuisines and price points, from basic takeaway dishes in a food court to fine dining. Quite centrally, you can try Al Wadha Mall, off-island around Yas Mall and Yas Marina and the newly opened Yas Bay.
Average Abu Dhabi restaurant prices
This is always subject to change, but here are some average prices you can expect to pay at a mall or hotel family dining establishment (as of 2020):
- Soft drinks: 18 to 25 AED
- Children’s meal (with drink & dessert): 25 to 40 AED
- Main meal dish: 50 to 100 AED
- Salad: 40 to 60 AED
- Large Pizza: 40 to 60 AED
- Medium-sized coffee: 19 AED to 25 AED
- Big Mac Meal: 23 AED
There are plenty of ways to get food cheaper if you are willing to self-cater or shop outside of the main touristy areas.
Saving tip. If you’re going to be dining on several occasions, get your hands on the Entertainer App. This has dine-in and delivery discount vouchers, which normally pay for themselves within a few meals, especially if you are dining as a group. They’ve now introduced a cheaper “Tourist” product, valid for 30-days its the perfect cost-saver for Abu Dhabi visitors.
Another good value option for meals in Abu Dhabi can be a Brunch experience. These all-you-can-eat style dining experiences include your food and drinks, so it can be a great way to get a lot of value for money (and trust me, you won’t need dinner!)
Traditionally Brunch was a Friday afternoon affair, but with the change in weekend, we now see a wide variety of options when it comes to brunching, including Friday night, Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Our complete Abu Dhabi brunch guide coming soon.
Look out for Abu Dhabi ladies night deals too. Not always just for the ladies, these are usually mid-week drink and dining specials that can add up to considerable savings.
How much does alcohol cost in Dubai?
Alcohol is available for tourists to buy at licensed premises. This used to be restricted to bars within hotels but is now much more widely accepted, and many clubs can also serve alcohol. Golf clubs are a good option, also Zayed Sports City and the Country Club.
You can expect to pay at an average-priced hotel bar:
- Beer Pint: 35 to 50 AED
- House spirit: 40 to 50AED
- Glass of wine: 40 to 50 AED
- Basic cocktail: 50 to 60 AED
This is hugely variable by location, though, and if you’re visiting during a happy hour special – which can bring drinks down to around 35AED or 2-for-1 specials.
How expensive is public transport in Abu Dhabi?
Relative to other countries around the world, Abu Dhabi’s buses and taxis are not overly expensive, but this may depend on how far out of the city you choose to stay.
The minimum cab fare is 12 AED, which includes 5 AED flagfall (10 AED if booked) and 1.82 AED per kilometre.
Public transport in Abu Dhabi requires a Hafilat card which can be picked up from Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station for 5AED. (NB, this is different to the Nol Card you need in Dubai). Inner-city bus journeys vary from 2AED to 4AED, depending on the length of your journey.
How expensive is shopping?
Abu Dhabi has plentiful large shopping malls packed full of international brands that attract shoppers from around the region. You can get pretty much any international clothing or accessory brand you could imagine, but at a premium to what you would expect to pay in Europe or the US, for example.
Bargains can be had by seeking out smaller shopping centres and souks, albeit these are nowhere near on the scale of what you will find in Dubai.
What do activities cost in Abu Dhabi (and how can I save money?)
You may be surprised just how many of Abu Dhabi’s activities are free or cheap– look to balance these with the paid activities to keep your budget under control.
Day trips and excursions are no doubt going to cost. But attractions such as theme park tickets can be cheaper than some of their overseas counterparts, and the most beautiful building in the city is totally FREE to visit.
How expensive are theme parks in Abu Dhabi?
The theme parks on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island cost around 295 AED ($80 USD) for a one-day-one-park ticket, but significant savings can be had by combining two parks from as low as 315 AED, or up to a 3-park unlimited pass for 545 AED.
Local residents and regular visitors can make big savings with their annual passes too.
Get Your Guide offers some combination tickets that can help you save (we also love their cancellation policy and the fact you can keep all your ticket bookings on your phone).
Travelling to Abu Dhabi with your children?
The cut-off age where you must pay for a child’s ticket at different attractions varies from roughly 3 to 6 years. In our experience, age restrictions are not strictly enforced – i.e. no forced providing photo ID! But what is strictly enforced is height restrictions. Some theme parks and water parks base their payment system on height rather than weight!
At most attractions and restaurants, those 12-years and over are considered as adults, well worth considering if you are budgeting a trip to Abu Dhabi with teens.
We will leave you with one tip, research in advance, especially if you are visiting at a busy time of year. Booking in advance or finding discount offers can save you greatly in the long run, and make an otherwise expensive city quite affordable.
Before you go… Important things to consider planning a trip to Abu Dhabi
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Abu Dhabi, a handy guide on what to pack as well as top tips for first-timers on the dos and don’ts, laws, and customs in the UAE.
- Check the most up-to-date COVID entry rules for Abu Dhabi.
- Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!
- Discover the best places to stay in Abu Dhabi, or bag a bargain on your accommodation here:
Please note we are not a travel agency. This site is a travel blog to help newcomers to the UAE self plan their trip, we cannot book your flights, hotels, visas or connections for you. We may make a small commission if you click on any of our hotel or tour recommendation links.Abu Dhabi Travel Planner