Abu Dhabi Money Matters: How expensive is the UAE to visit?

by Abu Dhabi Travel Planner

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 a 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.

Read More: You can see all our Abu Dhabi Essential Planning Tips here


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 then divided into 100 fils – there are 50 fil and 25 fil coins (small denominations are rarely seen and no longer in circulation). You will find shops usually round to the nearest half dirham in giving 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.  You can search for cheap flights here:

Top Tip: Don’t just search for Etihad flights. Whilst it might be the nation’s carrier, there can be cheaper options. 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 – later in 2020 Air Arabia and WhizzAir are expected to start operating discounted flights into AUH.

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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, 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, during popular holiday times, including around the Grand Prix prices will substantially increase.

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 between search engines and the hotel itself to see who has the best price.

The best areas to stay in Abu Dhabi we discuss in a lot more detail here.

Bear in mind quoted prices almost always don’t include the municipality charges, service charges, and VAT. These can add >20% to the final price that you pay for your Abu Dhabi accommodation.

You can read our complete guide to hotel and restaurant tourist taxes here

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 200 AED per night.

We suggest you search in the areas of Mussafah and MBZ or Mafraq for seriously 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 of 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 most practical dining options for most tourists is 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.

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For something more upmarket, look for the areas around Eastern Mangroves or the area known as Bab Al Bahr, overlooking the Grand Mosque.

We have a detailed Abu Dhabi dining guide here.

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 at 2020):

  • Soft drinks: 18 to 22 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.

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 we are seeing more Thursday and Friday night brunches appear, as well as Saturday afternoons. (Remembering Friday & Saturday are the weekend in Abu Dhabi).

Our complete Abu Dhabi brunch guide coming soon.

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 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 read more about Dubai’s alcohol and drinking rules here.

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 taxies are not overly expensive, but this may depend on how far out fo the city you choose to stay.

The minimum cab fare is 12AED, which includes 5 AED flagfall (10AED if booked) and 1.82AED 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 journey’s vary from 2AED to 4AED depending on the length of your journey.

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You can read our complete guide to Abu Dhabi public transport and pricing here. 


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 of the US, for example.

Bargains can be had by seeking out smaller shopping centers 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 really cheap – definitely 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.

The stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is free to all visitors

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 children?

The cut-off age where you need to pay for a child’s ticket at different attractions varies between roughly 3 to 6 years.  In our experience age restrictions are not strictly enforced – ie 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.


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.


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