Is Abu Dhabi Expensive to Visit? Abu Dhabi Money Matters Explained

by Abu Dhabi Travel Planner Team

What will a visit to Abu Dhabi cost you in 2024? Everything you need to know about UAE currency and common tourist expenses in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi might have a reputation as a luxurious and prosperous 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.

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 United States Dollar, but will fluctuate against other currencies.

  • The fixed-rate is $1 USD = 3.6725 AED

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 small shops round to the nearest half dirham to give you change, supermarkets round to 25 fils.

Wave Pass for cashless payment is catching on, though not everywhere. You will still want some walk-around cash and take 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 exorbitant 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! With your photo identification, you can get cash out at an ATM or from a currency exchange in a shopping mall.

VAT And Taxes in Abu Dhabi

In January 2018, the UAE government introduced a VAT (Value Added Tax) 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 won’t notice most other UAE taxes as they are included in the price, such as excise on alcohol and soft drinks.

You can get the VAT Refunded on certain purchases via the Tax Refund for Tourists Scheme – learn more here.

How Expensive is Abu Dhabi to Visit?

We’re going to break this down by the major cost components you will have planning a trip to Abu Dhabi:

What Does a flight to Abu Dhabi cost?

This is largely dependent 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. There’s a detailed guide here on how the free airline buses work to transit from DXB into downtown Abu Dhabi. You may also want to understand what it costs if you want to land at Abu Dhabi Airport, then transit to Dubai using the AUH Express service.

How Expensive are Abu Dhabi Hotels?

Whilst you can find some of the world’s most expensive and luxury beach hotels in Abu Dhabi, there are plenty of other budget options, too.

The price for accommodation in Abu Dhabi is hugely variable depending 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 for hotels in Abu Dhabi will substantially increase during popular public holiday times, and international events, including around the Grand Prix.

You can search for hotel rooms 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.

Remember, quoted prices almost always don’t include the municipality charges, tourism fee, service charges, and VAT. These can add >25% to your final price for your Abu Dhabi accommodation.

You can read our complete guide to how hotel and restaurant tourist taxes are calcuated 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 and 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. You might just need to compromise on fancy features like pools, bars, fitness centres etc.

We will note that hotels are one of the expenses visiting Abu Dhbai that have increased the most since COVID; previously, you could get some pretty good staycation deals, but those glory days are gone and resort hotels in Abu Dhabi are now on par with their luxury Dubai counterparts when it comes to priceness (particulalry for families that need more than a standard 2-person room).

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 and are seeking fine dining, a solo adventure, or a family and fussy pallets 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 closer you get to tourist areas and beautiful waterfront views, the higher the price.

The practical dining options for most tourists are around hotels and malls, where you can get various cuisines and price points, from basic takeaway dishes in a food court to fine dining.

Dining out Yas Bay waterfront - image supplied
Popular dining and entertainment venue Yas Bay Waterfront, Yas Island. Image supplied.

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

Note there are several areas of the city popular for food trucks; food trucks in the UAE do not necessarily equal bargain feeds and tend to offer relatively upscale dining. Great to experience but just be prepared for the bill.

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 of 2023):

  • Soft drinks: AED 18 to 25
  • Children’s meal (with drink & dessert): AED 30 to 50
  • Main meal dish: AED 50 to 100
  • Salad: AED 40 to 60
  • Large Pizza: AED 60 to 80 AED
  • Medium-sized coffee: AED 19 to 25
  • Big Mac Meal: AED 31

How to Save on Dining in Abu Dhabi

There are plenty of ways to get food cheaper if you are willing to self-cater or shop outside the main touristy areas.

  • If you’re dining on several occasions, look into the Entertainer App for Abu Dhabi.  This has dine-in and delivery discount vouchers, which generally pay for themselves within a few meals, especially if you are dining as a group. They’ve now introduced a ‘lite version’, though it’s pretty limited. Their tourist product, valid for 30 days, seems to have been scrapped.
  • We’d also recommend that if you stay for more than a few days in Abu Dhabi, look out for Best Bites UAE. Not only do they have a fabulous Facebook group for foodie advice in the Capital, but their BB+ membership program can instantly pay itself within a meal or two (we prefer it now to The Entertainer).

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.

Find all our favourite family-friendly brunch ideas over here, plus these great Sunday Brunch/long Sunday breakfast deals

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.

See more of our Abu Dhabi foodie guides to see where you can grab a dining deal:

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, as are 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: AED 35 to 50
  • House spirit: AED 40 to 50
  • Glass of wine: AED 45 to 60
  • Basic cocktail: AED 50 to 60

This is hugely variable by location, though, and if you’re visiting during a happy hour special – which can bring drinks down to around AED 35 or 2-for-1 specials.

It has definitely been our experience in recent years that alcohol is much

How Expensive is Public Transport in Abu Dhabi?

Relative to other countries worldwide, Abu Dhabi’s taxis and buses are not overly expensive, but this may depend on how far out of the city you choose to stay.

The minimum cab fare in Abu Dhabi 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 5 AED. (NB, this differs from the Nol Card you need in Dubai). Inner-city bus journeys vary from AED 2 to AED 4, depending on the length of your journey.

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

How Expensive is Shopping in Abu Dhabi?

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 the scale of what you will find in Dubai.

What does data cost in Abu Dhabi?

If you’re the type of traveller who likes to stay connected, you’ll find Abu Dhabi is far from one of the cheapest places to pick up a tourist SIM with a small amount of data.

Tourists staying under 24 hours can pick up a free SIM with 1GB data, but buying a tourist SIM in Abu Dhabi isn’t great value for money compared to many other countries.

For the cheapest UAE Data packages with multi-day access and limited data, you’re looking at 49 AED ($13.35 USD). Unlimited data packages, you’re creeping up to AED 149 – 199 ($40-$54 USD)

We have a detailed guide here to explain local SIM/call packages and eSIM options for the UAE

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 paid activities to keep your budget under control.

A great guide to all the free and cheap things to do in Abu Dhabi can be found here.

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 345 AED ($94 USD) for a one-day-one-park ticket, but significant savings can be made by combining two, three, or four parks on a single ticket.

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).

Another couple of options to try when looking for cheaper ticketing are Klook and Viator. These are third-party re-sellers but can be cheaper than the parks themselves.

Also, look at the Go City Dubai multi-attraction product. Despite its name, it also covers Abu Dhabi attractions on the Explorer Pass – covering Ferrari World, Warner Bros World and Yas Waterworld.

Travelling to Abu Dhabi With Children

Abu Dhabi is an exceptionally family-friendly city with many attractions exclusively aimed at the family audience, but what can you expect to pay when travelling to Abu Dhbai with kids?

The cut-off age for paying for a child’s ticket at different attractions varies from 3 to 6 years.  In our experience, age restrictions are not strictly enforced – i.e., no forced providing of a 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 adults, well worth considering if you are budgeting a trip to Abu Dhabi with teens.

Frequently Asked Questions Budgeting Your Abu Dhabi Trip

How much does it cost to go to Abu Dhabi?

You will need to factor in the cost of your flights, accommodation, transport around town and attraction costs. You can see many of the city’s most famous highlights on a budget, but the costs can add up fast if you want to stay at a nice hotel and visit paid attractions.

Is Abu Dhabi expensive to eat?

This depends on how much you like to dine out and where you eat. Hotel restaurants and popular tourist areas charge tourist prices; if you look for more local restaurants and mall food court-style dining, eating out in Abu Dhabi is not overly expensive. In this article, we recommend several ways you can find dining deals in Abu Dhabi.

Do I need cash in Abu Dhabi?

Increasingly, the answer to this is no; if you are only in Abu Dhabi for a short stopover, you can use credit or debit cards, tap and pay for almost everything (including taxis now), so you can get away without having any walk around cash in your wallet.

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 Middle East city quite affordable.

Before you go… Important things to consider when planning a trip to Abu Dhabi

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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.

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