Etihad Towers in Abu Dhbai viewed from the emirates palace water fountains - plan your perfect Abu Dhabi day

One Perfect Day in Abu Dhabi: Visitor Itinerary Ideas

by Abu Dhabi Travel Planner Team

Do you only have a few fleeting hours in Abu Dhabi? Perhaps you’re visiting for a special event and only have a day or two to pack in as much as Abu Dhabi has to offer as you can on a stopover (psst, did you know you can get an Abu Dhabi city stopover for FREE?!)

A typical Abu Dhabi city tour will promise to show you the best things to see in Abu Dhabi, but for people who like to go it alone or who want a more tailored itinerary, we’ve put together a few options for Abu Dhabi 1 day itineraries for you to create your own perfect day in the capital.

Top Tips For Getting About in Abu Dhabi

Travel between each location in our itineraries is by taxi, which is an efficient and fairly cost-effective method of transportation in Abu Dhabi when you’re short on time, or only day-tripping from Abu Dhabi Airport. Taxis can be easily hailed at most major sites. Alternatively, download the Abu Dhabi Taxi App to make life just that bit easier.

  • Another option is to use the Abu Dhabi Hop-On Hop-Off bus. If you’re only one or two travellers, the cost of your bus tickets may be cheaper than taking taxis between attractions. It can be a fast and convenient way to cut down travel time; with 3-4 passengers, stick to taxis.
  • Public Transportation in the UAE capital does exist, but with the need to buy pre-paid bus cards from particular locations, for most visitors, it’s not the most convenient way to see the city on a quick visit.

Abu Dhabi in a Day: Using Our Abu Dhabi 1-Day Itinerary Suggestions

These itineraries are created with an active adult traveller in mind. Of course, some options can be missed out for children or people who prefer a slower pace, but for those who want to see and do as much as possible in a single day, we think these 1 day Abu Dhabi city tour itineraries work well.

Sadly, between May and late September, it’s just too hot to do much outside of air-conditioned spaces, but most of these 1 day Abu Dhabi itineraries can be adapted to make the most of the weather.

Abu Dhabi has something to offer everyone, and taking personal tastes and preferences into account, we have created six 1-day Abu Dhabi itineraries based on distinct interests. These are:

  • Culture lovers
  • People seeking relaxation
  • Those looking for an adrenaline rush
  • Nature lovers
  • Those who love to shop
  • Those who want the best of everything

So whether you’re a culture vulture or a beach bod, check out our ultimate collection of Abu Dhabi 1 Day itineraries below.

Option 1. Abu Dhabi in One Day For Culture Lovers

If you really want to get to grips with the history and culture of this fascinating country, then this itinerary is for you. The itinerary includes:

  • Sheikh Zayed Mosque
  • Qasr Al Hosn
  • Abu Dhabi Corniche & The Observation Deck at Etihad Towers or The Emirates Palace
  • Qasr Al Watan or the Louvre
  • An evening desert safari

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Start your day with a light breakfast before travelling to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque. If you arrive early (the mosque opens to visitors at 9:00 am every day except Friday), this is the best time to visit as you will beat the crowds (most are day trippers from Dubai).

Access to the Mosque is via an underground visitor centre, where you must register and pass a security check.

There is a strict dress code for the mosque, so be sure to wear non-transparent clothing that covers you from wrist to ankle, without any cuts or slits that reveal skin. If you’re female, be sure to take a head scarf to cover your hair. If you do not have appropriate attire, you will be directed to the nearby souk (market) with the mosque complex to purchase something appropriate (they stopped lending ladies a free abaya during COVID).

Once inside the mosque, you can take a guided tour or do a self-guided tour around the mosque. Information is available from the information desk as you enter the mosque. You should stick to the designated paths and only take photographs at designated photo stops.

Mosque Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Zayed Mosque at night

2 hours is plenty of time to enjoy this beautiful architectural marvel and symbol of devotion. For an in-depth guide to visiting the Sheikh Zayed Mosque click here.

You may have time for refreshments in the small mall-like area beneath the mosque before taking a 20-minute taxi ride to the next location Qasr Al Hosn & The House of the Artisans, where we would advise spending another 2 hours.

Qasr Al Hosn

Qasr Al Hosn (along with the Al Maqta tower) is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi and was home to the ruling Al Nahyan family and was the seat of government until 1968. Built of white coral stone in the traditional style, the fort has been converted into a museum where you can find out about the history of Abu Dhabi and its people and how the fort has been used over the ages.

Qasr Al Hosn

Note unlike the Mosque, there is a small entrance fee to visit this important cultural attraction in the capital of the UAE.

Abu Dhabi Corniche

The Corniche (Abu Dhabi’s famous coastal promenade) is within easy reach of Qasr Al Hosn (another 10-minute taxi ride) and is the perfect place to find a spot of lunch.

We would recommend having a light bite at the Observation Deck at 300 in the Conrad Hotel at Etihad Towers. Found on the 74th floor of the five-star hotel, the Observation Deck has stunning views across the city in every direction.

As well as sandwiches, pastries, and cakes, the Observation Deck serves delectable Afternoon teas (which should be booked at least 24 hours in advance if you want to partake in this special experience).

An alternative is to have a spot of lunch at the spectacular Emirates Palace Hotel, situated just across the road – famously known for its camel burgers, gold flake cappuccinos and gold vending machine!

View of the city from The Observation Deck

After a refreshment break, head to the end of the Corniche to visit Qasr Al Watan, the presidential palace. This will take no more than 10 minutes in a taxi.

Qasr Al Watan

After a busy morning of sightseeing, you may feel that you want to kick back and relax for an hour or two, but if you can push yourself to keep going, a visit to Qasr Al Watan is well worth it. Very few buildings open to the public anywhere in the world are of this magnitude of opulence.

Everywhere you look, you are met with the most intricate of details, shiny golden sculptures, perfectly constructed mosaics, and elaborate stained glass windows. This is a place that really makes you say wow.

Qasr Al Watan
Qasr Al Watan

2 hours in ample time to explore the building by yourself. There is a cafe offering refreshments as well as a gift shop that sells stylish and sophisticated gifts.

Alternate Itinerary – Louvre Abu Dhabi

Another option for your afternoon is to visit the stunning Louvre Museum situated on Saadiyat Island. It’s another of the city’s most iconic and beautiful landmark buildings. For art and history lovers, it’s a must!

You could, at a real push, fit the Grand Mosque, Qasr Al Hosn, Louvre and Qasr Al Watan all in one perfect day exploring the capital of the United Arab Emirates, but honestly, you’ll be pushed for time and not able to fully appreciate each, so we’d choose two or three of these four important cultral attractions.

Desert Safari

No trip to Abu Dhabi is complete without a journey into the desert.

A desert safari tour is relatively easy to organise and can be booked through your hotel or through platforms like Get Your Guide. Most tours will pick you up from your hotel or any major tourist attraction, so being picked up anywhere along the Corniche shouldn’t be a problem.

Evening Safaris usually pick up guests around 4:00 pm, dropping guests back to the city around 10-11:00 pm

A desert safari usually includes camel riding, a tasty barbecue dinner featuring lots of local favourites, some form of entertainment like tanoura or belly-dancing, and the option to have a henna tattoo. They may also include dune bashing, sandboarding, and falconry.

There are many different safaris on offer, so we help you choose the best type of desert safari in Abu Dhabi in this detailed guide.

Option 2. One Day in Abu Dhabi For Those Seeking Relaxation

For those seeking a day of opulent indulgence, there is just one word – Saadiyat.

Saadiyat Island is home to five beautiful five-star hotels, all equipped with their own beautiful spa facilities and gourmet restaurants. Be truly pampered in 5-star luxury hotel and let your worries float away while you relax on the 7-kilometre stretch of pristine white coral sand.

Hotel Day Packages

Most hotels offer day packages that include spa treatments, beach and pool access, and afternoon tea or vouchers that can be offset in resort restaurants.

One of our favourite packages can be found at the Park Hyatt Hotel, which includes a yoga session and time for pampering a relaxation – one of the best in the Middle East!

The stunning Park Hyatt Hotel

Other Beach Options

A slightly cheaper, but still exclusive option is buying a day pass to Saadiyat Beach Club. Here you can enjoy a heated infinity pool as well as excellent changing facilities, with a steam room, sauna, jacuzzi, and cold plunge pools.

There is also a gym, hairdresser and various health and beauty treatment options on site. Not to mention several wonderful restaurants and access to the Arabian Gulf’s stunning beach and warm waters.

Beautiful Saadiyat Beach Club

After a day of pampering

It’s easy to stick around for a lovely dinner too, or if you feel like stepping things up a gear, head into the city for a bit of glamour – perhaps try out a ladies’ night, or have a romantic dinner with views across the city.

Our helpful lists of top ladies nights and stunning rooftop bars will help to ensure that you have a wonderful night.

Option 3. 1 Day in Abu Dhabi For Those Looking For An Adrenaline Rush

Zip Line at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
The incredible zip line at Ferrari World | Image supplied

Simple! Stick to Yas Island and do two theme parks in one day.

We’d recommend starting the day with either Ferrari World (home to the world’s fastest roller coaster and many other thrilling adrenaline experiences) or Warner Brothers World (the world’s largest indoor theme park) and heading to Yas Waterworld to cool off in the afternoon.

Get ready for action at Yas Waterworld | Image Supplied

Finish your day with dinner and drinks at the W Hotel at the heart of Yas Marina Circuit.

You may be lucky enough to see cars zooming by or local residences jogging or cycling around the track. If you want to party til the early hours, head to Yas Bay and see fire dancers at Siddharta Lounge (certain days only) or join in with some bowling fun at Central.

Ladies watching the Abu Dhbai Grand Prix fromthe W Hotel Yas marina Circuit
View from one of the restaurants at W Hotel, Yas Island | Image Supplied

Option 4. Perfect 1-Day Abu Dhabi Itinerary For Nature Lovers

To really understand a country, you have to understand the natural environment, and there are many opportunities to get to grips with nature in Abu Dhabi. We suggest that you visit:

  • Either Jubail Mangrove Park for a walk or Eastern Mangroves for kayaking
  • Saadiyat Beach for swimming, snorkelling, and dolphin spotting.
  • The desert for a true taste of the natural environment (perhaps including a trip to the fossil dunes or Al Wathba Wetland Reserve.
  • Alternatively, stay in the city and visit Um Al Emarat Park.

Visit the Mangroves

Start your day with a kayak tour of the Eastern Mangroves or a stroll around the Jubail Mangrove Park (don’t forget to check the tide times – it’s best to see the mangroves at high tide).

Eastern Mangroves Kayaking into the smaller channels of the mangroves forest in Abu Dhabi
Kayaking at Eastern Mangroves

From Jubail Mangrove Park, head to Saadiyat Beach Club or Soul Beach (15 minutes by taxi or 30 minutes by taxi from Eastern Mangroves) to experience the fine white sands and tropical warm water. You might even spot a dolphin or two.

If you want to continue your marine journey indoors rather than sitting on the beach, you could consider heading to the National Aquarium, a 40-minute taxi ride from Saadiyat Beach (13 minutes from Eastern Mangroves), in the sparkly new Al Qana development.

Al Qana is home to a lot of new restaurants as well as the plush new National Aquarium, which is home to more than 300 different species of marine animals.

The solitude of the desert

Head Out Into The Desert

As the temperature drops later in the day, head out on a Desert Safari to really get to grips with the local environment. Be sure to select an eco-friendly safari that does not include activities like dune bashing, which damage the natural ecosystem of the sand dunes.

Alternatively, talk to your hotel, who may be able to organise a private driver to take you to the Fossil Dunes and/or Al Wathba Wetland Reserve (50km from Abu Dhabi, open from October until the end of April).

Sunset is a great time to visit the wetlands, which are home to a wide variety of birds, including flamingoes.

Fossil Dunes in Al Wathba not many tours come here so try a private driver

If you decide to stay in the city, head to one of Abu Dhabi’s beautiful parks for the evening.

There are many parks around the city, but you shouldn’t miss the spectacular Umm Al Emarat Park.

The park includes a botanical garden, a children’s park with a splash pad, a paddling area and petting zoo, a flower garden, beautiful fountains, great food and beverage outlets, and lots of open space to run around.

If you are in Abu Dhabi with young children, this is the ideal way to round out your perfect day in Abu Dhabi with an authentic local experience.

Umm Al Emarat Park Abu Dhabi
Umm Al Emarat Park – home to the capital’s botanical gardens and many other family-friendly attractions

If time allows (really, you need a minimum of two days in the Emirate), we would also recommend a trip to Al Ain to visit Jebel Hafeet (The Green Mountain), the Green Mubazzah, and Al Ain Oasis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stops can also be made en route to Al Ain to admire the swathes of sand dunes that flank the main road.

The Sheikh Zayed Desert Learning Centre at Al Ain Zoo is also a great place to visit. This could make a full-day trip in its own right, so it is only really advisable if you have a few days to explore the area.

Not everything in Abu Dhabi is expensive! Come and see our guide to the best places to visit in Abu Dhabi for Free (or Really cheap!)

Option 5. What to Do in Abu Dhabi For a Day For Those Who Love Shopping

If there’s one thing the city isn’t short on its shopping malls and ample opportunities to spend!

Unfortunately, there are no old-fashioned souks or bazaars in Abu Dhabi. The closest thing can be found on the World Trade Centre (WTC) ground floor, which occupies your site of the old souk that burned down in 2003.

Designed by Norman Foster, the WTC souk nods to tradition with its brown wooden beams and brightly coloured stained glass. Whilst you will find rows of abayas, lanterns, cushion covers, dates, and spices, it may not be the best place to bag a bargain – for very photogenic and packed with souvenir-buying opportunities.

The streets of Abu Dhabi are full of tailor shops where you can have items made cheaply; there are also lots of little gift shops with items made in China for AED 5 or 10 – the small and unassuming Hamdan Center is a treasure trove of local goodies. Not to mention the famous Madinat Zayed shopping centre, which is jam-packed full of interesting bits and pieces, as well as the city’s Gold Souk.

Souvenirs in Abu Dhabi madinat shopping

At the other end of the scale, if designer gear is what you’re after, head to the Galleria on Al Maryah Island, where you will find a large array of high-street stores and high-end boutiques. Al Maryah is very close to Saadiyat, so you could team up a morning of shopping with an afternoon at the beach or a spa treatment in one of Saadiyat’s 5-star hotels.

Yas Mall, on Yas Island, also contains its fair share of designer shops as well as having the added benefit of being close to all of the action on Yas Island. It also contains a multiplex cinema and the Kidzania edutainment centre – great if you’re looking for somewhere to drop the kids whilst you shop until you drop!

You could easily combine a shopping day with a theme park day on Yas if you’d like to mix a little of both the best modern Abu Dhabi experiences.

Option 6. Perfect One Day Abu Dhabi 1-Day Itinerary For Those Who Want The Best of Everything

If you like the sound of the itineraries above but can’t quite squeeze everything in, then we would recommend spending the morning at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, followed by a few hours at Saadiyat Beach Club, and then ending the day with a desert safari and Arabic barbecue.

You may even be back in time to experience the glitz and glamour of the city at night, so head to Yas Waterfront to stroll along the promenade, grab a few cocktails or dance the night away!

We hope that you will enjoy your time in Abu Dhabi. One day really isn’t enough to experience this fantastic city, but we hope that our selection of one-day itineraries has given you an idea of what not to miss!

Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Tailored One-Day Tours in Abu Dhabi

If you’re still unsure about what to do in Abu Dhabi for a day, then a guided tour is the best option for you. There are a number of tour providers who can help you, both with Abu Dhabi full-day trips from Dubai and with tours that will cover many of the highlights from Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi Day Tour From Dubai

NB pricing is differentiated between joining a group tour on a coach versus having a private driver or smaller vehicle. You’ll get what you pay for in flexibility and personalised touches by going private if budget permits.

Abu Dhabi Full-Day Tours From Abu Dhabi Hotels

Again, you’ll find a price differential between bigger groups and private or small group tours.

All information is correct at the time of writing May 2023. We highly recommend checking opening times and current pricing directly with the mentioned venue; they can change over the summer, particularly Ramadan, to accommodate prayer times and fasting during the Holy Month.

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

  • Don’t forget to pack your travel insurance!

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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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