Where is Abu Dhabi? Fascinating facts about the UAE capital

by Abu Dhabi Travel Planner

Let’s learn about the amazing Middle East city of Abu Dhabi.

Where is Abu Dhabi?

Abu Dhabi is the Capital City of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a Middle Eastern country.

Abu Dhabi is also the name of the Emirate (or “state”) in which it is located.

Where is the UAE located?

The UAE is situated on the Arabian Peninsula.  To its south-east, you will find Oman and to the south-west, Saudi Arabia.   The country faces on to the Arabian Gulf (or Perian Gulf, depending on who you ask).

The UAE on a map of the Middle East

Is Abu Dhabi a country?

No, it one of seven “Emirates” or states of the United Arab Emirates.

Is Abu Dhabi In Dubai?

No, a common misconception is that Dubai is actually the country, whereas Dubai is an Emirate, just like Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi is by far the largest of the seven Emirates of the UAE, but Dubai is the most populous (and arguably the best internationally known, hence the confusion).

You can learn more facts about Dubai here.

What are the seven emirates of the UAE?

From west to east they are:

  • Abu Dhabi
  • Dubai
  • Sharjah
  • Ajman
  • Umm Al Quwain
  • Ras al Khaimah
  • Fujairah

Abu Dubai?

There’s no such thing as Abu Dubai!! This is just people getting the two UAE cities mixed up.

What continent is Abu Dhabi in?

The Arabian Peninsular is part of Asia. Most of the Middle East falls in the continent of Asia, with the exceptions of Egypt (Africa), Turkey (partly Europe) and Cyprus (closer to the Middle East but part of the EU).

Map of the Middle East

You can learn more about the rest of the Middle East on our partner site familytravel-middleeast.com

How big is Abu Dhabi?

Abu Dhabi Emirate covers over 67,300 square kilometres, which’s about 87% of the total landmass of the UAE, 83,600 square kilometres (114th largest country in the world).

The city of Abu Dhabi – or Abu Dhabi Metropolitan area is 972 square kilometres, spread over several islands and the mainland of the UAE.

What is Abu Dhabi’s population?

At the time of writing, there is no official census performed in the UAE. From external sources, we believe the city of Abu Dhabi’s population to be between 1.45 million and 1.8 million, whilst the whole country’s population is nearly 9.8 million inhabitants.

Note that the UAE’s population is largely made up of expatriate workers – some sources claim up to 90%.

Is Abu Dhabi bigger than Dubai?

By land size, yes! By a long way. By population, though Dubai is by far the larger of the two cities, believed to have a population of 3.3 million.

Can you easily get between Abu Dhabi and Dubai?

Absolutely, the two cities are connected by road (no commuter train – but watch out for the ultra-high-speed Hyperloop!)

There’s a great detailed guide here which explains all the different ways you can get between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, sitting approximately 160 kilometres apart.

There used to be no official border crossing between the two Emirates but since COVID-19 restrictions came in, a border crossing checkpoint now exists. Abu Dhabi taking a far more stringent approach to visitors from outside the Emirate you now need a negative PCR or DPI test result to enter from Dubai, even though it’s in the same country.

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Travelling between the two cities used to take a little over an hour but with border crossing, it can be much longer; presently there is no public bus, only private vehicles and good vehicles adhering to strict rules which you can find here.

What does Abu Dhabi mean?

In Arabic it means “Land of the Gazelle”.

How old is Abu Dhabi?

There is evidence of human life in what is now Abu Dhabi Emirate dating back 5000 years. Where Abu Dhabi city now sits on the Gulf coast dates back to the 18th century, where for decades it was just a fishing and pearl-diving village.

The discovery of oil in the 1930s was the start of the change to the Gulf nations previously known as the Trucial States. The British withdrew from the region in the late 1960s, and a new country was born – the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE federated on 2 December 1971, under the guidance of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nayhan, who went on to become the country’s first ruler.

This is considered the beginning of modern-day UAE and the country’s birth date.

Who is the head of Abu Dhabi

After the country’s founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan passed in 2004, power was passed on to his first son – the current emir of Abu Dhabi and the President de Jure of the United Arab Emirates – Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan.

Day-to-day, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed (MBZ) is known as the de facto ruler of Abu Dhabi and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces.

The President and Prime Minister of the country (currently Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, emir of Dubai) are determined by the Federal Supreme Council – the seven Emirs from the seven Emirates of the UAE.

The country also has a Federal National Council with 40 seats, members are elected by Emirati citizens with varying seats determined by each Emirates size.

Is Abu Dhabi rich?

In relative terms to the rest of the world, yes.  The UAE holds the 7th largest oil reserves in the world, and those oil reserves sit vastly within the desert regions of Abu Dhabi bordering Saudi Arabia.

How hot does it get in Abu Dhabi?

It is no secret this is a desert city and things do get HOT in the summer! And by hot, we mean upwards of 45°c/113°F in July August. And don’t forget the humidity that joins the party too, particularly in September; the “feels like” temperature in Abu Dhabi regularly ticks over 50°c/122°F.

But not all bad news, there are plenty of months of the year where you get clear sunny days, nothing but blue skies, warm water and perfect beach weather.

You can check out more about Abu Dhabi’s weather and best times to visit here.

Enjoy the Abu Dhabi beaches when it’s cool enough to be outside!

What is the main language in Abu Dhabi?

The official language is Arabic, however, English is widely spoken and the most used in the service industry. Visitors will have no problems getting by with only English.

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Given the expatriate nature of the country, there are dozens of languages also spoken including Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, Bengali, Samali, Tamil, Tagalog, to name but a few.

What is the main religion of Abu Dhabi?

The UAE has a Sunni Muslim majority, but do note, as much as 85% of the population is believed to be expatriate.  The majority of expatriates are also Muslim, however, there are large minorities of Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jews – basically, all religions are represented in some way.

Tourists may note the quite audible sound of “the call to prayer” several times a day. There is nothing you need to do as a non-Muslim tourist, and most businesses continue to operate over prayer times, unlike some Gulf neighbours.

When are holidays marked in Abu Dhabi?

Although the country follows a standard Gregorian calendar for schools, businesses and, of course, the seasons – the Hijri (Islamic) calendar is used to mark religious occasions. The most prominent of which is Ramadan – the Holy Month.

Note that in Abu Dhabi, and the rest of the UAE, Friday is the Holy Day where most workers get the day off. Businesses, schools and Government observe the weekend on Friday and Saturday. Retail and hospital businesses run 7 days a week.

You can pick up a calendar here to understand when the UAE public and religious holidays fall each year.

What are the top tourist attractions in Abu Dhabi?

Abu Dhabi is home to many beautiful and fascinating modern Islamic buildings which are a must for all visitors to see and experience including:

  • The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
  • Qasr al Watan – the Presidential Palace
  • The Louvre Abu Dhabi
Qasrt Al Watan
Qasr al Watan – the country’s Presidential Palace is open to the public in Abu Dhabi

You can also find plenty of parks and outdoor spaces, theme parks, water parks, historic buildings including the restored Qasr al Hosn and stunning beaches to enjoy the mild winters.

What food do they eat in Abu Dhabi?

Given the vast expat population, it’s easy to get hold of just about any nationality of food!

Traditional Emirati restaurants may need a little tracking down!  You can try Meylas in Al Muneera. Also, Al Fanar Restaurant at Yas Mall has a good traditional offering.

All meat served in the UAE is Halal. The exception is pork which is scarcely available in restaurants as there are special licencing rules. You can obtain pork for home consumption at specialised supermarkets.

Can you drink alcohol in Abu Dhabi?

Whilst Muslim’s are forbidden from drinking alcohol, non-Muslims are free to have a drink, but must abide by certain rules. For home consumption, non-Muslim expats must have a special drinking licence to purchase alcohol from specialised stores.

Tourists can purchase alcohol from licenced premises in Abu Dhabi, primarily bars in hotels. Some nightclubs, social clubs and restaurants also have alcohol licenses.

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Note that drinking in public and public drunkness are strictly prohibited and come with hefty fines and jail terms. Always keep drinking to areas where it’s allowed and in moderation.

Do I need a Visa to visit Abu Dhabi?

Yes. In some cases, you will need to organise a visit visa in advance, but there are 20 countries whose citizens are permitted to obtain a FREE 30-day visa on arrival to the UAE. 

Citizens of a further 40 countries can apply for a 90-day multiple entry visa. We will talk more about UAE Visit Visas in a future post – too much to include here!

For now, check out this guide from the UAE Government to ascertain your Visa eligibility.

What is Abu Dhabi’s time Zone?

Abu Dhabi operates on Gulf Standard Time – GST – which is GMT/UTC +4 hours.

What is the currency in Abu Dhabi?

Across the United Arab Emirates, the common currency is the UAE dirham – written AED.  It comes in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 AED notes.

1 USD = 3.67 AED, the currency is pegged to the USD so does not fluctuate.

Dirhams are further broken down into fils – coins are 1 dirham, 50 fil and 25 fil coins.  Any smaller coins are now all but non-existent, and many will simply round to the nearest dirham.

Do I need to be covered as a woman in Abu Dhabi?

As a visiting tourist to Abu Dhabi, no women are not expected to be fully covered over head and body. Out of modesty, however, women should not wear anything too tight and revealing.

At a minimum, tourists should aim to cover their shoulders and knees in public – this applies to men too. Attending religious or government buildings will require you to be fully covered. Abayas can be borrowed at places such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque for this purpose.

We know dress code in Abu Dhabi can be a confusing topic so we have a whole page dedicated to this topic here to help you with your Abu Dhabi packing.

Mosque Religious Holidays
The stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque lit up at night is Abu Dhabi’s top attraction

Are there any more facts about Abu Dhabi you would like us to clarify? Drop your questions below we’d love to help.


Before you go… Important things to consider 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.

Abu Dhabi Travel Planner

Feature image MarkRubens via CanvaPro | Maps from mapcharts.net and Depostiphotos Vectors

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