The UAE is four hours ahead of UTC (Co-ordinated Universal Time -
formerly known as GMT) and there is no daylight saving. Hence, when it is 12.00
midday in Abu Dhabi, it is 3am in New York, 8am in London, 10 am in
Johannesburg, 1.30pm in New Delhi, and 6pm in Sydney (not allowing for any summer
time saving in those countries).
Abu Dhabi has a sub-tropical, arid climate. Sunny blue skies and high temperatures can be expected most of the year. Rainfall is sporadic, falling mainly in winter (November to March) and averaging 12 cms per year in most of the emirate. Rain is more common in the 'Oasis City' of Al Ain, the emirate's second largest city, due to its proximity to the Hajar mountains.
Temperatures range from a low of around 13C (50F) on a winter's night, to a high of around 42C (118F) on a summer's day. The cooler months, November to April, are the most pleasant time to visit, when temperatures are around 24C (75F) during the day and 13C (56F) at night.
Abu Dhabi’s electricity supply is 220/240 volts at 50 Hz. Square three-pin sockets are standard. It is advisable to bring a plug adapter with you, though most hotels can supply adapters for other kinds of plug and they can be bought locally.
Most of Abu Dhabi's five-star hotels, malls and heritage attractions have
wheelchair facilities. Wheelchair ramps often have steep angles.
Abu Dhabi International Airport is
well equipped for physically challenged travellers. There is a special check-in
gate with direct access from the car park, as well as dedicated lifts, and a
meet and assist service.
Abu Dhabi has a very family-friendly environment. Baby changing rooms, play areas and kids facilities are commonplace in malls and hotels alike; most hotels have paid child care services. Kids’ menus, high chairs and play areas are common in most restaurants.
Most Abu Dhabi hotels offer complimentary internet access to their guests, or paid access to non-guests. There is a growing number of establishments outside of hotels - such as coffee shops and restaurants - that also offer wireless Internet access. Visitors who don’t have their own laptop can drop by Internet cafés in malls and along most busy streets.
Islam is the official religion of the UAE, and is widely practised. The Islamic holy day is Friday. Muslims are required to pray (facing Makkah) five times a day. The times vary according to the position of the sun, when the modern day call to prayer is transmitted through loudspeakers on mosque minarets.
The UAE Constitution provides for freedom of religion in accordance with established customs. Abu Dhabi is tolerant of other religions with people being free to practice their religious beliefs, so long as they do not interfere with Islam. Non-Muslims can get an insight into Islam through complimentary guided tours of the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque - one of the world's largest. The tours run at different times during the week.
Lightweight summer clothing is suitable for most of the year, but something slightly warmer may be needed in winter months. Take a jacket or sweater when visiting hotels or the cinema, as the air conditioning can be fierce.
Although the attitude towards dress is fairly liberal throughout the Emirates, a healthy amount of respect for local customs doesn't go amiss, especially when shopping or sightseeing. Short or tight clothing may be worn, but it will attract attention - most of it unwelcome.
Malls, health clubs and resort facilities are generally more accepting of what's fashionable, but when visiting government offices it is best to cover your shoulders and legs. It is especially recommended that you dress more conservatively during Ramadan.
In the evenings, restaurants and clubs usually have a mixt of western, Arabic and Asian styles. Again, ladies are advised to take a pashmina or jacket because of cold air conditioning.
Ramadan is the holy month in which Muslims commemorate the revelation of the Holy Quran (Islam's holy book). It’s a time of fasting and Muslims abstain from all food, drink, smoking and unclean thoughts (or activities) between dawn and dusk.
At sunset, the fast is broken with the Iftar feast, the timings of which are published in all daily newspapers.
All over the city, festive Ramadan tents are filled to the brim each evening with people of all nationalities and religions enjoying traditional Arabic mezze and sweets. The dates of Ramadan change each year following the Islamic lunar calendar.
During the holy month of Ramadan, shops often change their hours by closing during the day, re-opening an hour or two after sunset, and staying open later at night. Food outlets and restaurants generally remain closed or offer takeaway services only during the day and then open up for Iftar after sunset.
Non-Muslims are respectfully required to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public places during daylight hours. Failure to do so could upset people or lead to an official complaint. During Ramadan, the sale of alcohol is restricted to after dusk, while shops and parks usually open and close later. In addition, no live music or dancing is allowed (so nightclubs tend to close for the entire month) and cinemas limit daytime screenings.
Ramadan ends with a three-day celebration and holiday called Eid Al Fitr, which is characterised by gifts being given amongst families, friends, neighbours and charities.
The local currency is the UAE dirham (AED or Dhs) which is divided into 100 fils and is pegged against the US $ (US$ 1: AED 3.6725).
Most shops, hotels and restaurants in Abu Dhabi accept major credit and debit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, etc.). It is prudent to confirm acceptance of credit card or debit card payments with staff especially if there is no visible signage indicating acceptance of credit card payment at the store premises or the till/counter.
Most ATMs across Abu Dhabi bear the Visa, MasterCard, American Express Cirrus, Maestro or Plus logos, which means credit card owners can withdraw cash against their accounts from them. Hotels also provide foreign exchange services, and there are many foreign exchange bureaus across the city centre.
When offered a price – especially if the price is not listed, make sure you ask (sometimes several times) for the ‘best price’. Visitors can get quoted prices almost halved with some serious negotiation.
The experience should be treated as fun but once a price has been verbally agreed upon, the customer is expected to buy. Bargaining is expected and accepted both in souks and markets as well as in some high-end shops. However, while in a souk-based gold shop you might get a 50 per cent discount, don’t expect to get the same type of deals in the high—end stores. That being said, never be embarrassed to ask for a better price – it’s all part of the game!
If you are looking for gold jewellery and/or exotic Persian carpets and other handicrafts, Abu Dhabi’s souks might offer you the best deal (so long you have good negotiating skills). For shoppers of luxury items, the absence of sales tax or any other type of taxes is an excellent incentive to buy. We also suggest you try the local dates products (fresh, baked or preserved), which are simply irresistible.
Shops have varied return/exchange policies but generally they allow customers to either return or exchange items within a given time frame, and as long as you can produce the receipt.
There are endless choices of dining options in Abu Dhabi, and visitors are always bewildered by the sheer volume and diversity of F&B outlets across the emirate. Cuisines from around the world mingle in Abu Dhabi with restaurants offering a vibrant and varied mix of international flavors and impressive culinary standards.
Hotel outlets serve alcohol and these are complemented by many superb unlicensed outlets across the emirate. Non-Muslims can consume pork in certain restaurants – any dishes using pork ingredients will be prepared separately from non-pork dishes and are clearly marked on the menu.
Average dining in popular hotel restaurants ranges between AED100 / US $27 to AED200 / US $55 per person, excluding beverages. Many fine dining and high-end restaurants may add a service charge (usually around 10%) and a tourism levy of 6% to your bill. These charges are often included in the menu prices and the menu will denote when they are. You may choose to reward your waiter directly with a tip – the usual 10-15%.
Tipping is not expected, but is commonly practised in the emirate. Gratuities to staff at hotels and restaurants are at your discretion. Many fine dining and high-end restaurants may add a service charge (usually around 10%) and a tourism levy of 6% to your bill. These charges are often included in the menu prices and the menu will denote when they are. That being said, if you are very happy with the service, it is not expected but quite common to leave a tip on top of the already included (16%) fees & service charges. If these charges are not included, then you may like to add a 10-15% tip to the total bill.
Weekend in Abu Dhabi is Friday and Saturday, and the first day back to work (for most companies) is Sunday. There are, however, certain offices that remain open on Saturday too.
Government offices are generally open from 7am to 3pm or from 8am to 4pm Sunday to Thursday. Some might end their working days at 5pm, if the staff take a full one hour lunch break. Private companies normally operate between 9am and 5pm (6pm), and some of them also work on Saturday. It is recommended to visit government offices in the morning and to make a call to confirm an appointment prior to leaving your hotel or accommodation.
Getting around Abu Dhabi is easy and taxis are reasonably priced and plentiful and can be flagged down at the roadside or booked by phone through the TransAD hotline 600 535353.
Street taxis are easily recognised. They are either silver with a yellow roof sign (newer taxis) or white and gold with a green roof sign (older taxis). Both old and new taxis are metered, yet many of the old taxis may negotiate the fare in advance. A tip is not expected but always welcome.
If you want to explore the emirate, your travel agency can organise tours that include transportation to and from the places you would like to visit. Renting a car is also an option for those wanting to travel a lot. To hire any vehicle you will need a passport copy, credit card and a valid driving licence from your home country, or a valid international driving licence.
Otherwise, the bus network that plies the emirate is very efficient. In the capital, modern air-conditioned buses operate round-the-clock. The service is easy to use, with passengers hopping in and out of any bus by placing a one dirham coin in the collection box next to the driver. There are also buses travelling to Al Ain and other parts of the emirate, which can be taken from Abu Dhabi’s Central Bus Station on Murour Road.
You will find all major car rental companies in Abu Dhabi, plus a few extra, and it's worth remembering that larger, more reputable firms generally have more reliable vehicles and a greater capacity to help in an emergency (an important factor when handling the trying times following an accident).
All rentals are inclusive of registration, maintenance, replacement, 24-hour assistance and insurance (comprehensive insurance with personal accident cover is advisable). For short term rental, many companies offer daily rates - there are booths at the airport and most of the major hotels, and there are numerous shops dotted throughout the city. It's worth ringing around for rates, although usually the most competitive rates can be found online.
To hire any vehicle you will need a passport copy, credit card and a valid driving licence from your home country, or a valid international driving licence.
If you have a UAE residence visa, you will need to have a valid UAE driving licence.
The average cost for a five-star double room in Abu Dhabi is AED 590 / US$161, excluding taxes (16%). Rates may or may not include breakfast. It is advisable to book your room far in advance, as hotels get busy very quickly, especially in high season or during busy events.
An increasing number of five-star hotels are now integrating fully furnished hotel apartments into their properties. Hotel apartments are ideal for families or for those who plan an extended stay in Abu Dhabi. An average night for a hotel apartment is AED 370 (US$ 100) for a double room.
There aren’t any hostels in Abu Dhabi. However, the budget traveller can check out some of the more affordable hotels in our Where to stay pages.
The emergency phone number for Abu Dhabi Police is 999. Whether you need police assistance, an ambulance or for any other emergency situation, this is the number to call. Calls to this number are free of charge.
When calling the emergency number, please remember to state your name, the nature of the accident, address of the emergency and how serious the situation is.
If you are involved in a traffic accident, it’s important to contact the police immediately. In case of a minor incident, move your car to the side of the road, as there are fines for obstructing traffic. You cannot file an insurance claim without a police report.
For other enquiries, Abu Dhabi Police operates a dedicated Tourism Police section which will advise and guide you on a range of matters. You can contact them on +971 2 699 9999.
Abu Dhabi has been named the Middle East’s safest city in the 2011 Mercer Quality of Living Index.
Abu Dhabi's virtually crime free environment and well organised emergency services will bring you peace of mind and a relaxing stay.
Citizens of Australia, Andorra, Austria, Brunei, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America and the Vatican State can get a free-of-charge entry visa upon arrival at Abu Dhabi International Airport.
GCC citizens do not need a visa to enter the UAE.
Citizens of all other countries will need to apply for a Tourist, Transit or Visit Visa prior to their trip. If you are flying with Etihad Airways, a visit visa may be arranged for you upon request. If you have booked your trip through a travel agency, in most cases they will be able to arrange this for you.
Five, four and three star hotels can apply for visas on behalf of guests who have booked a stay with them. Please note that not all five, four and three star hotels have this system in place. Make sure you check with your preferred hotel if they offer this service. This service does not currently apply to guests staying in hotel apartments
While the airline, travel agency and hotel can apply for your visa, please make sure you give yourself enough time for it to be approved, and note that they do not take responsibility if the visa is declined.
Otherwise, you will need to apply for a visa through your nearest UAE embassy. An eye scan will be required at the airport.
For more information on visa types or how to get your visa, visit the Abu Dhabi Government website or call its contact centre on +971 2 666 4442 (800-555 from inside the UAE)
Click here for the list of foreign embassies that are located in Abu Dhabi, including their contact information.
As per UAE federal law and Abu Dhabi Government law, all visitors to the UAE must have medical insurance cover. In case of emergency, treatment to stabilise the case is free. Other treatment must be covered by a cash payment or insurance card for covered individuals.
In a medical emergency, Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (+971 2 610 2000) and Al Noor Hospital (+971 2 626 5265) both have Accident and Emergency units. If you are injured in a traffic accident, you will automatically be taken to Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, as it has the best A&E treatment facilities.
The Abu Dhabi Government portal provides an updated list of 24-hours opened pharmacies and medical services, including hospitals, clinics, and medical centres in Abu Dhabi. If you don’t have internet access you can call the toll free number 800 555 (+971 2 666 4442).
While normal tourist photography is acceptable, it is polite to ask permission before taking photos of people, particularly women. Photographs of government buildings, military installations and ports and airports should not be taken. Also, cameras may be banned in public areas designated for women and children only.
UAE nationals usually wear traditional dress in public. For men, this is the kandura - a white full length shirt-like garment, which is worn with a white or red checkered headdress, known as a ghutra. This is secured with a black cord (agal). Sheikhs and important businessmen may also wear a thin, gold-trimmed robe (bisht) over their kandura at important events.
In public, Emirati women wear a long, loose black robe (abaya) that covers their normal clothes - plus a headscarf (sheyla). The abaya is often of very sheer, flowing fabric with intricate embroidery and beadwork along the wrists and hemline.
Sheylas are also becoming more elaborate and a statement of individuality, particularly among the young. Headwear varies with some women wearing a thin black veil covering their face and others, generally older women, wearing a leather veil (burka), which covers the nose, brow, cheekbones and lips.
Although Arabic is the official language in the UAE, English is widely spoken. Most business transactions in Abu Dhabi are conducted in English.
Most cigarette brands are available in Abu Dhabi, while a pack of cigarettes costs anywhere between AED 5 (US$1.36) to AED 10 (US$ 2.7). Certain F&B outlets allow smoking inside, while others are smoke-free. Most business, shopping and leisure establishments have designated areas for smoking. Visitors are asked to refrain from smoking between dawn and dusk during the month of Ramadan.