Whether you are planning a visit to Abu Dhabi or are already in the emirate, this section provides a host of useful information to help you make the most of your time here.
Abu Dhabi is the largest and most populated of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, with over 80% of its landmass. The emirate’s population, now over 1.6 million, is expected to reach 3 million by 2030. Across the UAE, Emirati citizens make up nearly 20% of the total population; the other 80% are expatriates from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and North America.
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).
Generally speaking, government departments, embassies and consulates work from 8am to 4pm. Embassies and consulates may designate specific times of day for processing certain requests (such as passport applications) so always call before you visit. The Islamic holy day is Friday and most organisations operate a Friday / Saturday weekend. Shops and visitor attractions are open on both days, though usually towards the end of the day or in the early evening on Fridays.
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 – the meal which breaks the fast – after sunset.
Abu Dhabi’s virtually crime free environment and well organised emergency services will bring you peace of mind and a relaxing stay.
The emergency phone number for Abu Dhabi Police is 999. Whether you need police assistance, an ambulance or for any other emergency 999 is the number to call and calls are free!
When calling 999, please remember to state your name, the nature of the accident, address of the emergency and how serious the situation is.
If you’re involved in a traffic accident, it’s important to contact the police immediately. In case of a minor incident, move your car to the road side, 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 2 800 2626 and +971 2 512 7777, or visit www.hr.adpolice.gov.ae/tourismpolice
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’re 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 (www.abudhabi.ae) provides an updated list of 24-hour pharmacies and medical services, including hospitals, clinics, and medical centres. If you don’t have internet access you can call the toll free number 800 555 (+971 2 666 4442).
Women and Children
Women should face no problems while travelling in the UAE. The police are helpful and respectful; call them at any time if you face any unwanted attention. It is courteous to dress with a little modesty, particularly in outlying areas where people tend to be more conservative.
Abu Dhabi is a safe and entertaining place for children of all ages. There are plenty of parks, some great sandy beaches, and kids zones and crèche facilities in all major shopping malls. The majority of hotels cater well for children and offer everything from babysitting services to child friendly activities and children’s swimming pools. Restaurants vary; some welcome children more than others.
Most of Abu Dhabi’s five-star hotels, malls and attractions have wheelchair facilities. Wheelchair ramps often have steep angles. When asking if a location has wheelchair access, make sure it really does – as an escalator is considered wheelchair access to some.
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.
What to Wear
This is a destination with almost year round sunshine, little rainfall and near perfect winter temperatures.
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.
Lightweight summer clothing is suitable for most of the year, but something slightly warmer may be needed for the winter months. Be sure to take some sort of 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.
The combination of international influences and a strong commitment to local heritage has created an intriguing mix of new and old.
Abu Dhabi’s culture is firmly rooted in Arabia’s Islamic traditions. Islam is more than a religion; it is a way of life that governs everyday events from what to wear to what to eat and drink. The UAE’s culture and heritage is inextricably linked to its religion, and it is a shining example of Islam’s true commitment to tolerance and hospitality.
Foreigners are free to practise their own religion and the dress code is liberal. Women are able to drive and walk around unescorted. Among the most highly prized virtues are courtesy and hospitality, and visitors are sure to be charmed by the genuine friendliness of the people. Despite the speed of economic development over the last 30 years, Abu Dhabi continues to promote traditional cultural and sportingevents, such as falconry, camel racing and traditional dhow sailing.
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, 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.
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.
Food & Cuisine
Abu Dhabi has numerous dining options and visitors are often bewildered by the sheer volume anddiversity of choice across the emirate. Cuisine from around the world mingles in Abu Dhabi with restaurants offering a vibrant and varied mix of international flavours 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.
Religion & Ramadan
Islam is the official religion of the UAE, and is widely practised. The Islamic holy day is Friday and there are five pillars of Islam, which all Muslims must follow: the Profession of Faith, Prayer, Charity, Fasting, and the Pilgrimage to Makkah. Additionally, a Muslim is 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.
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, 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.
- Fajr 04:55
- Shorook 06:17
- Zuhr 12:28
- Asr 15:59
- Maghrib 18:39
- Isha 20:09
Arabic is the official language, although English is widely spoken and most road and shop signs andrestaurant menus are in both languages. The further out of town you go, the more Arabic you will find, both written and spoken. Arabic isn’t the easiest language to pick up, or to pronounce, but if you can throw in a couple of Arabic words here and there they will be warmly received.
Useful phrases: Greetings
|Good morning||Sabah el kheer|
|Good evening||Masaa el kheer|
|Welcome! (to greet someone)||Marhaba|
|How are you?||Kaifa alhal|
|I’m fine, thanks||Ana bekhair, shokran|
|And you?||Wa ant?|
|Thank you (very much)!||Shukran (jazeelan)|
|You’re welcome! (for thank you)||Afwan|
|Good night||Tosbeho ala khair|
Useful phrases: Asking for help and directions
|I’m lost||Ada’tu tareeqi|
|Can you help me?||Momkin mosa’adati?|
|Straight/left/ right||Ala tool/yisar/yameen|
|How much is this?||B kam hatha? (th as in bath)|
|Excuse me…! (to ask for something or to pass by)||Law samaht|
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).
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Foreign currencies and travellers’ cheques can be exchanged in licenced exchange offices, banks and hotels, a passport is required. Personal cheques can be a bit trickier and many places won’t accept them. If you’re shopping in the souks (markets) or in smaller shops, cash is the best option.
A well structured and expansive network of local and international banks, strictly controlled by the UAE Central Bank, offers a full range of commercial and personal services. Transfers can be made easily as there is no exchange control and the dirham is freely convertible. Banking hours are generally Saturday to Thursday, 8am – 1pm (some banks also keep later hours). Some banks have small branches based in malls, which are open in the evening.
Most banks operate ATMs, which accept a range of cards. Most ATMs, although linked to a specific bank, are part of a central network so you can transact with a bank card for a nominal charge. Common systems accepted around Abu Dhabi include American Express, Cirrus, Global Access, MasterCard, Plus System and VISA. ATMs can be found in all shopping malls, major supermarkets, most petrol stations and the airport. For international cards, the exchange rates used in transactions are normally competitive and the process is faster and far less hassle than using traditional travellers’ cheques.
‘Bureau de Change’ offices are all over Abu Dhabi and offer rates often better than the banks. You’ll find them in all major malls and popular shopping districts. They are usually open Saturday to Thursday, from 8am – 1pm and 4.30pm to 8.30pm, and on Friday evenings. Many hotels will also exchange money and travellers’ cheques at standard (non-competitive) rates.
Taxes, Service Charges and Tipping
Tipping is not expected, but is commonly practised in the emirate. Gratuities to hotel and restaurant staff 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.
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.