I know this is such a first world problem, but it was pretty difficult to determine the first destination of our Big Trip. A combination of cheap tickets and comfortable temperatures led us to the United Arab Emiates (U.A.E.), more specifically: to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
I had been at Dubai airport several times, but I had never visited the desert city itself. Or the desert for that matter. Or the Middle East (well, perhaps if you count Turkey). Anyway, we decided to visit Dubai and Abu Dhabi as the first destinations of the Big Trip. As always I tried to cram as much sightseeing into our itinerary as possible…
Dubai & Abu Dhabi itinerary
In the map you can find our itinerary, accommodation and highlights.
Dubai & Abu Dhabi travel itinerary: important facts and figures
• I traveled together with my husband; we started and ended our trip at Dubai airport.
• We spent 3 nights in Dubai and 1 night in Abu Dhabi.
• The currency in the U.A.E. is the Emirati Dirham (AED). €1 is approximately 4AED. $1 is approximately 3,70AED.
• In Dubai we bought a Nol Silver Card for 25 AED per person and topped it up several times during our time in Dubai. The Nol Silver Card allows you to travel on the metro, bus and tram. You need to check in and check out. You can find the map of the Dubai metro here and the map of Dubai tram here.
• In Abu Dhabi we bought a Hafilat Card, you can charge it with any desired amount. Bus rides withing the city center (and also to Sheikh Zayed Mosque) are 2AED. Remember to check in and check out. You can find the Abu Dhabi bus map here.
Highlights Dubai: day 1
It’s pretty crazy to build an island shaped as a palm tree just because you can and have the money for it. But that’s exactly what happened… A bit naive, but I didn’t realize I wouldn’t actually be able to see the shape of Palm Jumeirah from the ground, which is why it didn’t entirely live up to my expectations.
My advice: if you are short on time, skip this activity and spend more time in Dubai Marina (see below).
Nevertheless, the Atlantis Hotel is pretty impressive and it’s nice to stroll over the boardwalk and enjoy the view over the blue ocean.
Note: we were in Dubai & Abu Dhabi at the start of February, the temperature was a comfortable 25 degrees Celsius. In Summer it will be waaaaaay to hot for walking…
How to get to Palm Jumeirah (from IBN Batutta):
|IBN Batutta||Jumeirah Lakes Towers||metro|
|Jumeirah Lakes Towers||Palm Jumeirah (station 9)||tram|
|Palm Jumeirah (tram station 9)||Palm Jumeirah Gateway||foot|
|Palm Jumeirah Gateway||Atlantis Aquaventure||monorail|
Costs: the monorail costs 25 AED per person for a return ticket. For the metro and tram we used our Nol Silver Card.
Dubai Marina reminded me a lot of Canary Wharf in London with it’s skyscrapers and canals. It was a nice walk along the boulevard, though I almost got a bit of a neck cramp from gazing up to yet another futuristic building.
How to get to Dubai Marina (from Palm Jumeirah):
|Palm Jumeirah (tram station 9)||Dubai Marina (station 5)||tram|
I had never been to the desert, which is why I really wanted to go on a desert safari. We went dune bashing (spectacular!), rode a quad and a camel, watched the sun set over the desert and ate delicious Middle Eastern food while enjoying cultural performances. You can read more in this post.
Costs & transport: I was a guest of Happy Adventures. You can find more information about the different desert safari packages on their website. We were picked up from our hotel.
Highlights Dubai: day 2
Hot air balloon flight
Making a hot air balloon flight had been a dream of mine for years. Flying over the desert while watching the sun rise slowly over the Hatta Mountains was magical… You can read more in this post.
Costs & transport: I was a guest of Sindbad Balloons. You can find more information about the packages on their website. We were picked up from our hotel.
I loved to explore Old Dubai. It’s such a different side of the city, nothing like the glitzy skyscrapers and massive malls. First we explored Al Fahidi, the historical neighborhood of Dubai with cute little streets and art cafes.
In Dubai Museum (entrance fee 3AED per person) we learned more about the history of the city and of course we took an abra (small wooden boat) to cross the river (1AED per person) and walk around the Gold & Spice Souk.
How to get to Old Dubai (from IBN Batutta):
|IBN Battuta||Al Fahidi (change at Bur Juman)||metro|
Dubai Mall, the Burj Khalifa and the Singing Fountains
Of course we had to visit Dubai mall with its ice rink, aquarium and indoor waterfalls. Because why wouldn’t you build all these things…
Just outside of Dubai mall is the icon of Dubai: the Burj Khalifa. It was impossible to capture the building in a normal photograph (I had to use the panorama mode of my phone!). The fountain show was nice, though a bit shorter than I expected (about 3 minutes).
How to get to Dubai Mall (from Old Dubai):
|Al Fahidi||Dubai Mall (change at Bur Juman)||metro|
Highlights Dubai: day 3
Our hotel was located adjacent to IBN Battuta Mall. So obviously we had to check out that mall as well. What I liked is how each section of the mall had its own theme (Persia, India, Egypt and China). After exploring IBN Batutta Mall we packed our bags and traveled to from Dubai to Abu Dhabi (~2 hours by bus).
How to travel from Dubai to Abu Dhabi:
|IBN Batutta||Al Ghubaiba metro station||metro|
|Al Ghubaiba metro station||Al Ghubaiba bus station||foot|
|Al Ghubaiba bus station||Al Wahda bus station Abu Dhabi||bus E100|
Costs: you can pay the bus with your Nol Silver Card, it costs 25 EAD to get to Abu Dhabi.
Walk around the Corniche and admire the Abu Dhabi skyline
In the Netherlands we don’t really have cities with skylines, not with clusters of skyscrapers anyway. I liked walking around the Corniche and admire the Abu Dhabi skyline.
How to get to the Corniche (from Abu Dhabi bus station):
|Al Wahda bus station Abu Dhabi||Marina||bus 32|
Dinner at Villa Toscana, St. Regis Abu Dhabi
We had the most amazing Italian dinner at Villa Toscana. It’s probably the best Italian food I ever had...
Dinner started, as a proper Italian dinner does, with antipasti. Very pretty and very yummy antipasti I might add. The antipasti were accompanied by a refreshing Aperol Spritz.
After the pretty antipasti, we moved on to the first course, which included a delicious chick pea soup, bruschetta and several dips (ricotta spinach, white radish and pesto).
Oh I ate so much that evening… We had burrata, squid, ravioli with a silky smooth cheesy sauce (my favorite!), lamb, sea bass and the prettiest desert platter.
I couldn’t move a muscle after dinner, everything was absolutely delicious. Plus, the lovely staff treated us like royalty. A definite highlight of our trip to Abu Dhabi!
I was a guest of Villa Toscana, St. Regis. You can find more information about the restaurant and the menu on their website.
How to get to Villa Toscana (from Marina):
|Marina||Villa Toscana (St. Regis Abu Dhabi)||on foot (walk along the boulevard)|
Highlights Abu Dhabi: day 4
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Here I made a bit of a mistake in our planning. Well, a major #$%&-up you might say. We decided to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque on Friday morning. Well, turns out that’s not possible. In hindsight I kind of knew this, but Friday is prayer day and therefore the mosque is closed to non-Muslims until 2pm.
Yeah, that was a bummer… It was still awesome to see the Sheikh Zayed Mosque with my own eyes, after having seen thousands of pictures online. But I guess we’ll have to go back to see the interior.
How to get to the Sheik Zayed Mosque (from Abu Dhabi bus station):
|Al Wahda bus station Abu Dhabi||Sheik Zayed Mosque bus stop||bus 54|
Where to stay in Dubai and Abu Dhabi
Dubai, Premier Inn IBN Battuta – 3 nights
In Dubai we stayed at the Premier Inn IBN Battuta which was really nice! It’s located next to IBN Batutta metro station,very convenient. We rode the red line metro from the airport straight to the hotel. From the metro station it’s only 350 steps to the hotel, only 65 of which are outside so you don’t have to break a sweat😉.
Our room was spacious and very clean. The rain shower was very nice and our view was pretty nice too. The swimming pool looked very attractive and there were also gym facilities.
We had a delicious and extensive breakfast each morning: there was continental breakfast, English breakfast, some Indian food, some Middle Eastern dishes, several muesli and yogurt options and plenty of fresh fruit (pineapple, my favorite!). The hotel staff was very friendly and helpful. Altogether a really good place to base yourself in Dubai.
I was a guest of Premier Inn IBN Batutta Mall. Usually prices vary between €60 and €120 per night, depending on the season. You can find the current rates on Agoda.
Abu Dhabi, Centro Al Manhal Abu Dhabi (by Rotana) – 1 night
I was very happy with this hotel, we booked it last-minute via Hotwire and got a really good deal (€45). The hotel looks very new, beautiful stylish room and nice bathroom. We were on the 15th floor and had somewhat of a view.
There was air conditioning, coffee and tea facilities, friendly staff and a very comfortable bed. Plus, it was only a 5 minute walk to the Abu Dhabi bus station!
From Abu Dhabi we traveled back to Dubai airport to catch our flight to Sri Lanka.
How to travel from Abu Dhabi to Dubai airport (terminal 2):
|Al Wahda bus station (Abu Dhabi)||Al Ghubaiba bus station||bus E100|
|Al Ghubaiba bus station||Al Ghubaiba metro station||foot|
|Al Ghubaiba metro station||Stadium metro station||metro|
|Stadium metro station||Dubai airport terminal 2||foot (about 1,5km)|
Altogether we had a really nice time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi! You can download the map with our itinerary and highlights plus the transport information below.
Looking for more travel planning resources? Check out the Phenomenal Globe Travel Planning Library!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Premier Inn IBN Battuta Hotel, Happy Adventures, Sindbad Balloons and Villa Toscana in St. Regis Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, all pictures and opinions are my own.