With the news that the UAE plans to offer day visas for international travellers passing through its airports we look at unmissable and unusual experiences to sample in the capital
UAE day visas: things to do over 12 hours in Abu Dhabi
9AM: Land; take a taxi to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, located between the airport and the Corniche. Completed in 2008, the building is spectacular, with a mix of Mughal and Moorish styles, 82 marble domes of various sizes, minarets up to 107 metres tall, the world’s largest carpet and chandeliers incorporating millions of Swarovski crystals. On the third floor of the northern minaret is the mosque’s state-of-the-art library containing more than 50,000 rare books and manuscripts, with an excellent view of Abu Dhabi island in all directions. Closed Friday; open from Saturday to Thursday from 9am to 10pm, last entry 9.30pm. Entry is free, with free guided tours at 10am, 11am and 5pm
11AM Take a taxi to Saadiyat public beach and pay the Dh25 entry fee for access to the wild beach and clear blue water. Only a small area offers sunbeds and lifeguards, and it gets crowded on weekend afternoons, so go as early as you can (it is open 8am to 8pm). There’s a cafe and bathroom, including hot showers.
12.30PM From Saadiyat Beach, Louvre Abu Dhabi is only about five minutes away by taxi. The Jean Nouvel-designed building offers 8,000 square metres of gallery space housing art and artefacts from the past to the present. Closed Mondays; otherwise open 10am to 8pm and 10am to 10pm Thursday and Friday; tickets are Dh63 for adults. Allow at least two hours; there is also a cafe.
4PM CHOICE: OF ACTIVITIES
Option 1 Set out on a half-day trip to the desert, with quad-biking, dune-bashing, or simply dinner around a camp fire. Dozens of companies offer trips, and whether you want something far-flung and simple or closer to home, with a fully kitted-out camp complete with shisha pipes and belly dancers, is up to you. Arabian Nights Village (00971 2 676 9990) offers a half-day desert safari departing 3pm from Khalifa Park returning at 10pm, including a barbecue dinner after sunset. From Dh300 per adult; guests can also be dropped at the airport for an extra charge.
Option 2 Few people think of Abu Dhabi city as a nature lover’s paradise but its island environment is still largely untouched. You could rent a jet ski for a couple of hours for about Dh500 from the watersports centre at the Rose Rayhaan by Rotana hotel, or take a guided kayak tour of Mangrove National Park, 10 square kilometres of mangrove forest best seen at high tide. Sea Hawk and Noukhada offer tours from the Eastern Mangroves Promenade throughout the day during winter. The trips last between 90 minutes and two hours. Noukhada also offers evening tours with a seafood dinner at Flooka. Crabs, fish and even dolphins can be spotted on the trips, which cost from Dh130 per person.
7PM If you don’t take either of the dinner options above, take a taxi to Emirates Palace to wander the cavernous public areas, see the gold-bar vending machine and have dinner at Hakkasan, before heading back to the airport.