How to do an Abu Dhabi Stopover

Are you planning a flight through Abu Dhabi but weighing up whether to include a stopover?

Abu Dhabi Stopover text overlay on the Grand Mosque

What can you do in Abu Dhabi during a stopover?

So if you have an Abu Dhabi stopover at AUH – by this we mean more than 4 hours but less than 24 hours – what can you see and do in Abu Dhabi?

In this post, we will cover several Abu Dhabi layover and stopover options including:

  • Staying in the airport – how long can you spend at AUH!?
  • Sleeping at or near the airport – which hotels are closest to AUH?
  • Self explore around Abu Dhabi – transport options and popular sites.
  • Take a guided tour – what are the best short tour options?
  • Transferring to Dubai International Airport (DXB) – how to move between the UAE’s two biggest cities and their airports
Abu Dhabi City Skyline
The stunning Abu Dhabi skyline from the Corniche

Also considering Qatar Airways as an alternative? Pop over and see how our it compares in our Doha Stopover Guide

Stay at the Abu Dhabi International Airport

Unlike neighbour Dubai International Airport that has a myriad of activities inside the airport itself, facilities at Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) are currently limited.  They are long awaiting a move to new terminal facilities which we will discuss in more detail once the move has occurred – currently toted as Q4 2019.

There are some relaxation areas and retail opportunities within Abu Dhabi airport, but they’re not extensive.   You can access free wifi in the airport and a selection of dutyfree shopping is available, but don’t expect fine dining, kiddy activities or any exceptional entertainment of note.

Airport lounges in AUH

If you have a longish transit stop but not enough time to leave the airport, we suggest this is an airport you might want to invest in lounge access (or check if any of your credit cards gives you access). You will find:

  • Al Reem Lounge (Terminal 1)
  • Al Dhabi Lounge by Plaza Premium (Terminal 1 – includes play space)
  • Etihad Premium Lounge (Terminal 1)
  • Diamond Lounge (Terminal 1/VIP Terminal)
  • Al Ghazal Lounge (Terminal 2)
  • Etihad Pearl Business Class Lounge (Terminal 3 – includes play space)

For families, there are free strollers but other than within the airport lounges, AUH really struggles to deliver anything special for families. We suggest finding a resting option or getting out to explore.

Can you sleep at Abu Dhabi Airport?

There are limited sleeping options at or immediatley adjacent to AUH.

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Refreshhh by Aerotel inside Terminal 3 provides a napping cabin option, available in singles and bunk bed doubles on an hourly basis.

Aerotel Terminal 1 is Abu Dhabi International Airport’s only air-side hotel offering in Terminal 1 (Terminal 1 & 3 are interconnected with no security check between terminals, just a long walk).

The hotel has just 38 rooms in a combination of solo rooms (shared bathroom), double (2 king single beds) and Double Squared – 2 Queen Sized beds and private bathroom.  Stays can be booked by the hour or 6-hour blocks.

Another option that suits solo travellers best are GoSleep Sleeping Pods in Terminal 3. Use your credit card to pay by the hour.

Hotels near to Abu Dhabi Airport

Immediately adjacent to the airport you will find Premier Inn Abu Dhabi International Airport. You will need to pass through passport control and customs, but it’s then an easy walk via the Skypark corridor.

Here you will have access to facilities including a pool and gym, and free wifi, though the offering is pretty basic. On the plus side, you can stay at the hotel but take their free shuttle to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Yas Island & the Corniche.

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Other accommodation options that you will find within a 10-minute drive of the airport include:

exterior view of Marriott Al Forsan in Khalifa City Abu Dhabi
The Marriott Al Forsan is close to Abu Dhabi Airport with great dining and recreation facilities to relax during a layover

There are also plentiful accommodation options at Yas Island, we will discuss Yas Island for short stay visitors in more detail below.

Leaving your luggage at Abu Dhabi Aiport

Leaving the airport? There is a luggage hold service located in Terminal 1 as well as security lockers, this service operates 24/7.  Rates vary from 20AED to 150AED for 24 hours depending on the item size.  You can also use a small items locker for personal effects for 50AED.

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Abu Dhabi Sightseeing

If you are in Abu Dhabi for the day or early evening, we suggest you take on some sightseeing during your layover. You will need at least 4 hours for this to make sense.

Getting your UAE Transit Visa

There are multiple countries that are permitted a free 30 day visit visa on arrival in to the UAE, otherwise you will need to apply to your embassy for a tourist visa.

Free transit visas are now available for 48 hours (conditions apply – eg you must have an onward ticket) or extend this to 96 hours for 50AED.   

Queueing is generally not a big problem at Abu Dhabi airport for checking in and passport control, but it’s always recommended you arrive back to the airport with at least two hours to spare.

Note that a taxi pick up charge applies from the airport 20AED for a standard taxi, 25AED for a taxi van 5+ passengers.  A taxi to the corniche will cost close to 100AED – $37USD.

What to do on an Abu Dhabi layover

This is a great city for taking on a Big Bus Tour.  There are 2 routes you can take, the City Tour Red Route (recommended for first-timers unfamiliar with the city), or the Island Drive – Green Route. It’s a great way to get between the city’s main attractions and as you’ll save on taxi’s, great value too!

Save 10% when you book online in advance directly with BIG BUS

If timing permits, another great thing to do is head out to the desert. Organised tours normally leave mid-afternoon or early evening, though an increasing number are also offering a morning service now too which is great for transit passengers. Each company has a different rendezvous point which may involve you taking a taxi from the airport to city pick up point


We understand only Etihad’s own tour company Hala may do direct airport pickups. (Some will pick up from the Premier Inn as a hotel pick up location). You can find out more about Hala tours here.

You can try this 3-hour sightseeing tour for very tight layovers that will give you a private vehicle for up to 4 passengers and take you past all the city’s most iconic sites.

If you prefer to grab a taxi or even a hire car and self-tour, these are some of the major attractions you will want to include:

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Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the cities most popular attractions, and for good reason. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and invites visitors from all religions to visit for FREE. You will need to hire (free) some modest clothing if you are not appropriately dressed.

You can read our full review on how to visit the Grand Mosque here.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque reflective view over Wahat al Karama
The stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is close to AUH airport and free to visit making it ideal for short stopovers

The Louvre Abu Dhabi

The first major arts & history museum to open in the culture district on Saadiyat Island. There are permanent exhibits as well as rotating exhibitions and a pleasant spot to have lunch.

You can read our full review of the Louvre Abu Dhabi here.

Inside the Louvre Abu Dhabi

Qasr al Watan

Take an exclusive behind-scenes tour of the Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace – watch this space as it only opened to the public for the first time on 10 March 2019.

See our detailed visitors guide to Qasr al Watan.

Qasr Al Watan - Abu Dhabi Presidential Palace

Observation Deck at 300

Based in Jumeirah Hotel Etihad Towers, this is the best spot to come for an ariel view over the city in a beautiful and luxurious setting. Enjoy a food and beverage voucher included with your entry ticket.

Come to the 74th floor of Etihad Towers for a birds eye view over the city of Abu Dhabi

Got longer?  Check out our guide to visiting Abu Dhabi on a Budget – 40+ Free & Really Cheap things to do as well as our extensive guide to UAE cultural attractions.


Yas Island on an Abu Dhabi stopover

Yas is a great solution for visitors who only have a short stopover between flights. Being less than 10 minutes drive from the airport and packed full of attractions, Yas Island makes a great place to base yourself. In fact, you may want to extend your stopover by 24 hours to enjoy everything that’s on offer here; recharge your batteries and get ready for the next leg of your trip.

Activities on Yas Island

Yas is the home of Abu Dhabi’s “Big 3” theme parks Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World and Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi. Here you will also find the Yas Marina Circuit – home of the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 GP as well as the giant Yas Mall, Du Arena, Yas Links Golf Club, Yas Marina and several parks.

Inside WB World Abu Dhabi
A visit to WB World Abu Dhabi is a gret way to fill a long layover in Abu Dhabi, located on Yas Island

Accommodation on Yas Island

There are multiple accommodation options available on Yas Island.

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Yas Hotel (formerly the Yas Viceroy) is the 5-star offering that straddles the Grand Prix track and offers a rooftop pool in the centre of the action.

Read Trip Advisor Reviews | Compare prices on HotelsCombined

Yas Hotel is a fun option for staying on Yas Island

You may also want to try these options, all within walking distance of one another in the Yas Hotel Plaza area and with access to the free Yas shuttle bus:

Many hotels offer ticket deals with Yas Experiences so you can combine theme parks and some water fun with your overnight stay on Yas Island, making it a great value option.


Where to eat on an Abu Dhabi layover

If you just want to get some fresh air and a bite to eat rather than sightseeing, there are several pleasant areas you can reach within a 10 to 20 minute taxi that will give you a small taste of the city in a pleasant setting. You could try:

  • Masdar City – try Jim’s Cafe or Osha Gourmet for Emirati food.
  • Al Muneera, Al Raha Beach – pleasant waterfront setting. Try Meylas Emirati restaurant and many other cafes.
  • Eastern Mangroves – Try Carluccios while overlooking the wetlands.
  • Souk Qaryat Al Beri – set on the Grand Canal “between the bridges” you will get great views of the mosque and several dining options..
  • Yas Marina – several bars and restaurants with a beautiful waterfront setting.
Enjoy water front views from Souk Qaryat al Beri if you just want to pop out of the airport for a short stopover in Abu Dhabi

How do you get to Dubai from Abu Dhabi Airport?

Is the next leg of your journey with Emirates or a Dubai based airline instead of flying out of Abu Dhabi?  It is possible to transfer between the two cities, though for some bizarre reason there is still no simple airport to airport connection.

We have a really detailed guide on how to transit between Dubai and Abu Dhabi here.

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What to do in Abu Dhabi during a short stopover

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This post was written by Keri Hedrick, an avid family traveller and writer based in the UAE.  You can read more about our contributing writers here.  This page contains affiliate links which may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Our full terms of use can be found here.