An expat’s guide to visiting Abu Dhabi on a budget

Three expats living in the capital reveal the best time to visit the city, where to find great cheap eats and the best things to do in Abu Dhabi on a budget.

The capital of the United Arab Emirates is a beautiful place. In Abu Dhabi, the spectacular skyline of towers and megacentres presses right up against the crystalline coast, and parks, gardens, themed attractions and urban retreats are sprinkled throughout the city. Comprised of a series of islands in the Arabian Gulf, just off the mainland, Abu Dhabi is known for its unique history, culture and architecture. Here, visitors can find unbelievable shopping opportunities, pristine beaches, military forts, neolithic tombs and vast swathes of desert – there’s something for everyone.

While Abu Dhabi is filled with luxury boutiques, fine dining establishments and opulent hotels, it’s easy to experience all that Abu Dhabi has to offer while keeping to a budget – if you know where to look. We’ve consulted three Etihad cabin crew expats living in Abu Dhabi for their top tips on affordable places to eat, shop, and things to do in Abu Dhabi on a budget. 

Etihad cabin crew member, Chayapa Neeramon, says the city is a place she’s proud to call home. “Abu Dhabi is safe to live in and a good place to make new friends. It’s expat-friendly and you can enjoy sunshine all year round without ever getting bored.” 

It’s a sentiment shared by crew member Shuting Sun, who says there’s no shortage of things to do here. “The city has both a dynamic and a tranquil side – it gives more than it takes,” says Shuting.

Al Reem Island at night
Al Reem Island © Unsplash/Kamil Rogalinski

When is the best time to visit Abu Dhabi

“The best time to visit Abu Dhabi is between November to May. The weather is fantastic and you can enjoy all indoor and outdoor activities,” says Etihad cabin crew member, Smita Bhosle. “November is also the month of Formula 1 and during this time there are many options for concerts and events.” 

Budget-friendly places to eat in Abu Dhabi

Smita says Vietnamese Pho on beautiful Al Reem Island is perfect for lunch or dinner as the noodle soups are delicious, healthy and light on both stomachs and pockets. “Bait El Khetyar in the bustling city is also one of my favourites because there are so many popular dishes, such as mezze, meat grills and shawarmas,” adds Smita. “La Carnita in the vibrant Yas Bay has a great location, Latin vibes and music, and serves delicious Mexican food and margaritas.” 

Shuting’s top budget-friendly picks include Egyptian restaurant Tasha, Tuk Tuk for Thai bites, and Madang. “The food at Madang is very authentic and you get various unlimited Korean banchan (side dishes),” advises Shuting. Chayapa recommends starting the day with a Karak tea at Tea Break, and suggests Dampa Seafood Grill and Saudi Cuisine for delicious eats with affordable price tags. 

10 things to do in Abu Dhabi on a budget 

Check out the theme parks 

Abu Dhabi is home to some thrilling theme parks such as Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World, Yas Waterworld and SeaWorld, and after ticking these bucket-list visits off your list, Etihad’s cabin crew members have some suggestions for things to do in Abu Dhabi on a budget. 

Entrance to Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi
Ferrari World © Adobe Stock/Evgenii

Hit the shops 

Window shopping is free! Pick yourself up a little souvenir at one of the many malls or markets in Abu Dhabi. Chayapa recommends a stroll through the Central Market Souk. “It’s the best place to buy authentic souvenirs and traditional Arabic products such as Dallah, Arabic coffee pots (perfect as a home decor item!), Arabic perfumes and traditional treats, such as natural to flavoured dates,” says Chayapa. 

Want to go shopping in Abu Dhabi on a budget? The Madina Zayet Mall in the city is Smita’s top spot for retail therapy. “You can buy a variety of items, from shoes, clothes and jewellery to utilities and much more, all at affordable prices.” Shuting likes Yas Mall, one of the biggest in the city. “Here, you can find all kinds of shops and season sales throughout the year.” 

Experience the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at sunset 

Seeing the sights of Abu Dhabi on a budget is easy, especially as many key landmarks are free to visit. Both Shuting and Smita recommend a visit to the breathtaking Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, best seen just before sunset when the last of the sun’s rays illuminate it in magical ways. “It has no entrance fee, but there is a dress code – so be sure to check before you visit,” says Shuting. 

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque © Unsplash/Nick Fewings & Alessa Ciraulo

Take a history lesson at Heritage Village 

Heritage Village is one of the best places to experience the region’s traditional culture, including the fishing village, Mosque, Bedouin camp, and the showcase of artefacts. Smita also says Heritage Village is one of the best places to buy authentic souvenirs. 

Explore the desert

Looking for an epic yet budget-friendly Abu Dhabi experience? Dip a toe into the vast sands of The Empty Quarter, also known as Rub’ al Khali. “A desert Safari is a one-of-a-kind experience and often includes camel rides, dune-bashing and – of course – a barbeque,” says Smita.

Man sliding down sand dune
© Unsplash/Ayush Jain

Take a look around Terminal A 

Be sure to spend some time walking the sparkling halls of Abu Dhabi’s new Terminal A. Opened in November 2023, the terminal is the home of Etihad Airways and boasts beautiful lounges, delicious dining options and a slew of boutiques for picking up some last-minute treasures. 

Relax at the beach 

Visitng Abu Dhabi on a budget doesn’t have to be hard. Shuting suggests spending the day at Corniche Public Beach in Downtown Abu Dhabi. “It has all the necessary facilities and is surrounded by landmarks, making it a low-cost and convenient way to experience both the city and seaside at the same time,” says Shuting. Al Raha Beach is another of the expat’s favourite hangouts. “I enjoy taking a walk along the canal and watching the beautiful sunset on the bridge next to the iconic coin building. Al Raha Beach is my favourite sunset spot in Abu Dhabi.” 

Corniche Beach
Corniche Public Beach © Adobe Stock/Andrijosef

Meet the animals at Emirates Park Zoo

Children will love feeding the animals or having breakfast with a giraffe at Emirates Park Zoo, where tickets are priced from just AED50 (AUD$21) per person. If you’re a family visiting Abu Dhabi on a budget, strolling the grounds of this zoo is a lovely way to spend the day. 

Race on a Formula 1 track  

Attention all racing enthusiasts and Formula 1 fans – Shuting has a secret to share! “You can visit Yas Marina Circuit – one of the most advanced Formula 1 circuits in the world – for a run or ride a bicycle on the F1 track by registering on the official website, all for free!”

F1 Yas Marina Circuit
F1 Yas Marina Circuit © Adobe Stock/Solkafa

See world-class art, architecture and design 

Visit the Louvre Abu Dhabi where the exterior architecture is just as stunning as the art inside. Ticket prices start at around 60AED for adults (AUD$25) and include access to the museum galleries, exhibitions, outdoor plazas underneath the dome, the museum café, Fouquet’s Abu Dhabi and a boutique. There are even electric catamaran rides and kayaking tours in the waters surrounding the museum. 

Louvre Abu Dhabi
Louvre Abu Dhabi © Unsplash/Agnieszka Stankiewicz

Read more: 

14 awesome things to do in Abu Dhabi
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