I had 13 hours at Abu Dhabi airport – definitely too long to sit in the airport but was it too short to see and do anything and be able to relax enough to enjoy it?
I chose the Etihad flight from Ho Chi Minh City to London, purposely, because I thought it’d be fun to have 13 hours in Abu Dhabi to see a country that I wouldn’t really book a solo trip to. As the date got closer I worried that I was being overambitious with my 13 hours, but remembered how interesting my 9-hour stopover in Qatar was, last time I went to Vietnam, and how glad I was thtat I’d done it.
My flight was scheduled to Abu Dhabi at 12:50am and to leave again at 13:35, 13 hours later.
If you’ve got a 13-hour-ish stopover in Abu Dhabi, here’s how you can make the most of it.
How to See the Grand Mosque
on a Stopover
Hour 1, late flight | 12:50-2am
Unfortunately my flight was two hours late leaving, but managed to catch up a little in the air – something to do with oil levels. This narrowed my window to 12 hours in Abu Dhabi to make the most of.
I was on the 19:50 to 12:50 flight from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to Abu Dhabi Airport. Which left Vietnam at 21:50 and eventually got to the airport at 2am.
Hour 2, exiting and finding the hotel | 2-3am
After the flight was late I was of course having an internal debate about whether I should really bother doing this. I stuck with it, mainly because I’d paid for the hotel, and I wanted a bed. It was 5am my time and I hadn’t slept on the plane. Too busy watching Girl on a Train (HOW GOOD IS THAT FILM?) and every episode of Cold Feet (brilliant British drama) they had.
Exiting the airport was an absolute breeze. I’d say from plane doors open to the exit doors of the luggage hall was about five minutes. Seriously. And of course, my luggage was checked through to Heathrow so I didn’t have to worry about picking it up.
Everyone else seemed to be angrily clutching their boarding cards and heading straight for the transfer desk, thanks to the late flight.
It was another five-minute walk through a mall to the Premier Inn at Abu Dhabi Airport, where I checked in, paid for my room, had a bit of Wi-Fi and fell asleep at 3am.
READ MORE: If you want to see more options for hotels, take a look at my friend Arzo’s post on the best places to stay in Abu Dhabi for every budget.
Hours 3 to 7, sleeping | 3-8am
I slept well for the time I had, showered, and got ready for the day.
Hour 7 | 8-9am
I had a free coffee in the room, left my stuff in there, went to get cash out from the airport as the taxi drivers don’t take cards. I had a turkey (no ham in Abu Dhabi!) and cheese croissant from some coffee shop near the cash point and found the taxi rank.
The Grand Mosque is a 20/5 minute drive from the Premier Inn. I found a taxi, checked it was on the meter and sat in to enjoy the ride. Taxi driver was friendly enough. I passed palm trees, huge weird statues, and down what looked like brand new roads – that was about it. The taxi was 38 dirhams = £8.50.
Hour 8-11 | 9-11:45am
I arrived at the Grand Mosque at 8:50am, the perfect time. The Mosque opens at 9am so it gave a few minutes to take some photos from the outside before heading in.
READ MORE: If you have longer to explore, check out all these things to do in Abu Dhabi, from my friend Bianca.
Hours 11-13 | 11:45am-13:35
I left the mosque at 11:30am, and went to get a taxi back to the Premier Inn. I didn’t know that you had to get one from the taxi rank and couldn’t actually just pick up the first one you saw. Obviously, I didn’t know what I was doing and jumped in one in the car park. At the gate I was made to get out and they called one from the rank, and the driver got in trouble. Yikes. I then started to panic I wasn’t going to make my plane. Cue racing heart.
I was back at the hotel for midday, which was cutting it a little fine for amy 13:30 flight, which I had in my head as 13:50. Lucky for me it took about five minutes again, to get through security, seeing as my bags were already checked to go through to London. I even managed to fit in a little make up shop in Benefit, because I’d taken out too much Dirhams, and some hummus, vine leaves and pita bread at an airport café.
I then made my way to my gate, got all my electrical stuff checked for something (had to be able to turn my laptop, Kindle and phone on), and sat and chilled using the Wi-Fi for 15 minutes before my plane started boarding.
Made it. The plane left! With me on it.
So, is leaving Abu Dhabi airport worth it?
There were times when I worried I was being a little over ambitious but really, it was easy. I was so glad to have made the effort. Having a comfy bed and a strong shower after what I’d become used to in Vietnam was dreamy. Seeing the Grand Mosque was awesome and having a break between the 7ish hour flights was amazing. I was lucky that the airport was so quiet exiting and getting through again.
I arrived into Heathrow feeling pretty fly actually. Ready to have a fun weekend with my friend.
Cost of my 13-hour stopover
Premier Inn room: 249 AED | £55
Taxi to the Mosque: 38 AED | £8.30
Taxi back: 36 AED | £7.90
Croissant: 18 AED | £3.90
Hummus, pita bread and vine leaves: 23 AED | £5