UAE Real Estate

Discover Abu Dhabi City


Kata Hahn


13 March 2023


Uncover all you need to know about Abu Dhabi from geography, culture, and economic development, to tips for visiting and moving to this innovative city.

Abu Dhabi location

Abu Dhabi on the map

Abu Dhabi is a city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is located on the Arabian Peninsula. The UAE has seven Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Fujairah. The emirate of Abu Dhabi borders the emirate of Dubai to the northeast, Oman to the east, and Saudi Arabia to the south. The Emirate has three main regions: Abu Dhabi city and its surroundings, Al Ain (to the east), and Al Dhafra (to the west).

Abu Dhabi city is both the federal capital of the UAE and the capital of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It is located off the mainland on an island in the Persian Gulf. The majority of the urban area is located on a triangular island, known as Abu Dhabi Island. In total, the city is an archipelago of more than 200 islands and has 700 kilometers of coastline. The landscape consists of salt flats, gravel plains, and desert areas.

Abu Dhabi weather

Abu Dhabi has a warm and sunny year-round climate. Summer is from late May through September with temperatures as high as 45°C (113°F) or more and 80-90% humidity. Air conditioning is prevalent across the city as a necessary measure to cope with the intense heat. Winter is from December through mid-March with average temperatures around 25°C (77°F). Abu Dhabi has little precipitation each year with sporadic rainfall possible in Winter and Spring.

Abu Dhabi time zone

The UAE time zone is Gulf Standard Time (GST). This is 4 hours ahead of UTC/GMT and is written as UTC+04:00. The UAE observes Standard Time year-round (ie. they do not observe daylight savings time). Just west of the UAE, countries follow Arabia Standard Time, one hour later.

Abu Dhabi islands and bridges

In addition to Abu Dhabi Island where the majority of the city is located, there are a few other nearby islands you should be familiar with, including Yas Island, Saadiyat Island, Al Reem Island, and Al Maryah Island.

Yas Island

Landmark destination with plenty of entertainment activities, including three theme parks: Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World, and Yas Waterworld. Home to the F1 race track and Yas Mall, with a waterfront, golf course, and beach area.

Saadiyat Island

A cultural scene with many museums and galleries including Louvre Abu Dhabi, Manarat Al Saadiyat, Zayed National Museum, and the upcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Has many popular resorts, beaches (such as Kai Beach and Soul Beach), and a golf club.

Al Reem Island

Located just 600 meters off the northeast coast of Abu Dhabi Island. Known for its sleek high-rise residential towers, such as the Gate Towers, and commercial and retail developments. Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi is located on Al Reem Island.

Al Maryah Island

A small island between Abu Dhabi Island and Al Reem Island. The Galleria shopping center and the Abu Dhabi Global Market, a financial center hub, are located on Al Maryah Island.

Abu Dhabi bridges

There are 3 short bridges connecting Abu Dhabi Island to the mainland: Musaffah Bridge, Al Maqta Bridge, and Sheikh Zayed Bridge. The Sheikh Khalifa Bridge is another major bridge that connects Abu Dhabi Island and Saadiyat Island. There are smaller bridges that connect the other nearby islands.

Abu Dhabi population and culture

How big is Abu Dhabi?

Abu Dhabi is the third largest city in the UAE after Dubai and Sharjah, with over 1.5 million people living in the urban area. Over 30% of the city population, or 500,000 people, are Emiratis (ie. UAE nationals).

The emirate has a total population of 2.9 million people and covers an area of 67,340 square kilometers, over 87% of the total landmass of the UAE. Abu Dhabi city is 972 square kilometers in size.

Abu Dhabi currency

The UAE uses the Arab Emirates Dirham (AED), often just called the dirham. The AED is pegged to the US dollar, meaning it has a fixed exchange rate of AED 3.67 to USD 1. Dirham notes come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000, but most people rely on the 100 dirham note or less in their day-to-day transactions. Every dirham is divided into 100 fils, but the 25 fils coin is the only coin you’re likely to come across.

Abu Dhabi language

Arabic is the official language of the entire UAE. You’ll see Arabic on road signs and official public notices, but the English equivalent is almost always written as well. Across the UAE, English is widely used by expats and in both the business and tourism industries. Hindu, Urdu, and Farsi are commonly spoken due to a large number of expats that have these as their native languages.

Abu Dhabi customs

Since Emiratis make up about a third of the population in Abu Dhabi, it’s important to be familiar with local traditions and customs that are rooted in Islam. Traditional dress is still commonly worn around the city and some women wear a head covering in public. Foreigners should dress modestly by covering their shoulders and knees in public areas, as local authorities can enforce dress codes.

Ramadan is an Islamic ritual held during the 9th month of the Hijri calendar. The dates of Ramadan change every year based on moon cycles but it is consistently 29-30 days long. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. Iftar is the breaking of the daytime fast when people come together for a snack, prayers, and then a large meal.

There are two major Islamic festivals: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr occurs immediately after Ramadan when families celebrate the end of the fast with daytime feasts. This is typically a 3-day holiday. Eid al-Adha occurs 70 days after the end of Ramadan and immediately follows the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. It is known as the “festival of the sacrifice” and includes sacrificing cattle and sharing it among family, friends, and the needy. This is typically a 3 or 4-day holiday.
Worshippers outside the Sheikh Zayed Mosque during Ramadan.

Abu Dhabi history: How old is Abu Dhabi? 

Abu Dhabi is believed to have a long history of human settlement. The name Abu Dhabi means “Land of the Gazelle” in Arabic, indicating how the emirate was established after an antelope led a tribe to the freshwater island.

However, no evidence of any permanent settlement before 1761 has been found. The Bani Yas tribe found drinking water in Abu Dhabi around this time and soon after settled there. Their main industries were fishing and pearl diving. In 1795, Abu Dhabi Island became the capital of the Bani Yas tribal confederation.  

The British launched a naval attack and established the Trucial States in 1820. The Trucial States originally consisted of 6 sheikhdoms: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Ras al-Khaima, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. The pearl trade continued to be the main industry throughout the early 1900s with some local trade. Eventually, Japanese cultured pearls brought about the decline of the pearl industry in Abu Dhabi in the 1920s.

Abu Dhabi economy and oil: When was Abu Dhabi built?

The ruler of Abu Dhabi first allowed oil companies to begin drilling in 1939 when the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company was established. It wasn’t until 1958 that the first oil was discovered under an old pearling bed in the Persian Gulf, and 1962 that the first crude oil was exported from Abu Dhabi. Oil production brought significant prosperity to Abu Dhabi.

Significant development plans were set in motion when a new leader came to power in the UAE in 1966. The new developments included a city road network, a seawall along the northern end of the island, and extensive modernization such as electricity, water, a sewage system, and other new buildings and infrastructure. After the announcement to recall British troops from the Persian Gulf, the Trucial States officially became the UAE in 1971. Around this time, the Abu Dhabi National Oil company (ADNOC) was established.

Development continued in the years surrounding the turn of the century. The Abu Dhabi International Airport opened in 1982 and Abu Dhabi was named the capital of the UAE in 1996. Marina Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall were completed in 2001, the start of Abu Dhabi’s luxurious retail centers. Etihad Airways, the first official airline, was then launched in 2003. The freehold property market was opened up to foreigners in 2005. The well-known Sheikh Zayed Mosque was completed in 2007 – its iconic white-marble domes marking the Abu Dhabi skyline.

Abu Dhabi began to strengthen its international relations, forming the Abu Dhabi-Singapore Joint Forum (ADSJF) in 2007 and establishing the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), an international financial center and free zone, in 2015.
The Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) in front of the Abu Dhabi skyline.

Oil and natural gas reserves catapulted Abu Dhabi to its position as a global competitor and continue to contribute significantly to the economy and wealth of the UAE. Today, around 95% of the UAE’s oil production occurs in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The emirate has some of the largest concentrations of known oil and natural gas reserves in the world, making it the wealthiest of the emirates and supporting one of the highest per capita incomes.

However, the emirate has now shifted focus to broaden the economy with investments in infrastructure, tourism, transportation, health, and education. The government has cultivated Abu Dhabi as a world-class destination with the construction of landmark hotels across the city and other tourist attractions. The Abu Dhabi 2030 Economic Vision is focused on broadening the economy through investments in infrastructure, tourism, transport, health, and education.

Abu Dhabi ports

Seaports have played an essential role in Abu Dhabi’s economic growth. There are two ports in the urban area of Abu Dhabi, Zayed Port, and Mussafah Port, as well as another notable port in the emirate, Khalifa port.

Zayed Port

Zayed Port has been the main cargo port in the UAE for more than four decades. It was launched in 1972 on Abu Dhabi Island and covers an area of over 5 kilometers. The Abu Dhabi Cruise Terminal was launched on the port in 2015 and has restaurants, retail, duty-free shops, baggage storage, and links to the city’s public transport. Zayed port is the hub for cruise tourism in Abu Dhabi.

Musaffah Port

Mussafah Port is just south of Abu Dhabi island and is located along the Musaffah Channel, one of the longest channels in the region. It’s a deep-water facility that facilitates general cargo operations and provides warehousing for industrial and commercial sectors.

Khalifa Port

Khalifa Port is another major port located in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, between the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It is a multi-purpose port opened in 2012. The Abu Dhabi Port Company (ADPC) handles all operations in Khalifa port.
Over 60% of all cargo on its way to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries arrives in a UAE port.

Visit Abu Dhabi: What to do in Abu Dhabi? 

Abu Dhabi visa

All foreigners must have a UAE entry visa to travel to Abu Dhabi. There are different restrictions depending on your nationality. GCC citizens can apply online and easily get an extendable UAE entry visa for 30 days. Multiple on-arrival visas allow foreigners to stay in the country for 14, 30, 90, or 180 days. Foreigners from 67 different countries are eligible for a 30-day or 90-day visa on arrival, while the 14-day visa is applicable for some Indian citizens and the 180-day visa is only for Mexican citizens. Explore the eligibility criteria for a UAE on-arrival visa. If you don’t qualify for an on-arrival visa, you’ll need to obtain an entry permit in advance of your travels. All other nationalities can apply for a tourist visa but are required to have a certain bank account balance, a health insurance policy, and proof of stay. Other visitor visas have specific uses, such as for investment or business purposes.

For foreigners to extend their stay in Abu Dhabi, they need to apply for a residency visa.

The main types of UAE residency visas include:
  • Employment visa
  • Student visa
  • Investor visa
  • Property owner visa
  • Dependent visa
  • Retirement visa
  • Remote work visa

Best time to visit Abu Dhabi

June through August can be very hot and humid which makes it less comfortable to do outdoor activities in Abu Dhabi. This is why most tourists take advantage of the pleasant weather in the Winter, with peak tourist season occurring from December through February. To avoid higher prices and the largest crowds of tourists, consider visiting Abu Dhabi in November or March.

As mentioned above, Ramadan is an important Islamic ritual that is celebrated for about a month each year. While non-Muslims are not required to participate in Ramadan, there is generally no eating, drinking, or smoking allowed in the public during the day to pay respect to those that do practice. Restrictions in Abu Dhabi have lessened in recent years, removing the need for restaurants to install curtains or partitions. It’s still socially unacceptable to eat and drink in public and could result in fines; however, these rules do not apply to young or pre-pubescent children. Conservative dress may also be more enforced and some shops may alter their hours or be open exclusively during the night.  In 2023, Ramadan is from March 22nd until April 21st, but you’ll want to make sure you check the dates of Ramadan before you book a trip so you are aware.

Abu Dhabi attractions

Here are some of the top attractions in Abu Dhabi:
  • Sheikh Zayed Mosque - one of the world’s largest mosques with grand architecture and design.
  • Louvre Abu Dhabi - an international art museum on Saadiyat Island that leases collections from the Louvre in Paris.
  • Yas Marina Circuit - hosts the Formula One (F1) Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and other motorsports events.
  • The Corniche - a scenic walking area with 8 kilometers of coast, cafes, restaurants, and the popular Corniche beach.
  • Qasr Al Watan -the presidential palace made of marble and limestone featuring Arabic artistry.
  • Saadiyat Beach Club - an exclusive club on Saadiyat Island with a beach, cafes, restaurants, spas, private cabanas, and more.
  • Ferrari World Abu Dhabi - an amusement park with the world’s fastest roller coaster on Yas Island.
  • Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi - the world’s largest indoor amusement park.

There are other pristine beaches worth visiting near the urban area including Kai beach, Yas beach, and Al Bateen beach. Other new attractions are underway, such as the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a planned modern and contemporary art museum that will be on Saadiyat Island. It is expected to be completed in 2025.

Abu Dhabi hotels

There are over a hundred hotels in the Abu Dhabi urban area – plenty of highly-rated options to fit every visitor’s budget.

Those looking for a luxurious retreat can rely on some of the best hotels in Abu Dhabi:
  • Emirates Palace, Mandarin Oriental Abu Dhabi - Arabic architecture featuring over 100 domes with a private beach and marina, spa, and dining venues.
  • Rixos Premium Saadiyat Island - rooms and villas with a private beach, water park, and spa.
  • Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas - rooms and villas with 8 restaurants, a gym, pool, and spa.
  • Shangri-La Hotel - rooms, villas, and service apartments in a modern Arabic style with a private beach, gyms, and a spa, on the mainland.
  • Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi - ultra-modern hotel with a pool, restaurants, and cafes, on Al Maryah Island.
  • St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort - a beach resort with a private beach, spa, and outdoor pools.
  • Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi - rooms and villas with a private beach, outdoor pools, a spa, and outdoor gardens, on Saadiyat Island.
  • Radisson Blu Hotel Yas Island - rooms overlooking the Yas Links Golf Course with 4 restaurants, a spa, a gym, outdoor pools, and a tennis court.
The luxurious Emirates Palace hotel.

Best restaurants in Abu Dhabi

The following restaurants have received a Michelin star and are regarded among the best restaurants in Abu Dhabi:
  • Talea by Antonio Guida - Italian cuisine in Emirates Palace Hotel.
  • Hakkasan - Chinese cuisine in Emirates Palace Hotel.
  • 99 Sushi Bar - contemporary Japanese cuisine in Four Seasons Al Maryah Island Hotel.
Other restaurants have been recognized with the Big Gourmand award. This signifies that they provide great value for less money, with a 3-course meal for an average price of AED 250. These include:
  • Beirut Sur Mer - Lebanese cuisine on Saadiyat Island.
  • Almayass - Lebanese and Armenian cuisine on Al Maryah Island.
  • Otoro - contemporary Japanese cuisine, opened in Al Qana Marina in 2022.
  • Tazal - Mediterranean cuisine with Arabic touches in Al Qana Marina.

Malls in Abu Dhabi

In general, you can find good deals and lower prices for traditional incense, essential perfumes and oils, dates, gold jewelry, and Persian carpets. Camel milk products such as soaps and chocolates are also commonly sold in Abu Dhabi.

Some of the best malls in Abu Dhabi include:
  • Yas Mall - the largest mall in Abu Dhabi with a cinema and family entertainment zone.
  • Marina Mall - a distinct landmark of Abu Dhabi with a bowling alley, cinema, and trampoline park.
  • Abu Dhabi Mall - has big-name outlets, high-fashion brands, and home interior stores, along with restaurants, cafes, and a cinema.
  • Hamed Centre - one of the first shopping malls in Abu Dhabi.
  • Liwa Centre - a niche shopping center with home furnishing and accessories that provides a more local experience.
  • My City Centre Masdar - a luxury mall with shopping, dining, and leisure activities.
  • Deerfields Mall -  a mall near the Abu Dhabi International Airport.
In addition to your modern malls, you’ll find a few traditional Arabic markets, known as souks, within the city of Abu Dhabi that you can explore.

Popular souks in Abu Dhabi:
  • The Souk at Qaryat Al Beri - a contemporary souk with a fusion of Arabian and Venetian themes, in the Khor Al Maqta area on the mainland.
  • Mina Markets - Fish Souk, Al Mina Fruit and Vegetable Souk, and Carpet Souk, all near Zayed Port.

Abu Dhabi public transport

The Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities (DPM) provides public transport services in the city and suburbs of Abu Dhabi. There is an extensive bus network across the urban area with public buses operating 24 hours a day. The Abu Dhabi public transport app, DARBI, has an interactive map for planning public transit itineraries across the entire emirate. Frequent users and commuters can rely on the Hafilat smart card to pay for public transport by purchasing weekly or monthly passes or adding a certain money balance to the card. The Hafilat card is sold at bus stations, and select shopping malls and convenience stores. The bus fare starts at AED 2 plus 5 fils for every kilometer traveled. Users can add money to their Hafilat card on the DARBI app. There are also two Park and Ride express bus routes that operate from Zayed Sports City to help commuters reach the center more quickly.

The Visit Abu Dhabi Shuttle Bus is a free service available to all tourists. These are colorful buses that visit some of the top hotels and attractions, every hour during select times, with two main routes throughout the city. This shuttle connects the city center, Yas Island, Jubail Island, Saadiyat Island, and the Grand Canal area.  You can get access to the shuttle bus once you’ve booked a stay in a hotel or bought an admission ticket for any Abu Dhabi attraction through the Visit Abu Dhabi booking platform.

The Surface Transport Master Plan (STMP) aims to bring a metro system to Abu Dhabi. The metro will be 131 km long and connect Abu Dhabi Island to Yas Island, Al Raha Beach, and Saadiyat Island.

Abu Dhabi to Dubai

There are multiple intercity buses between Abu Dhabi and Dubai that leave from the Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station and the Mussafah Shabiya Bus Station. The buses from the Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station end at either Ibn Battuta Bus Station or Al Ghubaiba Bus Station in Dubai. The bus from Mussafah Shabiya Bus Station ends at Ibn Battuta Bus Station in Dubai. The tickets cost AED 25 one way and the trip takes approximately two hours.

You can travel between Abu Dhabi and Dubai via taxi as well by booking one in advance or using a ride-hailing service app. However, this is significantly more expensive, around AED 200-300.

Eventually, passengers will be able to use the new Etihad Rail Network. This system was completed in 2022 with commercial operations already underway. The Etihad Rail Network will be set up to transport passengers by 2030 between the Emirates, connecting 11 cities and regions in total. The trip from Abu Dhabi to Dubai will only take 50 minutes via the railway system.
A railway car, part of the Etihad Rail Network, traveling through the desert.

Moving to Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi schools

Abu Dhabi has an excellent school system. The Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) regulates the education system across the emirate. ADEK inspects all private schools and gives each one a ranking every two years to ensure a high quality of education. Nearly 80% of students in Abu Dhabi attend a private institution. There are almost 200 schools offering 14 different curricula in the emirate. The most commonly followed curricula are Ministry of Education, British, American, and Indian.

Here are some of the best schools in Abu Dhabi:
  • The British School Al Khubairat - one of the oldest schools with British curriculum in the Al Mushrif neighborhood.
  • Brighton College, Abu Dhabi - British curriculum, near Khalifa Park.
  • Cranleigh Abu Dhabi School - a newer school with British curriculum on Saadiyat Island.
  • Raha International School, Abu Dhabi - International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, in Khalifa City A neighborhood.
  • Aldar Al Muna Academy - British curriculum, students through Year 6, in the Al Danah neighborhood.
  • The British International School, Abu Dhabi - British and IB curricula, in Zayed City.
  • GEMS World Academy - IB curriculum using US Common Core Standards, students through Year 5, on Al Reem Island.
  • Repton Abu Dhabi - British curriculum, on Al Reem Island.
  • Private International English School - Indian CBSE curriculum, in Mohamed Bin Zayed City.
  • GEMS American Academy - American and IB curricula, in Khalifa City.

Abu Dhabi property and real estate market

There are many developments underway in Abu Dhabi, from luxury resorts to business hotels and master-planned communities. The real estate market is thriving with AED 77.6 billion worth of property deals in 2022 alone.

Abu Dhabi is increasingly becoming a hot spot for global investors. In particular, Eastern Europeans and East Asians have been drawn to the Abu Dhabi market, attracted by the prosperous economy and the Golden Visa scheme.

Aldar Properties is currently one of the most prominent developers in Abu Dhabi. Other developers like Bloom Holding, Reportage, Webridge, and Barakah are expected to launch projects in 2023. Some developers are also centering sustainability in their construction projects, for example, Masdar City, which aims to pioneer sustainable urban living.

Here are some of the best areas to buy real estate in Abu Dhabi:
  • Yas Island - apartments and villas nearby golf courses, retail outlets, restaurants, schools, hotels, and amusement parks, popular among expats.
  • Saadiyat Island - a master development with apartments and villas in Abu Dhabi’s cultural hub.
  • Al Reef - on the mainland close to the Abu Dhabi International Airport and Yas Island with more affordable apartments and villas.
  • Al Reem Island - a mixed-use development with upscale waterfront apartments and penthouses.Al Reem Island - a mixed-use development with upscale waterfront apartments and penthouses.
  • Al Raha Beach - a waterfront area on the mainland near Yas Island, with apartments and villas.
  • Al Maryah Island - waterfront apartments with a notably high return on investment (ROI).
  • Al Raha Gardens - villas with traditional architecture on the mainland, popular among families.
  • Al Shamkha - villas in a suburban area on the mainland, near the Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Yas Island residential development project.

There are also plenty of off-plan developments in Abu Dhabi including:
  • Masdar City - a sustainable development on the mainland, will include retail, cafes, restaurants, offices, a business-free zone, and a residential neighborhood.
  • Bloom Living in Zayed City - a modern residential complex with over 4,500 units (villas, townhouses, and apartments) by Bloom Holding.
  • Al-Reeman 2 in Al Shamkha - a villa community for UAE nationals by Aldar Properties. Al-Reeman 2 in Al Shamkha - a villa community for UAE nationals by Aldar Properties.
  • Mirzab projects in Al Samha - 19 residential buildings with over 700 units by Manazel.
  • The Gateway in the Sas Al Nakhl area - luxury residential and commercial buildings by Eshraq Investment Company and Northacre.

Buyers often seek out a trusted real estate and mortgage broker to assist them with their property transactions. At Kredium, we can help you find a property and a personalized mortgage offer from the top banks in the UAE. We already offer thousands of properties in Dubai and are expanding our partnerships to include many more properties in the UAE’s capital soon. We can also assist with the Golden Visa process, company formation, and bank account opening in Abu Dhabi. Contact us or register on our website to see how we can help you on your way to property ownership.
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Abu Dhabi location

Abu Dhabi weather

Abu Dhabi time zone

UAE time zone

Abu Dhabi islands

Abu Dhabi bridges

Abu Dhabi statistics

Abu Dhabi population

Abu Dhabi currency

Abu Dhabi money

Abu Dhabi language

Abu Dhabi culture

Abu Dhabi customs

Abu Dhabi history

Oil industry in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi economy

Abu Dhabi ports

Abu Dhabi architecture

Abu Dhabi tourism

Visit Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi attractions

Abu Dhabi hotels

Abu Dhabi restaurants

Abu Dhabi malls

Live in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi schools

Abu Dhabi real estate

Abu Dhabi property