Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a Layover

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a Layover

The United Arab Emirates has two major airports that are used for transiting between planes on long haul journeys. I’ve visited both on various trips, although only spent a few hours in the airport during those times. Now that I’ve been to both cities that house these major airports and with my new found love of layovers, I would never consider just transitioning through again.

Today I wanted to share with you what each city has to offer and what you could do during your layover there. There are lots of misconceptions surrounding these cities like is the Grand Mosque in Dubai and where is Ferrari World? Hopefully this post will help to clear things up.

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a Layover

Abu Dhabi

Despite being the capital city of UAE I feel Abu Dhabi is the slightly smaller city. Although it still has some pretty awesome things to see and do, I’d say you’re slightly more limited here. That being said if you’ve only got 24 hours in the city you’ll manage to feel like you’ve seen more in that time than spending 24 hours in Dubai. Your decision for which city will be based a lot on what it is you want to do. Here are some of the highlights of Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a layover Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a layover

The Grand Mosque

I have to admit when I didn’t really know much about UAE I thought The Grand Mosque and the Burj Khalifa were in the same city. Turns out they are not. The Grand Mosque is located on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi and is open for visitors everyday except Friday when it doesn’t open until 4pm. This is because it is also an active Mosque and Friday service is held in the day time there.

The mosque is probably one of those places you’ve seen multiple photos of and thought I’d really like to visit there. It is beautiful from the inside and out. Visits are free and if you aren’t wearing proper attire that’s okay because you are given clothing to rent for free.

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a layover

Yas Island

This place is near to the airport so would help to maximise your time in Abu Dhabi. It is home to the Abu Dhabi Mall, Ferrari World, Water World, Yas Viceroy Hotel and the Formula 1 circuit. This whole island has turned into a bit of a complex with plenty of hotels popping up everywhere and even beach access on the far side. The marina is a great place for a stroll and sunsets are beautiful form here.

You would easily be able to see most of what Yas Island has to offer in a day but if you’re short on time I’d skip the waterpark as it’s nothing special. The ‘famous’ waterpark where you can go through the shark aquarium is in Dubai.

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a layover


I found downtown to be a little less exciting than some of the other areas of Abu Dhabi, however, the Corniche is worth visiting. This area is the beach and park which spans west of the city. A walk along here will give you great views of downtown but also out across the bay to another mall and the Emirates Palace. There are plenty for places to stop for food and drink and get a little rest bite from the sun too.

I’ve also written about how to spend a weekend in Abu Dhabi to give you an idea of how to structure your day.


This is a city that seems to be on the rise and there is no stopping it. Once a sleepy fishing village built around the creek, now it is a huge concrete jungle spanning south with no signs of stopping. I have a theory that at some point in the next 50 years Dubai will have grown so much that you won’t be able to tell where Dubai stops and Abu Dhabi starts.

Much like Abu Dhabi, this city has some famous landmarks that are probably on your radar to visit if you’re only stopping for a short time. Here’s a few highlights that might help you decide which city to go for.

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a layover

Burj Khalifa

The world’s tallest building it located in the downtown area of Dubai right next to the Dubai Mall. You can visit the viewing decks morning, noon, or night everyday but it is recommended to book ahead if you’d like a particular time (ie. sunset). There are two viewing decks for the Burj Khalifa, the top deck is about three times the price and is a much more luxurious affair apparently. The ‘normal’ viewing deck is a little lower and offers all you would expect from visiting the world’s tallest building.

From the Burj Khalifa you can also see the Dubai Fountains which are certainly worth a visit, they start after 6pm every night. Before you leave this spot make sure you take in just how tall the Burj is from the surrounding area.

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a layover

Burj al Arab

This is the building that looks like a sail and is actually a 7* hotel. The chances of actually getting inside are slim unless you have an expensive afternoon tea booked or your actually stay at the hotel. However, there are two places that offer great views of this building.

Kite Beach is located the north side of the Burj al Arab and allows you to get some great views. The water here is super blue and clear too and you’re able to sunbathe here without any problems. South of the Burj al Arab is Madinat Jumeriah which is a modern style souk with plenty of eateries. The views from here are fantastic and you can spend a whole afternoon exploring the souk.

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a layover

The Palm

Or more specifically The Atlantis Palm Hotel.

This is probably the hotel you’ve seen most about, most of the shots you’ve seen of Dubai on Instagram are likely to be taken here too. It is where you’ll find the Lost Chamber aquarium and the Atlantis waterpark. All worth visiting for the chance to say you’ve been and the fun of riding down the tunnel through the aquarium. I haven’t stayed at the hotel so can’t comment on that but I’m sure it’ll set you back a bit to stay there.

There is more to the Palm than just the Atlantis but it does feel like a bit of a maze if you just wanted to ‘explore’. The best way to visit somewhere else on the Palm is to know where you want to go and grab a taxi. There are so many nice hotel resorts with great restaurants you can’t really go wrong.

I’ve written an alternative itinerary for two days in Dubai, this will give you more ideas that just the iconic things listed above.

Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a layover

There is so much more to each city but without turning this into the longest post ever, I’m going to leave it there. Both cities have so much to offer and I wouldn’t recommend one over the other. It just depends what you’re after.

Abu Dhabi has the mosque and the Formula 1 circuit.

Dubai has the Burj Khalifa and The Palm.

You choose.

I’d love to hear which city you like the most and if you’ve stopped there for a layover before.


Abu Dhabi vs Dubai for a layover


  1. 23rd March 2018 / 4:01 pm

    Argh I’d absolutely love to visit both, but at a push I’d probably have to go for Dubai because it looks insane. Really want to explore Abu Dhabi’s mosque though – it looks sensational!

    • Jodie Louise
      23rd March 2018 / 7:34 pm

      The mosque is so worth making the trip for but equally Dubai has a lot to offer.

  2. 14th April 2018 / 12:19 pm

    Good article, Both Cities are great in their own way, I believe, we should explore more , I will be taking the Dubai City tour soon

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