Illustration by Alex Najm

A Guide to the City for First Years (or Anyone Else)

From transportation and dining to entertainment and navigating the city, the features desk offers you an overview of the favorite places within Abu Dhabi for adventures in the city.

There is more to Abu Dhabi than Tuesdays at Abd El Wahab or an occasional trip to Yas Mall; in fact, there is so much to explore when you leave our island campus. Whether you have just arrived in the country for the first time or are looking to expand your adventures after a few years in the Saadiyat bubble, it is time to get acquainted with the city and discover all it has to offer.
How do I get around?
If you want to leave your dorm and walk around Saadiyat, you can explore the island by taking the first right to head towards Waitrose and the Saadiyat Beach Residences to avoid going by the underpass. Make sure to pay attention to announcements about the weekly NYUAD Bike Share program so that you can make your way around the island even quicker.
Unfortunately, there is no way to walk across the bridge to get on and off the island by foot, so the main alternatives are cabs, the public bus and the NYUAD shuttle.
Cabs are available in front of the welcome center and on the streets of downtown Abu Dhabi. Cabs have an initial fee of five dirhams and minimum cost per ride of 12 AED. Given the current Covid-19 restrictions, there is a limit of two passengers per cab, though students can book family cabs through numbers such as 600-535-353 for up to three passengers. You can also download the Abu Dhabi Taxi app for quick booking. It can be helpful to have a Google map of your desired location pre-loaded on your phone in case the driver is not familiar with the region. While they are convenient, cab rides can be more costly than other methods of transportation, with a ride to Abu Dhabi Mall falling just under 25 AED and a trip from the Corniche to the Saadiyat campus around 30 AED.
An alternative to constant cabbing is the Line 170 public bus that leaves from campus every 30 minutes; the bus first swings by a few quick stops near Manarat Al Saadiyat before heading directly into the city and onto Hamdan Street. Bus cards can be recharged in the Welcome Center and purchased from most grocery stores, baqalas, the Central Bus Station near the Al Wahda mall and most bus stops around the city. The Darbi app is a useful tool that provides timely updates on the bus locations as well as their respective schedules for you to easily make way around the city for just a few dirhams.
The university also provides daily shuttle services to the city. There are three shuttle routes, traveling to destinations including Yas Mall, Spinneys St. Regis, World Trade Center Mall, Al Wahda, and the Galleria. The most updated shuttle schedule can be found at the reception desk at the Welcome Center or on the Student Portal. Students will need to present their NYU ID when utilizing the shuttle service, and due to social distancing measures, shuttle capacity is significantly smaller, with high demand. Early arrival at the shuttle pick up locations are recommended.
When exploring around the city, the corresponding malls at each shuttle stop can be useful guiding landmarks for navigating directions. Students can utilize them as jumping off points to then venture into the city by foot or to catch a less pricey cab to their specific locations.
Where should I go?
Abu Dhabi is composed of the main city center and several other islands. On the Yas and Al Maryah Islands, you can find malls and other attractions, like Ferrari World, Warner Bros World and The Galleria.
The most immediate location after crossing the Sheikh Khalifa Bridge from Saadiyat is Mina Zayed, a fishing and transportation hub and a bustling marketplace for everything from dates to carpets to some great spots for unwinding.
If your dorm is feeling a bit empty, head to the Plant Souk at Mina Zayed to find some new plant friends. Even if you are not planning on getting plants or succulents, the Plant Souk is a great place for a calming and refreshing walk away from high rises and the bustling city. Spend some time speaking with the sellers to find out more about the plants, Abu Dhabi and its greenery or themselves — they have a lot to share.
You can also visit the Carpet Souk at Mina Zayed, which is more accessible from the main Al Mina street than from the port itself. There is an eclectic range of rugs, carpets, cushions and covers you can buy to deck out your room.
A 10 minutes cab ride or a 30 minutes walk from Mina Zayed is Warehouse 421, a modern art and culture space built out of remodelled industrial warehouses. Go for some creative inspiration or take part in the many movie screenings, art activities, classes and exhibitions.
Along the coastline down Mina Zayed, the Corniche — an eight kilometer long pathway that runs along the city coast — can be seen. It comprises of parks, small restaurants, bubble tea shops and a wonderful walkway for a sunset stroll. You can also rent a bicycle or skateboard for a few hours at a time from one of the three vendors along the Corniche with a valid Emirates ID. Students can drop off at the WTC mall shuttle stop and walk for around 15 minutes to reach the Corniche and an additional 30 minutes to reach the beach.
Located near the Central Souk/ WTC mall shuttle stop are some of the hidden gems of Abu Dhabi. Walking distance from the WTC mall, Boti Street is a popular restaurant among NYUAD students for their boti rolls and a range of other Desi dishes and good chai that will make your day.
Adjacent to WTC mall, Hamdan Street is one of the most central locations downtown and can also be reached by taking the 170 public bus from campus. Along Hamdan street are the Al Youssef Towers, with a number of small thrift clothing stores that you can shop around for affordable additions to your wardrobe. For all the bookworms, visit Abu Dhabi’s one and only thrift book store, also a walking distance from any of the bus stops on Hamdan Street. While the range of books can be limited, you’ll encounter some great finds if you look for them. Head to Kulfilicious for some dessert, Dragon Bao Bao for some Chinese food or if you are just looking for a place to relax and work, head on over to Cafe 302 or Art House Cafe, all of which are easily accessible from Hamdan Street.
If Al Wahda mall is your orienting landmark, you can find some amazing FIlipino and Korean food nearby. While walking around these city center areas, be sure to stop by the many tea breaks for one dirham karak and small snacks. A five minute cab ride away from Al Wahda mall is Umm al Emarat Park, an open, outdoor space to visit when the Abu Dhabi weather is pleasant, for picnics or peaceful strolls.
With all your newly acquired knowledge and navigation skills, we hope you venture into the city and try out some of these favorite spots. And if you do discover a new hidden gem, please contact the nearest Gazelle Features editor to write about it in an AD Secrets article.
Caroline Sullivan is Senior Features Editor, Huma Umar is Features Editor, Amna Asif is Deputy Features Editor and Grace Shieh is Deputy Features Editor. Email them at
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