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Budget conscious traveling is a financial art form. Finagling cheap flights, scouting wallet-friendly accommodations, and utilizing alternative transportation can all be wonderful and exciting ways to maximize the travel dollar and really get up-close and personal with the part of the world you’re visiting. In many destinations, this is a relatively easy feat. However, when you find yourself in a part of the world that isn’t usually associated with the word “budget,” getting creative can take you even further off the traditional beaten path. Case in point: Abu Dhabi.
Located on the Arabian Gulf in the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is a vibrant city that is changing the face of Middle Eastern travel. With world-class accommodations and dining and legendary nightlife, it is easy to break the bank in a short amount of time. However, with careful planning and tips from insiders, it is quite possible to feel like a million dollars in this glitzy city without sacrificing too much of that hard-earned cash.
One of the city’s most fascinating areas is Yas Island. Located a few minutes outside of central Abu Dhabi, Yas Island is home to luxury hotels, exquisite dining options, Ferrari World, which is the world’s largest indoor theme park, and much more. While most of these options can be considered expensive, Yas Island does offer activities that are free or very low cost.
For the exercise and racing enthusiasts, Train Yas Night at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1™ track, is not to be missed. Held every Tuesday and some Sunday evenings from 6pm, this special event gives walkers, runners, and cyclists the opportunity to use the entire 5.5km circuit of the state-of-the-art racetrack. Pop music plays from the grandstand speakers, and at sunset, the Yas Viceroy hotel, which is situated right over the track, comes alive with the world’s largest LED display. Incredible photo opportunities are around every curve, especially near the Yas Marina itself, where mega-yachts worth hundreds of millions of dollars are moored, so don’t forget to bring your camera.
Registration at the gate is required, but this weekly event is free for walkers and runners. Bicycles and helmets can be rented on-site for a small fee from the local cycling club, or if you have your own bike and helmet, you are welcome to cycle the track for free. The organizers of Train Yas have been known to include other activities, such as yoga on the track infield and a fitness boot camp, for an additional charge. This glamorous and slightly surreal experience is a favorite with locals and tourists alike, and is not to be missed.
If you love to watch fast cars, but don’t care to pay the ticket price for the Formula 1™ Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit has other great options. Yas Drag Night is an exciting chance to see amateur drivers take their own cars and motorcycles for a spin on the drag strip. Traveling in Abu Dhabi and have no car to try out? Not to worry. Spectators can become passengers in a three-seat 1050 horsepower super comp dragster, and if you feel like upgrading from passenger to driver, a Chevrolet Camaro SS is on hand to satisfy your need for speed.
The cost for a spectator ticket to Yas Drag Night is only 30AED, or $10USD, which is a fantastically small price for what is certainly a lot of action. Taking the Camaro for a spin down the drag track will set you back 300AED or $100USD, and the ride in the custom built and professionally driven dragster is priced at 500AED, or $175USD. These prices are certainly out of the “budget” range for most people, but if you or someone you’re traveling with is a racing fanatic, this may be your moment to splurge.
Once your adrenaline rush has abated, cocktails are definitely in order. In the emirate of Abu Dhabi, only hotels are licensed to serve alcohol, but with the long list of fine hotels on Yas Island, a cold beer or crisp martini are only minutes away. To make your drink taste even better, happy hours, drink specials, and ladies’ night offers are always plentiful as the hotel bars and lounges try to stay one step ahead of the competition.
The Skylite Lounge in the Yas Viceroy Hotel offers happy hour prices daily from 6-9pm. Ladies’ night is offered every Wednesday, and while ladies must sign up to receive the special promotions, it is well worth it as they will then receive three complimentary drinks on Wednesday and can impress their friends with a discount of 25% for up to four people on other nights of the week. The Y Bar at the Yas Island Rotana also offers happy hour specials from 6-9pm.
If you decide to leave Yas Island and return to central Abu Dhabi to continue your evening, many more affordable options await you. Hemingway’s in the Hilton Abu Dhabi offers a fantastic ladies’ night, with unlimited free drinks on Tuesdays from 7-11pm. They also offer a reasonably priced menu of pub food, and a highly recommended Quiz Night on Sunday evenings. Oceans Bar at Le Royale Meridien hosts a Wednesday ladies’ night with unlimited selected cocktails from 7-11pm.
Abu Dhabi is a dynamic, wealthy city, and the prices of accommodation and entertainment for visitors and locals certainly reflect that. Regardless, with a little bit of frugal planning and a lot of adventurous spirit, an unbeatable experience is waiting for you here, and you don’t have to beat yourself up over it afterward. Unless, of course, you’ve got a bit of a hangover. If that’s the case, one of those hotels that you visited the night before is bound to have a brunch and Bloody Mary special.
Please note that while regulations regarding the consumption of alcohol in Abu Dhabi are much more lax than in other Middle Eastern areas, this is still a predominantly Muslim country. Public drunkenness, or more specifically drunken obnoxiousness, or driving while intoxicated are very serious offenses in this country and are dealt with accordingly. Public taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced. Take advantage of them.