Review: Half-Day City Tour in Abu Dhabi

Two months ago, we booked a half-day city tour of Abu Dhabi, with Emirates Tours & Safari. The reviews on TripAdvisor were of desert safari tours and they were raving reviews, although Emirates Tours does organize different tours in Abu Dhabi as well. I couldn’t find others’ reviews for the none-desert tours, especially the Abu Dhabi city tour, but we went ahead in faith, thinking that if they could do desert tours so well, the city tour should be good too.

We were wrong.

The half-day city tour with them turned out to be a disappointing way to see Abu Dhabi as a first-time visitor.

On our first morning in Abu Dhabi, at 8.35am, our group of five were picked up downstairs of our apartment. Guess what time we reached Sheikh Zayed Mosque’s carpark? 10.05am! That’s 1.5 hours of sitting inside the coach, going round and round to pick up other passengers at their hotels. Initially, I had boarded the coach all excited to see the mosque. By the time we finally reached the mosque, the main bulk of my excitement had already died down, together with the passing time.

As we went around picking up passengers, inside the coach, the tour guide used his really monotonous voice to briefly introduce facts about Abu Dhabi. We got to learn that ~Abu Dhabi is a really rich city; ~Abu Dhabi welcomes foreigners to work and stay here; ~there’s plenty of planted trees and natural mangroves, etc. He kept repeating the same information. Either he’d forgotten what he had mentioned, or he’s repeating to share with new people that boarded the coach. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but I have to admit I was really bored by him.

Outside of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, we went through security and dress-code checks. Finally, we were inside the mosque at 10.15am #LongAwaited! We’d been instructed to return to our coach at the carpark at 11.15am. That leaves us with just an hour to fully cover the mosque, argh! Our Tour Guide led the way inside the mosque, but he was so fast whereas I was busy trying to snap as many photos as I could in marvel of this wonderful creation of a mosque. I didn’t have much chance to listen to what he shared.

The Grand Mosque was a sight to behold though!

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi • The Petite Wanderess

“Beautiful” wasn’t enough a word to describe. I’ll use “breathtaking” anytime!

Read my blogpost about the mosque!

Miraj shop & gold carpets

Sadly, we bade farewell to Grand Mosque at 11.15am. The next place we were brought to was Miraj — a shop/museum. This program wasn’t inside the itinerary, and was a complete waste of time. We had to sit and listen to a salesman introduce very intricately made, expensive carpets made using gold thread and precious stones. The carpets were exquisite indeed, but no one in the tour group was interested to buy? It’s probably due to their exquisite prices too (USD$1300? USD$800?). There were other exhibits for sale at Miraj. I personally felt quite cheated to be even there. It’s like we’d been robbed of extra time at the Grand Mosque to visit a shop whose wares I have absolutely no interest in. We left Miraj as soon as we could.

Dates Market

The next program was to visit the “Gold Souks and Dates Market”. Well, we were brought to no gold souks, instead, taken to one dates shop at a wholesale market, which you can buy as local foodstuff and bring back to your country. The market was indeed very authentic-looking. I didn’t take any photos because ermz it’s not really Instagram-worthy lololll.

Heritage Village

Abu Dhabi City Tour Review • The Petite Wanderess

Finally, at 1pm, we arrived at a Heritage Village. Again, this Heritage Village place fell short of my expectations. As per Emirate Tours’ description, it was supposed to be: “Step back in time at the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village, with its replica old desert settlement. Stroll around the Bedouin tents, shop at the souk, see craft demonstrations and more.”

I didn’t see any ’Bedouin tents’! Did I miss them?!? There were just stalls selling stuff, while the ‘craft demonstrations’ were tiny workshop units built around a structural U-shaped building. Through these units, you might be able to have a preview of crafts that people of Abu Dhabi used to do. I say might, because most of the units were closed or barred people from entry, so you can only glance at the doorway. There was barely anything going on… zZz.

At this Heritage Village, there’s a little museum that relates more of the history of Abu Dhabi. This museum is probably the most interesting thing available at the heritage village, mind you!

At the back of the Heritage Village, it’s the seaside where you can stand around for some waterfront views.

I’d been looking forward to a wider variety of interactive activities at this heritage village, and was disappointed when I didn’t see anything close. The Tour Guide was not with us during the whole time at the Heritage Village.

The ending of the city tour

It was 1.30pm by the time we left the Heritage Village. By then, the coach was beginning to send people back to their hotels. Since we were first to be picked up, naturally we’ll be last to be dropped off, though I understand that this all boils down to the location of our accommodation. By then, all of us were lethargic, hungry and quiet, as we had started the day at 8+am and had not stopped for any snacks (unless you count sampling 1-3 tiny dates at the market as snacks).

My expat friend requested to have us alight at a mall so we can finally have lunch. It was already past 2pm.

Conclusion: Disappointment

Because there were no entrance fees for any of the places above, the half-day city tour by Emirates Tours & Safari provided little value to customers other than the convenience of transport. As one of us is an expat working in UAE, had we known the city tour was of such subpar standard, we would have done the activities on our own! Emirates Tours & Safari could have organized this tour much better, Hopefully, I’m not sounding too self-entitled here, but the kids in the group tour were grumpy from hunger and boredom, while the adults struggled to stay interested in the activities (trust me, I try my best to find the interesting cultural aspects of a country). I wish Emirates Tours would have been more thoughtful in making necessary arrangements.

Emirates Tours & Safari was the same company that provided our Desert Safari tour the next day. The experience turned out the opposite – it was a really great tour! View my feature here!

Visited: Nov 2016

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