Compared to its larger and glitzier brother Dubai, Abu Dhabi is substantially more compact.
Nowhere in the downtown area is more than a short bus or taxi ride away from anywhere else, but you will still be using motorised transport more than walking. There is also still a fair amount of sprawl in Abu Dhabi, so you may be staying somewhere a bit outside the centre.
Whereas Dubai has invested heavily in rail-based transport, there is no such service in Abu Dhabi, and proposals to develop such a network are on hold. You’ll have a choice of waiting outside in the dusty heat for a bus or taking the much more commonplace option of a taxi. Then there’s the natural question that if you are spending let’s say one week in Abu Dhabi, will you also want to visit Dubai? Will you want to travel elsewhere within the UAE, and possibly even on to Oman? Abu Dhabi car hire certainly isn’t for everyone, but it might still be an option for your visit.
It certainly is perfectly possible to travel between Abu Dhabi and Dubai by bus, and plenty of people do so. Abu Dhabi is also not lacking in its own huge range of architectural gems. Visitors can either use state-backed scheduled bus services, or they can take guided tours.
For trips into the desert, then 4×4 vehicles tend to be more popular, although the practice of “dune bashing” has been heavily criticised for its environmental damage.
Why should you rent a car in Abu Dhabi?
In terms of factors like the cost of the hire itself, fuel costs, road tolls and parking charges, is it worth hiring a car in Abu Dhabi?
Abu Dhabi Car hire summary
Overall drive rating
Cheapest rate for one week
How much should I expect to pay in the peak season?
Free parking score
Total 164 - of which 86 have free parking. [full notes - parking]
Reasons why you need a car in Abu Dhabi
Fuel is cheap!
Public transport in the city is poor – no metro, no rapid bus network, only taxis and conventional buses.
Plans for an Abu Dhabi metro are currently on hold. Dspite the rapid growth of the city, including huge expansion of the airport, there are still no confirmed plans for mass rapid transit in the city.
Coaches to other cities in the UAE only offer limited service. They are an excellent option for getting to Dubai or Al Ain, but less so for anywhere else.
A car provides more flexible access across the whole city.
A hire car is useful for day trips to Dubai.
Car rental in Abu Dhabi is generally good value when compared with other destinations in the Gulf region. Expect to pay a little bit more than in Dubai, as it’s not quite so competitive here.
The roads in the UAE are amongst the least safe in the world. It might be better to leave the driving to somebody local.
Abu Dhabi is actually very compact. You can get by using buses or walking, especially once you are outside the midday heat.
Some parts of Abu Dhabi are well shaded with trees, whereas there are also many other places which are refreshed by the sea breeze. Abu Dhabi is hot by any standard, but there are still ways to enjoy the city on foot without being completely overwhelmed.
Plenty of activities based around the waterfront, car not needed.
Vist the Mangrove National Park – this is in a very central location, and easy to reach by bus or taxi. You can also go kayaking here.
Car fanatics can have lots of fun at the Yas Circuit – but you can easily get there by bus or taxi.
Car rental in - Abu Dhabi Need v worth & should!
Do you need a car in Abu Dhabi?
Based on comparison with transit, walking and cycling.
Is it worth hiring a car in Abu Dhabi?
Based on value for money
Should you rent a car in Abu Dhabi?
Weighing up the above, if you are asking about hiring a car, is it a good idea?
Who is travelling?
Is it worth renting a car in Abu Dhabi if I am a solo / budget traveller?
What about for 2 people travelling together?
Where are you staying?
Do you need a car in Abu Dhabi if we are staying in a central area?
What if we are staying on the edge of the city/resort?
Or in a rural area?
What is your attitude towards driving?
Should I hire a car in Abu Dhabi if I prefer not to drive?
Any Abu Dhabi car hire advice also has to come with the significant caveat that the roads in the United Arab Emirates have some of the worst accident figures of any country that publishes this data. However, given the sheer volume of tourists and expats, these figures tend to look even worse than they actually are. On balance, there is certainly no need to get a hire car if you are literally just stopping over in Abu Dhabi, but for a longer trip then car rental starts to become something as well worth considering.
Anyone with an interest in technology might well want to take a look at the futuristic Masdar City near Abu Dhabi International airport. Masdar is designed to have much more in common with traditional Middle Eastern cities, with steep sided streets having additional natural climate control systems to make them inherently walkable.
Masdar does also have its own bus terminal. If all of Abu Dhabi was built like Masdar, then our verdict would be very different, but sadly it is not – Masdar is the experiment, not the reality, and it’s only really worth visiting if you have an interest in the architecture or the technology.
Do I need a car in Abu Dhabi? Verdict – yes (may be useful for longer visits, especially for getting out of the city).
Would you hire a car in Abu Dhabi?
Have you driven in Abu Dhabi?
Do you agree with our advice on whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Abu Dhabi?
Tell us what you think using the comments section below: