If you’re planning a trip to Abu Dhabi, read this first!
I’m writing this post sitting in the Etihad lounge, ready to fly home after 5 days in Abu Dhabi – efficient eh? Well, thanks to quite literally the fastest check in and security screening, I’ve found myself with an extra half an hour – so why not share my thoughts and tips on visiting Abu Dhabi while everything is still fresh in my mind?
If you’re reading this post as it’s just gone live, you may well be thinking, Josie – what on earth made you want to visit Abu Dhabi during their Summer? Our Summer too? Why not visit one of the beautiful European destinations right on your doorstep? Well – I must say that this trip was in partnership with Abu Dhabi to promote the region, (this blog post is not part of the partnership) and of course they like to host their trips during their ‘low’ season. It was almost like a ghost town in places, with temperatures regularly reaching 44 degrees C and higher during the day, the locals and the tourists know to stay inside, in the comfort of air conditioning. No one walks the streets during the day time; truly, I’ve never felt heat like it. Speaking to the locals, they recommend October to February, with those two months in particular being the best time to visit, and Charlie and I would absolutely love to come back particularly in February, when it’s still miserable in the UK and you just need some guaranteed sunshine and heat.
So now you know when to you, you need to know where to stay! Abu Dhabi is an archipelago (I love that word!!) of islands, most of which are natural but some are man made too; including the latest hot spot; Yas Island where you’ll find the F1 race track, Ferrari world, a huge mall, a beautiful marina, and lovely hotels. Yas is actually further out of town, toward Dubai (which you can reach in around 90 minutes by car from Abu Dhabi) so instead I’d recommend staying somewhere more central, and when we visit again, we’d really love to stay at the Emirates Palace. Well, the name kind of gives it away doesn’t it?! Originally built as a ‘guest house’ for the extremely VIP (think Royals etc) visitors to the rulers of Abu Dhabi, it quickly became a hotel run by the Kempinski group back in around 2005. It’s recently been taken over by the Mandarin Oriental (but they won’t be branding it as such until it’s up to their standards!!) who are modernising the space, and making it more homely, instead of palatial. We ate there for breakfast and lunch, both of which were truly incredible (you can tell a lot about a hotel from their breakfast offering…. do they have oat milk? Proper coffee?? Fresh juices?) as well as experiencing a heavenly Rose & Oud spa treatment; it really was the height of luxury – see some photos from our day there below. Fun fact; in the palace you’ll find over 30 tonnes of 23k gold leaf across the buildings walls and ceilings, as well as over 1000 Swarovski chandeliers! I think the St Regis also looks lovely and potentially the Rixos hotel too, although we didn’t get to look around those.
We stayed at the Shangri La, and although I’d previously thought of the hotel chain as being incredibly luxurious, I must say we were left a tad disappointed as it felt rather outdated, in need of modernisation, missing those luxury little touches and awful coffee!! I should say that Charlie and I have been so so fortunate to stay in some of the most wonderful hotels in the world, so our standards are very high – but – you’re here to read my honest thoughts so here they are! Oh and location wise, aside from being close to the Grand Mosque, it was about half an hour out of the main town, and so a 30 minute uber to anywhere we wanted to visit.
Near the Emirates Palace is an area along a long beach called ‘Corniche’ which seems to be where many of the hot spots in the city are. We visited a beautiful Marina area, and upon doing a quick Google Map search, fell upon a cafe called ‘Brunch and Cake‘ which I absolutely adored. Cleverly designed to be extremely photogenic in both its interiors and its food, it was a lovely spot with great views, incredibly friendly staff and delicious food. I couldn’t recommend the Avocado Toast any more highly (I can almost guarantee it will be the best one you’ve ever had) and oh my goodness, the Brioche loaf (photographed below) was just sensational! They had a La Marzocco coffee machine as well, so Charlie and I were happily caffeinated!
Other food spots that we loved included COYA at the Galleria mall, again the most incredible staff (across the board in Abu Dhabi we found the service to be exceptional) with some of the most divine food I’ve ever eaten (including Wagyu Beef sushi and Yuku and Manchego Churros) and fantastic cocktails too. There’s a Hakkasan at the Emirates Palace which we didn’t get chance to visit this time, and also the Shang Palace within the Shangri La was great for traditional Chinese cuisine.
We spent one evening at the Galleria Mall which has everything from a very large Dior store, to a Shake Shack and Inkberry – so safe to say I was * VERY * happy to spend an evening there!
Oh by the way; getting around is easy; we got Ubers everywhere which was really easy!
Of course I have to mention the local customs in Abu Dhabi – while in the touristy areas you can dress as you please – within reason, there are places where you do need to be respectful and dress modestly. To be honest, I chose to dress modestly most of the time while there – meaning shoulders and knees are covered. In the heat, a white linen shirt dress will be your best friend; I wore a white linen tie sleeve dress from The White Company and a white linen shirt over my shoulders most of the time, and then some gorgeous dresses to take photos in the early hours and also as the sun was setting.
Not everywhere has a license to serve alcohol, and drinking or being drunk while out on the streets is a big no-no.
Covid wise, we had PCR tests taken in the UK just before flying, and showed this as well as our vaccination information to a few places upon entering (such as Galleria Mall) but we didn’t require anything to fly there. There’s an app called Al Hosn which is recommended for sharing your Covid pass, but I had trouble signing up to it without a UAE phone number, and luckily didn’t find we needed it.
Beach cover up by Eres
Another fantastic place to spend the day was the Saadiyat Beach Club. With a beautiful pool, cabanas, a heavenly beach which truly could have been in the Maldives, and a really fantastic gym, we spent an entire day there quite happily. Lunch was wonderful (they had Mirabeau rosé – hurrah!) and an iced coffee in the shade after a paddle in the Arabian Gulf really was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. The sea is HOT. Not warm, HOT. You want it to be cool and refreshing but oh no, it really is like being in a bath. So as much as Charlie and I are more beach than pool people, we ended up spending some hours by the pool too, to make the most of it’s slightly cooler temperatures!
After four nights by the coast, we spent our final day at Al Wathba; a desert hotel and spa which is about 45 minutes inland. Again the hotel was lovely, but not hugely luxurious by our (admittedly very high) standards – but the location was spectacular and it was lovely to experience a different side of Abu Dhabi.
Speaking honestly about visiting Abu Dhabi vs Dubai, I think Abu Dhabi is certainly more to our taste; it’s less flashy than Dubai – we didn’t see one crystal embellished supercar! – and yet you can still experience the very best in food and hospitality here. Abu Dhabi felt on the whole more affordable than Dubai as well, certainly less busy – a little more undiscovered. It feels as though Abu Dhabi is more for those ‘In the Know’ – while Dubai continues on it’s trajectory of becoming the Las Vegas of the Middle East – so it depends on your idea of a perfect holiday!
I’d love to know if you’ve got any plans to visit Abu Dhabi, and if you’d add any recommendations to this post?