Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and modern countries in the world, Abu Dhabi was founded as recently as 1971 and is ever-evolving with a skyline beginning to rival Manhattan. Though less braggart than it’s neighbouring Dubai, what Abu Dhabi lacks in overt shows of wealth, makes up for in brilliant culture. Take a look at our city guide of where to go, what to see and what to do in this Arabian dreamland.
Stay: Anantara Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa
This palatial, Arabian-style hotel overlooks Eastern Mangrove Lagoon National Park. Opt for a room overlooking the mangroves and the infinity pool for a beautiful breakfast view. Wander through the majestic halls and corridors to see a breathtaking showcase of Arabian design, with grand central passageways and arched ceilings. Enjoy the freshest and finest cuisine at Paychaylen – Abu Dhabi’s number one Thai restaurant, with exclusively only 15 tables, so no last-minute reservations I’m afraid! Or relax for a drink at Impressions, complemented by views across the mangroves. The Anantara Spa, which features Abu Dhabi’s only Turkish hammam, vast couples suites and gold sinks, decadently Arabian.
Explore: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Located between the airport and the Corniche. Completed in 2008, the building is spectacular, with a mix of Mughal and Moorish styles, 82 marble domes of various sizes, minarets up to 351ft high, the world’s largest carpet and chandeliers incorporating millions of Swarovski crystals. On the third floor of the northern minaret is the mosque’s state-of-the-art library containing more than 50,000 rare books and manuscripts, with an excellent view of Abu Dhabi island in all directions.
Visit: Louvre Abu Dhabi
Recently opened in November last year, the the leaders of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi launched the development of this major, universal art museum project. By developing tourism, education, and services, they aimed to dawn the post-oil age. Abu Dhabi called on French expertise to help them successfully bring the Arab world’s first universal museum to life. The museum is not, in any way, a copy of the French Louvre; it is an individual institution offering its own interpretation of a universal museum, reflecting its era and the local traditions of the country it lies in. Its collection, which will include loans from French institutions (rotated on a ten-year basis), presents both ancient and contemporary works of historic, cultural, and sociological interest from around the world.
Relax: Zaya Nurai Island
Having been developed as both an upscale resort and an exclusive real estate development, Nurai Island is situated in the pristine waters of the Arabian Gulf to the east of the Abu Dhabi city coastline. Just a ten-minute boat ride from Saadiyat Island, the secluded island is conveniently accessible from all major travel ports in the UAE. Inspired by the Arabic word ‘nur’ meaning ‘light’ – Nurai Island is a stunning piece of paradise that is the perfect retreat for those looking for peace and tranquility, not to mention the Instagram-friendly views of sea hammocks and bar swings to lounge upon. The dining options include Nurai’s Terrace, Beach Burger, Latitude, Olive and Salare and all outlets are open to residents and non-residents alike. However, dining reservations must be made in advance but do include complimentary boat transfer to and from the island.
Shop: The Galleria
When you’re in the midst of luxury in the UAE, of course you are going to shop! The newly opened Galleria on Al Marayah Island, features a luxury shopping mall with all the world’s top brands. Stop for a coffee and a salad at the Armani Café and admire the view of the city across the water.
Adventure: Sir Bani Yas Island
This conservation island owned by the late Sheikh Zayed is home to over to 13,000 free-roaming indigenous and introduced animals, including sand gazelles, Barbary sheep, ostriches and even giraffes and cheetahs. Rarities include the Indian blackbuck, an antelope that can reach speeds of up to 90km/h, and several species of oryx, including the Arabian oryx, one of the world’s most endangered animals. Reached by a 50-seat plane from Dubai or Abu Dhabi, or a 250-kilometer drive from the UAE capital followed by a ferry crossing, Sir Bani Yas recreates a wilderness, so put on your adventure hat and take a safari tour or choose from activities such as archery and snorkeling to horse riding, nature walks and pearl diving, while accommodation is in one of three luxury resorts. Take a look at our in-depth review of the island here.