What are you looking for from a holliday? City break, beach or a touch of culture? With Abu Dhabi you get all three, along with glorious winter sunshine. It may often seem to sit in the shadow of its glitzy sibling, Dubai, but the UAE capital is swiftly rising to become a must visit destination.
Famed for the annual Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi is also home to Ferrari World, (home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster), the world’s largest indoor theme park at Warner Bros. World, and not one but two of the world’s best waterparks. Add into that the wonderful art pieces at Louvre Abu Dhabi, the beautiful sight of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE, and the wonderful mix of shopping from traditional souks to grand malls, with every designer and high street name you can imagine, you certainly won’t be short of things to do. Of course, all of this sits below the wonderful city skyline backdrop and upon some glorious beaches.
Where to stay
One thing that Abu Dhabi isn’t short of is high end, luxurious hotels. We stayed at Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas, which is located on Saadiyat Island, just 5 minutes from the main city by taxi. Saadiyat has been undergoing a remarkable transformation into a world class leisure and holiday destinations, with the Louvre Museum already open on the Island and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum to follow shortly. The wonderful thing about staying on Saadiyat Island is the tranquility. With the stretch of beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters, it seems bizarre that in just 5 minutes you could be shopping in the mall or sipping cocktails in a city skyscraper.
Rotana have a number of properties across UAE and the hotel on Saadiyat Island offers 5* luxury. The beautiful interior of the hotel is striking on arrival and almost all rooms offer a wonderful view over the ocean. The hotel rooms are incredibly spacious with private balcony, large bathroom, and incredibly comfortable beds to sink into. There’s a lovely pool area, kids pool, mini golf, pool bar and beach bar within a few steps from the hotel doors, but just a few steps further and you’re on the decking down to the hotel’s private stretch of Saadiyat Beach.
You’ll be met part way down with a cool box filled with bottled water and it’s those little touches that really add to what Rotana offers as a hotel. Whether you choose to spend the day on the beautiful sandy beach, or sipping cocktails at the hotel’s swim up pool bar (with stools in the pool may we add), the service and welcome from the hotel’s staff was faultless.
So what about the food & drink? The hotel offers a large buffet restaurant as well as an Italian restaurant, British/American Bar & Grill, the Turtle Bay Seafood restaurant, Turtle Bay rooftop bar, Beach bar and the pool bar. All of the restaurants are included within a half board package, so there’s plenty of opportunity to try different cuisines.
If you do one thing whilst you’re here though, make sure you book the Friday brunch. You think we do a good brunch over here? This will make you change your mind. Saadiyat Rotana, like many of the top hotels, offers their brunch from 1-4pm on a Friday and you’ll be welcomed to an afternoon feast of the finest food & drink. With a live band playing by the pool, cocktails stations serving Aperol Spritz, Tom Collins, Jack Daniels, Daiquiris and more, live cooking stations and wine topped up at your table, well, if it’s not your idea of heaven then we probably wouldn’t be friends. The food ranges from freshly prepared sushi and a vast range of seafood, lobster cooked to order, freshly grilled chicken and lamb, ranges of cured meats, cheeses, risotto, seafood lasagne, dim sum, dessert stations and so much more. We could list them all, but you get the idea.
Following brunch or on any other evening, make your way up to the Turtle Bay Rooftop Bar to watch the sun go down over the city and ocean. It’s a beautiful view and there are different drinks offers on throughout the week, including 1/2 price gin & tonics, as well as a DJ playing (plus make sure you order to rooftop bar’s Blue Crab Dip).
Away from the food & drink be sure to check out the hotel’s spa with range of treatments available or if you’re feeling a little more active there are also on site tennis courts. Worried you’ll be missing any action back home? Hamilton’s Bar & Grill also show all the televised Premier League football too.
Rooms at Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas start from £220 per night. They also have a range of 2 bedroom beachfront villas available, as well as half board and other dining packages. For more information visit the Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas website.
Things to do
Whilst Saadiyat Rotana offers an incredible base for your holiday we do recommend taking the time to explore a little as the city has so much to offer. So where to go?
At the top of our list was a desert tour and GetYourGuide comes highlight recommended. You’ll be met at your hotel and on the trip you’ll visit a traditional working camel farm before heading onto the dunes for dune bashing and sand boarding. Then the star of the trip as you get to take your own camel ride through the desert. The tour guide was simply wonderful and you don’t need to worry about capturing the perfect photos as they took plenty of time to make sure you got every photo you wanted during the experience. (Tip: If you’re prone to travel sickness you might want to make sure you take some deep breaths before the dune bashing!)
The tour is priced at £43 and can be booked via GetYourGuide.
So much fun on one island. Hop over to Yas Island to visit the world famous Abu Dhabi Grand Prix track, as well as the theme park at Ferrari World, which houses the world’s fastest rollercoaster, Formula Rossa. Are you a Marvel and superhero fan? Warner Bros have also opened the world’s largest indoor theme park on Yas Island so head down to meet DC’s Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, along with the Dark Knight’s whole rogues gallery. There’s also plenty of splash fun to be had on the island over at Yas Waterworld. If you hadn’t previously thought of Abu Dhabi as a holiday destination for with the kids, Yas Island might just change your mind!
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The sight of the Grand Mosque is simply beautiful against the clear blue skies. The largest mosque in UAE, it’s a sight to behold and well worth taking a couple of hours to go and have a look. If you do go be sure to book your space online as the queues to register tickets are incredibly long. Once inside ladies who don’t have a scarf to cover their head and shoulders will be offered a gown to wear as they explore the site. The mosque stands out, not only as one of the world’s largest mosques, but the only one that captures unique interactions between Islam and world cultures. Entrance is free but be sure to register online.
Of course you must head down to the city. Abu Dhabi is home to numerous shopping malls with high end designer shops as well as well as the British high street names you know from back home. You can also explore the souks to buy more traditional items and enjoy some traditional Arabian cuisine.
Head towards the Corniche Beachfront and you’ll have the city skyline behind you as you meet the beautiful beach, which is open to the public. With cycle lanes, children’s play areas, water sports, street food and plenty of activities, it’s a lovely beachfront walk and afternoon out. Whilst by the Corniche also take a stop at the incredible Emirates Palace Hotel. Imagine The Ritz but by the sea, and possibly even grander. The Emirates Palace Hotel is one of the most grand in Abu Dhabi and sits on the very edge of the city on the beachfront. Head into their cafe dining area during the day and treat yourself to a Cappuccino Royale, which may be the only coffee you ever drink that comes with 24 carat gold flakes on it (priced around £17).
Etihad fly to Abu Dhabi from Heathrow Airport with fares starting from £330 (monthly payment scheme available). They operate 3 flights per day and also fly from Manchester Airport. With a flight time of 6.5 hours it’s one of the shorter long haul flights you can take to allow you to escape to beautiful sunshine, beaches and luxury. Plus there’s wifi and live Premier League football on the plane!
Will we be back? Absolutely! For a spot of winter sunshine, with temperatures in the mid 20s through February, with as little jet lag as you can get away with for a long haul trip, it’s perfect. There’s so much to do in Abu Dhabi for couples, groups and families, we’re already planning our next trip!
With many thanks to Saadiyat Rotana hotel, who invited us to review the hotel. We received a half board hotel stay free of charge but were under no obligation to give a positive review. All opinions are our own.