Between Bedouin desert sands and gilded white-washed mosques, discover an island of opulence under the sun on Abu Dhabi holidays
The scorching heat hits you first, followed by the sultry scent of oud, and then the sight of those epic palace-style hotels – they don’t make them small in this part of the world. Neither do they scrimp on architectural marvels. The city’s leading Islamic mosque is hung with Swarovski chandeliers and covered with the largest Iranian carpet ever made and Yas Hotel’s colossal curved steel and glass LED canopy pretty much overlaps the renowned Formula One race track.
We love Abu Dhabi holidays for the remarkable contrasts; fantastical dining and ostentatious shopping, Arabian desert, religious temples, and the most recent addition of world-class art – the new billion-pound Louvre Abu Dhabi, a futuristic filigree half sphere masterpiece museum, home to the world's most expensive painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’. There’s the haze of shisha smoke drifting from one lavish bar to another, coconut and sandalwood coming from opulent spas, and shimmering waters in meandering pools overlooking the Arabian Gulf. Buckle up at Ferrari World for a ride on the world’s fastest rollercoaster, swim across Corniche Beach with a backdrop of spectacular Abu Dhabi skyline and take afternoon coffee at Emirates Palace where cappuccinos are laced with 24-carat gold flakes.
Middle Eastern tradition and culture also thrive – holidays to Abu Dhabi take you through hot springs and pools to some 500 tombs at UNESCO World Heritage Site Jebel Hafeet and to the Empty Quarter’s red hot desert sands filled with dune bashing, henna painting and sand boarding, ending with a sunset Bedouin dinner – tribute to the Arabia that came before the glossy resturants and lavish resorts.
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Best time to visit Abu Dhabi
The United Arab Emirates experience year-round sunshine and the daytime temperature rarely dips below 24°C. The best time to visit is between November and March when the average maximum temperature is 25°C – an ideal temperature for sightseeing and sunbathing. The scorching summer months fall between May and September, where temperatures often exceed 40°C.
Abu Dhabi holiday highlights
Discover ancient sculptures on display in lavish hotels, head to the newest art addition, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, for state-of-the-art permanent collections and masterpieces on loan from its Paris counterpart, and visit one of the United Arab Emirates’ most outstanding monuments, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, where glistening white marble domes meet chandeliers, gilded calligraphy and Mamluk, Ottoman and Faklid styles.
Aimed predominantly at families and kids, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi is worthy an afternoon stop for roller coasters and simulators, and Yas Island’s WaterWorld offers a similar experience, albeit with surf waves and super slides instead. If you’re looking for sand there’s plenty of it – the renowned Corniche Beach has three long stretches with the majority of beach being Blue Flag certified. No Abu Dhabi holiday is complete without a journey into the desert – take a morning or evening safari and experience everything from sand boarding to dune bashing and a traditional Bedouin evening feast.
Abu Dhabi is one of the most popular departure points for Arabia and Indian Ocean cruises. Cruise lines such as Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean made Abu Dhabi their home port for at least one of their ships, allowing you to travel in style around the Arabian Sea and beyond.
Where is Abu Dhabi?
In the Arabian peninsula on the north-eastern side of the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, is an island city just 250 metres from the mainland, connected by four bridges: Maqta bridge, Mussafah bridge, Sheikh Zayed bridge and Sheikh Khalifa bridge.
Bus services have thorough networks throughout the emirate while silver taxis and metered limousines are also popular methods of transport. Hiring a car is easy and convenient and roads are good – although often gridlocked during rush hour.
Abu Dhabi’s shopping malls are almost out of this world, packed not only with designer stores and high-end brands but also cinemas, entertainment and dining. You’ll find the very best of Arabic sweets and pastries, cult perfumeries selling hand-made scents and even ice rinks, bowling alleys and musical fountains. Shopping highlights include Yas Marina Mall, Al Wahda Mall, Avenue at Etihad and The Galleria.
Food and drink
Red snapper and ceviche, Persian cuisine, omakase Japanese tables, restaurants with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto wild beaches and rooftop bars where cocktails come with a serving of smoke: nightlife in Abu Dhabi is exciting, innovative and lavish. Mostly found in hotels and resorts, you’ll find candlelit dining with Arabian Gulf views, stylish cafes with vegan menus and sky-high delights overlooking Yas Marina and afternoon tea 300 metres up at Etihad Tower’s Observation Deck 300.
Recommended Abu Dhabi Hotels
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