Winter’s already creeping up on most of us in the northern hemisphere. But don’t fret: whether you’re chasing some winter sun or want to beat the January blues by booking a future trip, we’ve got your back. Our pick of the best place to escape to? Abu Dhabi!
The city has been graced with pristine strips of sand, where you can effortlessly combine historical riches, architectural wonders, cutting-edge cuisine and buzzing nightlife with a spot of seaside relaxation. And we should know – we’ve just spent two glorious weeks there, trying out new hotspots for the guide.
So slap on the shades and sun block, here’s our pick of the best the city has to offer:
DO: Desert safari
Make like Lawrence of Arabia and head to the desert. Usually a 4×4 will pick you up at your hotel and proceed to drive you at a dizzying speed up and down the desert’s rolling dunes. A stop off at a Bedouin-style encampment follows, which offers a Disney-style glimpse of local life, with camel rides, henna tattoos and a massive Middle Eastern buffet is de rigueur. Sure, it’s cheesy, but it’s also good fun.
STAY: Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas
While this vast, beautiful resort may have a familiar Arabian exterior – sandstone façade, minaret-style towers and white domes – the experience here is something special indeed. It’s a romantic, wistful resort that is a destination in itself, set in a most incredible setting – think: a sweeping, gorgeous white sand beach where the clear blue waters of the Arabian Gulf lap against. There’s an indulgent spa, two tennis courts, mini-golf and a huge swimming pool, plus eight dining options. We loved sipping cocktails al fresco at Nasma beachfront bar.
SEE: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Grand Mosque truly lives up to its name. This behemoth is one of the world’s largest mosques and cost nearly AED 2 billion to complete. It was the brainchild of the UAE’s first president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, and was completed in 2004, just after his death. It’s an unmissable experience.
Set so close to the Gulf you can hear the crashing waves, this charming wooden beach house dishes up some of the best seafood in the city. Mood lighting and excellent service ensure that nothing sours the restaurant’s romantic feel. The menu is almost exclusively seafood, prepared in a range of culinary styles, but all of them perfectly executed.
SHOP: Carpet Souk
Dozens of shops line the Carpet Souk, each jammed with a near identical, though no less exquisite, pile of rugs. As you pass the stalls, shopkeepers plead for attention. It can be an intimidating display but those with steely nerves and a gift for barter can take home some fabulous finds. For a true Persian-made prize ask to see the hand-stitched carpets, rather than the machine made. The latter usually have synthetic backings and the knotting at the corners is much more even.
For more inspiration and tips, download GuidePal’s Abu Dhabi city guide.