Over the past decade the UAE has experienced a cultural transformation, with its two main cities blossoming into magnificent international metropoles. Now holding a skyline of stunning hotels, choosing somewhere to stay can be a little daunting in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Discover 10 of the best hotels in these two bustling cities that stand out for their design, architecture, dining and culture.
Barjeel Heritage Guest House, Dubai | Courtesy of XVA Hotel
As soon as you set eyes on the Barjeel Guest House, it is clear that a focus has gone deep into the UAE’s heritage. The seven Emirates of the UAE each have their own unique history, and this is present in Barjeel’s authentic interior design and restored original features. Meaning ‘wind tower’, Barjeel centres around a Persian style, and the calm feel of the hotel is highlighted by the serenity of its position on the waterfront. There is a courtyard with a traditional styled Persian tent, which provides a serene cool spot away from the heat, and even the simpler rooms continue the traditional feel that is found throughout the hotel.
Located in the historic Al Fahidi neighborhood, the XVA Hotel has become well-known across Dubai for its individual take on combining its living spaces with art. Each room has been decorated by a different artist and so is totally unique. The hotel is modest and unassuming with just nine rooms, each as chic as the last. Contemporary works of local art are dotted around the walls, and the place has a very relaxed and genuine ambience. The cafe serves fresh mint lemonade, made to order, and the gallery that began it all is one of the most respected contemporary art galleries in the city. With style, comfort, good quality (vegetarian) food, and a display of local contemporary art, the XVA hotel is a must for cultural visitors to Dubai.
The Desert Palm Dubai is part of the bigger Per Aquum group but retains a personal feel with only 26 spaces, including villas and suites. The architecture of the building is individual and modern, aiming to combine the traditional styles of Arabia with the more contemporary trends of the cosmopolitan city, which it does well. It is chic, comfortable and private and is located within 150 acres of privately owned land. The garden blossoms with plants and wildlife, and serves as an idyllic paradise away from the busy city. The resort also hosts occasional events across its ‘Dream Calendar’; a notable photography exhibition in 2009 by Michael Hamilton-Clark explored the rapid growth of Dubai, from its origins to its current eminence.
The Madinat Jumeirah is connected by three kilometers of waterways, which will take you to all the resort’s facilities, and allow you to travel around the vast resort by authentic abra boat. The structure of the build is a homage to the old Arabian citadels of the past, and as you are floating around its waterways it is easy to get lost within the country’s history. The rooms inside are exuberant, but not too bold. A nod back to earlier times, the resort also contains a traditional Arabian souq (an open air marketplace), which were historically very social in addition to having commercial uses.
The Burj Al Arab is set on a manmade island just off of the Abu Dhabi coast, and is connected to the rest of society by its own private bridge. The interior of this restaurant is staggering; each room is decorated with such care and precision that will make you stop in your tracks with awe. When viewing the hotel from afar it looks like a tall boat (very tall, as it is the world’s fourth tallest hotel) bobbing on the sea’s surface. Stepping through the entrance into the lobby, craning one’s neck to see the 590 foot tall atrium will bring about a true appreciation of the structure’s immense height. Inside, doors are painted with exquisite detailing, carpets are carefully woven into intricate designs, surfaces gleam with beauty and each room is coordinated down to the last plug socket.
Arguably one of the finest hotels in the UAE, the Emirates Palace is literally fit for royalty. The long road leading up to the hotel entrance prepares you for the grandeur ahead, but you really cannot get to grips with the pure luxury of the hotel until you are inside. Within a traditional palatial setting, the hotel is decked out with the most opulent features like a vending machine that dispenses gold. Especially notable are the hotel’s restaurants; one of which, Hakkasan, serves the finest Chinese cuisine within a very stylish setting. In October 2011, Hakkasan’s sister restaurant in London’s Mayfair was awarded its first Michelin star, making Hakkasan at the Emirates Palace one of the most revered hotel restaurants in Abu Dhabi.
One of Abu Dhabi’s veterans of the hotel scene, the InterContinental hotel has become known not only for its high standards of service but also for its culinary exploits. The hotel boasts a total of six restaurants, and the food served at each one is executed to a consistently high standard. For meat lovers, the Chamas Churrascaria restaurant and bar serves up the finest traditional Brazilian barbecued meat, and dining here will throw you into an authentic Brazilian experience, complete with live Latin music. Another favourite with visitors is The Yacht Club, which overlooks the marina and serves up an exciting combination of Japanese food and cocktails.
Situated within a green Garden of Eden, the Shangri-La Hotel has become renowned for its incredible interior spaces and architectural design. Similar to the Madinat in Dubai, the Shangri-La has both a waterway with abras (traditional boats), and a souq where you can find some truly magnificent traditional jewellery, works of art, clothes and artefacts. Throughout the hotel resort, traditional Arabian luxury meets modern design, ensuring the most comfortable of stays. The personal touches within the individual villas are incredible and range from tented outdoor pools to private cinema rooms. Restaurants within the resort are diverse enough to tempt every palette, and include French, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine.
Anantara’s Qasr Al Sarab resort really is a desert oasis. Located within one of the largest sand deserts in the world, the Liwa Desert, the resort’s features are distinctly Arabian and this is true of the decor running throughout. Far from an eyesore, against the desert landscape the structure looks magnificent, and hints of modernity are in the form of carefully placed palm trees that are dotted around a glistening blue pool. The food alone here is well worth the visit as the Qasr Al Sarab offers up some of the finest Middle Eastern cuisine to be found. In addition, the spa offers services that hail from a selection of ancient cultures such as Thai treatments and Arabian body wraps, that will leave the body feeling renewed.
One of the newer, trendier hotels to hit the Abu Dhabi scene, the Yas Hotel is an architectural feat. Positioned half on solid ground and half on water, the latticed pattern of the glass roofing moves in an organic way that emphasises the close ties of the hotel to the surrounding water. By day, the exterior shell responds to the sun and is designed to reflect the sky, whilst by night, a dramatic change comes in the form of bright LED lighting that transmits an incredible show across the structure’s surface. Reflective of the F1 race track that runs beneath it, in addition to bringing in geometric shapes and forms that are inspired by traditional Islamic art, the Yas Hotel is a skilful merger of old and new.