Over the past five decades, the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, has transformed from a quiet fishing village to one of the world’s most extravagant destinations. Covering more than 200 islands, the city offers views of the Persian Gulf, year-round sunshine, futuristic architecture and eclectic Arabian culture. Only here can you sleep in a palace, swim in an infinity pool overlooking the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque or have your butler arrange a heady supper on a helipad.
At the Jumeirah, you’ll find three infinity pools, an impressive spa and a tennis court. However, it’s nature lovers who will be in their element, with hawksbill turtles seen at the hotel during breeding season. Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island is one of the first resorts in the region to ban single-use plastics (every guest is given a refillable water bottle) and sustainability shines through the minimalist design and use of natural fabrics. This hotel stands alone on east Saadiyat beach and a trip into the city centre takes just 10 minutes by car — nobody walks in this city.
Secure a front-row seat to Abu Dhabi’s F1 racing at the five-star W Abu Dhabi Yas Island. Suites have floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of the race track or marina — popular with petrol-heads and all-night party crew during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Each room comes with a pillow menu, mood-light and luxurious rain showers. Relax in the two-storey spa after the high-octane fun — which includes a hammam, steam room, colour therapy booth and indulgent treatments.
In a city full of hotels striving to stand out from the crowd, this is one of the most recognisable, thanks to its sheer blue glass exterior and LED lights. Water lovers will appreciate the hotel’s Olympic-sized swimming pool and private beach, not to mention its views of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Dining options here peak at Marco Pierre White’s signature steak restaurant. There’s also a health club and beauty studio, fully equipped gym and kids’ club.
If you’ve ever daydreamed about sleeping in an Arabian palace, here’s your chance to live it. This lavish property is bigger than Buckingham Palace and boasts the largest dome in the world. Inside, the interiors are dripping in gold — 6,000sqm (65,000sqft) of 22-karat gold leaf to be precise. Even a standard room is fit for royalty with satin fabrics, fresh flowers and cavernous marble bathrooms. You can choose from 13 award-winning restaurants, including the Emirati establishment Mezlai and international chain Hakkasan. Try the hotel’s signature 24-karat gold camel burger before you leave.
This mesmerising resort in Rub Al Khali – the world’s largest sand desert – was designed to reflect traditional Bedouin forts of yesteryear. A two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi city centre, the 12-year-old property has 140 rooms, 14 suites and 52 pool villas, full of Arabesque luxury, from Egyptian cotton linens to the marble decor and bespoke art. Each room provides you with desert views alongside a deep soaking bath, rain shower and a pillow menu. After soaking up the rays by the pool, head to the Bedouin camp-style restaurant, Al Falaj, for Arabian mezze and slow-cooked lamb.
This beachfront property from Turkish brand Rixos Hotels is in good company on Saadiyat Island, an exclusive coastal strip located 20 minutes from the central business district and just down the road from the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Built to resemble an Ottoman Palace, this 378-room resort – the only all-inclusive hotel in the UAE – exudes opulence. Dazzling suede interiors in emerald greens and the glittering chandeliers elevate the palatial style of this rich space. There are seven international restaurants onsite, as well as a dedicated shisha lounge, an expansive private beach, a luxurious Turkish-inspired day spa with traditional hammam and ice cave, plus a kids’ Aqua Park with a wave pool.
The Four Seasons Abu Dhabi is industrious in its efforts to send eyebrows skywards and jaws to the floor. Its waterfront spot on Al Maryah Island offers incredible views of ‘old’ Abu Dhabi and the dome-shaped Louvre museum. For ultimate opulence, book the Royal Suite. It is 267sqm (2,900sqm) of pure luxury, decorated with crystal chandeliers, hand-painted silks, Arabian motifs and towering marble fireplaces. The floor-to-ceiling windows give it the ‘wow’ factor.
When it comes to luxurious hotels, St Regis Abu Dhabi really knows what it’s doing. Book the show-stopper Abu Dhabi Suite, positioned on a sky bridge high above the city, that is also the setting for the indulgent monthly Brunch in the Clouds. Enjoy a pre-dinner glass of champagne in the Crystal Lounge. Dining highlights include the fancy-froth of Italian restaurant Villa Toscana, and seafood with an NYC edge at Catch. Don’t forget to ask your butler about the Helipad Sunset Supper hosted 255m (800ft) in the air.
Gloriously stylish, this Ian Schrager-designed hotel brings a unique boutique style to Abu Dhabi. The Edition is one of just two hotels in the twinkling Al Bateen marina district of the city – within walking distance of the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Centre and a range of cafes and restaurants. A red carpet leads you into a lobby that’s more akin to a luxurious living room than an entryway. The three-storey standalone Annex complex is a unique entertainment space, and the trio of restaurants – Market at Edition, Oak Room and Alba Terrace – come under the direction of British celebrity chef Tom Aikens, his first culinary foray in the UAE.
The extravagant glassy architecture of the 34-storey Rosewood Abu Dhabi was inspired by the Arabian Gulf and undulating desert, naturally. You can expect sophisticated interiors, friendly staff and restaurants such as Dai Pai Dong (Cantonese), Sambusek (Lebanese) and the all-day dining restaurant Aqua. The Hidden Bar replicates an indulgent gin den, while La Cava is an underground wine cellar. All four categories of accommodation offer impressive views and are flooded with natural light.
This is an updated version of an article originally written by Melinda Healy.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
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