Arguably Dubai gets most of the attention when considering a holiday to the UAE but Abu Dhabi is growing in popularity. Both are great cities and each are special in their own right, but our 5 nights we spent in Abu Dhabi were non stop (by choice) yet it felt like we were only scratching the surface of what it has to offer
Its very simple to get to this part of the world! Daily Direct flights to Abu Dhabi from Dublin are available with Etihad Airways, although you could even fly to Dubai and take the short trip down the motorway to Abu Dhabi – although check the flight times as Etihad get you in at perfect time for a nice dinner on arrival!
Our 9:20am flight meant an early start from home but this allowed a clear run to the airport and so we were quickly through security and into the lounge to relax and enjoy the refreshments. A pleasant bonus for the flight was the upgrade to Etihad’s Business Studio (fully reclining seat, welcome pack/goodies, menu card to pre order meals and snacks, wide choice of drinks and an excellent entertainment package). The flight itself was under 7 hours so just enough time for a movie either side of dinner and a quick snooze after an early start that morning. For me however, the real benefit of Business Class was on the return flight departing Abu Dhabi at 1:45am. We were able to pre select our breakfast and approximate serving time with cabin crew once we were on board leaving nothing else other than to fully recline our seats and settle down for a solid 5-6 hours of sleep! Great arriving back home feeling fully refreshed.
Landing in Abu Dhabi and passing through immigration was super quick. Currently a negative PCR test is required upon arrival to be granted a ‘green pass’ on the Al Hosn app which is needed to basically access everything indoors– hotels, malls, attractions etc. Signage at the airport directs you to the Covid Test Centre at arrivals and I’m sure at one stage it would have been very busy given the number of testing desks available, however only a handful were in operation when we landed. We were told that the results would be through in under 2 hours and upon receipt we just needed to upload the result to the Al Hosn app which we had downloaded prior to our flight departure meaning all documentation and vaccination information was already online. It was simply a quick swab by the medical examiner and then out the airport and into one of the many awaiting taxis to whisk us the 35 minutes to our hotel
When planning out the trip to Abu Dhabi we had thought about availability of taxis, whether best to use Uber or perhaps even hire a car. Whilst a hire car may appear to offer more flexibility I have to say that all the little aspects of a taxi/Uber add up to being my recommended means of transport. All the main roads are well signposted as you would expect and all the hotels and attractions have car parking available however there is something quite nice about arriving at your destination and stepping out of the car and not trying to waste time finding a space. Or when its time to move on you don’t need to return to your vehicle that’s been parked in the heat. Even if its been in the shade I suspect the first few minutes would be pretty uncomfortable while you wait for the air con to really kick in.
NInja Tip – Taxis worked out slightly cheaper than an Uber and both are readily available and our longest wait was no more than 5 minutes which is impressive. Uber will, of course, give you the benefit of tracking your vehicle though and knowing the exact cost
A little over 40 years ago Abu Dhabi was a fishing village in the desert but has now grown into a city with more than 170 hotels to choose from. Many of the big name luxury brands are here as you would expect, but there are also plenty of lower priced options to choose from – and with so much to see and do in Abu Dhabi you probably need to consider how much time you will be spending in your hotel to see if you will make use of the facilities of a pricier option
Downtown – starting at the Corniche, the 8km beachfront of Abu Dhabi – you will find childrens play areas, cycle and pedestrian pathways, cafes and restaurants. Its therefore not surprising to find a number of quality hotels in this area. For the first part of this trip we stayed at the Grand Hyatt which is not only convenient for the city’s business district but right at the top of the Corniche directly across from the Emirates Palace Hotel and Qasr Al Watan, the Presidential Palace. The interior of the hotel has been designed with links to the local areas history of pearl diving with a number of subtle design features along with the aptly named Pearl Lounge. There are 428 spacious rooms, including 36 luxury suites along with private residences for long stay guests. Our room had an incredible view on the 36th floor, with a large open plan bathroom, wardrobe and shower area with bath tub in the centre. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that this is one of the most impressive hotels I’ve ever stayed in – and throughout the hotel any encounters we had with staff were always met with a friendly smile and a welcoming hello (manners cost nothing!)
Another downtown option is the Andaz Capital Gate which is where we spent our final night – very handy for the attractions on that side of the city. It is only 15 mins from Abu Dhabi airport and links through to the ADNEC (Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre) but you certainly wont miss this impressive hotel from the outside as it leans at 18 degrees with an outdoor pool jutting out on the 19th floor – its actually holds the Guinness World Record for the “Most Leaning Man-Made Tower in the World”! There are 188 rooms available here along with a host of other facilities such as spa, gym, restaurants but it also boasts the city’s only permanent art gallery, ‘165 below’ which is play on the fact that the gallery is 165m below the top of the hotel. Whilst there was certainly more of a “business” feel to this hotel, it again offers a perfect base for exploring the city area.
Saadiyat Island is home to a stunning blue-flag beach stretching for 5 miles along with a number of luxurious hotels and beach resorts. We were able to take advantage of the facilities at the absolutely stunning Park Hyatt Hotel & Villas with a day pass for the pool and beach area. So even if you chose to stay closer to the downtown area of Abu Dhabi, you can look to escape for an afternoon lounging by the pool or perhaps rent a cabana on the beautiful white sands at several resorts. The Park Hyatt has 306 rooms, suites and private villas with beautiful views of the Arabian Sea beyond its landscaped gardens. If the wonderful pool or beach was not enough, there is the Atarmia Spa inside with 9 large treatment rooms, a 25m lap pool, fitness room and stretching studios. We were fortunate to receive complimentary treatments (a soothing massage, as well as a unique sound healing meditation) during our stay which were certainly well received after a hectic few days dashing around the attractions of Abu Dhabi
Yas Island is home to 3 award winning theme parks (more later!), the Yas Shopping Mall, Yas Marina, Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Links and more! If you plan to visit a number of these attractions during your stay you may want to consider staying at one of the many chain hotels that are located here. The Yas Express is a complimentary shuttle bus service on the island with 3 routes stopping off at many of the hotels and attractions. The 3 main theme parks and Yas Mall are all close together and we were able to walk between them however I honestly don’t think I would do it again if visiting during the summer months as a 15 minute walk in 40+ degree heat would be a little toastie for sure
Things to do
This NInja trip allowed us 4 full days to do as much as possible during our time in Abu Dhabi and we certainly did our best …. we didn’t stop! When I say that it feels like we barely scratched the surface it should give you an indication that there is a lot to see and do. So whether you are visiting for culture and heritage, shopping, nature, adventure or relaxation I would definitely recommend plotting a plan for your time here. Many of the attractions are actually quite close together and so it would be very easy to tick 2 or even 3 of them off your list whilst in a particular area of the city – that’s certainly what we tried to do, but would have loved to have spent a full day at some of the attractions rather than 2-3 hours!
Qasr Al Watan is a working Presidential Palace and a majestic cultural landmark located at the top of the Corniche. Without knowing anything about this unbelievable structure, I was surprised to learn that building work only commenced in 2010 and finished in 2017 before being opened to the public in 2019. Upon arrival you would think it was historical place of interest, but the history of the area is what you will learn about when inside. Visitors can read about the formation of the UAE as well as the country’s governing traditions and values as well as marvelling at the architecture and design of the building itself. The palace itself is set back from the road and could be approached by foot however there is ample car parking and a taxi drop off area in front of the visitor centre which is very handy.
NInja Tip – If you have prebooked your tickets (£15 for adults) you can skip the queues and pass through the visitor centre which then leads to a bus for the short journey to the palace
Right next door to the Presidential Palace is the Emirates Palace Hotel and is easily within walking distance (outside of the summer months anyway) if you were staying at the Grand Hyatt. This iconic hotel (one of the most premium hotels in the entire world) is definitely worth a visit and is included on many of the bus tour stop off points if you prefer to see the city that way. I have to admit that the sole purpose for my visit was to try the gold cappuccino – yes, gold! It’s a cappuccino sprinkled with actual real 24 carat gold flakes and is served throughout the day at Le Café. Is it worth the money? That will be for you to decide but it was very enjoyable and looked great on social media! Its all about those hashtags #goldcoffee
Without question, right at the top of the list of must-see landmarks in the UAE is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Easily one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen and no surprise to read that it welcomes up to 55,000 worshippers and visitors each day. It is, of course, a place of worship and you must follow a specific dress code as a sign of respect. Shoulders and knees must be covered and shoes must be removed at the entry gate. Women are also asked to wear abayas which are provided free of charge. Entry is through a visitor centre leading to an underground walkway (air conditioned thankfully!) which resurfaces at the front of the mosque. The walk around is kept moving by security staff and photographs are to be taken at designated areas only although you will struggle to not take an amazing picture when here as the mosque looks incredible from any angle.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is an art museum located on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi and is the largest art museum in the Arabian peninsula at 260,000 sq ft. Discussions on the Louvre Abu Dhabi were initiated in June 2005 although it wasn’t until March 2007 when the partnership was agreed between the French and UAE governments, and it eventually opened to the public in 2015. Whilst there is no strict dress code, you should still dress respectfully and you definitely need comfortable footwear as there is plenty to see and plenty of walking to be done. Entrance is by timed ticket so try to pre-book your ticket and arrival slot in advance to make the most of your time out here. We were aiming to see and do as much as possible whilst visiting Abu Dhabi and so our trip to the Louvre Abu Dhabi was very rushed. The exhibitions are in chronological order and take you through the ages to show how the world has developed through to current time. We passed through the various exhibitions pausing only for a brief moment to snap something of interest or quirky and it still took us almost 90 minutes. However, you could easily spend 3 hours or more exploring all that this museum has to offer.
If you are looking for a fun filled day for all the family then Ferrari World is a must and one of the most iconic buildings in the area (check out a birdseye view if you can). It has everything from toddler-friendly carousels, cutting edge Ferrari race simulators to the worlds fastest roller coaster – the Formula Rossa. In 4.9 seconds those who are brave enough to get on board will be accelerated from 0 to 240 kmph and will experience up to 4.8g throughout the ride which explains why all riders are issued with safety goggles. Not one for the faint hearted …. or, unfortunately for this particular NInja, those of reasonable height as the limit to ride is set at 195cm (approx. 6ft 5in) …. gutted.
The theme park is situated on Yas Island and was opened in 2010. You can enter via its main external entrance or via Yas Mall. And just to be clear, the park is indoors so a great way to have fun and avoid the heat. Despite the obvious connections to Ferrari you certainly do not need to be a car enthusiast or a lover of Formula 1 to enjoy the park with the wide range of rides and attractions for visitors of all ages and whilst in the park you can stop to recharge and refuel at one of the many restaurants and dining outlets
Across the car park from Ferrari World and the Yas Mall is another theme park that is well worth a visit. Warner Brothers World is an indoor theme park that consists of 4-5 themed lands which lead off the central plaza. Visitors can explore Bedrock, Dynamite Gulch, Cartoon Junction, Gotham City and Metropolis and experience 29 state of the art rides which cater for all ages. There are multiple dining and retail options throughout the park and whilst exploring make sure you keep your eyes open to as you will have the chance to meet and greet some childhood favourites such as Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry and Scooby Doo. There is also the opportunity to walk alongside some of the worlds most iconic characters such as Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. For those looking a great family day out then visiting here would be a must.
Yas Island Waterpark is an Emirate-themed waterpark located on Yas Island. It has more than 40 rides, slides and attractions spread over 37 acres which in waterpark terms makes it easy to navigate and you are never far from a sun lounger or indeed the main reception and locker area if you need to return to reapply some sunscreen.
NInja Tip – If you are visiting in the hotter summer months, you may consider swimwear shoes for your feet (as the ground is so hot, they will make it a LOT easier walking around) as well as maybe a thin tshirt or long sleeved top …. protection against the sun!
Opening hours can vary so always best to check ahead but it tends to remain open until early evening allowing you to enjoy the thrills and spills as the sun is setting. Lockers (additional cost), showers and changing facilities are available so you can freshen up before heading for home, or perhaps nipping across to Yas Mall for some retail therapy or a meal at one of the many NInja dining favourites such as Cheesecake Factory, Chilli’s, Texas Roadhouse or Rainforest Café.
When visiting any of the theme parks at Yas Island I would strongly recommend buying your tickets in advance. Not only will this save you time queuing but you may want to take advantage of a multi-park ticket which would grant access to Warner Bros. World and either Ferrari World or Yas Waterworld. You can aim to blast out 2 parks in 1 day or else opt for a ‘2 day any 2 parks’ ticket allowing you more time to enjoy the attractions at whichever of the parks you decide to visit.
If you are planning to set aside time for some retail therapy then Abu Dhabi has you covered with a number of incredible shopping malls. They are filled with everything you would want or need whilst visiting including leisure options such as games, adventure sports and even ice skating making them popular hang-out spots. Some of the most famous malls include Marina Mall, Al Wahda Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall however given its proximity to the theme parks already mention, we called into Yas Mall on a number of occasions. Once inside you’d be forgiven if you momentarily thought you were at a major US shopping mall such is the layout, range of shops and choice of cafes and restaurants – this mall is HUGE! So whether you are buying a present for a loved one or looking for a treat for yourself, you will have plenty of shopping destinations to choose from.
One thing that the area has plenty of is, unsurprisingly, sand! In fact some of the motorway warning signs we spotted whilst travelling between attractions weren’t to highlight speed restrictions or construction work, but to warn of sandstorms! I’m sure it can be a frustration for locals but the benefit of the sand is that there are dunes, lots of dunes. So why not get yourself booked onto a Desert safari to experience a 4×4 Adventure up and over the amazing dunes. These trips are very common with multiple tour operators offering them – our trip started with a mid afternoon pickup from our hotel. We quickly left the city behind and headed out of the city toward the Arabian Desert. No sooner had we pulled off the main roads when our driver stopped for what we thought was a safety check of the vehicle when in fact he proceeded to let the air out of the tyres – this meant one thing, the dune bashing was about to begin!
Some social media followers thought that perhaps we were allowed to drive the 4×4 but the drivers are highly experienced and I have no doubt that had if I tried to do what they do, the 4×4 would have toppled after a matter of seconds. The fun paused momentarily to allow for photographs before continuing to a camel farm and then on to our camp for the evening to learn about Bedouin desert culture. Before the evening meal was served there was time for sand surfing, camel riding, henna painting and more photographs as the sun began to set. After food and refreshments we were entertained with Belly Dancing and Tanoura Dancing. Now if you don’t know what Tanoura Dancing, it is definitely something to behold! Tanoura means skirt in English and a Tanoura dance is a traditional folk dance where the dancer spins to the tunes of Arabic songs. After a few minutes of this I realised that the dancer hadn’t stopped spinning. He progressed to performing some tricks and moves and before I knew it, 20 minutes had passed and he was STILL SPINNING. All in, it was nearly 30 minutes of continuous nonstop spinning – incredibly hypnotic – and when finished he was still able to walk off the stage in a straight line! Upon the end of the entertainment we were directed back to our vehicles and onwards to our respective hotels. It was after 10pm by the time we were walking into our hotel reception so a long enough daytrip but thoroughly enjoyable and great fun for all ages.
A different type of adventure, and a much more relaxing one, is kayaking through the Eastern Mangrove National Park. Sea Hawk Water Sports & Adventures have been operating for 8 years and offer a range of excursions including kayaking at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, stand up paddle-boarding, boat cruises and traditional rowing boat trips. We opted for a sunset kayak experience rather than an early morning trip and it was absolutely amazing. Upon arrival we used the marina restrooms to change into suitable clothing knowing there was a chance we could get wet. Surprisingly however it was just our feet when getting into and out of the kayak – although some may not be so lucky, so dress appropriately. We also brought a waterproof case for our phones to allow for plenty of photographs when out on the water without fear of dropping our devices into the water. After being provided with a safety vest, you will be asked for your choice of kayak – a single or double and since the whole tour lasts 2 hours you may feel more comfortable sharing the work with a friend although a single is very manageable and our group of 7 varied in age but all opted for singles.
The tour itself leads you around the mangrove scenery and allows you to enjoy the marine life of the national park. We stopped off at a small beach area for a quick drink and some for photographs before returning to the marina as the sun set ahead of us. This was a really pleasant few hours and suitable for all ages as you quickly leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind to enjoy and understand the unique ecosystem of the mangroves.
The UAE has also become one of the most in-demand golf destinations on the planet and now welcomes the worlds best professional golfers for regular tournaments including the Dubai Desert Classic, DP World Tour Championship and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship which moved to Yas Island for the first time in 2022 when Yas Links Abu Dhabi hosted the opening Rolex Series event of the European Tour’s 2022 season. The par 72 course took 3 years to construct and lies across the highway from the Yas Marina Circuit. From quite a number of the fairways you can spot the impressive Ferrari World and the flumes of Yas Waterworld in the distance.
As amateur golfers the prospect of playing on such a prestigious course was a little intimidating at first, particularly on arrival at the club house and the extent of the quality golfing and sport facilities became apparent. However we were warmly welcome by the golf club pro and provided with our scorecards, directions and some final words of advice … “try and keep it straight!”. Our hired clubs were already with our golf cart which came with the latest in GPS technology and we had some time to use the driving range and putting green before making our way to the first tee. The course was in in absolutely immaculate condition as you would expect however it never felt busy despite tee times being at a premium, especially for those playing early to avoid the afternoon sun. With temperatures rising it was a pleasant surprise to be met by staff on a couple of occasions on the course with a refreshing ice lolly to help keep us cool. Its hard to pick out which hole was best however arriving at the 18th was pretty awesome as the finishing hole hugs the shoreline to the left all the way from tee to green and you really need to play each shot exceptionally well to escape with a par 5 – now, I didn’t manage too many others during my round of golf that morning but am proud to say that I can watch the professionals next year and say to myself that I made par on the last hurrah!
There are still plenty of things on the list that we simply did not get time to tick off – Yas Marina Circuit (the venue for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix) the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital and Al Ain Zoo, the Observation Deck at 300, Corniche Beach, The Galleria Al Maryah Island…..I could go on and on!
As a destination Abu Dhabi definitely has something for everyone and all ages – from a relaxing beach holiday or an activity packed trip or something in between, I’m already plotting a return in the future!
You can check out the FULL highlights from this NInja trip over on the instagram page – on the homepage under the ABU DHABI Highlights x 3 – CLICK HERE
If you would like to visit the Abu Dhabi area, why not call into your local NInja travel agency who can package something together for you – or contact Holilday NInja (CLICK HERE) we can easily make that connection for you – simples!!
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