Helping you plan the perfect family vacation to the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi
We are delighted to call Abu Dhabi our home, but it’s also an amazing place to stay for a weekend or, indeed, a much longer holiday in the sun. As you can imagine, a frequent question we get asked is “where are the best places to stay in Abu Dhabi?”
We will share with you some of our Abu Dhabi family-favourites, from luxury beach resorts to practical city apartments. But first, let’s get your bearings straight for the city and Emirate of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
- Getting to Know the Popular Hotel Areas of Abu Dhabi
- Best Family Areas to Stay in Abu Dhabi
- Are There Cheap Hotels in Abu Dhabi?
- Getting to Abu Dhabi
- What to do in Abu Dhabi
- Know before you go to Abu Dhabi
Getting to Know the Popular Hotel Areas of Abu Dhabi
Is there a city center in Abu Dhabi?
Not as such. The city has naturally sprawled and expanded over the years from not much more than a fishing village in the 1960s to a significant centre for trade, innovation and tourism today. There are a few remaining historic landmarks to visit, but not many.
The Corniche Beach is seen as a central landmark at one end of Abu Dhabi’s island (yes, the main part of the city is actually an island, sitting off the coast of mainland UAE!) and makes one of the best areas to stay in Abu Dhabi
The Grand Canal at Khor al Maqta is the crossing point to the mainland. Here, you will find the iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which acts as a gateway to the city from Dubai and the Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH).
“Downtown” is generally considered the area immediately surrounding 7th Street. The bus station is located next to Al Wadha Mall on 11th Street, this is commonly used as a landmark to help visitors with their bearings, but there’s no exact centre.
An address system is being implemented across the city, but generally, people still navigate by landmarks like shopping centres and hotels. The authorities are known to frequently change the names and numbers of roads, even whole suburbs get renamed with frequency so a good GPS or map on your phone is a wise investment!!
“Off-island” is a bit of a misnomer as it basically refers to any parts of Abu Dhabi that aren’t the main island! This includes Sas Al Nakhl, Khalifa City, to the International Airport AUH and well beyond. But many also include Saadiyat Island and Yas Island in this description – we’ll describe these in more detail below.
Are there “ideal” places for families to stay in Abu Dhabi?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this. It depends on what you are looking for – if you just want a relaxing beachy escape, the answer will be quite different if you are here for a longer stint and need the convenience of being near shops and parks. Whichever you prefer, you should check out all available holiday rental options before you book your accommodation!
The good news is, unlike Dubai down the road, navigating around the city is still relatively easy. Other than at very peak times, you should have no problems getting a taxi, and most popular tourist attractions are only a short, relatively inexpensive drive away.
If you are staying a little longer, or perhaps you’re moving to the UAE and need temporary accommodation, check out our separate guide to Best Hotel Apartments in Abu Dhabi
Best Family Areas to Stay in Abu Dhabi
So, without further ado, we’ll walk you through each of the best places to stay in Abu Dhabi with recommended family hotels:
The home of sophistication and culture, and also the only area of Abu Dhabi with a seafront that faces directly out to the Gulf. If it’s a proper “beach resort” you are after with sandy white beaches, azure water as far as you can see and crashing waves, this is the one for you.
There’s one of the world’s most stunning golf courses here at Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, and you’re close to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Jubail Mangroves Boardwalk, Mamsha Al Saadiyat promenade with dining and entertainment area and many new museums and galleries due to open soon as part of the Saadiyat Cultural District.
There are presently five ultra-luxurious five-star hotel resorts to choose from, all with stunning views of the Arabian Gulf and direct beach access:
- The St Regis Abu Dhabi
- The Rixos Premium Ultra All-Inclusive Saadiyat
- Rotana Saadiyat Resort & Villas
- Park Hyatt
- Jumeirah at Saadiyat
For something truly unique, try a stay at Nurai Island, an island-off-an-island, just 20 minutes away by speedboat, for an unforgettable (though admittedly quite pricey!) experience in Abu Dhabi.
Further Reading on Saadiyat Island
The main beachfront of Abu Dhabi is called the Corniche. Although the coastline has changed shape over the years, and much of the current Corniche is reclaimed land, it is certainly a stunning centrepiece for the city.
Much activity and buzz occur along its shores, including public beaches, cycle paths, eateries and ice-cream huts as well as many gardens and play park areas. Those coming to the capital for a great mix between city adventures, shopping and sunshine will love this area.
Now covering quite a long distance, starting from where you exit the Sheikh Zayed Tunnel, you will immediately find at the eastern end of the Corniche the likes of the Sheraton, the Southern Sun, The Sofitel and Le Royal Meridien.
Lots of smaller hotels are nearby along 3rd, 5th, and 7th streets that may also be worth considering (some search sites might describe this as “Downtown”, though). As long as the weather is not too hot, these are also within walking distance in the cooler weather to the parks and beach of the Corniche, with safe road underpasses to give easy access.
As you move to the far western end of the Corniche, beyond the beautiful beaches, you come to the breakwater, which leads to Marina Mall in one direction and the new Presidential Palace. This area is full of fairly new 5-star high-rise hotels – and literally a Palace!
Emirates Palace is probably the most famous hotel in the UAE, described as a “showcase of Arabian Culture.” It’s known for its gold bar vending machines, gold dust coffee, camel burgers, and sensational grounds, including a mini water park, private beachfront, cricket pitches, rugby and soccer pitches, jogging track and multiple helipads (you can also sneak a peek here at the neighbours, the new Presidential Palace Qasr Al Watan).
Around this area, you also have:
- The Conrad (previously Jumeirah at Etihad Towers (in the same building you will find the observation deck, Observation 300, for the best views of Abu Dhabi even if you’re not staying at the hotel)
- St Regis Abu Dhabi & the Nation Riviera Beach Club with a private beach area (also conveniently connected to the Nation Towers shopping mall)
- Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana,
- Radisson Blu and West Bay beach club (previously the Hilton and Hiltonia Beach Club)
- The Rixos Marina on the breakwater – next to Marina Mall.
A new central option mid-way along the Corniche is attached to the WTC Mall and easy walking distance to the beach is Courtyard by Marriott World Trade Center.
Although slightly further around from the Corniche I will also include the InterContinential Abu Dhabi here, too. It used to have a commanding beachfront view, but sadly, more reclaimed land and development has taken this. It could still represent a great value pick with loads of family-friendly facilities and dining options, or consider the brand new InterCon Residnces next door.
Further Reading on the Corniche Area of Abu Dhabi
Khor al Maqta
This area of Abu Dhabi goes by many names, including Bab al Bahr, Qaryat al Beri, Bain al Jessrain or Between the Bridges. It can best be described as the area around the stretch of water that separates mainland Abu Dhabi from the island of Abu Dhabi – commonly called the Grand Canal.
The huge pro of staying here is the unrivalled views of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Access to this increasingly popular waterway for boat tours is also a huge plus.
The fact you are situated close to both the city and easy escape distance to the main roads for Yas Island, Dubai, Al Ain and the Western Region, make it a popular area to stay for those who want to experience a little bit of everything during their time in Abu Dhabi.
On the easterly (mainland) shore, you will find the stellar line-up of the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Traders Hotel and the Shangri-La, all connected by a waterside path and taking you via Souk Qaryat Al Beri – extensive shopping and entertainment options here with uninterrupted mosque views.
On the island side of the Grand Canal, the landscape is dominated by the impressive-looking Ritz Carlton, which includes the Venetian Village entertainment district. I will also include here the Park Rotana & Park Arjaan, which are very accessible to the freeway situated right on Khalifa Park.
Further reading on Khor Al Maqta area
- A Fairmont Staycation Review (adults only!)
- Park Rotana Family Staycation Review
- Family-Friendly Brunch at Shangri-La & Fairmont
- Visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque with Kids
Al Zahiyah (Tourist Club Area)
Back in the day, this used to be THE spot for visitors and expats alike to hang out -hence its old name! It has, however, started to date compared to some of the newer, flashier resort areas but nonetheless, you can pick up some luxury bargains in the area. Many hotels here are renovating and putting on great incentive packages.
You also have a great location for exploring the rest of the city with plentiful transport options, access to Abu Dhabi Mall and plentiful beach frontage (though in my opinion not as attract a view as others). Boat tours operated by Captain Tony’s and Jalboot leave from here.
Some of the best choices in the area include Beach Rotana, the Cristal Hotel and Le Meridien. Between these hotels, there is a wide variety of restaurants, bars and night entertainment options. Even if you are staying elsewhere in the city this can be a good option for meals with views over to Al Maryah Island.
Al Maryah Island
This is the very new, modern area of the city – more akin to a CBD-type neighbourhood but with some fabulous new luxury high-rise hotel options, including the Rosewood and Four Seasons Abu Dhabi, both of which come with extensive restaurants, outdoor pool facilities, kids clubs and all the works you need for a brilliant city stay.
Nearby Galleria Mall complex gives you plenty of additional shopping and dining options too making this a great inner-city location with some fabulous views to be had over the cityscape.
Further Reading: Abu Dhabi’s best family brunches
Possibly one of the best places to base yourself in Abu Dhabi for all-round family entertainment. Found just off the main E10 highway as you head towards Dubai and literally only minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport, Yas Island has several hotels clustered together, which all have access to the theme parks and Yas Beach.
Very nearby and available by shuttle service are Yas Waterworld, Warner Bros World, Ferrari World, SeaWorld, Yas Mall, the Yas Marina Circuit, and the newly opened Yas Bay entertainment precinct.
You can read more on why we recommend Yas Island for families here!
The most iconic hotel you will probably recognise if you’ve ever seen the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the W Hotel (formerly Viceroy and Yas Hotel). It literally straddles the race track and lights up at night in an array of beautiful colours, very modern and sleek and known for the extra effort they put in for their younger guests (including sleeping tents!).
Opening more recently are two fabulous family-friendly options
- The Hilton Abu Dhabi, with commanding views over Yas Bay, loads of dining options and a fabulous pool area.
- WB a CurioCollection, a themed hotel adjacent to Warner Broas World.
Other mid-range and great-value options on Yas Island include the hotel in the Yas Plaza area (connected to the rest of Yas Island by free internal shuttles):
- Crowne Plaza
- Staybridge Suites (good apartment-style accommodation for longer stays)
- Radisson Blu
- Park Inn – value offering attached with Radisson Blu
- Yas Rotana
- Centro – value offering attached with Yas Rotana facilities
Each has their own pools, spas, gyms and range of restaurants – literally all walking distance from one another so great if you want to take your pick of dining options. You can frequently also pick up Yas theme park accommodation packages.
ADNEC Area / Capitol Center
Not a tourist area per se, but there is a new cluster of hotels around the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), making this little area worth a separate mention, more so for business visitors than families.
Here, you will find Andaz (formerly Hyatt Capital Gate) the world’s “leaniest” building sitting at an18-degree angle!! with some great views down Abu Dhabi Island, as well as Aloft, Centro Capital Centre, and a Premier Inn. There is a mini-Carrefour nearby, and you are close to Zayed Sports City, but it’s really an area purpose-built for convention-style customers.
And the rest on-island
There are now many hotels spotted throughout Abu Dhabi and onto the mainland that don’t quite fit into the categories I’ve listed above, but are nonetheless still very good quality luxury hotels with many pros in the heart of Abu Dhabi.
The obvious con to some of these places, though, are that they stand in isolation from other buildings and attractions in Abu Dhabi, meaning pretty much everything, even shops, can be a taxi ride away.
The main highway from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, you will pass the Eastern Mangrove. There’s a luxurious Anantara Resort here, as well as quite a nice selection of little shops, restaurants and eco-touring options of the Eastern Mangroves wetlands area.
Near to the airport and off-island hotel choices in Abu Dhabi
Marriott Al Forsan has recently opened in Khalifa City, attached to this extensive sporting complex with everything from wakeboarding to horse riding making it a great ‘weekender’ location for a group. There is a small new shopping complex next door including a Cheeky Monkey’s soft play and huge Spinneys, but it’s not the easiest to access from the hotel.
Also quite accessible on the main airport road are budget options Ibis and Novotel Abu Dhabi Gate. There are on-site restaurants here, but this pair really do sit slightly out of town all on their ownsome!
The airport itself has a Premier Inn which is by far the most convenient if you are looking for an overnighter before an early flight or awaiting a flight connection.
Another option on the main highway is Al Raha Beach Hotel housing several bars and restaurants and direct access to Raha Mall; not a huge shopping complex but does have a cinema and a few kiddy play areas. If you have family in nearby Raha Beach or Khalifa City, this can be a good close option, though, with its own beach and spa. Its beach views, however, have been somewhat obliterated by other construction in the Al Raha Beach area at present.
One of our personal favourites that sits just off-island but feels like you’re at a country retreat is the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort and Spa. This is also where you’ll find the Abu Dhabi National Golf Course. You are only a short drive away here from the conveniences of Yas Island, the Grand Mosque and the Airport.
Hotels and places to stay outside of Abu Dhabi city
Beyond the city, there are several regional centres of interest to visitors. The largest is Al Ain, an oasis town only an hour or so drive from the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. It sits about equidistance from Abu Dhabi and Dubai on the Omani border (making it a popular destination for tourists who need to do “visa runs”).
There are plenty of family-friendly activities in Al Ain, making it a great weekender spot for residents. Some of the best choices down here are
- Al Ain Rotana – a good central location and walking distance to some of the city’s key central attractions in winter.
- Danat Al Ain Resort – a little old and run down but great value stay on the outskirts of the city
- If you want something unique, the Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet sits atop Abu Dhabi’s highest mountain (yes, there’s a mountain!)
There are also several “desert resorts,” which I think are an absolute must for visitors wanting something truly unique – you can’t go past Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort for ultimate luxury. (You can see our full family weekend review here).
There’s also Tilal Liwa near the Western Region’s major city, Madinat Zayed – a convenient option if you were heading out for the annual Al Dhafra Festival. Or, if you’re short on time and don’t want to drive deep into the desert, the newer option only around 45 minutes from the airport is Al Wathba, A Luxury Collection Desert Resort and Spa.
Are There Cheap Hotels in Abu Dhabi?
Sure, but as our blogging niche is in the mid-range to luxury I have not covered these in any detail. There are, of course, two and three-star hotel options, many very well located in the city.
Cheaper options may lack some of the amenities and luxuries you seek from a family holiday but might suit well for a longer-term stay or on a tight budget. Don’t expect to find anything in the way of hostels or backpackers in Abu Dhabi.
Many hotels offer incredible specials over the summer. If you are after some more reasonable budget options, though, check out the top rated ones from Trip Advisor or see Little City Trips Guide to Family Hotels in Abu Dhabi, this includes several options at the more budget end of the scale.
Getting to Abu Dhabi
For domestic visitors, Abu Dhabi city is approximately 160km away from sister city Dubai, a bit over an hour from the Jumeirah area or an hour and a half from Dubai International Airport (DXB). Abu Dhabi is also under 90 minutes away from Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC).
Increasingly, budget airline FlyDubai is servicing some great routes, as is low-cost carrier WizzAir and many international airlines like Qantas, Cathay, and British Airways, to name a few also have major connecting routes through the UAE.
Abu Dhabi is accessible by road from Saudi Arabia and Oman (see here how to road trip between Abu Dhabi and Muscat – with kids!)
What to do in Abu Dhabi
This page is designed only to help you get your bearings on where to stay in Abu Dhabi. If you visit our page, Discover the UAE you will see much more on things to do while visiting, including where to eat and more information on religion and etiquette when visiting the Middle East.
We have a really extensive resource on this page of things to do across Abu Dhabi and all seven Emirates.
You may also want to visit our partner site Abu Dhabi Travel Planner, where we have much more extensive guides to navigating your way around Abu Dhabi Emirate.
Know before you go to Abu Dhabi
- We recommend all visitors to the UAE check out our post 15 Important Facts to Know Before Visiting the UAE
- The official language is Arabic, but English is very widely spoken (as are Tagalog, Hindi, Urdu and many more – it’s a very multicultural city!)
- Visitor visas are issued free on arrival for many passport holders and are valid for 30 days (note they do not reset each time you re-enter the country; be careful when using the UAE as a hub to fly in-out you are not overstaying on your original visa or you could face fines at the airport when leaving)
- The currency is the dirham, currently fixed to the USD at 3.67. ATMs are plentiful and money exchanges are absolutely everywhere.
- Hotel rooms in Abu Dhabi emirate are taxed as follows: 10% service fee, 4% tourism tax, 4% municipality fee and 5% VAT. (NB these new rates apply from 1 September 2023, the nightly AED15 fee has been abolished).
- Staycationers, don’t forget you will need an Emirates ID card or passport to stay even locally; all adult visitors will need to present passports to check in.
- A small number of hotels in Abu Dhabi are “dry” with no bars or minibar services; if this will make or break your trip, research carefully! Drinkers should note that it’s perfectly OK to drink in a licensed hotel premises as a visitor on a tourist visa. Rules on alcohol licenses have also been abolished for tourists and expats alike. There is zero tolerance for drunken behaviour in the UAE.
- The cooler months of the year, where it is pleasant to be outdoors, are roughly November through to April. Outside of these times, and particularly July-August, are incredibly hot with daytime temperatures up to 50c (120F) – the ‘feels like’ with humidity can be even higher. That said, you can also score some significant hotel savings at this time of year as it’s low season.
Did we miss any of your favourite areas or hotels? Still have questions about what hotel or resort might suit your family? Drop us your thoughts in the comments below!
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