Helping you plan the perfect 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?”
Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing with you some of our Abu Dhabi family-favourites; from luxury beach resorts to practical city apartments.
But first, let’s get your bearings set straight for the city and Emirate of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Getting to know the popular hotel areas of Abu Dhabi
Is there a city centre?
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!). The Grand Canal at Khor al Maqta is the crossing point to the mainland. Here you will find the iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque that acts as a gateway to the city from Dubai and the Abu Dhabi International Airport.
“Downtown” is generally considered the areas 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 and well beyond. But many also include in this description Saadiyat Island and Yas Island – we’ll describe these in more detail below.
Are there “ideal” places for families to stay?
There is no one-size-fits-all all answer to this. It depends 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 to shops.
The good news is, unlikely 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
How to get the best deals on Abu Dhabi Hotels
We have included links for each hotel mentioned on this page to our favourite price comparison tool Hotels Combined – they aggregate search results from all your favourite booking tools like hotels.com, bookings.com, agoda.com, even the hotel itself to get the best possible rate.
If booking for a family, we recommend testing hotel availability first with just one room, then expand your search to show family members so you can see all available options! Although Emirati’s themselves tend to have large families, the concept of larger families fitting in hotel rooms is still not smooth sailing on search engines.
Also be careful of hotel names, many are part of hotel chains that sound very similar but are in very different parts of town!
And as another savings pointer, we also highlight hotels that participate in the Entertainer – marked (E). These hotels offer “buy-one-get-one-free” specials on hotel rooms which can amount to some amazing savings of over $200USD per night! We are delighted to partner with the Entertainer to offer their products at 10% off the advertised price (just use GLOBETROTTERS10 at the checkout here!) until 30 April 2017.
If you are staying even a few days in the UAE then the Entertainer products can immediately pay themselves off – plus some great savings on meals and attractions too. We have used the Abu Dhabi Entertainer as residents for years and thoroughly recommend it to all our visitors. The worldwide hotels are now included when you purchase the Abu Dhabi or Dubai Entertainer products at no extra cost – amazing value!!
Best family areas to stay in Abu Dhabi
So without further ado, a walk through each of the main areas of Abu Dhabi with tourist accommodation.
The main beach front of Abu Dhabi is called the Corniche. Although the coastline has changed shape over the years and much of the current Corniche is actually reclaimed land, it is certainly a stunning centrepiece for the city and 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 and sunshine will love this area.
Now covering quite a long distance, starting from where you exit the Sheikh Zayed Tunnel you will immediately see the likes of the Sheraton (E), the Southern Sun, The Sofitel (E) and Le Royal Meridien (E) at the north/eastern end (this area merges into Tourist Club).
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 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 public beach 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 it’s multiple helipads (you can also sneak a peek here at the neighbours, the new Presidential Palace).
Around this area you also have Jumeirah at Etihad Towers (in the same building you will find 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 (also conveniently connected to the Nation Towers Mall), Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana, The Hilton and Hiltonia Beach Club (one of the Abu Dhabi’s oldest hotels), and soon to be opened Fairmont Residence on the breakwater – next to Marina Mall.
A new quite central option attached to the WTC Mall and easy distance to the beach is Courtyard by Marriott World Trade Center (E).
Although slightly further around from the Corniche I will also include the InterContinential (E) here. It used to have a commanding beachfront view but sadly more reclaimed land and development has taken this. Still a stunning marina view with extensive pool and beach club, family facilities and restaurant options in the heart of the city.
Further Reading on Corniche Area
Khor al Maqta
This area goes by many names including Bab al Bahr, Qaryat al Beri, Bain al Jessrain or Between the Bridges. I can best describe it 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 are the unrivalled views of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Access to this increasingly popular waterway for boat tours is also a huge plus and the fact you are situated close to both the city but also easy escape distance to the main roads for Yas Island, Dubai, Al Ain and the Western Region.
On the easterly (mainland) shore, you will find the stellar line-up of the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Traders Hotel (E) and the Shangri-La (E), 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 (E) & Park Arjaan which are very accessible to the freeway situated right on Khalifa Park (here there is a small splash park and on weekends even a miniature train the kids will love).
Further reading on Khor Al Maqta area
A Fairmont Staycation Review (adults only!)
Tourist Club Area
Back in the day, this used to be THE spot for visitors and expats alike to hang out. 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 (E), the Cristal Hotel (E) and Le Meridien (E). 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 which come with extensive restaurants, pool facilities, kids clubs. 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 for all-round family entertainment. Based just off the main highway as you head towards Dubai and literally only minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport, Yas Island has a number of hotels clustered together which all have access to Yas Beach.
Very nearby and available by shuttle service are likes of Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World, Yas Mall, the Yas Marina Circuit, Yas Marina and in 2018 a Warner Bros World is due to open. (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 Yas Hotel (formerly Viceroy) (E). 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!).
Other mid-range and great value options on Yas Island include Crowne Plaza (E), Radisson Blu (E), Park Inn, Centro (E) and Yas Rotana (E). 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 (and nearly all handily covered by the Entertainer!).
The home of sophistication and culture, also the only area with sea front that faces directly out to the Gulf. If it’s a proper “beach resort” you are after with sandy white beaches and blue water as far as you can see, this is the one for you. There’s also one of the world’s most stunning golf courses here in Saadiyat Beach Golf Club.
There are currently two luxury resorts along this beachfront that we’d highly recommend including St Regis Saadiyat Island and the Park Hyatt – stunning from entry to rooms, pool, restaurant, beachfront and spa facilities. These are the ones you come to for a luxury retreat!
Further Reading on Saadiyat Island
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 Hyatt Capital Gate (E) (the world’s leaniest building sitting at aan18-degree angle!!) with some great views down Abu Dhabi Island, as well as Aloft (E), 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 build for convention style customers.
And the rest on-island
There are now many hotels spotted through Abu Dhabi and on to 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. The obvious con to some of these though are that they stand in isolation to other buildings and attractions meaning pretty much everything, even shops can be a taxi ride away.
Nearer to Al Wadha Mall are the Grand Millenium (E) and Marriot Hotel Downtown (E) – both are quite central and near shops, restaurants and the hub of the city. Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn Downtown and Mercure Center Hotel are all well-regarded mid-range city options with facilities like swimming pools and restaurants on-site.
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 option Ibis (E) and Novotel Abu Dhabi Gate (E). 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 (E), 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. It’s 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 short drives away here from the conveniences of Yas Island, the Grand Mosque and the Airport.
Hotels 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 (full post coming soon) making it a great weekender spot for residents. Some of the best choices down here are Al Ain Rotana, Danat Al Ain Resort, and if you want something spectacular, 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 (E) near the Western Region’s major city Madinat Zayed – a convenient option if you were heading out for the annual Al Dhafra Festival.
Cheap Hotels in Abu Dhabi – do they exist?
Sure, but as our blogging niche is in 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 though may lack some of the amenities and luxuries that you seek from a family holiday but might suit well fo a longer term stay or on a tight budget.
Don’t expect to find anything in the way of hostels or backpackers.
We’ll be covering more on long-stays and hotel apartments in our next post in this series – you may be surprised how affordable some of these are for the little luxuries and amenities you get, especially if you are travelling at off-peak times. many hotels offer incredible specials over Ramadan.
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 Jumeirah area or an hour and a half from Dubai International Airport (DXB). It’s less than an hour from Al Maktoum International Airport (DWC).
The major airlines servicing the UAE are Etihad and Emirates – though I always recommend you check Skyscanner for best deals. Increasingly, budget airline FlyDubai is servicing some great routes and many international airlines like Qantas, Cathay, British Airways to name a few also have major connecting routes through the UAE.
Abu Dhabi is also 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 visiting the Middle East.
We have a really extensive resource on this page of things to do across not only Abu Dhabi but all seven Emirates.
Know before you go
- 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 multi-cultural city!)
- Visitor visas are issued free on arrival for most 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 the UAE are taxed as follows: 10% service fee, 6% tourism tax, 4% municipality fee and 5% VAT. There is also a 15dhs fee per room per night.
- Staycationers you will need an Emirates ID card or passport to stay even locally, all adult visitors will need to present passports.
- A small number of hotels 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; technically, all residents require a Government issued drinking licence. Most restaurants that are not attached to a hotel do not have alcohol licenses. There is zero tolerance for drunken behaviour.
- 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). That said, you can also score some significant hotel savings at this time of year as its 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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