After a comfortable 7 hour flight from London Heathrow on an Etihad Airbus A380, I landed smoothly in Abu Dhabi. A vibrant city with incredibly diverse culture and attractions, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s underrated little sister, and the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Our first stop was the outstanding Ritz-Carlton Grand Canal. A massive and luxurious property with 477 rooms, suites and villas, all designed with Arabian and European architecture. Situated just 20 minutes from Abu Dhabi International Airport, the hotel has an incredible view of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Voted one of the top 10 must-visit landmarks of the world, a trip to the mosque yields a multitude of interesting facts, such as being home to the world’s largest chandelier adorned with 4 million Swarovski crystals. It also has a worshipper capacity of 40 000, is one of the most expensive buildings in the world, and is the final resting place of the late visionary president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was buried in the mosque’s courtyard.
Next stop was the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, situated on the shores of the Saadiyat Island and only 30 minutes from the airport. The hotel boasts 377 rooms and suites, each with a balcony. It also has 5 magnificent swimming pools and a nearby championship golf course.
After a quick transfer, we spent some time exploring the Etihad Innovation Centre; a research centre where new products and ideas for the airline industry can be tried and tested. We walked through the life-sized reconstruction of the new A380 Airbus cabin. It was fascinating to see the Residence 3-room cabin dubbed “the penthouse in the sky” which costs a hefty $20 000 one way!
It was a real experience to explore Jumeirah Etihad Towers, a hotel that is famous for the flying car scenes from the latest Fast and Furious movie. This iconic landmark on the cornice has 382 elegant rooms and suites with some of the most impressive views of the Arabian Gulf. The hotel is also home to a shopping mall and the Observation Deck at 300, situated 300m above the ground on the 74th floor, which offers an amazing view of Emirates Palace. This beautiful hotel offers unprecedented luxury in the heart of Abu Dhabi and seems as though it’s covered entirely in gold and precious stones. The hotel has 302 rooms, 92 opulent suites, and a 1.5 km private beach.
My favourite part of the trip was visiting the Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Resort in the desert, filled with everyday Arabian items like pots, clothes, books, and weapons. Offering unparalleled luxury, the Qasr Al Sarab comprises 205 rooms, suites and villas and embraces the adventures and mystery of the Rub Al Khali – the longest uninterrupted sand desert in the world.
The best way to enjoy the desert surroundings is by doing a sunset desert safari through the dunes. After a scenic 2 hour trip into the desert, we were greeted by the staff with cool towels and cold fruit yoghurt made out of camel’s milk (I tried some camel’s milk on its own but I didn’t enjoy it). The dune experience was incredible. When we looked carefully out into the highest dunes, we could see desert gazelles and big desert cats.
The next morning, we headed off on a sunrise desert safari at 5:45 am, followed by a camel experience and a traditional falconry show. A leisurely afternoon spent enjoying the 5 billion dollar hotel facilities was much welcomed, providing the most authentic Arabian experience we’d had so far. We ended off a fantastic day with a barbeque and shisha session in our own little Bedouin desert camp.
Before the end of our trip, we had to tick off Ferrari World Abu Dhabi on Yas Island from our bucket list. This park holds claim as the first and only Ferrari-branded theme park in the world and the largest indoor theme park around the globe. I’d heard about Formula Rossa, the fastest rollercoaster in the world with an astonishing speed of 240 km an hour and 2.2 km of track. I enjoyed it so much, I used all 3 of my fast track passes on this ride. In addition, the park has both family and thrill rides, as well as a water park and a shopping mall next door.
We ended our trip at the Yas Viceroy, the only hotel in the world to straddle a Formula 1 race track – and the only hotel in the world built without any corners! Yas Viceroy has 499 rooms and suites, 11 innovative dining experiences, 2 rooftop swimming pools, and a show stopping LED canopy.
There is so much to see in Abu Dhabi. Book your trip to Abu Dhabi for a holiday you won’t soon forget.
Lucian Baciu is a Middle East and Indian Ocean travel expert. He is always looking for a new place to explore and experience new cultures, food and languages.