Last week we packed our suitcases, headed to Schiphol and flew 6 hours 45 minutes from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airlines. Although it’s not my first visit to the UAE, it was my first time in Abu Dhabi and I absolutely loved it.
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and is a very cosmopolitan and diverse city. We spent 5 days there and experienced everything from boat trips, luxurious spa treatments and delicious food to the most beautiful mosque, sleeping in the largest sand desert in the world, exploring a £1 billion museum and swimming in water as clear as the Maldives. Abu Dhabi has so much to offer that 5 days wasn’t enough.
Before I went I researched the city and had read a piece that said “Abu Dhabi is a modern playground and knows how to have fun, but it also values its Arabian culture and ethos and this charming capital city retains its Emirate soul.” Having been there now, I couldn’t agree more. I found the city laid back, cultural and full of charm.
As our flight was a red eye and we got very little sleep, I was happy that our first day in Abu Dhabi was a pretty relaxing one. At 9am we finally arrived at the Ritz Carlton which would be our home for the next 3 nights. Set amidst stunning landscaped gardens with a private beach overlooking the Grand Canal, Ritz-Carlton in Abu Dhabi is inspired by renaissance architecture.
The Ritz Carlton has 8 restaurants and we ate at 2 of them: Mijana, an al fresco restaurant that serves Lebanese cuisine and Li Jiang, an Asian restaurant which was my personal favourite.
We quickly freshened up, ate breakfast and then met Waqas, our lovely driver for the week. Our first stop was Saadiyat Beach Club which was the perfect place to unwind after a long journey. This beautiful beach club is home to restaurants, a spa, pool, bar, gym and a white sandy beach.
We relaxed in one of their huge cabanas, ate fresh fruit and drank cocktails in-between dips in their beautiful pool. We were treated like royalty and they were so kind and welcoming. I loved the vibe here and can see why it’s a very popular spot in Abu Dhabi.
After a delicious lunch (chicken tikka wraps – yum!) at Saadiyat beach Club it was time to head to the last stop of the day, Zaya Nurai Island. A 15 minute speedboat ride away from Saadiyat Island and you’ll be in Abu Dhabi’s version of the Maldives. It’s a gorgeous and luxurious resort with soft white sandy beaches, calm turquoise waters and spacious beachfront villas.
Once we arrived we jumped on a buggy and headed straight to the Smokin’ Pineapple beach club which is my favourite area of the island. There you’ll find crystal clear sea and water hammocks and swings to relax on.
After a good nights sleep we woke up bright and early the next day for a really fun experience – The Abu Dhabi Pearl Journey. We arrived at the Eastern Mangroves and set sail on a traditional ‘Jalboot’ boat. We sailed around the waters of the Mangroves enjoying Arabic coffee and dates whilst learning about the heritage and culture of pearl diving in Abu Dhabi.
It was one of our favourite trips and the highlight for me was opening oysters and finding our own pearls! It was such a unique and interesting experience to learn all about the pearl industry which was once a very important source of income for the people of Abu Dhabi.
Next on the itinerary was somewhere that’s been on my bucket-list for years: The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. “Wow” is all I can say, it was even more beautiful than I imagined it would be. With Swarovski crystal chandeliers, stunning white marble and the most amazing floral patterns that decorate the floors and columns, it really was a sight to behold.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Muslim, Catholic or have no religious beliefs at all…the mosque is a must-visit if you’re in Abu Dhabi. The attention to detail and the unique architecture is simply breathtaking.
The Grand Mosque which was built between 1996 and 2007 was designed by Syrian architect Yousef Abdelky. Entrance is free but women must be appropriately dressed and covered from head to toe. As you enter they will provide you with an abaya which is a robe-like dress.
The mosque is open daily to visitors, except on Friday morning, which is for worshippers only. The opening hours are Saturday to Thursday: 9am to 10pm and 4.30pm to 10pm on Fridays. I would recommend going on one of the free tours as they are so informative and you’ll be allowed in areas that are not usually open to the general public.
That night we visited the Shangri-La Hotel so we could catch the sunset from their beach. The Shangri-La definitely has the best view of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque as it’s directly over the canal and the colours of the sky that night were incredible as the sun slowly set behind the mosque.
After the sun had gone we ate at Sofra Bld restaurant, which has a great Seafood night on Mondays. Another nice thing to do if you’re at the Shangri-La Hotel is to take an abra along the waterway to the souk at Qaryat Al Beri which has a range of restaurants and shops.
Our next day was jam packed as it was our last day in the city before we were going to stay in the desert. First up on the itinerary was a visit to the Saadiyat Island Cultural District where you’ll find The Louvre…
Designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Jean Nouvel, the highly anticipated Louvre Abu Dhabi finally opened in November 2017. Usually i’m not a fan of art galleries but I actually could have spent more time in this one, it was stunning.
The sun filtering through the patterned dome, which is said to represent interlaced palm leaves used in traditional roofing, giving a ‘rain of light’ effect was gorgeous combined with the white building against the striking blue sea.
The dome, held up with four massive but invisible structures, weighs 7,500 tons – that’s 200 tons more than the iron structure of the Eiffel Tower!
After we’d spent some time wandering around the Louvre it was time to head to Emirates Palace, one of the most expensive and luxurious hotels in the world. Our first stop was the Palace Spa for a much needed massage…
With a Moroccan-inspired interior, the spa is gorgeous and we felt completely rejuvenated after our massage. We had reservations at Mezlai restaurant for a slap up lunch of delicious Middle Eastern food which was another of my favourites of the trip.
Not only is the outside of the Emirates Palace Hotel iconic (You might even recognise it from the Fast and the Furious 7 movie) the interior is equally as extravagant and one of the must-do’s there is to try the ‘Palace Cappuccino’ (or the ‘camelchino‘ if you’d rather have camel milk)
Both come with 24 carat gold sprinkled on top. If, like me, you don’t drink coffee then don’t worry…you can have the gold-topped ice cream instead. It was delicious. 🙂
As it was our last night in Abu Dhabi I really wanted to go back to the Grand mosque so I could see it at sunset and in the dark. I think we spent about 4 hours there just enjoying the atmosphere, going on the tour at 5pm and shooting in all the different lights of the evening. It was magical.
The next day after breakfast it was time to head to Qasr Al Sarab hotel, our final destination of the week and one I was very excited to experience. 2 hours later we arrived at this gorgeous desert fortress that blended seamlessly into the surrounding sandy landscape.
Qasr Al Sarab, meaning Mirage Palace, is situated in the beautiful Rub’Al Khali, the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world.
Also known as ‘The Empty Quarter’ this stunning desert is 650.000 km² and stretches across 4 different countries; The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Yemen.
It was a cool 42 degrees when we were there and felt like we were walking around in a giant sauna. The hotel has a gorgeous pool that quite literally looks like an oasis in the desert and it was such a welcome relief from the heat to have regular dips in it!
On our first afternoon in the desert we went on 2 safaris to see the desert in 2 different ways. Usually people love the dune bashing but we chose the ‘soft drive’ which meant we got to see the incredible desert landscape without feeling sick.
The second safari was camel trekking where we had an hour trek on camels around the desert as the sun set behind the dunes.
That night we had dinner at one of my favourite restaurants of the whole trip – Al Falaj at Qasr Al Sarab. Arabian seating, dimmed lighting and low tables where you could dine under the open desert sky whilst a lady plays live music on a traditional instrument to set the mood. They bring you a selection of mezze (the fattoush was soooo good!!) before tucking into a bbq buffet of delicious meats, potatoes and vegetables. The ambience was lovely and after dinner they turn off the lights so you can see the sky full of stars.
The next morning we woke up at 5am for sunrise which I would really recommend if you visit this hotel. It’s the most beautiful (and cool!) time of day. It was so peaceful watching the sun slowly rise and the colours of the sand changing in the different light.
Our last day was spent chilling out by the pool in the middle of the desert with ice cold lemon and mint drinks and the “sunshine butlers” bringing us cold flannels and cucumber for our eyes. It was heavenly after a hectic week of exploring.
Places to stay that I would recommend:
Ritz Carlton Grand Canal
Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri
Zaya Nurai Island
Qasr Al Sarab
Places to eat that I would recommend:
Asia de Cuba
Sofra Bld at Shangri-La
Li Jiang restaurant at Ritz Carlton
Mezlai at Emirates Palace
Al Falaj at Qasr Al Sarab
Thank you so much Visit Abu Dhabi for a wonderful week! I fell in love with your city and can’t wait to come back one day.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The inside of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Zaya Nurai Island
Found a pearl in my oyster!
Light and shadow at the Grand mosque
Sunset trek on camels
Reflections of the mosque
Love the interior of Qasr Al Sarab
Downtown Abu Dhabi
Sand waves in the desert
The beautiful beach at Saadiyat Beach club
Fresh coconut water by the Ritz Carlton pool
Lunch at Mezlai, Emirates Palace
Dancing under the rain of light at The Louvre
Wraps at Saadiyat Beach club
A castle in the sand @ Qasr Al Sarab
Night reflections at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque