A WEEKEND IN ABU DHABI
Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, usually paired as part of a twin-centre with neighbouring Emirates such as Dubai or Ras Al Khaimah. It is also the ideal destination for a pit-stop on a long-haul flight if you’re heading anywhere (far) east of the UK. Which is exactly what myself and the lovely Huma Zubair, whom I had the pleasure of teaming up with to bring you this post did! In 2017, I stayed in Abu Dhabi for 2 nights before heading on to Mauritius and Huma spent 2 nights in Abu Dhabi in 2021 before travelling to the Maldives.
One thing that we both agreed on, is that 2-3 nights is more than enough time to recharge between flights whilst also making the most of your time in Abu Dhabi. Keep reading to find out how to maximise your stay!
I took my overly excited children to stay at the Emirates Resort & Park. It is a gem that is truly unexplored… Now here’s the thing. It’s advertised as a 3-star resort - which could be why most people don’t consider staying here. However, I’m going to let you in on a BIG secret! You can stay at the most incredible 5-star, all-inclusive resorts in Abu Dhabi, BUT your biggest highlight or take away will still be THIS (assuming you give this resort and experience a go)!
Top Tip: Book the Premium Arena Giraffe Chalet - why?
From this room, you will have unobstructed views of the giraffe encounter. You can sit on the terrace, eating your food as the giraffes come and greet you. FYI, the zebra, deer and geese also share this encounter, so you will see them too! The pictures you get of your experience are also well worth their price, though you’re more than welcome to take your own pictures and videos too.
You do not need to book any meals plans for this resort as what you’re going to do is grab yourself a meal experience! We’re talking: breakfast with giraffes or parrots, lunch with cheetahs, dinner with elephants. I mean, will you get that opportunity anywhere else in a 5-star resort? NOPE! I highly recommend the Lebanese menu; the food was delicious!
I opted for the breakfast with giraffes experience which lasts for 2 hours, beginning at 8am. This one ticket allows up to 5 people to experience the private encounter. You’ll get to feed the giraffes - that initial feeling of their tongue/teeth on your hand can be a little bit gross, so be prepared for this! As you eat your breakfast, the giraffes also eat off your table (in their own bowls). You’ll have the option to select either the Arabic breakfast or English breakfast and you’ll be given the menu beforehand so that you can talk about any dietary requirements if necessary. Not only will you get to interact with the giraffes, you can also feed other animals such as camels, llama or hippos, as well as a tour of the zoo and a private interactive African drumming experience - which we thoroughly enjoyed, (I won the dance off, just saying!)
If you have little ones, this resort gives you free access to the zoo throughout your stay. You can roam the zoo, watch their shows (do take note of the timings when you arrive), buy animal feed and experience getting really close to all the animals who look very happy and comfortable when they’re around other people. AND there’s also a pretty awesome climbing zone, soft play and arcades area. For the adults, you have access to a spa and hammam if you wish to get treatments whilst the kids are living their best zoo life or enjoying the pool with water slides. So honestly, what’s not to love about a 2-night break here, whether you’re travelling with children or not?!
5 Places to go, Things to see…
Emirati Heritage Village
Abu Dhabi was once a barren desert landscape, named ‘the land of the gazelle’ after a young antelope led a wandering tribe to fresh water. Offering a glimpse into the past, set Opposite the banks of Cornice Road, surrounded by the Persian Gulf with views of Abu Dhabi’s skyline, the Emirati Heritage Village showcases Abu Dhabi’s national character and the way of Bedouin life before the Emirati nations became power leaders in modernisation as we know today. Within the village expect to find workshops where craftsmen demonstrate traditional skills such as metalwork, pottery, weaving and spinning yarn – you may even get to have go yourself! The village also features an old well and a scaled-down version of their irrigation system (head to Al Ain Oasis to see a larger version of the irrigation system amongst luscious palm plantations), a mosque and a camel or two. Within the souk-like setting there is also a spice shop brimming with items that would make for ideal souvenirs!
Abu Dhabi’s Corniche Road
The most famous area in Abu Dhabi, overlooking the picturesque Arabian Gulf.
Corniche Road spans across 8km of pristine waterfront boasting a plethora of things to do, whether you want to relax and unwind or do something a little more active. There are children’s play areas, separate cycle and pedestrian pathways, cafés and restaurants, and of course, not forgetting the stunning Corniche Beach. Not only is it a great area for recreation, but a major hub for hospitality too…
The luxurious 5* hotel, Emirates Palace boasts the finest Arabian hospitality complete with 24-hour butler service, a private beach, a variety of cuisines on offer to tickle your tastebuds and so much more! Being located within just a short distance from many of Abu Dhabi’s cultural and heritage sites simply adds to the charm of the hotel. It also makes a great place to stop by when touring around Abu Dhabi – which is what we did, rather than stay there. Add a royal touch to your time at the Palace by opting for Afternoon Tea at Le Café which has been shortlisted as “Best Café in Abu Dhabi” and “Best Afternoon Tea in Abu Dhabi” year-on-year.
Standing opposite the Emirates Palace, the 5 infamous buildings that arise from Abu Dhabi’s Corniche, sparkling under never-ending sunshine comprise of 3 residential towers, 1 business tower and the 5-star Conrad at Etihad Towers hotel. You don’t have to be staying in the area to take advantage of the grandeur, there is opportunity to soak it all in whilst shopping, dining or heading to the observation deck on the 74th floor of Tower 2!
For any film buffs - in particular, Fast and Furious fans, the Etihad Towers were used as part of the filming location in Fast and Furious 7!
Jebel Hafit is the highest peak in Abu Dhabi standing at 1,249 metres! It's a long winding road up to the top, but the views from Jebel Hafit are spectacular. Most taxi drivers will take you to the top; I personally find the twists and turns of these kind of long and windy roads lull me to sleep, but for anyone that loves a challenge, we saw groups of cyclists courageously taking on the incline – be sure to have working brakes for the descend though! The best times of day to visit Jebel Hafit are as Abu Dhabi wakes from the glittering glow during sunrise, or during sunset as Abu Dhabi continues to sparkle as the sun goes down.
Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque
The United Arab Emirates is home to some of the worlds most renowned architecture. Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, named after the first president of the UAE who ruled Abu Dhabi for over 30 years is quite possibly one of the most awe-inspiring places of worship that I have come across yet! Constructed of 22 light towers which project soft clouds, the moon emphasises the character of Sheik Zayed Mosque every night as the light changes according to the moon phase. Therefore, the best time to visit Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque is as the sun sets!
When visiting Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, please be respectful and remember to dress appropriately. Both males and females should be fully covered (long sleeves and full-length bottoms, ideally loose-fitting). Whilst Muslim women typically wear a headscarf as well. Non-Muslim women are encouraged to wear a headscarf whilst wandering around the mosque. If for any reason the staff feel you are dressed inappropriately, don’t worry, you will not be turned away! They have gowns available for you to cover up. All visitors will also be required to remove their shoes on entry – I will warn you now, the ground outside does get extremely hot under the heat of the sun!
Open 365 days a year, the world’s first Ferrari-branded theme park is a place that the entire family will enjoy and it’s all under air-conditioned cover too, so, no need to be worried about melting under the heat waiting in lines and all that jazz! Within the vicinity, more than 20 exhilarating and educational rides and attractions await, as well as shopping opportunities and ‘authentic’ Italian dining experiences. Whilst there are plenty of rides for thrill seekers as well as family friendly zones, my favourite experience (as a traveller) was on Bell'Italia, a simulation ride where you explore Italy, circa 1958 virtually in a Ferrari. During the ride, lookout for some iconic Italian scenes, such as the Amalfi Coast, Monza Racetrack, the Colosseum di Roma, Venezia and Maranello, the home of Ferrari. Thrill seekers will love the world’s fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa, which unfortunately for us was not running the day we visited. If you’re not scared of heights, then Flying Aces, the world’s highest rollercoaster loop is definitely one for you! For the most exhilarating experience that will literally make you feel as though your heart is being sucked out of you and then pushed back down (sorry for the gory image), Turbo Track’s gravity fall will leave you speechless! As with all rides, do remember that height restrictions and health conditions apply.