Treat yourself in Abu Dhabi
Sports fans already know that the world’s eyes will be on the soccer matches happening in the Middle East this fall, but discerning Travelzoo members understand there’s an incredible gem in the region that should not be overlooked. Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, is a modern city with a vibrant arts scene, mesmerizing architecture and rich history.
From November through March, temperatures hover in the high 70s and low 80s, making it the perfect time for sightseeing. That said, once you see what sort of deluxe digs are available, you might find yourself lingering in the room or poolside instead.
With Etihad’s free two-night stopover that includes up to 40% in hotel savings, you can pair Abu Dhabi with a trip to say, the Seychelles or the Maldives. Not only can you acclimate to the time zone after your direct flight from the U.S., but you can also get the lay of a new land and give yourself a bonus vacation. The three local regions of Abu Dhabi City, Al Ain (in the east) and Al Dhafra (in the west) all hold enough appeal that you might find you’ll want to make Abu Dhabi your final destination instead.
Where to stay
This is the land of sultans, so it’s the perfect place to indulge yourself in some Emirati luxury. Head to the 5-star Emirates Palace, an opulent beachfront hotel in Abu Dhabi City.
Set on 210 acres along the Arabian Gulf, the hotel’s main building stretches for more than half a mile from end to end, containing 114 domes gilded in marble and gold and more than 1,000 chandeliers. Pathways outside are lined with palm trees and fountains. Visitors are allowed in the lobby or you can pay for a day pass for access to some activities or pay for a private guided tour. Even if you don’t stay here, be sure to go to Le Café to try the Emirates Palace cappuccino with 23 carat gold flakes in it or the camel milk ice cream.
Luxury can also be found at Telal Resort Al Ain, on the outskirts of Al Ain city, in the Remah Desert. Once home to the nomadic Bedouin tribes of the Emirates, this area on the eastern border with Oman now offers a boutique oasis for visitors. Choose from rooms, villas and suites inspired by traditional Emirati design.
For another desert experience and an authentic taste of old soul Arabia, stay at the 4-star Arabian Nights Village, nestled among towering desert dunes in the Razeen area of Al Khatim (in between Al Ain and Abu Dhabi City). Here you can taste traditional Emirati dishes, partake in desert activities and stay in a magical village that recreates Emirati houses and dwellings.
Not to be confused with Yas Island (which you’ll hear about in a bit), Sir Bani Yas Island is about a two-hour ride from Abu Dhabi city and involves a 30-minute ferry to reach it. It’s worth the stretch to reach the 5-star Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Sahel Villa Resort, which has 30 safari-style villas spread throughout the natural grasslands of this protected island reserve. Not only can you go on a wildlife safari here to see Arabian Oryx, giraffes and cheetahs, you don’t even need to leave your room or the pool to see wild gazelles and peacocks roaming around.
If you can tear yourself away from luxuriating in your hotel, there are plenty of (air-conditioned) adventures awaiting you in Abu Dhabi.
About a 30-minute drive from Abu Dhabi City, Yas Island is an entertainment hub that rivals the best of them. (Once part of mainland Abu Dhabi, Yas Island was intentionally formed when a strip of land was dredged to create a canal.) The free Yas Express shuttle buses follow various routes around the island and connect its main attractions.
Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi is the world’s biggest indoor theme park and has more than 29 rides and family-friendly experiences featuring characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, Bugs Bunny and Scooby-Doo. Take a scenic tour of The Flintstones Bedrock on the river adventure, fly over Gotham City with Batman or make the ACME Factory your playhouse inside this sprawling facility.
Over at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, you can ride the world’s fastest rollercoaster, Formula Rossa, or check out one of the other 40-plus rides and attractions, including the chance to drive a Ferrari around Yas Island. For another adrenaline rush, head to CLYMB Abu Dhabi, which not only offers the region’s tallest climbing wall (138 feet), but also the world’s biggest indoor skydiving flight chamber (104 feet tall). Both activities are available for beginners.
Back on mainland Abu Dhabi, head to The National Aquarium, which is home to more than 330 unique species and nearly 50,000 animals in its 10 thematic zones. You can book animal encounters that allow you to hand-feed puffins or go swimming with stingrays. Get a bird’s eye view of the aquarium on the glass bridge walk or hop aboard a Bu Tinah Dhow to see the marine life from a glass bottom boat.
Make plans to come back in 2025 and be one of the first people to check out the Natural History Museum of Abu Dhabi, currently under construction. Its star resident will be Stan the T. Rex, a near-complete dinosaur fossil. Back in October 2020, he was purchased for a cool $31.8 million, making him the most expensive fossil ever purchased at auction.
While no doubt you’ll be lounging at the pool at your hotel, you can also get some pool passes at other swanky digs while you’re out and about in Abu Dhabi.
About half the size of an Olympic-sized pool, Rosewood Abu Dhabi’s outdoor swimming pool is cooled in the summer, so it stays refreshing, and its terrace provides waterfront and city skyline views. Kids under five can swim for free at Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi; palm trees and manicured gardens surround the pool and dolphins can be seen frolicking at the coastline.
The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal is home to one of the city’s largest outdoor pools (over 17,000 square feet) and steps away from the pool is a private beach as well. (You can get day passes for both.) Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri has both an infinity pool with views of the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque and a tranquility pool surrounded by palm trees.
If you’re looking to get sand in between your toes, make a beeline for places like Saadiyat Beach Club, a 5.5-mile Blue Flag beach along the shores of the picturesque Arabian Gulf. Another Blue Flag option, Corniche Beach has a seaside boardwalk along with manicured gardens and several restaurants and cafes; the beach is divided into areas for singles and larger groups, a quiet zone and a family section. Yas Beach is another family-friendly way to spend time on Yas Island, admittedly on its more tranquil southern shore.
Al Bateen Beach has become a favorite of families and those looking for less crowded spots; many bring picnics. Located right next to it, Al Bateen Beach for Women is a private space just for ladies and children; women can wear bikinis at any beach in Abu Dhabi, but this one has barriers to ensure privacy, cameras are prohibited and even the lifeguards are women. Comfort like that is no mirage.