Abu Dhabi; Luxury & A Sense Of Seclusion

February 6, 2014

Travel, United Arab Emirates

As we drove across the quiet, open highway, Abu Dhabi’s skyline emerged in the distance. Next to the highway I noticed a few bridges. Bridges that led to nowhere – at least temporarily. Day by day, brick by brick, highway by highway, Abu Dhabi’s expanding, replacing desert sand with new projects and infrastructure, preparing to compete with the nearby emirate Dubai for their piece of the tourism pie industry. Is it there yet? Let me give you my impressions from my recent visit to Abu Dhabi.

Highway to Abu Dhabi

Low-Key Beaches & Deserted Islands During The Days-

Getting to the nearest beach from our hotel was our first objective after our overnight flight from London. Corniche Beach was the obvious choice – the longest stretch of beach on the island near to many of the major hotels in the city and though cloudy, it was 80F (27C) and calm, a perfect place to get into vacation mode.

CornicheBeach_new12 miles from the city of Abu Dhabi is Yas Island, which was non-existent almost eight years ago when development began with the goal of making Yas Island a prime entertainment and tourist destination. Jim organized a boat tour for us (Captain Tony’s) on our 2nd day which took us on a leisurely four-hour ride around the perimeter of the island.  We stopped occasionally, once to stand out in the middle of a sand bar admiring the fact that we were completely alone (aside from a few big turtles which our guide told us we might see nearby), and another time to find some sea shells near Yas Beach to bring home for souvenirs.

Yas Island

Secluded but in no way boring, there was always something new and exciting to see on our boat ride. Highlights were the Aldar Headquarters building (top right picture above) – a commercial 23 floor skyscraper striking because of its unique circular shape, an island that the Abu Dhabi royal family sometimes spends time on (bottom picture below), Ferrari World and Yas Waterworld (parks we’d visit the next day…see my previous post on this), the F1 Marina Circuit, and impressive condominium and apartment buildings newly opened.

Yas Island_luxury

Luxurious Nights –

Entering Ray’s Bar on the 62nd floor of the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers made me feel like I was royalty out for a glamorous night on the town, though I’m sure the employees of Ray’s Bar knew I wasn’t actually royalty of any kind when they watched me indecisively moving to new cocktail tables  (after discovering each secluded cocktail room had a better view than the next). And if that didn’t do it, then my royal image definitely disappeared when the waiter saw me stuffing all the free popcorn in my mouth like I hadn’t eaten in a week. 

View of Abu Dhabi

View overlooking Abu Dhabi from Ray’s Bar on the 62nd floor of the Jumeirah Hotel

But regardless of all that – the glamorous feeling of the whole night remained, especially when we had dinner at the restaurant Quest, the 63rd floor of the same building, where we had a three course feast of delicious Asian cuisine, admired another amazing view of Abu Dhabi at night and watched the chefs in action thanks to the restaurant’s cool open kitchen design. 

Dinner at Quest

The next evening we attempted to continue our luxurious experience so Jim requested a nice car to transport us to our dinner destination at the Emirates Palace, one of only two seven-star hotels in the world. When our “nice car”transport instead turned out to be a big ugly car complete with a crazy (possibly unlicensed?) driver from Pakistan who almost rear-ended five cars on the way there, the night started off a little rocky, but as soon as we entered the lobby of the Emirates Palace hotel our night of luxury escalated to a whole new level. The interior is dominated by gold, mother of pearl and crystals and it’s one of the most expensive hotels ever built at a cost of 3 billion!

Emirates Palace lobby

If that picture alone doesn’t sell you on the opulence of this hotel, then see the below one. A “Gold to go” machine where you can literally buy a range of options  of gold (in gram quantities) as well as a selection of gold bars with the hotel logo on it.

Gold To Go

The Havana Club for drinks and dinner at Hakkasan overlooking the elegant hotel entrance provided for an awesome evening out!

View from dinner at Emirates Palace_new

“Luxuriousness” Continued…The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

Another highlight of our visit was the opportunity to see the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, though in order to see the interior I had to first change into an abaya, worn by many women of the Muslim religion.

In front of Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

“One the world’s largest mosques, with a capacity for an astonishing 40,000 worshippers…it features 82 domes, over a 1,000 columns, 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers and the world’s largest hand knotted carpet.” (Reference: Visit Abu Dhabi site)


Mosque interior

Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque


My only previous visit to the United Arab Emirates was to Dubai, so I couldn’t help comparing the two principalities. Though I’m sure that the citizens of Abu Dhabi are a little tired of hearing about the neighboring emirate (even more so now that Dubai has recently won the bid to host the 2020 World Expo), Dubai does seem to have more going on in terms of tourism, nightlife and entertainment, while Abu Dhabi has a more relaxed, conservative feel but still plenty of options.

If you want to see slightly less tourists, then Abu Dhabi should be your current choice over Dubai. But because of the constant transformation it’s going through, it’s a difficult city to describe. In five or ten years, there’ll be so many more new things to see as they gear up to become a major player in the tourism marketplace.

I’m really happy I had the opportunity to visit in late 2013 to see the city as it is today, and I look forward to reading about Abu Dhabi and hopefully seeing for myself the future transformational changes that will take place throughout my lifetime.

Mosque in distance






About Tanya

I’m a freelance travel and beer writer and a passionate and energetic 30 something - determined to enjoy life and see as much as possible along the way. Recently I lived abroad in London and traveled to 20+ countries within two years! As of January 2014, I'm back in the USA, and currently living in Charlotte, NC. But before all of that, my roots were set in small town America, where I spent the first 23 years of my life living, going to school, and working in the state of Pennsylvania.

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