Abu Dhabi. Where to go and what to do.

Abu Dhabi.  Where to go and what to do during your visit.
I want to keep Abu Dhabi as a hidden gem and not tell you about it, but I can’t resist!  It is next door to Dubai, but feels a million miles away from brash ‘bling, bling’ Dubai.  Sophisticated and stylish  – I am drawn here time and again.  Sometimes I stopover on my way east to take a break and revive after a long flight.  Often, I fly over from London for a few days in the sun and a change from long winter days.  The flying time is only six and a half hours, not too far.
My favourite place to go is Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Hotel.  Set a couple of hours drive into the largest uninterrupted desert in the world.
Pretty amazing?  It looks better in real life and the aura of calm and tranquility in the desert is like nothing you will ever experience.  It makes you want to embrace the spirit of Gertrude Bell, leap on a camel and explore the desert on a real trek.  Maybe one day – not sure I could cope with camping!
Anantara Qasr Al Sarab
I rather like taking a camel ride, Anantara arrange lovely camel rides with well looked after ex-racing camels that are beautifully behaved and immaculately turned out.  I loathe the use of animals for tourist rides normally, but not in this case, and would happily recommend.
Return to a gorgeous, luxurious oasis to relax and unwind.  Stay in a villa if you want to splurge.
This is one of the best Anantara hotels, others have a lot to live up to, and I have been disappointed by some but not this one.
 Try and avoid the week-end and holidays when it can be busy, choose a quiet time to visit and really experience the desert at its best.  After a few days head back to the city, well refreshed after resting by the pool and eating the most delicious food I have found in Abu Dhabi.  Camel riding, San dune racing in 4 x4’s and hiking in the desert will keep you busy in the desert.
The St Regis Abu Dhabi
Last time I stayed in the city, my hotel choice was The St Regis Abu Dhabi http://stregisabudhabi.com This has a great location and is a very comfortable Hotel, boasting a good butler service.  I can’t comment on the butler service, we never saw him – the worst butler service I have ever experienced.  I guess he was looking after more important guests!
Impressive lobby
 A nice pool and spa by the sea – quite a trek through a tunnel to get there!
I hired a car and drove all around Abu Dhabi, totally safe and very sensible drivers – totally stress free.  You will need to try out some of the nearby restaurants if you stay at The St Regis because the food was truly awful!
I will stay at The Emirates Palace for my next trip, a goldie oldie but still fabulous.  I WON’T be staying at Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, I didn’t like it – in fact only stayed because of amazing TripAdvisor ratings!  It is a long way from downtown Abu Dhabi, a good 30 minutes drive and is an unattractive location, service isn’t great either.
1.  Stay in the desert.
2. Go Camel racing.  Random, I know, but give it a go.  I became hooked watching it on TV in Abu Dhabi.  Sadly, it is still on my to-do list – I have not been lucky enough to be in Abu Dhabi during a race day.  I did get to drive out to the new racecourse for a practice day (the concierge at The St Regis kindly gave me the details) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
3. Visit a Souk.  Whether it is The Souk at Central Market, the Iranian Souk or the Fruit and Vegetable souk you will find them fascinating.  I always come home with some treasures!
4. Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque.  The architecture is truly amazing and a must see.
5. Ferrari world http://www.ferrariworldabudhabi.com  Ferrari World! I know, but for anyone who is a five year old at heart, loves F1 and would love to have a go in an F1 racing car simulator this is the best fun.  Children will love it too.  It is on Yas Island which is, in itself worth a visit.
I know, slightly quirky taste but trust me – you will have the best time!
Travelling in more conservative countries, Westerners sometimes struggle with ‘what to wear’.  I know I do!  Personally, and this is just me, I prefer to cover up arms and legs when out and about.  This is just a choice and you are not restricted by a formal dress code.  However, I feel more comfortable when out and about wearing loose, long sleeve tops and longer skirts or trousers.


  1. Stephen
    February 24, 2016 / 1:32 pm

    An informative review, this will go on the bucket list.

  2. The Grey Traveller
    February 24, 2016 / 11:06 pm

    Interesting comment about the Fairmontand one I’ll take on board , we stayed in Fairmont The Palm in Dubai over new year and loved it. Next winter sun I’m considering Abu Dhabi or Muscat, any recommends? Or is there somewhere else in the Mid East that you prefer for new year?

    • marie
      February 25, 2016 / 9:02 am

      Hi, The Fairmont itself was OK, I just didn’t like the location. There are so many top class hotels to choose from – you will be spoiled for choice. Abu Dhabi and Muscat are both favourites of mine, but very different. I think Muscat would be my choice, a magical country!

  3. July 25, 2016 / 11:28 am

    Great post! I visited Abu Dhabi last year for a short trip (2 nights and 1 day) but made the mistake of being there during a Friday so most things were closed (including the souks). Luckily I still did get to see Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque which was really incredible. Good to know about the hotels you stayed in – I would also add to make sure that WiFi is included when booking. I stayed at two different hotels which said WiFi included but it actually meant only free in the lobby. You had to pay to get access in your room.

    • marie
      July 25, 2016 / 11:37 am

      Thanks Chantell, you are right – I’d forgotten about the WIFI!

  4. July 25, 2016 / 12:16 pm

    I have never been in a desert before, but it all sounds so amazing! Definitely on my bucket list! 🙂 Thank you for the nice article.

  5. July 25, 2016 / 1:28 pm

    Wow great post. Sorry your hotel stay and the food was not that good. I have never been to this part of the world and all the blitz of Dubai just does not call to me. But seeing this side has opened my eyes and I will now consider a trip there. This is definitely more my speed and I would love to stay in the dessert. Thanks for all the tips and recommendations. Happy Roving!!!

  6. July 25, 2016 / 2:24 pm

    Ooh yes, this does sound stylish and my kind of travel experience. The desert scenes look amazing. I was scheming ways to get my husband interested in a stopover here while reading your post. He doesn’t really like the heat but when you mentioned the Ferrari experience I knew I hit the jackpot. Thanks for this excellent insider information

    • marie
      July 25, 2016 / 4:30 pm

      I’m always a bit vague with my husband. Just organise everything and tell him near the time!

  7. July 25, 2016 / 3:48 pm

    Looks like there is loads to do in Abu Dhabi. The lobby at The St Regis looks absolutely stunning! I have never stayed anywhere as grand as that.

  8. December 21, 2016 / 8:05 pm

    Wow the color of those dunes! I have been to Abu Dhabi previously but only to visit the Mosque and the Emirates Palace on a tour… wish I had explored a little more and visited the desert!

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