Abu Dhabi may not be on the tip of the tongue, but this major energy and financial center is also a fascinating place to visit with more Arabian flavor than Dubai, with its stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque with its 82 domes and enormous prayer hall that holds 40,000 people. Sun lovers and those after a walk on the beach should head to powdery white sand Corniche Beach, while auto aficionados can head to the Emirates National Auto Museum or Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. Art lovers will be delighted to know that a branch of the Louvre Museum is being built, slated for a 2015 opening. And whether you want to stay close to the city center or get away from it all with magnificent desert vistas, there's a perfect luxury hotel for you, often at surprisingly reasonable prices. Here are our top picks:
Qasr Al Sarab
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort is a long way from Abu Dhabi's business center and the airport (count on about 2.5 hours from the airport), but it's a magnificent romantic getaway if you want to relax away from the hustle and bustle. Entry level Deluxe Garden Rooms offer views of the garden and undulating desert sand beyond, and feature warm neutral colors with distinctly Arabian accents, such as the intricate bronze chandelier. We especially love the round soaking tub, free WiFi and in-room Nespresso machine. Try to visit in winter, when temperatures are more comfortable, while avoiding holiday times in order to better enjoy the serenity. Even if you don't try any of the other offered activities, such as camel trekking, dune bashing or archery, we recommend going on a sunset desert walk for the spectacular views. Best of all, prices often represent very good value for this stunning property and excellent, personalized service.
If money is no object and you're after the most lavish experience possible near Abu Dhabi's center, Emirates Palace by Kempinski is the place. The location is perfect, right by the Corniche, allowing you to take a stroll along the beach, although the hotel's magnificent facilities may sway you to stay in to enjoy them. Entry level Coral Rooms are nearly 600 square feet, with private balcony, garden view, butler service and free WiFi. We love that there are two enormous and distinct pool areas, the East Wing serene one for adults only with some of the best poolside service on offer anywhere, and the West Wing children's area with lazy river and waterslides. There are also 4 tennis courts, 2 gyms, and water sports such as sailing and windsurfing on offer. Don't miss a romantic dinner or delicious dim sum brunch at the hotel's Hakkasan Restaurant, easily the best Asian restaurant in Abu Dhabi. Emirates Palace isn't cheap, but even if staying here is out of your budget, it's worth visiting as an attraction in its own right.
If you only have an overnight or brief stopover in Abu Dhabi, the Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri is a good bet, since it's just a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport yet offers much lovelier surroundings than other hotels near the airport. Entry level Deluxe Rooms are spacious, at 484 square feet, and come with a private balcony overlooking the canal, marble bathroom with a rain shower and bathtub, free WiFi, and welcome fruit. The private beach is man-made but is clean, as are the three pool areas and sunbeds, if not completely relaxing due to the noise from planes overhead, and jet skis, which are of course beyond the hotel's control. Service in general is good, although not at the level of Shangri-La hotels in Asia. The nearby souk offers a number of dining options, and the hotel's Vietnamese restaurant Hoi An is good value. Many rooms offer striking views of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is well worth a visit, although note that long sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts must be worn, along with robes and headscarves for women.
The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort is one of the early developments on Saadiyat Island, where the future Louvre and Guggenheim museums will be, along with a major performing arts center and a campus of New York University. And yet, the original inhabitants of Saadiyat Island, the endangered Hawksbill sea turtles, still nest on the beach and you may be lucky enough to spot them if you're there April to September, or even Bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the ocean. Try to get a Superior Room with a Sea View, as the view is well worth it, and there's even a sea view from the bathroom. Superior Rooms are spacious at nearly 600 square feet, and bathrooms feature double sinks, a free standing bathtub, rain shower, and Remede bath amenities. Iridium Spa is excellent, and golfers will want to try the Saadiyat Beach Golf Course right next door. There are still some kinks to work out with the slow but free WiFi and with the service, which although usually friendly, is not yet up to 5-star standards, but for one of the better and more peaceful beach resorts still close to Abu Dhabi, it's a good deal. It's worth noting that the resort often has Cash & Points rates available for 4800 SPG points + $90.
Getting to Abu Dhabi with Miles and Points
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