Abu Dhabi is new to the tourism game. But despite its newbie status, the oil-rich emirate is quickly becoming a destination to reckon with. Whether you’re looking for outdoor thrills (camel rides through the desert), an adrenaline rush (the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World), or a dose of culture (falconry, anyone?), Abu Dhabi’s got your ticket. In the coming years, Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island will be home to major museums – like the Louvre and Guggenheim – created by Pritzker prize-winning architects Norman Foster, Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, and Zaha Hadid.
The best part of all? Travelers looking to treat themselves to a little luxury can find great value here. A burgeoning luxury hotel scene means every major international operator is setting up shop along the Arabian Gulf. A glut in room inventory means properties have competitively slashed rates…so you can bed down in opulence for a fraction of the price. But hurry, it won’t last long. Major tourism promotional campaigns, coupled with game-changing strategies by award-winning Etihad Airways, are luring more and more visitors to the UAE. Soon the rates at luxury hotels will bounce back to normal. Here are my picks after scoping out the scene.
Nothing makes me happier when traveling than a gorgeous swimming pool. The Shangri-La has one that I’ll never forget: an infinity-edged pool next to the beach that overlooks the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque across the water. This is one of the largest mosques in the world, and its gleaming marble domes and minarets seem to float, mirage-like, above the pool. Not content with just one watery paradise, the hotel also built a rooftop pool at CHI The Spa. Guest rooms are positively plush, and you’ll also find a happening nightlife scene at Pearls Bar, and one of the best restaurants in town at Bord Eau. Deluxe rooms from $149.
You’ll sleep like a sheikh in this palace perched on Saadiyat Island’s white sand beach. From the sprawling Athletic Club to the sheer variety of nibbles at the restaurant buffet, everything about this resort is jaw-dropping. This is the largest St. Regis in the world, and if you find you’ve forgotten an adapter, or need a morning wake-up call with coffee, Jeeves has your back (rooms come with butler service). Rates from $159.
Another stunning beachside setting to indulge in over-the-top luxury at a bargain rate, like other Park Hyatts around the globe, the style is contemporary and elegant here. Equipped with Gulf-facing balconies, rooms have perks like stand-alone tubs and Nespresso machines. Catch the sunset from the rooftop terrace, cocktail in hand, and you may spy the dolphins frolicking just offshore. Tip: You can’t sleep at the nearby Monte Carlo Beach Club, but by all means, buy a day pass to luxe it up, Monaco-style, on poolside daybeds. From $145 with the “Stay 3, Pay 2” summer promotion; also includes 20% discount at the spa and restaurants.
The Bangkok-based hospitality company already operates one of the world’s great desert resorts in Abu Dhabi – a mythical fortress called Qasr Al Sarab that’s straight out of Arabian Nights. (This is the place to experience the solitude of the Liwa Desert, which is part of the Empty Quarter, the largest continuous sand desert in the world. On camel rides or nature walks, you’ll be dumbstruck by the never-ending sea of dunes.) The latest addition to Anantara’s UAE collection is Eastern Mangroves, a chic hideaway overlooking a nature preserve’s protected mangroves. At just 15 minutes from the airport, the five-star hotel is designed with Arabian flourishes (think: arches and mosaics) and has a swank spa and restaurants. Rates from $142.
Have you been to Abu Dhabi? Where did you stay?