Where to stay
If your parents are not staying with you, then no doubt you'll want them in a hotel nearby. Most hotels around the city are well suited to rest and relaxation with most areas offering a good range of choice no matter what the budget. If budget is no problem suggest St.Regis or Park Hyatt on Saadiyat Island. Both have incredible beaches and are large enough to always be able to find some quietude. For a more affordable option, Traders at Bain Al Jessrain with its own beach and views across to the mosque, or Park Inn at Yas Island with a quiet pool area and views across the mangroves to the city in the distance, would both be good choices.
Sunday: Rest and relaxation
Morning: After a long journey, ease into Abu Dhabi with poolside or beach relaxation. Your hotel may take care of those needs, if not get to BAKE’s Saadiyat Public Beach, where Dhs.25 will get you onto the thick white sand with less of a crowd than at weekends. Towels, lockers and loungers are available on site for an additional cost. You can even hire a bike with special thick sand tyres if you fancy going for a ride.
Afternoon: Escape the heat and take in an afternoon tea at either the nearby St.Regis or Park Hyatt hotels (handy if you’re staying there). If you get time afterward, take a taxi to Manarat Al Saadiyat (should cost less than Dhs.15) where you can see art exhibits as well as the fascinating exhibition highlighting the planned cultural developments on the island. The Louvre, Guggenheim and the Norman Foster designed Sheikh Zayed National Museum are all on their way and the exhibition gives great detail about what to expect, including models and images of the incredible architecture.
Evening: Take a stroll along the Corniche to see the city come alive. There are independent restaurants on the city side of the road you can try. Alternatively, hotels such as the Sheraton, Sofitel, Le Royal Meridien, Hilton or St.Regis can all provide full restaurant experiences or more laid back bar snack options.
Monday: Record-breaking Dubai
Morning: Take a taxi to The Dubai Mall. From Abu Dhabi centre this should cost roughly Dhs.300. After a look around the world’s largest mall, head outside to watch the fountain show at the base of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Tickets to go to the top (well, near the top) are Dhs.130 per adult and need to be booked well in advance.
Afternoon: Stop at Atlantis, The Palm on the way back and check out the impressive aquarium. Tours behind the scenes are available, which is a great insight into how they maintain a fish tank that huge. Alternatively, take a tour around the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding in the Al Fahidi District. It’s further into Dubai, but offers an enlightening experience of the culture, religion and traditions of the UAE.
Evening: By the time you’re back from Dubai you’ll be in need of a relaxing, no fuss dinner. Try the CuiScene buffet at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel or Sofra BLD along the road at Shangri-La; this way you don’t even have to stress about which menu option to choose...just try a bit of everything. Both are by the creek with great views across to the Grand Mosque.
Tuesday: Tourist route
Morning: The Big Bus Tour is a great way to get around the city. It stops at various points including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Heritage Village, Emirates Palace and Saadiyat Island. Price is around Dhs.360 for two people.
Afternoon: While you can stay on the bus for a full two and a half hour circuit, it’s probably best to hop on and hop off at various points to get the full experience. The first bus leaves Marina Mall by 9.15am, and the Grand Mosque is the third stop, so around 20 minutes later. If you start your circuit at the mosque, you can capture it lit up at dusk at the end of the tour, which is arguably when it looks its most spectacular.
Evening: Yas Marina will keep the wows coming. It has seven restaurants to pick from, including some great value licensed places, where you can enjoy yummy food overlooking expensive yachts and the iconic Yas Viceroy hotel; an incredible sight at night. Tuesday is TrainYAS night too, where you can run, walk or cycle around the neighbouring Yas Marina Circuit for free (aside from bike hire). Even if you don’t fancy the activity, the circuit with floodlights on really heightens the atmosphere at the marina.
Wednesday: Ultimate relaxation
Morning: Visit the Anantara Spa at Eastern Mangroves hotel. While it might not be a usual holiday routine, and it’s not especially cheap, a signature massage here followed by some serious lounging within the spa is not to be sniffed at.
Afternoon: Stay for the afternoon there on the loungers at The Pool Deck; it overlooks the mangroves where you can spot all manner of sea birds. If you’re feeling intrepid, Sea Hawk Watersports (based on the promenade below) will hire you a kayak for three hours for just Dhs.100. This is a great way to get amongst the natural waterways, plus you can travel at your own pace.
Evening: Don’t worry about travelling too far. The Eastern Mangroves Promenade is now open and has indoor and outdoor seating at restaurants like Carluccio’s, Peppermill, Flooka and BOA Steakhouse.
Thursday: Desert Tour
Morning: Book a tour of Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. A friendly guide will tell you all about the birds of prey before taking you into the ‘operating theatre’. You can see at first hand the falcons having their feathers repaired and other important maintenance, and even hold one for a photo.
Afternoon: Two good options for desert tours; Arabian Nights Village or Hala Abu Dhabi. The former will pick you up in the early afternoon and whisk you off to its exclusive and luxurious camp where you’ll have plenty of time to relax, enjoy the pool or ride camels. The latter is perfect for those wishing to drive across dunes rather than be bashed, and the guides are all trained, knowledgeable and professional which can add real value to the trip. It also picks up later in the afternoon, if you don’t want a totally full day of activities.
Evening: Whichever desert tour you pick, evening entertainment in the camp will be supplied as will some usually delicious buffet food (Arabian Nights Village is especially tasty). Most tours will have you back at the hotel by around 10pm.
What parent or grandparent wouldn’t like a trip to the Ritz? The Ritz-Carlton’s brunch is a sumptuous affair that requires a fair bit of walking around in order to sample it all (there’s even a map to help navigate), but the effort’s well worth it. Alternatively, the Rhodes 44 brunch at St.Regis Abu Dhabi lets the scrumptious food trolleys come to you, which is ideal if the knees aren’t what they once were.
Saturday: Souvenir hunting
Morning: You can’t go home without souvenirs of your trip. Most hotels have a small shop selling an array of camel trinkets and similar, or you can head into the downtown area of Abu Dhabi and try your luck. There are small independent shops and smaller shopping centres that can be interesting to look through.
Afternoon: Take a lunch break at The Galleria on Al Maryah Island. It’s an exclusive shopping centre that has some excellent cafes and restaurants, many of which look back to the city across the water. Decide which mall you might fancy visiting; Abu Dhabi Mall and Al Wahda Mall are the closest, with Marina Mall and Khalidiyah Mall a little further on. If you fancy a trek off the island head for Dalma Mall, which is equally large but less confusing than some others to navigate.
Evening: Experience an Abu Dhabi mall in full frenzy. They tend to come alive in the evenings, with some excellent and relatively inexpensive restaurants to dine in.
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