The UAE capital often lives in the shadows of its sister emirate Dubai when it comes to its hotel offering, but Abu Dhabi is home to some incredible establishments. Thanks to its varied topography – spread across the coast and island and into the desert – Abu Dhabi’s hotels are as varied as they are luxurious. Here are the best hotels in Abu Dhabi to check in to, from magical desert resorts to beachy island escapes moments from the city.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara is almost an enigma – located in the western reaches of Abu Dhabi almost touching Saudi Arabia in what is fittingly known as the Empty Quarter. The rolling burnt-orange dunes of Rub’ al Khali stretch as far as the eye can see, over what is the largest uninterrupted sand desert in the world (an area the size of France). It’s a truly magical setting: a fortified compound that seems to rise in front of the desert sands like a mirage complete with faux watchtowers and castle walls. A lamp-lit driveway snakes through the dunes like a ribbon past date palms, leading to the main resort which is decked out with horseshoe arches, Moroccan-style lanterns, delicate mashrabiya screens and even Bedouin artifacts like daggers or brass coffee pots. Rooms, suites and private pool villas are finished with Islamic touches like patterned rugs, wooden chests, lamps and latticed furniture and it’s not uncommon to spot a camel grazing from your private terrace. The resort is 75 miles from Abu Dhabi airport but comes prepared for guests to bed down and not leave with its kids’ club, Anantara Spa, 12 dining options and a Rolodex of desert activities.
Doubles from AED 1,500; anantara.com
Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental
The drama-filled experience begins quickly in Emirates Palace Abu Dhabi; Guests ascend a palm-flanked driveway to what could be one of the most lavish resorts in the Middle East, if not the world, before being greeted by staff giving you roses, refreshing towels, juiced, teas and dates. Located at the western end of the corniche and neighbours with the Qasr Al Watan (Presidential Palace), the eight-story, one-kilometre-long hotel is an Abu Dhabi hotel icon, joining the Mandarin Oriental portfolio in 2020, marking a new dawn for the stories property. This isn’t the hotel for minimalists – there are more than 6,000 square meters of 22-karat gold leaf, on top of Swarovski crystal chandeliers, gold coin-shaped room keys and arabesque mosaics and fine desert-hued marble. The 394 rooms and suites are well-appointed and equally as lavish: suites with marble bathrooms stocked with Amouage toiletries and jacuzzi tub and decorated with silk fabric, silk brocade furniture and chandeliers. With two outdoor temperature-controlled swimming pools, a tennis court, gym, a private marina, a Moroccan-inspired spa and world-acclaimed Hakkasan in its ground snake this is one of the best hotels in Abu Dhabi.
Doubles from AED 1,120; mandarinoriental.com
Abu Dhabi EDITION
Ian Schrager and Marriott International’s now iconic EDITION brand bounced into Abu Dhabi in 2018, bringing the best bits from its global counterparts to the UAE Capital. As expected from the man behind Studio 54, the Abu Dhabi EDITION is as forward-thinking as it is fabulous. The hotel brings European and American cool to the city with its lattice-like exterior, mood-lighting, minimalist modern design, party-like atmosphere and visiting DJs from Ibiza, further cemented by its position on the trendy Al Bateen Marina. The five-story atrium is filled with art and its restaurants and bars are popular with both hotel guests and locals: The Oak Room, a serious, wood-panelled steak room with an in-house meat sommelier, Tom Aikens’ all-day Market at EDITION and Mediterranean Alba Terrace the spot for a fun-filled Friday brunch. The 198 guest rooms and 57 serviced residences are classically EDITION – with their mood lighting, beige colour palette, desert dune photography and wooden touches – plus there are two fitness centres, two pools and a spa.
Doubles from AED 700; editionhotels.com
Al Wathba, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa
A 40-minute drive from the city centre and the buildings ebb away to cream-coloured sands. Here is where you’ll find one of the country’s best-known and rated desert resorts, Al Wathba Desert Resort, A Luxury Collection. The hotel started as Jumeirah in 2019 before transferring to Marriott in 2020, but things were largely the same. There are identical sumptuous villas with private pools overlooking nothing but sand, palm trees, large ceramic vases, and the tranquil Arabian spa line the elongated swimming pool. Unlike other desert resorts, there are more affordable rooms to choose from, rather than solely private villas, making it more approachable for those with smaller budgets. The elegant arabesque theme prevails all around, from the decorative rooms, suites and villas to the traditional Saray Spa, and the fragrance of tuberose dances in the air. Five restaurants span Lebanese, traditional Emirati, European, and desert activities, including camel and Arabian horse riding, dune bashing, archery, and riding the hotel’s in-house Waverider.
Doubles from AED1,400; marriott.com
The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort
Saadiyat Island has established itself as the centre of culture in Abu Dhabi, housing the Louvre and Manarat Al Saadiyat centre. Still, its white-sand beaches are also some of the best in the UAE. For all-American luxury, opt for The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, a vast beachfront property giving old-school Floridian vibes with its beige exterior and terracotta roof. There’s a real resort feel – a maze of swimming pools, manicured gardens and palm-lined walkways, and rooms blend Middle East and Mediterranean – comfortable and largely neutral with touches of wood, greens and blues. Some rooms have private balconies with dining sets and sunbeds, perfect for watching the Arabian Gulf lap the white Saadiyat sands. An iteration of the global chain Buddha Bar gives it a touch of kudos while lavish buffet events like lobster night satiate guests and locals. Come for the stunning setting, ocean views, luxury resort atmosphere and proximity to Downtown Abu Dhabi and the Louvre.
Doubles from AED 1,050; marriott.com
Park Hyatt Saadiyat Island
Just like its sister property in Dubai, Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas is a spectacular waterfront property located on the sands of Saadiyat Island – arguably the whitest sands in the UAE – and one of the city’s most popular retreats. The hotel sits in a cluster of other big-name properties but brings a more grown-up, modern, refined elegance to the island. There are rooms, suites and villas to choose from which are contemporary and done up in oceanic hues and guests can dine in five restaurants and bars. Guests also have access to the island’s 18-hole golf course, making it one of the best hotels in Abu Dhabi for leisure travellers.
Doubles from AED825; hyatt.com
Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Sahel Villa Resort
Head towards the coast and you’ll find the mainland of Abu Dhabi gives way to scatterings of islands: Yas, Saadiyat, Jubail to name a few are now entertainment, leisure, residential and cultural hotspots. Far west of the Empty Quarter lies Sir Bani Yas, a desert island dominated by the Arabian Wildlife Park – the region’s largest wildlife reserve home to 17,000 free-roaming animals like Arabian oryx, gazelles, hyenas, giraffes and even cheetahs. Another large chunk of the island is dominated by Anantara, which has three properties here each offering a unique experience. There’s the fortress-style Desert Islands Resort, the rustic lagoon-front Al Yamm resort – 30 villas inspired by a traditional Bedouin village – and the most unique, Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Sahel Villa Resort. Al Sahel brings a touch of the African savannah to Abu Dhabi with 30 luxury thatched safari-style villas filled with dark wood and private pools. An African restaurant serves beachside barbecues, but guests can also make use of the other two hotel’s dining spots and facilities.
Villas from AED1,800; anantara.com
Telal Resort Al Ain
Telal Resort Al Ain offers a luxurious yet boutique desert experience without the exorbitant price tag, set amidst an Arabian oasis on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi’s Al Ain city. Its home of the Remah Desert was once home to the nomadic Bedouin tribes of the UAE and today offers an immersion into the past with its Zaman Lawal Heritage Village, tented villas, authentic Emirati dining experiences and traditional, and fun-filled, activities like falconry, archery, horse and camel riding and sandboarding. The air-conditioned one, two and three-bedroom villas have low-hung tented ceilings, Arabian decor and outdoor majlis creating a cosy and authentic vibe, yet have iPad-controlled lighting, great wi-fi and flat-screen TVs.
Doubles from AED580; telalresort.ae
It’s easy to mistake Nurai Island for the Maldives. The white-sand island surrounded by crystalline waters isn’t located in a tropical archipelago but off the coast of Abu Dhabi – just a 15-minute boat ride from the mainland. Nurai Island is known as one of the most exclusive and secretive resorts in the UAE and is home to a handful of beach and water villas which all come with their own private pool and verdant gardens. Villas are ultra modern with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, doors, and clean-cut white lines and all have easy access to the island’s private beach. The mammoth estate villa is the jewel in the crown – perfect for a large family getaway or for those in need of real space – while two-bedroom houses are great for small families and groups of friends. Five charming bars and restaurants serve the island – think Asian Ginger Mermaid, beachy Smokin’ Pineapple and Levantine Hooked – and there’s a waterfront Nurai Spa and gym.
Villas from AED2,680; nuraiisland.com
Four Seasons Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island
Four Seasons Abu Dhabi is one of the capital’s most loved establishments, located on the bustling business and lifestyle hub of Al Maryah Island with easy walkable links to the stylish Galleria Mall and a waterfront walkway. Rooms are modern yet classic, decorative yet neutral, and the hotel’s pool offers beautiful views over the city. An Emirati art collection makes it worth a visit, along with steakhouse Butcher & Still and Italian Cafe Milano.
Doubles from AED725; fourseasons.com
Coming soon: Anantara
Hoping to plug the gap for a design-led, boutique hotel, Minor Hotels has announced the opening of Anantara Santorini. Offering just 22 keys and set away from the city in the peaceful enclave of Ghantoot, Abu Dhabi, Anantara Santorini will open in winter 2023, offering a unique escape for both Dubai and Abu Dhabi tourists and residents. The hotel sits near the former site of Blue Marlin and is a 30-minute drive from Dubai Marina and a 35-minute drive from Abu Dhabi International Airport. Guests can expect a world inspired by the Greek island, such as white-washed walls, blue, oceanic decor, a private beach and Greek restaurant.