Abu Dhabi Travel Guide

Abu Dhabi Travel Guide

Abu Dhabi is nothing less than exhilarating. This is the pulsating capital city of the United Arab Emirates, after all—a transcendent metropolis where sophisticated travellers hop from lavish hotels to glitzy rooftop bars to mega malls and their ultra-luxe boutiques. While there’s no denying the cosmopolitan allure of Abu Dhabi, this is also a city that weaves together centuries-old traditions with forward-thinking cultural projects. Marvel at magnificently intricate Islamic architecture. Explore world-class museums that showcase Abu Dhabi’s ever-increasing role as a leader for arts in the region. Experience long-standing Beduoin culture amidst the rolling sand dunes of the fiery desert. Abu Dhabi is very much choose-your-own-adventure in a locale where opportunities for adventure abound. All that said, it would be careless not to state that homosexuality is illegal throughout the UAE. You are unlikely to encounter any issues as a gay traveller, provided that you avoid all signs of public affection. And now, your definitive Abu Dhabi travel guide. 

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The best hotels in Abu Dhabi

Before choosing your Abu Dhabi hotel, it’s key to remember the above point that homosexuality is illegal across the United Arab Emirates; many hotels will not permit two male companions to share a bed. However, as in Dubai, five-star international hotel brands tend to be the most accommodating of gay travellers. As such, our Mr Hudson-approved Abu Dhabi gay scene guide purposefully includes the most gorgeous Abu Dhabi hotels where you are less likely to encounter discrimination. If upon arrival your bed preference is changed, we do not recommend arguing with the assigned sleeping arrangements—this is an unfortunate circumstance of visiting a locale where homosexuality remains illegal. Now discover our top recommendations for a magical and memorable gay Abu Dhabi getaway.

Anantara Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort

Anantara Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort

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Qasr Al Sarab is easily Abu Dhabi’s most beguiling hotel, an oasis of palatial villas and Bedouin-inspired decor hidden away in the spellbinding Rub’Al Khali desert

Anantara Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort

Anantara Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort

Qasr Al Sarab is easily Abu Dhabi’s most beguiling hotel, an oasis of palatial villas and Bedouin-inspired decor hidden away in the spellbinding Rub’Al Khali desert. Expect uninterrupted views of flaming sand dunes, mesmerizing sunsets, and sparkling night skies. When you’re not lounging by the palm-lined pool, explore the world’s largest sand desert via camel treks, biking expeditions or archery—a long-beloved Bedouin tradition. The opulent rooms are befitting of royalty, especially the sweeping suites complete with romantic outdoor terrace and private plunge pool. End a day of riveting adventures with a sundowner at the rooftop lounge before heading to Al Waha to indulge in mouthwatering Arabian flavours. No mention of where to stay in Abu Dhabi is complete without the Emirates Palace—an extravagant, gold-laden city landmark that’s as grandiose as could be. Think personal butler service, private access to a powdery white sand beach, and a luxurious Turkish hammam that’s piece de resistance is a 24-karat gold facial. Perfectly befitting of its name, the Emirates Palace boasts stately domes, sumptuous marble bathrooms, regal furniture, and perfectly landscaped gardens. It’s all the splendour of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ come to life to create an undeniably romantic Arabian getaway.

Emirates Palace

Emirates Palace

From its ideal waterfront perch overlooking the Arabian Gulf, The Abu Dhabi EDITION brilliantly blends classic elegance with design-forward aesthetics. The industrial-chic building is easily recognizable for its two glass boxes adorned with metal lattice. Inside, a serpentine atrium, a kinetic art installation, luxe marble floors, and posh cream sofas combine to create a decidedly sophisticated vibe. The bars and restaurants here are Abu Dhabi attractions in their own right, decadent culinary experiences spearheaded by venerated Michelin-starred chef Tom Aikens. For some of the best views of the glittering Abu Dhabi skyline, head to the iconic Four Seasons Al Maryah Island. The design here is as glitzy and glamorous as you would expect from the Four Seasons brand. An impressive marble lobby dripping in chandeliers, local artwork, and vibrant flower arrangements sets the tone for 34 floors of five-star luxury. Also on Al Maryah Island is Hotel Rosewood, a luxurious hotel designed by New York’s acclaimed design firm BBG-BBGM. The decor is swanky without ever trying too hard, a melange of creative water features, reflective glass walls, and traditional Arabian textiles and tones. Eight decadent on-site restaurants and direct connection to the luxury shopping mall The Galleria round out the vibrant cosmopolitan offerings.

Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island

Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island

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Recommended hotels in Abu Dhabi
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Things to do in Abu Dhabi

Start your Abu Dhabi sightseeing at the spectacular Louvre Abu Dhabi, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel—an awe-inspiring building that showcases 12 galleries spanning Neolithic to present-day artistic marvels. Collections are grouped by themes rather than countries, resulting in a fascinating look at the global threads tying together vastly diverse cultures and civilizations throughout the centuries. Just a few of the highlights amongst the 6,000 some artefacts include the Mari-Cha Lion, a Vincent Van Gogh self-portrait and a page from one of the oldest Quarans known to man. After much anticipation, the mystical world of Abu Dhabi’s royal court is now, for the first time, open to the public. With its gleaming white limestone and ornate network of domes, the Presidential Palace is as extravagant as it is exquisite. While much of the palace remains closed off, explore priceless manuscripts and rare books in the library, revel in the splendour of the Grand Hall (a mammoth building at 100 meters by 100 meters) or stretch your legs with a stroll through kaleidoscopic gardens. From here, don’t miss the Qasr Al Hosn. The watchtower is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi, dating back to the 1790s as a commanding stand from which to protect coastal trade routes and growing settlements. And after over a decade of in-depth conservation and renovation, Qasr Al Hosn is now open to the public as a museum and living memorial of Abu Dhabi’s rich history.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi | Photo: Thomas Drouault

The Louvre Abu Dhabi | Photo: Thomas Drouault

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After much anticipation, the mystical world of Abu Dhabi’s royal court is now, for the first time, open to the public in all its gleaming glory

You don’t have to be a sports car aficionado to appreciate Ferrari World, a 900,000 square foot theme park dedicated to the legendary ‘supercar’ and bonafide Abu Dhabi thing to do. Spike your adrenaline on the “Formula Rossa,” the world’s tallest roller coaster loop that fittingly goes up to nearly 150mph, or live out your wildest racing fantasies via state of the art simulators. Continue your education in the art of racing at the Yas Marina Circuit, launched in 2009 to host the Formula One Grand Prix. Not only is it a world-class spot to soak in riveting racing events (each of the five stands offer undisturbed track views), but you can also take a state-of-the-art sports vehicle for a whirl around the track, hit up a class at the Yas Racing School, or revel in the laid-back yet undeniably fun vibes of the Yas Kartzone.

The Peregrine falcon has long served as a symbol of Bedouin culture, and the sport of falconry continues to hold strong roots in the UAE—so much so that these majestic birds of prey can obtain their own passports. To begin to understand the cherished tradition of falconry, take a visit to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. This veterinary facility doubles as an educational institution and is the prime locale to learn about the prized national bird via an up-close encounter, all the while knowing you are supporting the largest falcon hospital in the world.

Ferrari World | Photo: Fli138

Ferrari World | Photo: Fli138

Photo: Neil Dodhia

Photo: Neil Dodhia

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Recommended experiences in Abu Dhabi
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Things to see in Abu Dhabi

Think of Abu Dhabi and chances are the first images to come to mind are of the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, home to the largest mosque dome in the world—and an undeniably impressive architectural feat. Inspired by a medley of Persian, Mughal and Moorish influences, the opulent mosque features precious stones, intricate floral designs inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and some 30 million pieces of marble. Take a complimentary one-hour tour to fully appreciate the craftsmanship behind the place of worship, available daily at 10 am. Further your understanding of the United Arab Emirates with a visit to The Founder’s Memorial, celebrating the life of Sheik Zayed (founder of the UAE.) The beating heart of the memorial is The Constellation, an avant-garde three-dimensional portrait of the late sheik. Visit after nightfall when The Constellation evokes a glittering starry night sky. Another must-visit monument is Wahat Al Karama (which translates to Oasis of Dignity,) a war memorial honouring UAE fallen soldiers. The stately memorial includes 31 towering metal tablets (each leaning on each other) to signify the solidarity of the support system that binds together the UAE. This 2017 winner of the American Architecture Prize also doubles as a fantastic spot to view the Grand Mosque.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque | Photo: Junhan Foong

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque | Photo: Junhan Foong

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

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For the ultimate Abu Dhabi day trip, head to Jebel Hafeet—one of the UAE’s highest peaks and a rocky outcrop of craggy limestone that borders Oman

As in Dubai, Abu Dhabi is home to a plethora of postcard-worthy beaches and refreshing azure waters. Plan to spend a sun-dappled afternoon hopping between the city’s most brilliant sandy spots. For starters, there’s the Saadiyat Public Beach, a popular spot with active beachgoers wanting to take advantage of the many water sports on offer. For a luxe upgrade, the Saadiyat Beach Club promises stylish cabanas and a sleek lounge alongside a dazzling turquoise pool. The Corniche Beach stretches over 8km of scenic coastline, promising a lovely spot for lounging, cycling and people watching. Then there’s Zaya Nurai Island, a fabulous private island that exudes major Maldives vibes. The private island offers day passes and is well worth the short boat trip to arrive in paradise. For the ultimate Abu Dhabi day trip, head to Jebel Hafeet—one of the UAE’s highest peaks and a rocky outcrop of craggy limestone that borders Oman. The winding road to the top of the peak is considered one of the world’s best drives and delivers sweeping views of Al Ain upon arrival at the summit. On the way up, don’t miss the Jebel Hafeet tombs, dating back some 5,000 years and signifying the long-established importance of Arabian Gulf trade.

Photo: Oliver Sjostrom

Photo: Oliver Sjostrom

Where to eat in Abu Dhabi

The perfect Abu Dhabi gay city guide starts at NoLu’s, a Californian “farm-to-table” style cafe with a charming Afghani twist. The organic scrambles are delightful, but those with a sweet tooth will fall head-over-heels for the stuffed caramelized banana french toast. Afghan flavours feature more heavily on the lunch and dinner menu, with everything from quabili pallow to potato pakawra. When it comes to Friday Brunch, Abu Dhabi might not boast as many options as its playful sister Dubai—but don’t let that fool you. The capital city can hold its own on the brunching field. A perennial Abu Dhabi brunch favourite is The Terrace on the Corniche at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi. Sip free-flowing champagne on the sunny garden terrace while melodic jazz tunes fill the air. The buffet is extensive with multiple grill stations and a next-level cheese array. Discover local Emarati flavours at Meylas, one of the first Emirati restaurants to explore the characteristics of UAE cuisine. The brainchild of Shaikha Al Kaabi, the menu features dishes passed down by generations of Emirati women, with many recipes inspired by the owner’s childhood memories and experiences.

Photo: Noora Alhammadi

Photo: Noora Alhammadi

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Sip free-flowing champagne on the sunny garden terrace while melodic jazz tunes fill the air at perennial brunch favorite The Terrace on the Corniche

Hakkasan is the obvious choice for Cantonese cuisine influenced by bold Middle Eastern flavours and fresh, local ingredients. You’ll find it in a moody corner inside the opulent Emirates Palace, where a lattice dining area, dark wood detailing and bright blue glass set the scene for an intimate evening. Don’t miss the Wagyu beef salad (one of the items on the “Only At” menu) or any of the boozy bespoke cocktails. Bord Eau is widely touted as the most authentic French restaurant in the city. Tucked away inside the Shangri-la Hotel, chef Ben Chahla imports many ingredients directly from France to create visionary takes on traditional favourites. The four-course tasting experience is well worth the splurge, though you’ll also find signature dishes bursting with flavour on the extensive a la carte menu. Barfly by Buddha Bar is as trendy as Abu Dhabi outposts come. The ambience weaves together a sleek lounge, intimate bar, and refined dining experience to create the unique “Neo-Baroque mystic-lounge concept.” Vie for a terrace seat at sunset and enjoy the funky tunes while gorging on plates of fresh sushi. Another stylish spot to chow down is Finz, where fashionable folk head to indulge in fresh seafood from a glittering seaside setting. Expect a fusion of Mediterranean and North African Moorish flavours; we recommend starting with the oysters while fully ogling at the sweeping sea views.

Photo: Eiliv Sonas Aceron

Photo: Eiliv Sonas Aceron

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A welcome addition to the Abu Dhabi art scene, The Etihad Modern Art Gallery showcases the work of both international artists and burgeoning Emirati talent

Shopping in Abu Dhabi

There’s no denying Abu Dhabi is a thrumming, cosmopolitan city. Yet amidst the glimmering lights and glitzy growth, pockets of old Abu Dhabi remain. And one of the best ways to feel transported to the Abu Dhabi of yesteryear is by exploring the narrow alleyways of its souks, or traditional marketplaces. Start at the Carpet Souk, an intoxicating maze of some 100 shops selling handmade Persian rugs. Expect charismatic shop keepers to unfurl carpet after carpet, and don’t be afraid to haggle dramatically should a piece meet your fancy. Then there’s the Souk Qaryat Al Beri, a contemporary take on a classic souk experience. The architecture has distinct Arabian flair while winding canals feel decidedly Venetian. Inside you’ll find local products like juicy Medjool dates, heady perfumes, and high-quality crafts. Don’t miss Al Saadah Art Gallery for colourful ceramic tiles or Gallery One for funky takes on traditional Middle Eastern souvenirs.

For international fashion labels, hop over to Avenue at Etihad Towers. Here you’ll find two floors of luxe boutiques such as A. Lange & Söhne, Hermès and Chloé—and the first and only Stephane Rolland store. A welcome addition to the Abu Dhabi art scene, The Etihad Modern Art Gallery showcases the work of both international artists and burgeoning Emirati talent. Exhibitions change monthly, but always promote the discussion and appreciation of the evolving Emirati art culture; after perusing the versatile art space, don’t miss the bohemian ArtHouse cafe next door. When the heat is insufferable, do as the locals do and head straight to the air-conditioned bliss that is Yas Mall—one of Abu Dhabi’s most indulgent shopping experiences. This 2.5 million square foot shopping mecca is overflowing with menswear boutiques and high-end labels, promising the perfect find for even the most discerning of gentleman. Keep an eye out for Tyrano, a concept department store that offers a carefully curated range of exclusive designer brands. The retail space itself is gorgeous, with award-winning displays that are surprisingly easy to navigate given their quirky layout. When you need to refuel, head into one of the many restaurants that provide uninterrupted sea and city views.

Photo: Agnieszka Kowalczyk

Photo: Agnieszka Kowalczyk

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With creative craft cocktails and smart bar bites like fig muffins and avocado hummus, you’ll want to dress to impress at the always stylish Jazz and Fizz Bar

Photo: Emma Van Sant

Photo: Emma Van Sant

Abu Dhabi nightlife

Aspiring wine aficionados will love La Cava, an underground bar hidden in the Rosewood Hotel. Housing over 1,000 premium labels, it’s easily Abu Dhabi’s most extensive wine selection with a diverse range of varietals from all corners of the globe. Come from 7 pm to 9 pm for the wine buffet, a chance to make a dent in La Cava’s extensive collection. It includes 15 wines (white, rose and red) and an equally impressive selection of cheeses. Settle into a comfy armchair and make an evening of sipping wine in the quiet, candlelit locale. The Jazz and Fizz Bar is another refined Abu Dhabi nightlife venue. Live music and weekly Men’s Nights draw a crowd, as do the impressive views. With creative craft cocktails and smart bar bites like fig muffins and avocado hummus, you’ll want to dress to impress. Any gay Abu Dhabi guide would be remiss not to mention Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE. This is where world-renowned DJs crank out a foolproof soundtrack for an endless night of dancing on the beach. Yes, it’s hot and crowded and sweaty. But there’s also a cooling infinity pool, salty sea breeze, and palpable party energy that all explain why Blue Marlin is one of the UAE’s most Instagrammable beach parties.

On a clear night, head straight to Relax@12. This fashionable open-air lounge has views for miles and a hip-swaying resident DJ. The menu skews towards Oriental-inspired tapas—the crispy duck crepes are a consistent fan favourite. If you prefer panoramic views punctuated by refreshing dips in the pool, The Breeze Poolside Bar delivers a chilled-out atmosphere on the 23rd floor of the Dusit Thani. Take a break from the booze and enjoy refreshing smoothies and exotic vitamin elixirs. Or don’t—there are fresh cocktails on avail, too, and they all go down perfectly with the dazzling atmosphere. Then there’s Stratos, a revolving cocktail lounge with 360-degree views of Abu Dhabi. Keep things chill with an afternoon tea, or marvel at the glittering nighttime beauty as Stratos transforms into one of the city’s most seductive late-night venues. You’ll find it perched at the top of the equally ritzy Le Royal Meridien Hotel.

Photo: Ray Waller

Photo: Ray Waller

Photo: Magda Ehlers

Photo: Magda Ehlers

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