48 Hours in Abu Dhabi
If I were to ask you what your bucket list destination was – what would you say? I often hear Hawaii, Paris, Maldives, and more. For myself, the UAE is a location that has always intrigued me, specifically, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. From popular films, to inspiring images on Pinterest, it’s impossible not to conjure up images in your head of luxury, intrigue, magical sunsets and skyscrapers galore – and you wouldn’t be wrong.
We flew direct from Toronto to Dubai with Emirates. If you ever have the chance to fly with this airline – even in economy- I would highly recommend it. From the extended leg room to curated meals and infectiously happy staff, it truly was the kind of experience that makes you feel like your vacation begins on the plane ride – and not when you step off. I should note that there is an airport in Abu Dhabi but with no direct flights offered from Toronto, we decided it was best to get ourselves to the UAE and arrange alternate means once we landed.
Situated about an hour’s drive away from Dubai, travellers have various options to get to/from Abu Dhabi. Knowing we wanted the flexibility throughout our stay, we decided to rent a car from the Dubai airport and make the drive ourselves. We felt quite comfortable driving around Dubai and on all major roads in Abu Dhabi. Most signs are written in Arabic and English and Google Maps was a tremendous help. Do note that most rental cars do not come equipped with GPS (unlike other countries) and foreign cell phone carriers can pay an escalated price for data.
We did find the roads a bit trickier to navigate once we exited the highways in Abu Dhabi and needed to locate our hotel. Thankfully, there are a lot of roundabouts and patient drivers in the area.
Notes about Abu Dhabi
I had a lot of friends and coworkers ask similar questions on dress and grooming, my feelings as a Western woman travelling to the UAE and more. Truthfully, I felt that Dubai was quite liberal in terms of what was acceptable for attire and my interactions with everyone in general. I still felt comfortable in Abu Dhabi but I will note that since tourism is not as rampant as it is in Dubai, there tends to be a more conservative approach to these matters.
The local currency is dirham but the United States dollar and all credit cards were commonly accepted. As for meals and general budgeting, I found most items to be of similar value to what you can expect to find at home. So for example, a dinner for two at a mid-range restaurant with appetizers, mains and 2 glasses of wine would cost approximately $100-$125.
Where to Stay
We had the pleasure of staying with at the Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal. How does one even begin to describe the experience? Immediate words that come to mind are opulence, grandeur and hospitality. Situated on the Al Maqta Creek, you’re welcomed with the most beautiful sunrise on one side of the property and greeted with a stunning sunset over the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
This Ritz Carlton property truly had something for everyone. From suites in the main building overlooking the canal to private villas with your own pool – their breadth of accommodations were refreshing. I think one of my favourite touches in the property was the attention and detail paid to the gardens and architecture. Reminiscent of Versailles, the manicured trees and bougainvillea were breathtaking and made for the most pleasant and aromatic evening walks.
We spent two nights in the Executive Suite overlooking the Canal and it was beyond dreamy to say the least. With a seating area large enough to host a party, two balconies, powder room in addition to a large ensuite and a cozy oversized bed – we were in for a real treat. And it must be stated for the record – the UAE does hospitality like no other. Every staff member greets you so politely, makes an effort to learn your name, and constantly goes above and beyond.
A little tired our first day – and a lot jet lagged – we decided to relax on our first full day in Abu Dhabi. We loved the amenities discovered on the property like a beach to stroll on, the ability to hang with the crowds at the pool or lounge quietly at the Adults-only swim area, private cabanas and more.
One offering we always take advantage of when visiting Ritz Carlton properties is the Club Lounge. This particular suite was well stocked with culinary menu items, full bar, wifi, televisions and sweeping views of the Canal. I loved coming here to catch up on emails, enjoy a world-class cappuccino and order a second helping of the tastiest omelettes.
Where to Eat
Giornette: Friday’s are ALL about brunch in Dubai and Giornette’s offerings were over-the-top. From fresh fruit to omelette creation to a carving station – they had it all. And don’t get me started on their fresh juice bar! A must-do if you’re in the area and try to get a spot outside!
Cho Gao Marina Walk: We were craving Asian inspired cuisine and this restaurant came highly recommended. We loved getting to sit outside in the harbor and enjoy our meal. We loved the banana blossom salad, Thai roasted red curry and braised short ribs in coconut milk.
Punjab Grill: Hands down, this was our favourite restaurant by far in Abu Dhabi. I’ll be honest, we’re not ones to feast on Indian in a fine dining experience at home but this came highly recommended so we figured it was worth a shot and boy, was it ever. Every-single-item on the menu was spectacular and we polished it off.
Venetian Village: If you’re staying at the Ritz Carlton property – or any other hotel in the area – I recommend a visit to the Venetian Village on any given evening. It seemed to be the hub for local dining options and most spots with tables situated on the water.
Villa Toscana: Craving Italian in the UAE? Then this is your go-to spot. We dined here for a quick lunch and were pleasantly surprised at how authentic the meal tasted!
What to do
Marina Mall: Malls aren’t just a place to bide your time in the UAE, they’re institutions. The Marina Mall and entertainment complex is certainly a spot where one can pass the time …or hours…or days at that.
Nurai Island: This was the one activity we were most looking forward to while visiting Abu Dhabi. A private island surrounded by turquoise waiters and a ritzy hotel is accessible with a day pass and offers access to the luxe grounds. Sadly, we were rained out and didn’t have the chance to go but I would highly recommend if you’re in the area.
If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Dubai, Abu Dhabi is the perfect getaway stop. I didn’t reference it in this blog post but there are countless attractions in the area such as Ferrari World and more to keep one occupied. I can’t say we’ll be back in the very near future but we certainly enjoyed our stay.