Some time ago, my husband and I went on a little trip to the United Arab Emirates for my birthday. We’ve been to Dubai many times, but this would be our first time staying in Abu Dhabi. When anyone thinks of Abu Dhabi, the first thing that comes to mind is Sheikh Zayed Mosque. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is this beautiful and breathtaking place of worship that magically brings it’s visitors inner peace and awe when you walk inside. It’s hard not to admire the beautiful craftsmanship that surrounds you.
But this beautiful city has so much more to offer beyond this beautiful structure that can leave you speechless.
Where to stay
On our first night, or should I say morning since we arrived around 3:30 am, we went directly to Qasr Al Sarab – an Anantara Property that hovers between the border of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. My husband and I call Qasr Al Sarab a gem in the desert. It’s this beautiful resort located in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter in the Rub’Al Khalil desert, and around a two-hour drive outside Abu Dhabi. The location is ideal if you want to just go somewhere, unplug, and be in the moment.
From the moment we arrived in the compound, I fell in love with the architecture and energy. In the middle of the desert, this beautiful property stands proud like a rose and draws in people from all around the world.
The resort offers a wide variety of activities from sunrise to sundown. As soon as we arrived, we were taken to our room to freshen up and then out for our camel ride at sunrise. Shortly after, we went to greet the resident falcons on the property.
After our morning excursions, we headed off to the main dining area to try out their buffet. One thing you should be aware of: the hotels in the United Arab Emirates take their buffet breakfast very seriously! They offer a wide variety of food to help you start out your day right regardless of where you’re from, what your dietary restrictions are, or whatever health/meal plan you’re on.
After eating enough for two meals, the hubs and I decided to try our luck at sandboarding and then go for a walk in the desert. If you follow me on social media, you know I have picked up longboarding sometime last summer. I thought it would be easy sandboarding and that landing on sand wouldn’t be as bad as tripping on to the asphalt. Nope, landing on sand is as hard as landing on cement, and hotter (especially when it’s in the mid-afternoon).
After taking a walk around the sand dunes, we stumbled across some swings to rest and relax before we made a trek for the pool. The resort boasts a beautiful pool that beckons you to just sit and let the water cool you down while you work up a tan, or in my case watch my husband do laps while I catch up on my reading.
Even though this property is located in a remote area, Qasr Al Sarab offers its visitors a variety of dining experience nestled within a beautiful backdrop. You can dine inside the building, on a balcony overlooking the property, at the pool or out in the desert. Because it’s been a long time since my husband I have dined in the desert, and we always enjoy a meal under the stars, we pre-arranged to dine at Al Falaj (Bedouin-style dining). You pay a flat rate and it’s an all you can eat meat buffet (no jokes!). Everything they served us was succulent, juicy and perfectly cooked.
Now about this time, I should make my way back to our room but let’s face it, I’m leaving this gem in less than 10 hours and I want to explore the property to see what it looks like at night before I head off to bed.
We made our way to the entrance of the property and walked around the compound from one end to the other. To be honest, this gem looks even more beautiful night. With very little lights and so far from the city, my husband and I just lied down on the sidewalk staring up at the sky. Sure we looked crazy doing that but come on – the last time I saw the sky filled with so many stars was at the Ngorongoro Crater, and that was before we had our twins.
After some time, we made our way back to our room to call it a night, but not before I soaked in this giant tub we had in our bathroom and took advantage of their room service.
The next morning, we booked a private chauffeur to drive us from Qasr Al Sarab to a hotel that was on our wishlist. I’ll give you a hint, they filmed Fast & Furious 7, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Star Wars Episode VII and Star Trek – Beyond.
If you guessed the Emirates Palace, then you are right! The last time we visited Abu Dhabi, we could only get as far as the gates of Emirate Palace. This time, we were staying at this magnificent hotel and it was far more decadent than I imagined. We are talking gold flakes floating in water decadent.
Everyone who stays at the hotel will find two bottles of water with gold flakes floating inside the bottle. Sherali and I didn’t drink any because I don’t know about you, but I like to see my gold on my fingers, wrists, and hands. Plus I have this nightmare of setting off all sorts of metal detectors and alarms if I consumed any of those flakes.
After we arrived and checked in at Emirates Palace, I’ll be honest, I wish I took the time to walk around the hotel but the Louvre was calling my name.
What to see
The Louvre is a new structure that was constructed in 2018 and I saw a large number of my colleagues in the Insta community visit the place and rave about it. True to their word, it was a beautiful place to visit and a must if you are an art and history lover. They had a great collection of artifacts from the Roman Empire all the way to the Ottoman Empire. I loved the transition they offered visitors from one country to the next but what really sold me was the lack of traffic so I could just sit there and absorb everything. My 3 hour scheduled visit to the Louvre ended up taking 5 hours.
Another place we made sure we had to visit was Sheikh Zayed Mosque. Every time I visit the UAE, I have to make a stop at Abu Dhabi and visit the largest mosque in the country. This beautiful building is covered in marble and to be honest, I don’t know when she looks the most beautiful – day or night.
On my last visit, I noticed so much had changed such as half the places that I could openly wander and walk around are no longer accessible. This is because the traffic of tourists has gone up significantly that visitors are no longer allowed to walk on the world’s largest prayer carpet that resides in the main hall. Tourists also cannot walk around the main prayer hall and find themselves under the world’s second and third largest chandeliers and marvel how it twinkles with OVER A MILLION Swarovski crystals. Unlike my last visit, this time they have a separate visitor entrance complete with a gift shop and an area where you need to enter information on where you are from before taken to an underground conveyer belt that will take you directly to the mosque.
Where to eat
The last time I visited Abu Dhabi, which was around 4 years ago, I didn’t have the opportunity to experience its culinary delights. I came straight for the mosque and made my way back to Dubai immediately. This time, I made sure to make a point to try a few cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants before I left the city.
I had a list of six places I wanted to try, but with only 48 hours in the city and in between exploring landmarks and tourist hotspots, I could only visit four of the six places.
This cafe is located in the prime busy location of downtown Abu Dhabi and offers a variety of vegan options to its patrons. I tried the avocado & sun-dried tomato spring rolls and it was delicious! I would also highly recommend the grilled tuna melt and bitter lemon drink.
Tawa Bakery was one of my favorites places to eat. What drew me was their location (it’s right by the beach) and their 100% gluten-free bakery that I heard tastes really good.
Arabica is a specialty coffee concept originating from Japan which serves and roasts the best coffee around the world. If you are a coffee connoisseur, ARABICA is a must stop for you. I had the Spanish Latte and it was perfect to the last drop.
This Chinese restaurant originally opened in Fitzroi in London in 2001 and since has expanded around the world with locations including Las Vegas, Shanghai, Jakarta, and Abu Dhabi. The Hakkasan in Abu Dhabi is located within the Emirates Palace.
When to visit
Abu Dhabi tends to get incredibly hot during the summer, we are talking upwards of 50C. During their summer season, you can expect everyone to set their AC settings to MAX coolness because if the heat doesn’t get to you, the humidity will! Because of this, the best time to visit the city is during their Winter season (October – April), where the temperatures make it easy to roam around the city without hopping in and out of AC buildings to cool down.
How to get around
So much has changed since my last visit, especially ride-sharing services that make it easy to get around the city. While we were in Abu Dhabi, we used Careem, a ride-sharing service to help us get around including taking us to Dubai!