The largest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, and home to the nation’s capital city of the same name, Abu Dhabi is filled with extraordinary landscapes. They range from the deserts of the Empty Quarter and palm tree–shaded oases to beaches with turquoise waters close to the city. Across the emirate is a wide range of hotels—some new, others well-established—that allow travelers to deepen their explorations. Read on for eight of the best hotels for experiencing all the beauty and diversity Abu Dhabi has to offer.
St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort
- Location: Saadiyat Island
- What to expect: A tranquil escape on one of the UAE’s most beautiful beaches
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Abu Dhabi is made up of more than 200 islands. One of the closest to the city, with astonishingly beautiful waters and long quiet beaches, is Saadiyat. At the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, wild sand gazelles nibble the edges of the lawns, statuesque egrets stalk the 18-hole golf course, and Indian Ocean humpback dolphins swim offshore. As bucolic as it sounds, the center of the city is only 10 minutes away, and the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the resort’s neighbor on Saadiyat Island, is even closer.
All 376 guest rooms and suites have huge bathrooms, balconies, and terraces, most of which face the sea. Restaurants include Buddha Bar Beach for lazy lunches and sundowners and Mazi for excellent modern Greek food under towering palm trees. But the long, quiet stretch of beach is the real standout here. Calm, warm waters stretch as far as the horizon in a shade of turquoise reminiscent of the Maldives, and they’re edged by deep, soft sand.
Anantara Sir Bani Yas Island Al Sahel Resort
- Location: Sir Bani Yas Island
- What to expect: Safari-style accommodations surrounded by free-roaming wildlife
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A 2.5-hour drive from the capital, Sir Bani Yas Island is home to the Arabian Wildlife Park and its 17,000 free-roaming resident animals, including a herd of Arabian oryxes, once extinct in the wild and now one of the conservation world’s greatest success stories. The island is also home to the ruins of a seventh-century Christian monastery and three resorts operated by Anantara, the smallest and most exclusive of which is Al Sahel Resort. Here, 30 safari-style villas with shady canopies are hidden among native ghaf trees and date palms. Sit out on the terrace in the morning and you might be visited by friendly little gazelles and peacocks. The resort offers wildlife drives and hikes through the island’s dramatic scenery. The safari theme continues at night at the South African-style braai, or barbecue, with boerewors sausage and other meats hot off the grill, served with a side of mielie pap, a maize porridge.
- Location: Abu Dhabi Corniche
- What to expect: Arabian opulence with family-friendly diversions
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Located on the seafront corniche next to the Qasr Al Watan presidential palace, Emirates Palace is a symphony of superlatives. The hotel stretches for more than half a mile from wing to wing, with 1,002 chandeliers, 8,000 palm trees in its sprawling gardens, and more than 30 tons of gold covering what seems like almost every surface. Yet the resort manages to retain a sense of fun: Think waterslides, a lazy river, and a long private beach. The 390 guest rooms and suites are calming spaces with soothing color palettes of silver and muted gray, mother of pearl details, and thoughtful service touches, such as gold-hued bookmarks that appear on your bed table at night.
For the full regal experience, opt for one of the 5,000-square-foot Three-Bedroom Palace Suites. They were originally designed with heads of state in mind and feature large lounges and dining rooms, embroidered silk detailing, bathrooms with hot tubs, expansive terraces, and yet more gold. The hotel is also home to some of the city’s best restaurants. While the gold leaf–topped cappuccino at Le Cafe might be the best-seller, you can also dine on exquisite Italian cuisine at Talea by Antonio Guida and contemporary Chinese at Hakkasan, both recipients of stars in the just-launched Abu Dhabi Michelin Guide.
Abu Dhabi Edition
- Location: Al Bateen Marina
- What to expect: Sleek minimalism and notable dining on the edge of the marina
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Facing the Al Bateen marina, the Abu Dhabi Edition cuts a sexy, minimalist swagger. The hotel became the first Middle Eastern property for the Marriott lifestyle brand when it opened in 2018. Its 198 light-filled guest rooms are cool and contemporary, decorated in neutral colors with herringbone oak floors inspired by the patterns of local basket weaving.
The wood details continue in the timber-paneled Oak Room restaurant, where British chef Tom Aikens’s meat-centric menu has become a favorite among the city’s carnivores. The lobby manages to feel simple yet sultry at the same time: It’s lit by candles in the evening and has a mesmerizing aerial kinetic sculpture made of wing-like glass rods by Dutch artist duo Studio Drift. Head to the ground floor pool where private cabanas and olive trees beckon guests for an afternoon of relaxation.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
- Location: The Empty Quarter
- What to expect: A transporting retreat amid dramatic dunes and palm trees
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Qasr Al Sarab is the stuff of dreams that emerges from the far reaches of the Rub’ Al Khali Empty Quarter like a mirage. The resort’s location is nothing short of breathtaking: It sits amid red dunes at the end of a ribbon of tarmac that winds its way through undulating desert landscape. By day it’s all sunshine, palm trees, and soothing water features, a nod to the ancient Arabian falaj irrigation systems that run through the region’s oases. By night, it’s a respite with cooling breezes, hushed silence, and warm lamplight.
The 205 guest rooms, with their palm-thatch ceilings, take cues from the region’s centuries-old nomadic traditions, with cushions and carpets inspired by traditional textiles. For a real sense of seclusion, opt for one of the family pool villas that feel like miniature forts. There are camels, horses, and fat bikes to ride through the seemingly endless sands and spa treatments that use Arabian dates and coffee. But the loveliest way to experience the setting is to climb one of the nearby dunes to watch the sun set.
Nurai Island Resort
- Location: Nurai Island
- What to expect: Private island relaxation near the city that feels a world away
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Just 15 minutes by speedboat from Saadiyat Island, Nurai Island Resort sits on its own private island with swings in the sea and floating breakfast trays in private pools. It’s so photogenic that it’s something of an influencer’s paradise. But there’s substance behind the style. An under-the-radar favorite for Abu Dhabi and Dubai residents, the retreat draws day visitors who spend hours floating in the turquoise waters and drinking cocktails on the beach.
But those staying over in one of the 32 light-filled villas and 23 multi-bedroom houses and estates can feel smug that they don’t have to leave with the day-trippers. It’s a family-friendly place, with water sports, a kids club, and a water park, although there are plenty of child-free spaces too. Head to the boho-chic Smokin’ Pineapple beach club for pizzas cooked in a pineapple-shaped oven, swing seats at the bar, and hammocks strung up between the palms. Or opt for one of the daybeds at the Ginger Mermaid, and feast on lobster rolls and shrimp sliders.
Al Wathba, a Luxury Collection Desert Resort & Spa
- Location: Al Wathba
- What to expect: An equestrian desert adventure less than an hour from the city
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The dunes around Al Wathba don’t have the drama or majesty of the more remote Empty Quarter, but the resort’s proximity to the city of Abu Dhabi makes it a good choice for a night in the desert. The 99 guest rooms and villas are inspired by traditional dwellings, with cooling white walls and design touches reminiscent of traditional mashrabiya window shades. But it’s worth splashing out for one of the villas with private pools to soak up the setting. The palm tree-flanked pool is the place to cool off from the heat. For extra privacy, book one of the four cabanas or three pavilions that have curtains or wooden doors.
The Saray Spa is inspired by ancient Silk Road caravanserai, roadside inns and trading hubs that provided shelter to travelers and their animals. Treatments are infused with Middle Eastern ingredients like Dead Sea mud, oud oil, and camel milk. The resort’s stables of 10 ex-endurance racing horses offers lessons, desert rides, and opportunities for children to meet the two tiny resident ponies, Lucky and Rocky. To get even more up close and personal with the horses, dine at Italian restaurant Terra Secca and opt for the table set in the middle of the paddock.
Jebel Hafit Desert Park Pura Eco Retreat
- Location: Jebel Hafit
- What to expect: Outdoor living and archaeology at a crossroads of ancient cultures
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Dome tents have been popping up across the emirates over the past couple of years, but few can share the scenery and history of the Pura Eco Retreat. Located at the base of Abu Dhabi’s only mountain, the 4,000-foot Jebel Hafit, the area has been an important stop on trade routes for millennia. Today it sits within the Jebel Hafit Desert Park, part of a UNESCO World Heritage site of Al Ain, and is home to 122 Bronze Age tombs, as well as 8,000-year-old Neolithic remains. Some of the tombs have been excavated and restored into their original beehive-like conical shapes, while others remain completely untouched.
The 23 tents, each with a private firepit, range from simple yet cozy Skylight Domes to adults-only Sky Bubbles with see-through ceilings. More basic Bedouin-style heritage tents feature traditional cushion seating on the floor and shared bathroom facilities. Head out for an early morning hike and you’re likely to have the tombs—and the whole area—all to yourself.