Abu Dhabi: Holiday ideas for leisure travellers

Abu Dhabi: Holiday ideas for leisure travellers

Business travellers account for 80% of hotel occupancies in Abu Dhabi, meaning that, despite having so much to offer, it is still sorely neglected as a tourist location.

Not to be dismissed as just another socialite hotspot, and far from the diminutive fishing village it used to be, Abu Dhabi is fighting back and fast becoming a compelling must-see in its own right.

Despite the economic downturn, the wealthiest emirate shows no sign of slowing down. According to Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, more than 26,000 hotel rooms will be available by the end of 2012.

This summer, the Fairmont will be introducing two new hotels - the Creek, a luxury beachfront resort complete with 30,400 sq ft spa and the Marina City, its equally luxurious urban sister.

Meanwhile, just 156 miles from the city, Sir Bani Yas Island is home to the new Anantara Desert Island Resort and Spa. Surrounded by exotic birds and wildlife and overlooking the Arabian sea, it is guaranteed to serve the toughest of customers.

Popular twin destinations include the Maldives, Dubai and Oman. Abu Dhabi also has direct connections with Thailand, Malaysia and India.

The best time to visit is winter, with its mild climate far exceeding temperatures in the UK. It is also the busiest time, with the Middle Eastern Film Festival being held in October.

Plus this year, on October 30, Abu Dhabi will host the last leg of the Formula 1 Grand Prix. (Editor's note: see last week's feature on sports tourism for tips on selling F1 and more.)

Whether sailing the Arabian Gulf in a luxury yacht or enjoying the hustle and bustle of the camel market, Abu Dhabi provides countless authentic Emirati experiences. It's also easy to get to: Emirates, Gulf Air, British Airways, Qatar Airways and Etihad all offer a regular service from Heathrow in less than seven hours.

Adventure

Vibrant Abu Dhabi offers far more than lounging on sandy beaches. Dune-bashing rides across the desert in four-wheel-drives are exhilarating and guests can also participate in sandskiing.

The Ferrari World theme park offers go-karting and rally driving as well as a 70-metre high ride, the G-Force Tour. There is no shortage of thrilling detours here and opportunity for adventure is unparalleled.

Romance

The Royal Meridien Hotel offers a rotating roof-top restaurant, Al Faner, with exceptional views.

This spot is the most romantic in the city around sunset, and is recommended for couples. Overnight safaris are available at a Bedouin camp. Lovers can smoke shisha in each other's arms, get matching henna tattoos, catch an erotic belly dance, and enjoy a barbecued meal under the starlit sky.

The best hotel to woo a special someone is the Emirates Palace. With the best stretch of beach in the city reserved for hotel guests only, it offers oversized marble bathrooms, palatial living quarters and 24-hour butler service. Celebrity guests Elton John and Justin Timberlake can't be wrong.

Culture

Abu Dhabi is determined to set a reputation for itself as a cultural hub, and the Guggenheim and Louvre Museums due to open here in 2011 are testament to that.

Home-grown culture can be found at the Heritage Village, a reconstruction of life prior to the discovery of oil. Palm-frond houses and craftsmen with weaving looms are among the sights here. Meanwhile the Grand Mosque, dedicated to founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, is another attraction that should not be missed.

For women

The Middle East was once seen as a daunting place for solo women travellers, but with the range of female-friendly attractions, that looks set to change. Opulent spas will delight a woman's senses and private beaches offer exclusivity. The city's 18 modern malls and many traditional souks offer inspiration for shoppers.

Ecotourism

Currently under construction 1l miles from the centre of Abu Dhabi is Masdar City, which will be the first city in the world to exist entirely on solar power and have a zero-carbon ecology.

It taps into the ecotourism trend, will surprise those who dismiss the Emirates as wasteful and decadent, and emphasises Abu Dhabi's unique ability to be simultaneously traditional and modern.

Nightlife

Coffee shops are the best way to experience Arabic culture and hospitality. For more conventional nightlife, the local area is thriving with Western-style clubs and bars, mainly around the hotel scene where alcohol is permitted.

The exclusive Embassy at the Emirates Palace is one of the best. Its laser shows, wide range of music and air of private luxury set it apart from the rest.

Roadshow video: New products and agents' views

Sample product

Tropical Sky offers a five-night stay at the Emirates Palace and return flights and transfers from Heathrow with Etihad Airlines for £1,189. Price is valid from June 1 to July 15 and August 11-21. (Tel: 0845 543 2186)

Travel Abu Dhabi offers return economy flights from London and three nights at the Anantara Desert Resort and Spa for £715 per person twin-share. The price is valid from June 27 to August 25. (Tel: 0800 912 0855, sales@aircorptravel.co.uk)

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