The Magical Middle East – A Food And Travel Guide to Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates and neighbour to larger city Dubai, is a skyscraper-heavy city in the Middle East.
Comprised of a number of islands, including Yas Island, Saadiyat Island, Al Maryah Island and Reem Island, you may be surprised to learn about the huge variety of activities available to visitors.
Similarly to Dubai, Abu Dhabi offers a plethora of attractions for people of all ages, whether you want to explore the newly opened Louvre museum, unleash your inner racer at Ferrari World or just indulge in all the flavours around you.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Newly opened, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a magnificent architectural wonder. While it may not have the exhibition quality of some of the world’s other grand museums like the Prado in Madrid, the Louvre in Paris and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, it has only been open since November and is well on its way to greatness.
As the largest art museum on the Arabian peninsula, the Louvre Abu Dhabi features exhibits from all over the world and there appears to be a great focus on bridging the gap between Eastern and Western art, something which I found to be quite impressive.
The building and outer roof area are truly spectacular and I couldn’t resist a leisurely coffee and cake while watching the sun’s rays perfectly reflect off the museum’s metallic ceiling.
Located opposite Etihad Towers, Emirates Palace is not only an iconic Abu Dhabi landmark, but also a luxury hotel which is the epitome of opulence. Here you can savour a 24 carat gold coffee (I decided against it though) and just wander through the vast halls.
Unfortunately, walking through the hotel can make you wish you were staying in this grand hotel, which is also the third most expensive hotel ever built!
Saadiyat Beach Club
Located on Saadiyat Island, the incomparable Saadiyat Beach Club is the absolute perfect place to spend a day.
Checking in on my birthday to make the most of my mid-life crisis, this really is a place to spoil yourself. While I didn’t avail of the spa or gym facilities, I was more than happy to sit by the pool sipping a drink and reading a book.
After a dip in the stunning pool, which overlooks the beach and is a lively place for a swim thanks to the tunes provided by the resident DJ, I ordered a superfood salad and happily wiled away the hours on my lounger.
After growing up along Waterford’s sunny coast, I’ve always had a huge love for the sea. Unable to resist a quick swim, the waves were incredibly powerful, something I hadn’t been expecting after my friend said that Abu Dhabi doesn’t really get big waves. A quick swim and stroll later and I reluctantly dragged myself away from this paradise.
If you aren’t heading to a beach club or are staying in Abu Dhabi for a few days to a week, you need to visit the Corniche. Stretching an impressive 8 kilometres along the coast, the Corniche is an endless haven of white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters.
There are a number of sections (or gates) along the Corniche, with a family beach, public beach and others all cordoned off. On the recommendation of my friend, who has lived in the city for two years, I ventured to Gate 5.
A quieter area (especially appealing if you want to close your eyes or relax with a book), you can rent one of the cabanas for 25AED (€5.73). This is in addition to the 15AED (€3.44) entrance fee.
I’m a big fan of the perfect beach day, so if you ask me, go to Gate 5, hire a cabana, sip a drink, and just relax in the sun.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Prior to heading for dinner in the Shangri La, we visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which was easily my favourite evening in Abu Dhabi.
Arriving during the golden hour, the white mosque looked spectacular against the evening sky. Covering up with the abaya provided and slipping off our shoes, we strolled barefoot through the grounds.
A huge complex, I was mesmerised by the intricate floral designs which covered the pillars, floors and ceilings of the mosque. Staying for sunset, it was a truly memorable experience, one that will stay with me for quite some time.
You aren’t allowed to walk in the main courtyard of the mosque or take ‘disrespectful’ photos, but the bare centre makes taking in every detail all the better. Just before we left the mosque, we managed to catch the evening prayer call. As the voices echoed throughout the mosque, it was a truly serene moment.
Koi Abu Dhabi, St Regis
Kicking off our dining experiences in Abu Dhabi, we instantly felt that our time at Koi Restaurant would be hard to beat. With staff that pride themselves on their attentiveness to diners, we were spoiled for choice with the menu.
Opting to completely indulge, we tried everything from the calamari salad (this was by far my favourite starter) to the tuna tartare and salmon carpaccio.
Mains consisted of juicy succulent steak, sea bass and hake, with delicious sides of sweet potatoes, asparagus and mushroom and steamed asian greens. Dessert was a real treat with a selection of sweet mochi ice cream.
Café Milano, Four Seasons
Life isn’t complete without a taste of Italian every now and again. Making our way to the Four Seasons Hotel, I felt myself humming Bella Notte and once seated in Café Milano, we momentarily struggled to focus on the menu due to the spectacular cityscape before us.
After almost filling up on freshly baked sourdough and copious amounts of olive oil, we settled on a beautiful Dill Marinated Salmon Carpaccio and indulgent Mozzarella Cheese with Heirloom Tomatoes for our starters.
Upping our pasta game for our main courses, I chose the Calamarata Pasta with Lobster in a spicy tomato sauce. Momentarily alarmed by the decorative lobster, I quickly delved into my plate and there wasn’t a single piece of the calamari-shaped pasta left on the plate.
My friend’s House-made Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms and Truffle was divine. Served table side in a wheel of cheese, it took everything I had not to jump right into the cheesy heaven.
Our beautiful night at Café Milano actually coincided with my birthday and my friend, Gráinne, couldn’t resist letting the world know.
The charming staff all wished me a happy birthday and later presented me with a sinful chocolate cake. After our delightful meal, we waddled out of the restaurant and indulged in a cocktail on the rooftop bar, barely resisting the temptation to jump into the pool.
Bord Eau, Shangri-La Hotel
A truly special French dining experience awaits visitors to the multi-award-winning Bord Eau restaurant in the Shangri-La Hotel.
With Chef Jimmy de Almedia at the helm in the kitchen, expect to dine on beautifully prepared and presented scallops with gnocchi, succulent lamb, foie gras, Tuna Tartare, Valrhona chocolate spheres and more.
Finding it impossible to narrow down our choices, we let the chefs do the choosing, opting for the tasting menu and sampling magnificent wine pairings expertly chosen by our sommelier.
Despite being warned that it was a chilly evening (by Abu Dhabi standards rather than Irish, so we were fine), the view from the balcony dining area was spectacular as we gazed across the river at the mosque, glittering in the night sky.
Ray’s Bar, Etihad Towers
A favourite hang out of my friend, Ray’s Bar is located on the 64th floor of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers.
The perfect spot for a pre dinner cocktail or two, we tried the Il Frutto Proibto (Raspberry Infused Vodka, Chambord, Raspberry, Mango) and the Cucumber Gin Sour (Gin, Cucumber, Rosewater, Lime), which came with accompanying popcorn and nuts (we may have eaten two portions of these while sipping our cocktails).
The views are spectacular, but oddly, the best view is found in the bathroom, with glass walls looking out at the towers and the Presidential Palace in the distance.
During my time in Abu Dhabi, I was staying with a friend who lives in the city. However, each of the hotels and resorts where I dined were breathtakingly beautiful and offer exceptional accommodation.
Abu Dhabi has an endless selection of hotels for all budgets, from the opulent Emirates Palace to the Sheraton and Hilton hotels. A quick google search will flood you with options for your perfect hotel or apartment stay.
You can fly direct from Dublin to Abu Dhabi with Etihad. As I was also visiting Dubai during my time in the UAE, I travelled with Emirates, who also provide a free bus service from Dubai Airport to Abu Dhabi for all of their passengers.
While in Abu Dhabi, the most convenient way to get around is by taxi. There’s no metro line and the buses aren’t widely used by tourists. It’s far more direct to get a taxi, and far less expensive than hailing one in Dublin. Because of the popularity of taxis in the UAE, you won’t have to stroll far to find one and there are usually quite a few outside hotels, restaurants, apartment blocks, beaches and more.
For more information about visiting Abu Dhabi and to plan your trip, check out visitabudhabi.ae.
Sarah has always had a great love of travel, food and photography. Following her journalism degree at DCU, she developed a passion for travel writing while living in Spain.
Sarah loves exploring new places and sampling the local cuisine. Working with TheTaste.ie combines her love of food and travel.
A big people person, especially when it comes to hearing other people’s stories, Sarah loves interviewing chefs, food producers and more.