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The Weekender: Abu Dhabi

Your complete travel guide to the best of the best in this gilded, glittering capital city

With its magnificent mosques, modern architecture and stunning natural wonders, it’s no surprise that Abu Dhabi has become one of the most sought after destinations for well-heeled travelers in search of a luxurious escape. Perched along the sparkling shores of the Persian Gulf, Abu Dhabi is a fascinating city comprised of glittering buildings that stretch skyward from golden desert dunes. Less than 50 years old, this bustling metropolis serves as the capital of the United Arab Emirates and is a diverse cultural hub teeming with treasures to discover. Although often overshadowed by ritzy Dubai, the young city is finally starting to come into its own, earning the respect it deserves from the international jet set.

Here, a long weekend is the perfect amount of time to check off all of Abu Dhabi’s highlights and get a laid-back glimpse into the Middle East.

Where to Stay:

For an unforgettable stay, check into the brand new Andaz Capital Gate Abu Dhabi, which officially opened its doors in November 2018. The luxury hotel includes 189 spacious rooms (including 22 immaculate suites) and occupies floors 18 to 33 within the iconic Capital Gate building, which inclines 18 degrees and currently holds the record for being the farthest leaning manmade building in the world. Don’t miss 165 Below, the hotel’s stimulating ground floor art gallery that showcases a diverse selection of local artists. Between its welcoming staff and thoughtful destination-inspired design, guests can fully immerse themselves in local Emirati culture.

Andaz Capital Gate Abu Dhabi

Andaz Capital Gate Abu Dhabi

The Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel & Residences Emirates Pearl is another exciting newcomer that’s generating plenty of buzz. The five-star hotel opened this past summer in the heart of Abu Dhabi’s famed West Corniche district, and has already become a favorite thanks to its understated sense of refinement and luxury. The hotel boasts 428 rooms, suites, and residences as well as impressive meeting and event spaces, a soon-to-open spa, state-of-the-art fitness center, and infinity pool overlooking the Arabian Gulf. The hotel will also eventually be home to six culinary concepts ranging from Italian to Japanese cuisine and including an extensive wine bar.

The Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel & Residences Emirates Pearl (Copyright 2018 Matthew Shaw)

For a deliciously lavish escape, book a stay at the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas. With 306 luxuriously appointed suites and villas, the sanctuary provides the ideal setting for a private reprieve. The award-winning resort sits on the pristine shores of Saadiyat Island and gives guests unparalleled access to seemingly endless stretches of white sand beaches. Spend the sun-kissed days lounging poolside in a private cabana, or laying on the beach and enjoying the waves. Unwind at their rejuvenating spa or grab a bite of Mediterranean-inspired fare at the Beach House.

View of Abu Dhabi

Where to Eat:

Even if you’re not staying at the Andaz Capital Gate, their restaurant 18 Degrees is worth a visit for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks. Drawing on classic dishes from the Mediterranean, the menu highlights only the freshest flavors and locally sourced ingredients. But the jaw-dropping vistas overlooking Abu Dhabi are the real crowd pleaser.

18 Degrees

For authentic Italian favorites, make a reservation at Verso. The restaurant just opened but has already received rave reviews from locals and visitors alike. Its striking design is modern and warm, with herringbone wooden ceilings, swanky tiled floors, and pops of yellow sprinkled throughout. Plus, their ingredients are sourced from Italy whenever possible, including burrata from Puglia, pecorino cheese from Toscana, and cherry tomatoes from Sicilia.

Verso (Copyright 2018 Matthew Shaw)

Oak Room is one of the city’s newest eateries, housed within the recently debuted Abu Dhabi EDITION. Perched above the downtown district on the waterfront of Al Bateen in the Abu Dhabi Marina, the signature restaurant offers an inviting space with sophisticated appeal. Order a steak cooked to perfection, or swing by for post-dinner craft cocktails. For a taste of Abu Dhabi nightlife, hop in an Uber to Yas Island, which is home to countless restaurants, bars, and clubs as well as other top destinations like Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the award-winning Yas Links golf course, and Yas Waterworld, home to more than 40 rides and aquatic attractions.

What to Do:

No trip to Abu Dhabi would be complete without visiting its most famed attractions, the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque. Opulent and humongous, it’s clear that no expense was spared when constructing this architectural masterpiece. The gleaming white marble mosque is one of the largest in the world, sprawling over 30 acres. But visitors are required to cover up before entry, so be sure to abide by their strict dress code.

Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

Another cultural focal point is the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi, a direct extension of the legendary Parisian museum. The seemingly floating building, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, also features an iconic exterior design with a patterned metallic dome that reflects light into the museum, similar to a date palm frond (one of the most important symbols in Emirati culture).

Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque

Abu Dhabi is also a shopping city that can compete with New York, London, or Tokyo any day. The Galleria on Al Maryah Island is a must for anyone looking for in-demand luxury fashion labels like Gucci, Balenciaga, and Dior. But for a selection of more humble, handmade goods crafted by Emirati artisans, ask to see some of the local souqs. There are plenty of these marketplaces to explore, ranging from the gritty and authentic to more polished, tourist-friendly outposts.