Family travel guide to Abu Dhabi
PART 1 – Basics.
Why Abu Dhabi?
Less visited than Dubai, Abu Dhabi is great for family holidays. It has multiple public and private beaches with the great views unobstructed by hotels.
Most photographed of beaches is the Corniche Beach and its long promenade with amenities, cafes, restaurants and playgrounds. It is also popular among runners. This is where we have stayed, so I will write a bit about it.
Corniche beach has public and private sections. In the private section, that belongs to a Radisson Blue hotel, one can do and wear pretty much the same as at any other beach in Europe. Well, perhaps going topless is pushing it, but I observed G-string bikinis. Private beach is also divided into adults only and family sections with multiple swimming pools in each. Alcohol is served all day long, there are several bars and restaurants with access directly from the beach, and also nice changing rooms with toilets and showers.
Public beach is much longer, very clean, and has some small water parks and splashing pools for kids, along with changing rooms and toilets. Rules are different on the public beach and tourists need to wear more conservative swimwear (think one piece swimsuit – no bikinis), and cover up while not swimming. A sarong or beach dress would be appropriate. Public beach has its own open times and different entry gates. Read more about Corniche and other beaches of Abu Dhabi here.
Majority of attractions are located between Adu Dhabi and Dubai. However, the wonderful Yas Island (that also has a beach), with its Ferrari World, Warner Brothers World and giant water world is in Abu Dhabi. As well as many museums, Grand Mosque, family parks and playgrounds. The desert safari is also just on the outskirts of Adu Dhabi.
Flight and transfer.
A small word of warning to all who just arrive to Dubai airport – you will see some ushers (??) that are very eager to help you with your luggage, then ask for money for both service AND the trolley, which is normally free. If it is possible – pick up your luggage yourself and save yourself some money. They ask for cash and would hang around and wait for you at exchange points. Those guys are also dodgy with change, so be vigilant if you have a lot of suitcases and do decide to use one of them for services. I’d recommend a polite “no, thank you”.
Abu Dhabi does have an international airport and many big airlines fly to both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Norwegian Airlines however, lands in Dubai only, so there’s over an hour drive to Abu Dhabi. Luckily, there are plenty of taxis from the airport and it doesn’t cost much to get from one Emirate to Another. All taxis are comfortable, affordable, air conditioned, some offer free water, and child seats are available in a special pink taxis driven by female drivers.
We took taxis pretty much everywhere, because it is so affordable and comfortable. There are also nice air conditioned and comfortable express buses going to all major attractions straight form the hotel and those are free, but you need to know the departure times to and from attractions.
Emirates is the closest destination, where it is nice and balmy while it’s dead of winter in Norway. We went in the beginning of February and the temperatures were always in mid to high twenties. Great for swimming and sunbathing during the day and going around in the afternoon. The sea was a bit cool, but the amazing swimming pools made up for that. It was like a perfect Norwegian summer 🙂
We chose 5 star Radisson Blue hotel, so I will write a little about that. I thought it’s worth it, since this is one of the most popular hotels at Corniche.
Remember those ushers at the airport? You’ll get the same in a 5 star hotel, but those are free, and you don’t have to tip at all. It is not expected. Overall, service is great there. There are couple of things though, I’d like to mention.
At a time of our visit hotel was partially refurbished. There was a new part and not-so-refurbished, old Hilton part. When you book your rooms online, it does not specify which one you are going to get. We got the old one, with the amazing view, but everything else is hardly 3 star worthy. Definitely not 5 star standard. Without getting into too much details – there was mildew inside the minibar and there was mold and mildew in nooks and crannies in the bathroom. Mind you, this was a superior double room. Very spacious and clean otherwise…if you don’t look close enough. Very comfortable bed, and amazing view of the beach and the city.
Speaking of mildew – this was the first time I have experienced a beach hotel with absolutely no possibility to dry your bathing clothes or towels. The window to the room was sealed shut and there was no balcony. Bathroom’s ventilation was not enough for excess moisture that was accumulating from shower and all the towels were constantly wet. Nothing would get dry. They have encouraging notice on the bathroom wall about reusing towels and saving environment, well – I’m all for it, the towels were never dirty, but they were always soaking wet! So, we had to change towels every day and dry swimwear on the sun, by the swimming pool. So did other residents I’ve noticed, so it wasn’t only our problem.
The child bed we got for the room, was too shabby and squeaky, so we ended up sleeping all in one bed, but it wasn’t a big problem, since the bed was huge.
Otherwise – very nice hotel, with great service, good food and amazing private beach area. Just ask for the refurbished room when you book.
Rules and regulations.
By law, you don’t actually need to cover your knees and shoulders, but it is expected, because it is respectful of the local culture. You are also expected not to wear bikini on the public beach. Especially on the family beach. I did see plenty of women who wore sleeveless tops and knee length dresses, that actually showed knees.
However, there’s a law about showing affection and you could be reported for kissing or holding hands in public places.
Remember that these rules apply only to public places. You can do and wear pretty much whatever you want at a hotel.
Food and drink.
Food is amazing, affordable, good quality and variable. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi won’t disappoint anyone who appreciate good food.
In many places, hotels, taxi, tourist attractions, you can get free bottled water, so there’s no need to bring water bottle with you. Tap water is also pure, it’s just not very palatable, since it is desolonised sea water. However, at our hotel, they used huge tap jugs at the reception, where they would put fruits in tap water – to mask the taste, and it was quite nice. I drunk a lot of it to no detriment to my health 🙂 Some places also offer free (or very cheap) Turkish coffee and Arabic mint tee – both are delicious and I highly recommend it.
There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Abu Dhabi, from American burger places to vegan Lebanese restaurants and everything in between. Even shopping mall restaurants are nice. Abu Dhabi is so multicultural, I’m pretty sure there’s something for everyone’s taste.
PART 2 – Attractions.
This is worthy of another post. Click here to read all about wonderful places you can visit in Abu Dhabi.