As both the capital and the largest emirate of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is home to some of the country’s most dramatic sights, from ethereal desertscapes to ancient oases, palatial resorts, glittering urban centres and more than 200 white-sand islands. It can also be home to your next dream adventure – which begins in full comfort and style as soon as you board an exquisite Etihad A380. The flagship airline of the UAE brought back its popular A380 fleet in summer 2023 to provide regular service between London Heathrow and Abu Dhabi. These double-decker giants of the skies present passengers with even more exceptional choices in travel, featuring three distinct classes – the First Apartments, Business Studios and Economy Smart Seats – as well as one-of-a-kind The Residence, a three-room suite encompassing a bedroom, bathroom and living area.

Whatever your preferred cabin class, you’ll arrive rested, relaxed and ready to experience all that Abu Dhabi has to offer.

Sumptuous Stays

Compared to its high-energy neighbour Dubai, an hour’s drive to the east, the city of Abu Dhabi feels more relaxed. Life here seems to flow at a more leisurely pace, without the need to rush around. But that’s not to say it’s sleepy. This is the nation’s capital, the source of much of its oil and wealth, and as such, it exudes a sense of quiet confidence. This is where some of the UAE’s greatest cultural sites are to be found, along with endless stretches of soft sand, clear waters, mangrove forests, vast deserts and millennia-old palm oases.

The waterfront Corniche is the best place to start an Abu Dhabi adventure, and the Mandarin Oriental Emirates Palace makes for a convenient yet palatial base, sitting among lush gardens boasting no fewer than 8,000 palms and edging right up to the sea. While opulence is key here – 30 tonnes of gold were used in the interior décor, and more than 1,000 chandeliers light the hotel – the effect is not overbearing, and families are as welcome as well-heeled couples. A recent rooms renovation has made everything feel lighter and fresher, and the hotel is home to some of the capital’s best restaurants, including two one-Michelin-star holders – Hakkasan and Talea by Antonio Guida – and the newly opened Lebanese Terrace, whose tables are piled high with meze, charcoal-grilled meats and seafood. At the spa, covered in intricate mosaics hand-set by Moroccan artisans, guests can explore pioneering CBD treatments that were unavailable in the UAE until very recently.

While the hotel’s 1.3km beach is the perfect place to lounge away a few hours, for those not staying at the hotel, the two-kilometre Corniche public beach fronting the city’s downtown area is equally lovely. It’s split into different zones for families, groups and those wanting peace and quiet, with sunbeds for hire as well as cafés, restaurants and water sport facilities.

Cultural Adventures

If there’s only time for one major cultural site on your trip to Abu Dhabi, make it the breathtaking Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Dress modestly (if you don’t have appropriate clothing, you can borrow it there) and visit before sunset; this is when the changing colours of the sky reflect on the soaring white domes, the call to prayer echoes around the courtyards, and the shimmering marble arches reflect on the surrounding water features.

On Saadiyat Island, a short drive from downtown, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is at the heart of a rapidly growing cultural district that will soon be home to the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, teamLab Phenomena from the renowned Japanese immersive digital art collective, and a new Natural History Museum, among other attractions. The Louvre was designed by legendary architect Jean Nouvel, inspired by sunlight falling through palm fronds in the emirate’s oases, and is home to a diverse collection of works that serve as reminders of what connects cultures, rather than what separates them.

Island Life

Abu Dhabi boasts more than 200 islands. Some of them, like Yas and Saadiyat, feature residential areas, cultural sites and entertainment zones. Others are much more remote, largely uninhabited but with plenty of good reasons to hop on a boat and head over.

Close to the centre of the city, Yas Island is one of Abu Dhabi’s best family destinations, home to Ferrari World and the fastest roller coaster on the planet, Formula Rossa, as well as Yas Waterworld for adrenaline-pumping water slides and wave pools. At the Yas Marina Circuit, you can tackle the same racetrack that hosts the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race each November.

In addition to its cultural sites, Saadiyat Island is fringed by some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. It’s not unusual to spot dolphins swimming close to the shore in waters a shade of turquoise that could almost be described as Maldivian. There’s a small line-up of luxury resorts here, and the new Kai Beach offers day passes providing access to 500 metres of pristine beach with a number of facilities and food options. Or simply bring a beach towel and head for an empty spot on Saadiyat’s stretch of public strand that’s long enough never to feel crowded.

Off the coast of Saadiyat, accessible by a 15-minute boat ride, is Nurai Island, a laid-back resort isle that’s open for day visits and overnight stays. The vibe here is rustic-chic with overwater swings and hammocks, but the beach villas are sleek and stylish.

On Jubail Island, a short drive away from Saadiyat, is the Jubail Mangrove Park, where a wooden boardwalk winds through the trees and kayaks are available for wildlife spotting tours. For further nature-based adventures, head down to Sir Bani Yas Island, a two-hour drive from downtown Abu Dhabi, followed by a 30-minute boat transfer. Here, more than 11,000 free-roaming animals, including Arabian oryx, blackbuck antelope and barbary sheep, wander the island’s Arabian Wildlife Park. The three Anantara resorts are the ideal bases for discovering not only the wildlife and dramatic landscapes of the island, but also its history. Sir Bani Yas is home to the ruins of the only Christian monastery discovered in the UAE, built around 600 AD.

Desert Dreams

Deserts make up a large part of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Closest to the city is Al Wathba, home to a wetland reserve that attracts more than 250 species of resident and migratory birds, including Greater Flamingos during spring and autumn. But to experience the “real” desert, you’ll need to get much more remote. Abu Dhabi’s stretch of the Rub’ Al Khali, or Empty Quarter, is part of the vast Arabian Desert and one of the driest places in the world. It’s also extraordinarily beautiful, with dunes stretching as far as the horizon, their shapes constantly shifting with the movements of the wind. The Anantara Qasr Al Sarab Resort and Spa appears out of the sands like a mirage, and is a stylish place from which to live out our desert dreams of riding camels, watching the sun set from atop a dune, or simply lazing in the shade of a date palm.

Sky-High Comfort

Start your adventure off right aboard Etihad’s A380 fleet, offering three distinct classes and the one-of-a-kind The Residence:

First Apartments
Each of the nine First Apartments is designed as its own private living space, complete with a large ottoman that, come bedtime, can be opened to form an 80.5-inch-long fully flat bed – Etihad signature turndown service included. You’ll want to stay awake, however, at least long enough to enjoy some of the entertainment options loaded onto the 24-inch swivelling touchscreen TV, and you certainly won’t want to miss the delicious multi-course meals all prepared by internationally trained gourmet chefs. For those who prefer to freshen up before touchdown, the First Apartment cabin is equipped with full-height showers in spacious bathrooms.

Business Studios
The Business Studios comprise separate compartments, each with direct aisle access and a fully flat bed, as well as flexible dine-any-time menus and WiFi connectivity. Business guests are also treated to sumptuous textiles and tableware from the Constellation Collection, an exclusive collaboration between Etihad and Italian design firm Armani/Casa.

The Residence
For ultimate exclusivity, luxury and comfort, fly in The Residence – a private three-room suite encompassing a bedroom, bathroom and living area. The only one of its kind in the skies.

In the UAE, flying an elite class with Etihad also includes complimentary airport chauffeur service, a dedicated check-in area for friction-free arrival, and access to the Etihad Premium Lounge with its wide array of refreshments, plush seating and discrete, partitioned workstations for conducting business undisturbed. Etihad, it seems, has truly thought of everything.

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