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Behold. Everything you see is Abu Dhabi (and there’s some more that you do not see and do not need to since its irrelevant to tourists).

As you can see from the black scale line below (35 kms), Abu Dhabi is very large by European city size standards. However, most of it is not densely populated with vast expanses of sparse suburban housing (aka emptiness). All the ‘islands’ are islands in name only and are very well connected by expressways for easy access.

Abu Dhabi is almost the inverse of a normal city (where everything is consolidated in the centre), this makes choosing a location to stay relatively difficult. There is no mass public transit system, the bus network is primarily for residents and so tourists get around by taxis – modern high quality sedans that are clean, safe and cheap by Western standards (but expensive by developing world standards). A ride from the main city (blue area) to the airport (yellow area) would be around 20-25 USD (70-90 AED).

Dark Blue = Main city

Photo Source:

Hamdan Street Photo:

Only area to be somewhat densely populated. This is where the tall buildings are and you actually have a chance at seeing human beings when you walk around your hotel. This is the only location in the entire city that will feel ‘buzzy’. Especially Hamdan street. Every other location is somewhat secluded. This area is relatively sparse in good hotels (3 fantastic Marriott options are all located here though), but it’s definitely THE place to stay as a first time tourist.

Major hotels in this area:

  • Courtyard Marriott (most centrally located, attached to a mall)
  • Marriott Downtown (great location and lounge, opposite a mall, beats Courtyard for overall value)
  • Le Royal Meridien
  • Sofitel Corniche (excellent lounge)

Light Blue = Palaces and Hotels

Emirates Palace

Emirates Palace

Emirates Palace (this is where the Gold Coffee is) and the Presidential Palace (don’t attempt to go here) are located on the left edge of this area along with Marina mall (one of the 6 biggest malls in the city). This area is very dense with hotels but there isn’t much within immediate walking distance of any of them. Luckily it is adjacent to the main city (5 mins by cab).

Major hotels in this area:

  • Emirates Palace (Abu Dhabi’s Grand Dame hotel, expensive)
  • St Regis Corniche (Best option in the area, one of the cheapest St Regis in the world)
  • Grand Hyatt (new)
  • Edition (new)
  • Intercontinental (old)
  • Hilton (do not stay here, very old property)
  • Jumeirah Etihad Towers
  • Biltmore/Millennium Bab Al Qasr
  • Rayhaan Rotana

Red = Al Maryah Island (Central Business District..)

That’s all there is to it. Photo:

Maryah is the main financial center of Abu Dhabi (sort of, more or less, since there is no actual ‘downtown’ concept in Abu Dhabi with everything all in one place).
The city’s 2 biggest and best malls are opening here.

Major hotels in this area:

  • Four Seasons (new, default option here)
  • Rosewood (very reasonable for its quality, which is on par with Four Seasons)

Green = Saadiyat Island

St Regis Saadiyat. Photo: St Regis

Sparsely populated but perhaps the most suitable location for luxury tourists. The Louvre is located here (on the left edge). The upcoming Guggenheim will also be built here.  The best beach resorts in the city are all located here (with amazing secluded beaches). Whilst on the beach, you cannot see or feel any sense of a city nearby whereas you are only a 10 minute drive to ‘downtown’. It is serenity and seclusion 10 mins away from the city and the best place to stay if you want a bit of relaxation to go with all the exploring.

Major hotels in this area:

  • St Regis Saadiyat
  • Park Hyatt
  • Jumeirah Saadiyat (new)
  • Rotana Saadiyat (new)
  • Rixos Saadiyat (new)

Black = Yas Island

Viceroy Hotel. Photo: Official website

The fun and leisure island. Far from the major areas of the city but full of family friendly fun stuff. Ferrari World, Warner Brother’s theme park, Yas Waterworld, Yas F1 Track (all kinds of motor sports) are all located here along with the current biggest mall (Yas Mall). This area is dense with 4 star properties but I do not recommend staying here as it is quite far from the other important area. Yas is best done as a day trip.

Recommended hotels in this area:

  • Yas Viceroy hotel (only 5 star option on this island)
  • Radisson Blu
  • Crowne Plaza

Yellow = Airport

Very ‘plane’ area. Not much to ‘sea’ here.

Orange = Grand Mosque/Canal area

Grand Mosque. Photo:

One of the biggest attractions in Abu Dhabi, along with a bunch of luxury hotels on either side of the canal. Best done as a trip (by cab).

Recommended hotels near this area:

  • Ritz Carlton Grand Canal (possibly most reasonable Ritz Carlton in the world)
  • Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
  • Shangri La
  • Marriott Forsan (nearby, next to a massive sports complex)
  • Westin Golf Resort (gorgeous, nearby)
  • Hyatt Capital Gate (gorgeous, nearby, world record for most leaning building in the world)


For first time visitors, my advice is to pick a hotel within the main city (blue and red areas) if you want easy access to shops, restaurants and human beings. Saadiyat (green area) is the no brainer for the best beach and luxury hotels in the city and only a short 10 min cab ride to the city.

Yas Island (black) and Grand Mosque areas (Orange) are best avoided by first time tourists because you will be secluded.

In other upcoming articles we will review the best hotels in Abu Dhabi to stay at.

Drop a comment if you have any questions!