Now that I’ve had the chance to visit Abu Dhabi I feel a little sad about all the times I was in transit there and never left the airport! I often fly from Sydney to London via Abu Dhabi because flying with Etihad is good value and as they are partner’s of Virgin Australia I get all my gold status perks such as priority check in/luggage and lounge access. This month was the first time I arranged to stopover in Abu Dhabi though and it was so worth it. Not only do you get to break up the long schlep between Europe and Sydney but you can have an epic 24 hours on the layover too.
Where To Stay
We stayed at the 5-star Yas Viceroy on Yas Island. Only a 10 minute drive from the airport this hotel is perfect for a luxury layover. The architecture of the building, which straddles the Yas Marina and F1 circuit, is absolutely striking and makes a stylish statement about the property before you’ve even checked in.
We treated ourselves to a suite which was wonderfully wide and airy, decorated in chic tones of grey and white that went well with the blue of the marina outside.
Things in the room that made me squeal were the giant bath tub, walk in closet, elegant furniture and ESPA products (to match the hotel’s ESPA spa).
We didn’t have time for breakfast at the hotel but did enjoy a gorgeous Arabic-meets-Mediterranean dinner (with all the hummus and kebabs we could manage!) on the terrace at Atayeb. The staff were fantastic and it was lovely to sit outside and watch the LED lights on the hotel’s exterior change colour.
What To Do
Fly and Flop
Perhaps you just want to do very little on your layover? In that case the Yas Viceroy is a great option as it has not 1 but 2 rooftop pools – one is adult’s only in case you’re desperately seeking some tranquility.
Hotel guests are also treated to free sun beds at Yas Beach which I’m gutted we didn’t have time to check out as I’ve just looked it up now and it looks sublime.
This is one for those who like an action-filled layover and aren’t afraid of fast rides! Ferrari World is not just any old theme park – it’s home to the fastest rollercoaster in the world. Formula Rossa whizzes you from 0 to 240 km/h in less than 5 seconds. It’s eye-wateringly fast and gives you such an adrenaline kick that you’re advised to wait at least 15 minutes before going back for a second ride!
As Justin as I love fast rides we did ride it twice and thought our faces might blow off each time! We also rode the 2 other ‘coasters (Flying Aces and Fiorano GT Challenge) twice each and Justin also took the opportunity to race a Ferrari on the Yas Formula 1 Circuit – a simulator version that is!
There are some family-friendly rides too so this is a great place to come if you’ve got kids – apart from some sections of the big ‘coasters it’s all indoors so you don’t have to worry about the heat. The park was incredibly peaceful on our visit but you can purchase gold passes if you’d like to queue jump. Find out more about tickets and rides here.
If you’re coming to Ferrari World then you’ll probably pass through the Yas Mall as the two are attached. This mall is fantastic for shopaholics as it’s got all the great stores of the world (including British high street heroes like Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and Topshop) but hardly any people!
I thought the Yas Mall was as good as any of the malls in Dubai but much, much quieter. It was great. There was also a Shake Shack and I love an excuse to sip their milkshakes.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The stand out attraction of a stopover in Abu Dhabi is the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This multi-million dollar mosque is the largest in the UAE and the most ornate I have ever seen. We visited at dusk as I had read the light was pretty spectacular at that time of day and it was genuinely magical to watch the sun set behind the minarets as the call to prayer rang out.
Rooms at the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi start from $200 AUD.
It’s super quick and cheap to get a taxi from the airport to Yas Island then once you’re at the hotel you can hop on a free shuttle, the Yas Express, which runs between the mall/Ferrari World, Yas Central and the Yas Viceroy from 9am to 9pm.
For those wanting to travel a little further afield we were delighted to discover that Etihad run a free coach service from Abu Dhabi Airport to Dubai. Available to anyone travelling on an Etihad flight you just need to book your ride online in advance and then the air-conditioned bus whizzes you and your luggage 90 mins down the road to Jumeirah Beach. I was seriously impressed by the cold water, towers and USB sockets on board. We also used the service to return from Dubai to Abu Dhabi and they checked us in and took our luggage off our hands at Dubai so we didn’t need to see it again until Sydney!
Have you experienced an Abu Dhabi stopover? Are you tempted to now?
Disclosure: I received a media discount for our stay at Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi and entrance to Ferrari World. All flights, food and other activities were self-funded and any recommendations are my own.