The copper-coloured shard of Bab Al Qasr stands proud among the blue tinted skyscrapers that make up Al Ras Al Akhdar, at the south-west end of Abu Dhabi Corniche. The prominent five-star hotel glistens in the hot Arabian sun, reflecting the golden sands of the desert in its shimmering complexion. This was to be our home for our two-night, whistlestop tour of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
We’d left behind freezing conditions and miserable January weather in the UK for the never-ending sunshine of the Middle East – the perfect stop-off on route to Asia for a friend’s wedding. And touching down in the bright, sparkling UAE, we weren’t disappointed.
Bab Al Qasr was our base for our first visit to the beautiful city of Abu Dhabi. It occupies a prime position, opposite the opulent Emirates Palace and with its own private beach nestled in the sheltered bay. The luxurious hotel has the rare position of standing on a thin stretch of land with views out to the Persian Gulf in one direction and over the bay to Al Nareel island in the other.
Despite being hours early for check-in following an overnight flight from London, Bab Al Qasr’s friendly staff couldn’t have been more helpful, settling us with some drinks while they found us an available room and whisked our luggage away. There’s no language barrier for British-speaking tourists in the UAE where almost everyone speaks practically perfect English.
We checked into our junior suite on the 15th floor, the vast room offers a huge King-size bed and not one but two lounges in addition to a study and huge bathroom. But it’s the incredible near-180 degree views from the floor-to-ceiling windows that make these rooms so special, with views of the marina, Qasr Al Watan palace and Emirates Palace right on your doorstep that set this hotel aside from the rest.
Bab Al Qasr is ideally located to explore Abu Dhabi. The 37-storey, 677-room hotel stands beside the iconic Etihad Towers – a complex of five towers made famous when Vin Diesel jumped a car between them in Fast and Furious 7 – and opened in 2016 to provide a high level of service and comfortable stay for visitors travelling to Abu Dhabi for business and leisure.
Guests are greeted by smiling porters and a valet parking service is available for anyone arriving by car. Inside, the towering marble atrium is adorned with colourful art and Royal portraits. Outside there’s a sun-drenched patio to enjoy breakfast al fresco and a pool bar. Sun loungers line the infinity pool that warms in the sun and guests can also enjoy the hotel’s private beach and dip their toes in the sea.
At the spa, there’s a Jacuzzi and steam room as well as a menu of treatments to choose from. The hotel boasts all facilities guests could require –or desire – from an on-site beauty salon, conferencing and meeting facilities and multiple dining and lounging options from the Artisan Kitchen buffet, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, to the a la carte Limo Restaurant, to The Lobby Bar with live music most evenings.
Artisan Kitchen is a large restaurant with doors opening out onto a terrace and offering diners views over the bay. We enjoyed a diverse and varied breakfast from the buffet which offers guests pastries, fresh fruit, cereals, yoghurt, continental pastries, hot British cuisine and traditional Arabic choices. There is so much choice for guests to peruse and something for everyone of all tastes and requirements.
Dinner is an equally impressive spread with starters – including soup, salad bar and fish – to mains and sides. There are numerous freshly cooked options from around the world, pasta to tagine, and delicious baked breads and dips. For those with a sweet tooth, Artisan Kitchen also prepares a dessert bar full of sweet treats, mini cakes and bite-size desserts.
Waiting staff take drink orders from your table and are extremely efficient at clearing tables and keeping the restaurant running. Bab al Qasr – despite only opening a few years ago – is an extremely well-oiled machine. A sense of calm and control descends over the hotel at all times.
Ayana Spa is a hidden gem (quite literally – it took me about 15 minutes to find it!) I had to take an elevator from the beach to the fifth floor, change elevator to go back down to the fourth floor before discovering the reception at the end of a lantern-lined corridor. My Balinese massage was a real treat with a foot scrub and rub followed by a deep, intense full-body massage.
While you can explore many of Abu Dhabi’s sights by foot – just a short walk (or scooter ride, I’ll come onto these later!) from the main Corniche, the Sheikh’s palace and more – some of the city’s sights are a short drive. Concierge will call up a taxi (very reasonably priced given the cost of some things in the UAE) within seconds to run you to the other side of town for the breathtaking and not-to-be-missed Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
And to reach Yas Island, a free shuttle bus collects guests from Bab Al Qasr’s reception at 9.30am daily for the 45-minute drive to the fun-filled area outside the city. Explore Yas Mall, thrill-seek at Ferrari World (home to the world’s fastest rollercoaster), laugh with the Loony Toons at Warner Bros World, slip and slide at Yas Waterworld, wander around the Yas Marina f1 Circuit or go yacht-spotting at Yas Marina itself.
Abu Dhabi’s skyline is beautiful by night so we wandered along the seafront –or corniche – to a bustling area of cafes, restaurants and hotels. You needn’t walk far to enjoy the lights of the skyscrapers, the prestige of the ocean-front hotels and the intrigue of fascinating sights such as the Sheikh Zayed Founder’s Memorial.
While you can enjoy a warm stroll to work off a big dinner in the Artisan Kitchen – there’s another way of taking in the sights; by electric scooter! These scooters are dotted around the city and, with the quick download of an app and a few Dirham, you can be whizzing along the promenade with the wind in your hair! It’s the only way to arrive back at Bab Al Qasr in style!
Also on your doorstep – and a must-visit while staying in Abu Dhabi – is the presidential palace Qasr al Watan. A grand granite palace built to host state visits and events in its huge ballroom with one of the biggest domes and chandeliers in the world. Bab Al Qasr stands opposite Emirates Palace, an opulent hotel which is the third most expensive hotel to build in history at a cost of more than 11 billion UAE dirham.
With Abu Dhabi, everything is completed with no expense spared. From the palaces to the malls to the hotels, you’re guaranteed a luxurious experience. And Bab al Qasr – part of the Millennium Hotels group – is no exception to that rule.
Rooms start from AED 350 (approximately £74) plus taxes and charges.
Address: Bab al Qasr Hotel, Corniche Road W, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Phone: +971 56 603 6440