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A is for Archipelago: explore the many islands of Abu Dhabi

What was once a modest island settlement (apparently discovered by wandering antelope) is now a bustling, cosmopolitan city. Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, is a fascinating archipelago made up of over 200 islands, many of which are accessible to visitors. Whether you’re on a solo trip or travelling with the family, myriad discoveries await, from wildlife to watersports, mangrove forests to historical landmarks and more.

 

Abu Dhabi city itself is on an island, 250 metres (820 feet) from the mainland. There are a number of bridges that connect it to the mainland and other islands, including Saadiyat Island and Reem Island. With so many islands to explore, it can seem a tad overwhelming. We’ve rounded up the most popular, with insider tips on what to do and where to stay.

Sir Bani Yas Island

The unbelievable wildlife island of Sir Bani Yas Island will take your breath away. About 250km from Abu Dhabi city, it is one of eight islands making up the desert islands of Al Dhafra. Home to the incredible Arabian Wildlife Park, a wildlife reserve home to over 17,000 free-roaming animals, here you can enjoy expertly guided 4x4 desert safari adventures to see Arabian oryx, gazelles, giraffes, hyenas and cheetahs.

Alternatively, head out on two wheels for an epic mountain bike ride through sandy wadis (valleys), with the unique 'desert meets the sea' landscape allowing you to indulge in a variety of watersports too. The island's state-of-the-art stables offer equestrian lovers of all skill levels picturesque rides, while history buffs will marvel at the centuries-buried Christian monastery thought to have been built around 600AD and rediscovered during excavations in the early 1990s. Ultimate five-star luxury awaits, with three Anantara resorts on the island.

Zaya Nurai Island

For remote private luxury, it doesn't get better than Zaya Nurai Island. Just a quick 15-minute boat ride from Abu Dhabi city, prepare to discover glittering turquoise waters, powder white-sand beaches, lush landscapes and five-star luxury accommodation with never-ending views of the Arabian Gulf.

This slice of paradise is home to the boutique private Zaya Nurai Island Resort - a 32-bed all-villa hotel that boasts a luxurious wellness spa and five fabulous restaurants including the popular Smokin' Pineapple, famous for its dreamy sea swings and hammocks. You're spoilt for choice when it comes to indulging in watersports and land-based fun. Opt for scuba diving, snorkelling, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), fly fishing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, jet skiing or water-skiing, hop on a bicycle to explore the gorgeous greenery, or enjoy a game of beach volleyball and badminton.

Al Maryah Island

For a more dynamic pace, head to Al Maryah Island, where business and a glitzy lifestyle are where it's at. Retail therapy is top of the list in this exclusive neighbourhood. The newly-refurbished The Galleria mall is home to hundreds of designer and high-street stores (including Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Prada, H&M and Zara), as well as some of the best dining establishments, making it the ideal shopping and socialising destination.

Book your five-star stay at the luxurious Rosewood Abu Dhabi hotel, set on the bustling Sowwah Square waterfront, or the Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi nearby. There are a number of bridges that connect Al Maryah to Abu Dhabi, and the easiest way to get there is by taxi.

Yas Island

Abu Dhabi's premier entertainment and family destination, Yas Island has it all. Its exhilarating theme parks include Ferrari World Abu Dhabi (where you'll find the fastest roller-coaster on the planet), Yas Waterworld Abu Dhabi and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi. For seaside bliss, head to the pristine Yas Beach where you can soak up the sunshine and enjoy adrenalin-pumping watersports.

Golfing enthusiasts will relish a round on the par 72 championship Yas Links Abu Dhabi golf course - the first true links golf course in the Middle East - while Formula 1™ fans will delight in driving a high-performance car around Yas Marina Circuit. Spend a family-fun day at Clymb™, where kids as young as three can experience the rush of the world's widest indoor skydiving flight chamber and clamber up the world's tallest indoor climbing wall. A visit to Yas Island would not be complete without a shopping spree at Yas Mall - Abu Dhabi's largest luxury mall. Make your stay even more memorable by booking at one of the five-star luxury hotels, like the W Abu Dhabi, the only hotel in the world located atop a Grand Prix race track.

Saadiyat Island

From arts and culture to nature conservation, perfect beaches to beautiful golf courses, the natural Saadiyat Island offers a multitude of experiences. Plan to spend a few days here, and book at one of the island's five-star luxury resorts such as The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Villas, Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort and Saadiyat Rotana Resort and Villas, to name a few.

Get your cultural fix in the Saadiyat Cultural District, home to the iconic Louvre Abu Dhabi, the prestigious Berklee Abu Dhabi music school, and Manarat Al Saadiyat, where you can create your own art, attend talks, events and workshops, discover exhibitions and enjoy the annual Abu Dhabi Art fair.

Take time out, surrounded by nature, at the exclusive Saadiyat Beach Club. This haven offers a peaceful retreat for kids and adults alike, with a pristine 9km Blue Flag-certified beach, a glittering rim-flow swimming pool and vibey restaurants to fuel up and get refreshed. The public Saadiyat Beach is also ideal for a family day of fun in the sun and crystal, clear water.

Fancy a round of golf? Head to the region's first ocean course, Saadiyat Beach Golf Club. Designed by Gary Player, this eco-conscious course offers exceptional sea views (with a chance to spot dolphins in the bay!) and a total yardage of 5,290 (with the possibility of extending to 7,784 yards for pros).

With the critically endangered Hawksbill sea turtles still nesting on the beachfront of this island, the Hawksbill Turtle Conservation Programme has clearly been doing its job. In effect since 2010, it ensures these precious creatures continue to nest and hatch successfully.

Dalma Island

Known as one of the earliest sites of human habitation in the UAE, Dalma Island is a significant historical pearl-diving island. An interesting site to visit is the fortified home of pearl merchant, Mohammed Bin Jassim Al-Meraikhi. Made of beach stone and coral it is thought to have been built around 1931. A ferry from Marsa Jebel Al Dhanna port will get you here.

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