Abu Dhabi's best spots according to Instagram stars


Married to an Emirati man and mother of a two-year-old son, Mizra Al Hosani calls herself an American girl in an Emirati world.

She looks at what it’s like to be “(semi) local” on her blog and Instagram account, Sweet Life in the Sandpit.

“While the actual city of Abu Dhabi is quite small, the emirate of Abu Dhabi is vast,” she says. “There’s so much to explore.”

She recommends heading two hours out of the city center to Jebel Dhanna and Sir Bani Yas island. “They’re both very special places.

“Jebel Dhanna has the most beautiful beach in the entire UAE. The water is crystal clear and the fish swim right up to your feet. It’s one of the most magical spots in Abu Dhabi.”

Sir Bani Yas is a 20-minute boat ride from Jebel Dhanna.

“This island holds a special place in the hearts of people of the UAE,” she notes. “Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founder of the UAE, wanted to create a sanctuary for animals.”

Roughly 10,000 protected animals, including gazelles, cheetahs and hyenas, now roam freely around the island’s Arabian Wildlife Park.

Closer to the city center, Al Hosani praises Azura Panoramic Lounge for a romantic dinner.

“It’s an outdoor deck area with shisha and a beautiful ocean view. The menu has sushi and Arabic food. You don’t usually see these two cuisines in one, but Azura makes it work. And the lobster roll is to die for!”

And for a morning meal?

“I’m not one to stick to a specific ‘favorite’ restaurant, but I do have one for breakfast. It’s Gossip Cafe and Desserts at Galleria Mall. The name may sound like it’s all sweets, but they have savory items.”

“Ultimately, although everything seems luxurious and over-the-top, locals here prefer to keep things traditional,” she adds. “Homemade meals and weekends spent with family are the things we most look forward to.”

The vegan foodie

Jessica Smit, a 20-something vegan writer and Instagrammer based in Abu Dhabi, regularly posts about food and her two rescue foxes on Foxes and Food.

“I blog honestly and from my heart,” says the Scottish-born writer, who has witnessed the vegan scene develop in the Middle East.

“I definitely think it’s growing. I’m seeing more vegan cafes and restaurants popping up throughout the UAE and I’m gaining more and more Abu Dhabi-based vegan followers.”

To eat, Smit prefers Inakaya, an interactive Japanese restaurant in the Venetian Village.

“The food is out of this world,” she says. “The interior is great and I can watch everything being cooked.”

Another recommended spot is Koi, a Japanese venue at St. Regis Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island. “Again, amazing food and service. They have a veggie menu and catered to my every [vegan] need.”
For cocktails, she visits Pearls & Caviar at the Shangri-La Qaryat al Beri during Abu Dhabi’s cooler winter season. “It’s a glam outdoor bar with beautiful views of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. And they make great mojitos.”
The Havana Club at Emirates Palace features cognacs and cigars with a more relaxed vibe. “It has live jazz and the best champagne cocktails.”
Smit enjoys the romantic feel at Sontaya, a Thai restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the water.

“It’s stunning and the food is gorgeous. The banana blossom fritters and the tofu satay are a must for any veggie.”

Despite her passion for cooking, Smit notes she’s not yet visited any of Abu Dhabi’s cooking classes. “But this weekend I’m headed to one at The Thai Kitchen in the Park Hyatt Dubai,” which again has veggie-friendly options.

Note: The foxes are rescue animals and Smit doesn’t encourage people to buy these animals.

The tech guy

Emkwan (an online pseudonym) has been listed as one of the UAE’s top video bloggers. On YouTube and Instagram he covers gadgets and lifestyle.

“It tends to surprise people how less rushed Abu Dhabi is compared to Dubai. There’s overall a slower pace of life and movement,” he says.

The Abu Dhabi Corniche is Emkwan’s recommended spot to visit. This eight-kilometer waterfront offers walkways, cycle paths, play areas and heaps of manicured beachside charm.

“It’s got amazing views. I park up, take a walk and discover the city in a way that’s immersive yet relaxing.”

For retail therapy, Emkwan suggests Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre. This mall has a “souk-type experience,” he says.

“I can hunt for gold, pre-owned luxury watches, traditional garments and enchanting Arabian perfumes, all while haggling, which is really fun.”

He visits the newly opened, 2.5 million square foot Yas Mall for gadgets.

“The UAE in general can offer some steep discount on gadgets, but it requires shopping around.”

When it comes to remote working, it’s all about Leopold’s of London. This upscale chain cafe and bistro has several restaurants around the city. “They serve an amazing array of coffees and teas.
“For something a little more traditional, I like Al Meylas. It’s a high-end restaurant that creates Emirati cuisine and has breathtaking views of the mosque.”
“A real hidden gem, in my opinion, is a small restaurant called Fanr Restaurant on Al Saadiyat Island.”
This airy, intimate dining venue is located within Manarat Al Saadiyat, a cultural center with several art galleries.

“The outdoor seating is nice all year round, and the uncluttered menu serves up camel burgers.”

The explorer

Abu Dhabi-based Michelle Karam has made wanderlust into a brand — and a globe-trotting job — with Travel Junkie Diary. This popular Instagram account features aspirational travels around the world.

While she’s seen coastlines near and far, Karam’s most recommended spot in Abu Dhabi is definitely Saadiyat Beach. “It’s massive and the sea is different from the rest of the GCC. I always love going there when we need to escape the city life.”

When she fancies a swanky dinner, Karam visits the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi.

“It’s great as it has the Grand Mosque as a backdrop.”

This upscale stop is also home to the quirky but popular spaghetti ice cream, a dish created by passing homemade vanilla ice cream through a potato ricer, then topping it all with strawberry “marinara” sauce.

The isolated Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, located a two-hour drive from Abu Dhabi city in the Rub’Al Khali desert, is one of Karam’s suggested retreats.

This exclusive venue offers camel rides, falconry and dune-bashing.

“I know it’s not really hidden, but it’s certainly an Abu Dhabi gem.”

Danae Mercer is a freelance travel journalist who lived in the UAE for more than two years.

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