On one side was Abu Dhabi’s mainland — home of its famous mosque and Louvre museum. At the other? Al Hudayriat Island, an island that offers 600 meters (1,970 feet) of quiet beach.
Al Hudayriat is one of more than 200 islands that dot the coast of the UAE’s capital.
On these islands can be found find eco-retreats, high-end safaris, Maldivian escapes, dolphin snorkeling and so much more.
“They’re also incredibly diverse,” she says.
“I’d absolutely recommend them to a visitor. Whereas Dubai’s beaches are beautiful, the islands around Abu Dhabi are quieter, evoking a tropical island feel — and the crowds are thinner,” she adds.
CNN’s Becky Anderson takes a tour of the new billion-dollar Warner Bros. World in Abu Dhabi, one of the largest indoor theme parks ever built.
Arguably the best known of Abu Dhabi’s islands, Yas Island is all things glitz, glam, and family friendly entertainment.
Warner Bros Abu Dhabi, pictured, is a newly opened attraction on Yas Island.
Courtesy Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi
The brand new Warner Bros Abu Dhabi spans 1.65 million square feet and six different themed lands. At Yas Waterworld, visitors can hop between 43 rides and the world’s largest hydromagnetic powdered six-person tornado waterslide. For car fanatics, Ferrari World provides the world’s first Ferrari-branded theme park.
And for sunbathing? There’s Yas Beach, where admission costs around $13 but comes with a beach towel and sun lounger. The vibe here is certainly busier than some other islands, but it makes for a perfect bit of relaxation after shopping at Yas Mall.
Zaya Nurai Island
Zaya Nurai is a natural island that lies 12 miles off Abu Dhabi’s coast. Home to privately owned villas and one hotel, it will set you back $1200 minimum to stay here for the night.
Eco-focused and five-star, Zaya Nurai keeps things exclusive with just 32 rooms. The price tag is more splurge than save, but day passes are available (from $95 with a minimum spend per person).
Sir Bani Yas Island
“It’s like holidaying in Africa, the Maldives and the Middle East all rolled into one,” adds Coughlin.
It’s possible to visit Sir Bani Yas Island as part of a day trip, arriving either by sea plane or boat.
“This place is still very raw,” says Asma Al Fahim, editor at large of Villa 88 magazine. “I find it unique as it was once the main island and the center of trade in the UAE.”
While in the works since 2009, Hudayriat Island has only just opened to the public. Visitors can drive or even cycle across the recently completed suspension bridge.
“The island is now decked out with a 600-meter beach, running and cycling tracks, a playground and heaps more, and the next phases will include housing for Emiratis and other attractions,” says Stewart.
Other plans include a camping area with zip lines, food trucks, football pitches and more.
Abu Dhabi has numerous companies offering boat trips to some of the capital’s smaller islands.
Another popular option is Lulu Island, an 1,050-acre manmade island that runs parallel to the Corniche public beach. This stretch of empty sand is one of UAE blogger Diana Bell-Heather’s favorite spots.
And if the boat trips fail to excite? Book onto a seaplane. This provides incredible views of the islands’ surrounding fish and turtles.
“There’s an incredible amount of marine life that I wasn’t aware of before,” Bell-Heather adds of Abu Dhabi’s islands.
“You do have to venture out further, but it’s worth it.”