Hotels tell a lot about Abu Dhabi’s life and history. In this post, I would like to share just a pinch of inspiration to enrich your travel experience in Abu Dhabi.
Born at the end of the 1960s, to welcome the first (few) expatriates, when Abu Dhabi was still not a tourist destination, Abu Dhabi hotels are today the most immediate landmarks of the city, and for many they represent, if not really “home”, the place where a lot of life takes place, and many memories are kept.
In fact, restaurants of all kinds, bars and nightclubs, but also fitness centers, beaches and private pools, hairdressers and beauty centers in Abu Dhabi are mostly located inside the hotels, and are accessible even to those who are not guests.
Furthermore, the interiors but also the exteriors of some hotels in Abu Dhabi are sometimes so beautiful and scenographic that they represent the perfect location not only for “once in a lifetime” holidays, but also for weddings and corporate events.
Often, even if beautiful, hotels in Abu Dhabi can be affordable enough for private events or at least for informal meetings that are important for socializing, such as those organized by circles of expatriates or by enthusiasts who share the same hobbies and interests or, simply, between friends.
There are many beautiful and very beautiful hotels in Abu Dhabi, but even the less showy hotels can always tell you something interesting about Abu Dhabi.
Historic hotels in Abu Dhabi
🏛️ Al Ain Hotel Palace, Abu Dhabi – White-bearded Emiratis tell that at the end of the 1960s the sea came just a short distance from this hotel, built in Abu Dhabi in 1967. The sea today, after more than fifty years, is a couple of kilometers away, and in between there is a parking, a nice park, the road, and the Corniche.
“Built during the year 1967, the hotel has hosted Presidents, Film Stars, Leisure travelers, Businessmen, and varied personalities, as we know Abu Dhabi like no other Hotel in the Capital”, claims the Al Ain Palace from its website. Among the reviews of the hotel, it is impressive that of a guest who reports that he had a very good experience in recent times just like in the Seventies, when he stayed there for the first time.
Al Ain Palace is now the oldest hotel in Abu Dhabi, but the first ever hotel in Abu Dhabi, that we found out about, was the Beach Hotel, or Emile Bustani Hotel, built by the famous Bustani family from Beirut.
The building, with its 25 rooms, overlooked the beach, in the northeastern of Abu Dhabi City island, probably in the area between Corniche Hospital and the Sheraton Resort Corniche, another historic landmark of Abu Dhabi, which, since 1979, delimits the Corniche with its unmistakable “y-shaped” structure, marked by silos, sand color.
🏛️ Another of the very first hotels in Abu Dhabi was the Zaker Hotel (built in 1969) in the Hamdan Street area, which was later demolished between 2007 and 2009.
🏛️ One last curiosity I would like to share: the first ever “modern” hotel in the Arab Emirates was the Hilton in Al Ain (now Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, Al Ain) built to celebrate the wedding of H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The wedding took place in 1971, but construction of the hotel seems to have begun around 1963.
🏛️ Hilton Abu Dhabi – Corniche (Radisson Blu since 2018) the most loved by expats
Started in 1971 and inaugurated by Sheikh Zayed on May 23, 1973, the “old Hilton” on the Corniche, was undoubtedly the most beloved hotel by first generation expats, the one linked to integration and socialization among the first expats in Abu Dhabi. It was not yet time for tourists.
— The National (@TheNationalNews) October 31, 2018
The photos of Alain St-Hilaire, the photographer and filmmaker who since 1969 has documented the birth and growth of Abu Dhabi over forty years, show the old Hilton of Abu Dhabi in the early 1970s, and an image of the city of sand that is hard to recognize in modern Abu Dhabi.
That hotel had brought a real cultural revolution to Abu Dhabi, starting with the concept of hospitality reserved for hotel guests who, let’s remember, were not tourists, but mostly managers and engineers who came from abroad to work in the nascent oil industry. “After a busy day at work, a man doesn’t have to lift a finger when he gets back to his hotel!”, this was the Hilton manager’s promise to a new category of guests, published on the newspaper Gulf Mirror in 1973.
That advertisement illustrated a series of services that, at the time and in that context, were undoubtedly pampering of great luxury: the air conditioning at your fingertips (just a button to press!), the swimming pool, the private beach, the sauna for relaxation, an elegant restaurant and also an expert tender bar at your disposal.
Gathering the memories of long-time expats, the Hilton Abu Dhabi Corniche was also one of the first places to offer evenings with live music and entertainment for all age groups, as the expat population changed with the arrival of spouses and children.
We discover, among the reviews, that of a lady who returns to this hotel after a few years because of memories, her adolescence spent in Abu Dhabi, and the Hilton as the unforgettable meeting point with friends.
John Dennehy, in his articles on The National remarks other interesting points: transforming the buffet, Hilton made also a cultural-food- revolution, introducing delikatessen such as fois gras and smoked salmon, iceberg lettuce, avocado and artichokes, which were shipped from London on a weekly air flight.
Two recent architectural celebrities among Abu Dhabi hotels
Each hotel in Abu Dhabi has its own particular architecture and world, and I would tell you about them all, as if I were talking to you about old friends or fellow adventures.
But here let’s just have an idea about two recent celebrities, of particular architectural interest, appreciated internationally:
✨ W Abu Dhabi (formerly Yas Viceroy)
The New York studio Asymptote Architecture of Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture designed Yas Viceroy, now W Abu Dhabi, in 2010.
If at least once you have followed, or glimpsed, an Abu Dhabi Formula 1 on TV, the building with its architecture will not have escaped you.
In fact, the hotel has the distinction of being built, in part, on the Yas Marina circuit and certainly does not go unnoticed.
The building where W Abu Dhabi is located is made up of two twelve-storey towers: one, on the circuit, the other on the Marina.
A Grid Shell, a grid-like roof that overlooks the Formula 1 circuit track, connects the two towers by a “monocoque” glass and steel bridge.
The designers have unleashed their imagination and talent to try to reconcile aesthetic elements of the Islamic world, Arab art and tradition, forms linked to the representation of speed, spectacularity and light in this building.
As stated by Asymptote itself, “The search here was inspired by what one could call the ‘art’ and poetics of motor racing, specifically Formula 1, coupled with the making of a place that celebrates Abu Dhabi as a cultural and technological tour de force”.
The Grid Shell has a lighting system that lights up the 5389 glass elements individually, with an integrated control system that adjusts the colors and brightness of each panel 20 times per second.
The complex lighting system, which creates an “atmosphere-like veil, visible from miles away”, was designed in collaboration with Rogier van der Heide and his team at Arup Lighting.
✨ Emirates Palace, is a super landmark and unmissable attraction in all itineraries for those visiting Abu Dhabi.
But what is so special about this place?
On Living Abu Dhabi we talk about Emirates Palace here👇:
A couple of movie stars among Abu Dhabi hotels
Flash curiosity: a couple of Abu Dhabi hotels have featured in action movies, both in the “car movies” category.
🎞️ Race 3 (2018) is a Bollywood production film, starring Salman Khan, actor and producer. Besides Emirates Palace, two other iconic hotels in the city can be spotted in the film: W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island and St Regis Abu Dhabi.
🎞️ Very popular is Fast and Furious 7 (2015), where we can spot Emirates Palace and Jumeirah at Etihad Tower, from October 2020 Conrad Hotel, (the Hilton group’s first luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi).
The party scene has been shot in both hotels, ending with the thrilling scene of the car jumping off the Etihad Towers skyscraper.
Fast and Furious 7 is the first film in which the city of Abu Dhabi appears as a location, with the shooting of some iconic places: the hotels, at least a couple, could not be missing.