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Abu Dhabi is the capital city of the United Arab Emirates but is also the name of the emirate. The description below is intended to help explain the different areas of the emirate and the city to help you to choose the best location for your stay.
Al Gharbia (Western Region) covers the Empty Quarter and borders Saudi Arabia and Oman. It is mostly a desert area with sand dunes and wide open spaces. There are a few hotels near Liwa (inland) and Ruwais(on the coast). Liwa is home to huge sand dunes surrounding an a farming area. The main residential town near Liwa is Madinat Zayed which has food shops and fast food joints. Hotels in this area include Qasr al Sarab and Danat Resort. Sir Baniyas Island is an island in the western region which is home to Anantara Desert Island Resort.
Al Ain is a historic city built round an oasis which abuts the border with Oman (and the Omani border town of Buraimi). Check the Al Ain section of Trip Advisor or more information.
Yas Island is connected to the mainland and also Saadiyat Island. It is the home of Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina Circuit, Ferrari World (theme park), Yas Links (golf course) and several hotels, including Yas Hotel, Radisson Blu and Staybridge Suites. Outside of motor racing event times this is a quiet area to stay. It takes about 10 minutes to reach Abu Dhabi airport. It takes about 30 minutes to reach the busy centre of Abu Dhabi and about 60 minutes to reach Dubai. A lot of construction is going on to develop the area, including building a mall.
Al Raha area borders the beachfront which is under construction currently has one hotel and shopping mall with more attractions to be added, although this will primarily will be a residential area with small shops and cafes. Al Raha is home to Abu Dhabi Golf Club and Al Raha Beach Hotel. Allow about 10 minutes to get to the airport and 25 minutes to reach central Abu Dhabi.
"Between Two Bridges" (in Arabic, known as Bayn Al Jassrayn) is the name given to the mainland area close to the city of Abu Dhabi. There are hotels with beaches and a small mall (Souq Qaryat Al Beri) with restaurants and bars. There are residences and businesses in the area, but it is a quiet area. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the centre of Abu Dhabi from here and about 15 minutes to the airport. There is also a municipal bus service to the malls. Hotels in this area include the Fairmont, Traders and Shangri-La (all 3 of these hotels have beaches). At Abu Dhabi Golf Club there there is a Westin Hotel overlooking the greens.
The island of Abu Dhabi city is where most visitors stay. Each district within the island of Abu Dhabi has a name but these names are not usually of use to short-term visitors. The main place to stay in Abu Dhabi is the centre (also referred to as 'downtown') which consists mostly of medium and high rise buildings bordering the Corniche (seafront). A typical Abu Dhabi building will have 2 or 3 floors of businesses with residential apartments above. As a result of this, the downtown part of the city is bustling with activity. It is also the area where most of the malls and hotels are located.
Some downtown hotels have beaches. This area is also home to the many parks, the main fishing port and also several marinas. At one end are hotels Emirates Palace, Jumeirah Etihad Towers, Rotana Khalidya Palace, InterContinental and Hilton and nearby is Marina Mall. At roughly the opposite end of the Corniche is Abu Dhabi Mall which is near hotels such as Le Meridien and Beach Rotana (which is by far the busiest part of the city for traffic which can cause delays at peak times throughout the city), and also Sheraton Resort & Towers is a beach hotel on the Corniche. The Sofitel also stands on the Corniche near the Sheraton. It takes about 30-35 minutes to reach the airport from the downtown area.
On Abu Dhabi island there is an area called Tourist Club Area (TCA). This area is named after a recreation club which closed long ago(and it is not, as some people think, an area specifically for tourists). It is a very busy residential area with high-rise apartments, three-star hotels and businesses of all types. See above for mention of Abu Dhabi Mall and names of some of the better quality hotels in this area.
There is also hotel accommodation at the southern end of Abu Dhabi island, which is closer to the Grand Mosque. This part of the island has Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC), Zayed Sports City and Khalifa Park. There are a few hotels in this part of the city (all new since 2009). This is a relatively quiet, mainly residential area of the city. Allow about 15-20 minutes to reach the airport from this part of the island. Hotels in this area of Abu Dhabi include Holiday Inn, Park Rotana, Anantara Eastern Mangroves and Park Rotana Arjaan. Aloft Hotel is directly linked to the Exhibition Centre. Premier Inn Abu Dhabi Capital Centre and Hyatt Capital Gate is also close to ADNEC. These hotels do not have beaches. Opened in 2013 is the Ritz Carlton Grand Canal, which is the closest hotel to the Grand Mosque.
New areas of Abu Dhabi city are under construction at present, including Saadiyat Island, Al Maryah Island and Al Reem Island which are connected to Abu Dhabi island by bridges. At present there are few hotels to stay here and there is little to see in these areas, unless buildings under construction are your thing. Park Hyatt and St Regis Saadiyat Island are beach hotels near the developing arts and cultural district and Saadiyat Island Golf Club. The Monte Carlo Beach club and Saadiyat Public Beach are both on Saadiyat Island and are probably the most attractive beaches in Abu Dhabi. Visitors can pay to use these beaches.
About half way between Abu Dhabi and Dubai is the area of Ghantoot which is near the sea but relatively remote and a popular area for beach parties. Some visitors go by boat and there is a hotel here and also several restaurants.