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Holiday showdown: Abu Dhabi versus Dubai

  • Inspiration
  • By Ashleigh Simmons
  • Published 19 June 2018
  • Revised 23 May 2023
  • Published 19 June 2018
  • Revised 23 May 2023

The two superpowers of the UAE have been put head-to-head for the ultimate holiday showdown. 

Just 90 minutes apart, Abu Dhabi and Dubai make up two of the seven emirates in the UAE. While there are similarities between them, they differ greatly in style, flair and personality. 

Mixing modern culture with Arabian traditions, these spectacular destinations have made headlines all over the world as the perfect holiday for every kind of traveller. 

But which gem of the UAE is ideal for you? 

Do you fancy living the life of luxury as you gaze upon the iconic Dubai skyline from a rooftop bar? Or how does getting your culture fix at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi sound? 

Our holiday showdown has pit these two stunning destinations head-to-head to make your getaway decision pure and simple. All that’s left to do is pick up the phone and let Winged Boots do the rest… 

Your home away from home


Luxury in the UAE is as common as clouds in the sky and Abu Dhabi is certainly no exception. The plethora of five-star hotels and resorts will make you dizzy with pleasure from the state-of-the-art facilities to the spacious accommodations and the mouth-watering dining options. 

If you’re on the hunt for utter opulence and over-the-top elegance then a stay at Emirates Palace is guaranteed to blow your mind. Palace by name and palace by nature, each guest is treated like royalty as soon as you step through the front doors. 

Get ready to be greeted by Rolex clock faces in the lobby and Swarovski crystal encrusted door handles – and don’t even get us started on the pristine views. 

Located on Abu Dhabi’s famous corniche, vistas of the city and marina await you from your incredible suite but once you get enough of these – we doubt you will – unwind with a treatment at the spa, head to the Michelin-starred Hakkasan or laugh along with your kids as you speed down the waterslides. 

Other resorts in the city boast the best names in the hotel industry – think St. Regis, Jumeirah, Shangri-La and The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Grand Canal – so finding a place to rest your head no matter what your party size proves to be no challenge in Abu Dhabi. Discover more luxury hotels in Abu Dhabi for every type of traveller.

Emirates Palace

Emirates Palace
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Sisters in many ways, Dubai is also home to an extensive array of top-notch resorts that offer the best of the best in hospitality and an all-round luxurious hotel experience. 

Perfect for honeymooners, couples, families and those in the city on business, expect to be spoilt for choice when it comes to your home away from home. 

Split up into two distinct hotel areas, Jumeirah Beach and Palm Jumeirah, the latter of which has been nicknamed as a contender for the eighth wonder of the world, expect every amenity you could wish for alongside lavish accommodation and out-of-this-world service. 

Topping the list are the likes of Burj Al Arab, Palazzo Versace Dubai and Atlantis, The Palm. Did we mention that Burj Al Arab boasts seven stars? That’s right, it’s truly so spectacular that five simply weren’t enough! 

The iconic sail-shaped building is located on Jumeirah Beach for the most fantastic vistas of the city. You’ll also find nine delectable on-site restaurants, guest rooms spread over two floors, a butler service and complimentary unlimited access to Wild Wadi Waterpark. Talk about hotel excellence!

Atlantis The Palm

Atlantis The Palm

Liven it up


Abu Dhabi is indeed an adult’s playground. Like its restaurants, a lot of the best clubs and bars are found inside the city’s hotels for ease and convenience. One of our favourites has to be COYA, housed inside Four Seasons Hotel at Al Maryah Island. 

Formulated with the Peruvian spirit of adventure, this bar and restaurant has a lively atmosphere and offers an exciting blend of fusion flavours.
Sample a mysterious glass (or two) of pisco here, a traditional Peruvian drink similar to tequila. COYA has taken on pisco as its signature offering and has now created a library full of fruit infusions to work through. 

Don’t miss brunch here every Friday and start your weekend right with award-winning cocktails alongside a delicious menu and live entertainment. 

For a party atmosphere that transitions from day into night, head to Buddha-Bar Beach at St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort. Watch the sun set from the beach as you unwind in a casual, yet mesmerising, setting. 

Picture unbeatable backdrop views as resident DJs and Saxophonists play a chilled soundtrack that complements the myriad of free-flowing beverages from a team of master mixologists. 

What better way to enjoy your holiday, then with pre or post dinner drinks in this amazing beach front setting? 

Buddha-Bar Beach at St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort

 Buddha-Bar Beach at St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort


In our opinion, Dubai’s claim to fame is its exciting nightlife – let’s face it, the city was made for a good time! 

Late night entertainment in the emirate is a staple from the abundance of bars – especially of the rooftop variety – to the vibrant clubs complete with world-renowned DJs. 

Choose CE LA VI Dubai at Address Sky View hotel for a buzzing atmosphere that boasts incredible city views. Here you can choose between the Skybar where you can sip on delectable cocktails as you soak in the 360-degree Dubai skyline, or the picturesque setting on the Pool Deck to unwind and uplift your spirits at the fun Shisha Lounge. 

Alternatively drive up the energy levels into the night at the Club Lounge, as an array of DJs bring enough rhythm to have you dancing into the night. 

If you’re in the mood for something more effortless during the day, head to DRIFT the award-winning beachfront destination where style and luxury meet. Located at One&Only Royal Mirage, this destination strikes the right balance between exclusivity and understated elegance. 

For the ultimate experience, hire a Private Beach Cabana for you and your friends. Coming complete with its own infinity pool in a private garden, from here you can still enjoy all the best bits of the main beach club while having your own slice of seclusion to escape to. 

Cancel queuing up at the pool bar, all your needs will be taken care of by your own personal waiter who is happy to top up drinks throughout the day.

DRIFT at One&Only Royal Mirage

DRIFT at One&Only Royal Mirage

Let's eat


Middle Eastern cuisine is truly to die for so don’t expect anything less in Abu Dhabi. Visitors will be blown away by the plethora of exceptional restaurants and diversity of cuisines found throughout the city, not to mention the high standard of each and every dish. 

When in the UAE, you’d be a fool not to sample the local fare. Using time-honoured cooking methods, the freshest ingredients and the most powerful spices, popular Emirati dishes usually incorporate lamb or chicken which is typically served with aromatic rice and accompanied by seasonal vegetables. 

Mezze platters – a selection of Levantine appetisers – are also the norm here and dinners are often finished off with baklava, a sweet dessert, and a cup of Arabian coffee. 

In the mood for something extra special? The world-famous Emirates Palace is your go-to. Our favourite restaurant here is the award-winning Hakkasan which blends authentic Cantonese recipes with contemporary influences to create a thoroughly exciting menu. 

Indulge in a selection of more than 400 wines from all over the world and enjoy the intimacy of the interiors, complete with Chinese motifs and rich dark woods throughout to produce an authentic immersive dining experience. 

If you are looking for the wow factor, opt for drinks and small eats on the terrace. Overlooking the opulent grounds of the hotel, here you can really soak in the vibrancy of Abu Dhabi as you take in the stunning skyline.

Hakkasan at Emirates Palace

Hakkasan at Emirates Palace


Naturally, the decadence continues in Dubai. When it comes to dining out, this spectacular emirate doesn’t disappoint, offering everything from street eats to Michelin-starred dishes. 

The global culinary scene here is second to none but the city truly shines when it comes to Friday brunch. Usually hosted in Instagram-worthy locations, this early afternoon meal satisfies every craving and is often served with endless bubbles to celebrate the first day of the UAE weekend. 

Travelling with little ones? Dubai ensures that children don’t miss out on the fun either and you’ll find a whole host of family-friendly brunches with exciting themes and costumes for an unforgettable afternoon. Save room for dinner! 

If you’re celebrating a special occasion with a loved one or looking for a fun night with friends, then OPA is as good as it gets. Like a scene from Mamma Mia the movie, you are welcomed into a Grecian paradise where you can expect an experience like no other. 

Dine on traditional Grecian cuisine accompanied by a cocktail or a delicious glass of wine – go on, you’re on holiday! And be sure to pack your appetite for Zorba dancing and smashing plates for a night that you certainly won’t forget in a hurry. 

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at Atlantis The Royal

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at Atlantis The Royal

Culture trip


Abu Dhabi is one of the best places to experience the suffusion of Arabic, Islamic, Persian, East African and Indian cultures. In-keeping with traditionalism, the UAE capital is the best place to see Emirati costumes, garments and artefacts – but the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque deserves a special mention. 

Undoubtedly the most stunning building throughout all the seven emirates, a visit to Abu Dhabi isn’t complete without a trip here. 

The overwhelming beauty of this marble landmark has to be seen to be believed; the mosaic walls decorated with semi-precious stones, the seven sparkling chandeliers decorated with millions of Swarovski crystals and the largest single carpet in the world are definitely a sight for sore eyes. 

Every visitor of every faith is welcome at the mosque and the only requirement is to dress and behave respectfully. The fantastic culture in this emirate continues with the iconic Louvre Abu Dhabi, an art and civilisation museum that’s part of a 30-year agreement between Abu Dhabi and the French government. 

However, this incredible venue unexpectedly bears no resemblance to its sister venue in Paris. Located on the brink of Saadiyat Island’s cultural district, guests are guaranteed to be immersed in one of the most pioneering endeavours of art and beauty in the Middle East. There are venue hosting over 600 exhibits showcasing traditional paintings and sculptures to more innovative forms of digital and interactive art. 

If you love the Louvre then you’ll certainly adore the news that the emirate has a Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and is to host Zayed National Museum also on Saadiyat Island. 

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque


Although more commercially rich than culturally rich in comparison to its cousin, Dubai certainly has its fair shares of incredible landmarks. 

The city is awash with skyscrapers that will give you a neck ache if you look up and Burj Khalifa is by far the most impressive. 

The world’s tallest building and simply a work of art, Burj Khalifa is Dubai’s pride and joy that is a representation of international cooperation, symbolic of a beacon of progress and an emblem of the dynamic and prosperous Middle East. 

From base to tip, this spectacular structure stands at more than 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) and 160 stories and hosts the highest outdoor observation deck in the world for panoramic cloud-high views of Dubai City. 

Speaking of spectacular, The Dubai Mall is truly a rite of passage for visitors to the city and a must to experience the lavish lifestyle of local Emiratis. The largest mall in the world by total area, guests can expect to find more than 1,000 stores, an ice rink, endless restaurants and even an aquarium! 

If you’re in the mood for something a little more Middle Eastern, head to the Gold Souk and the Spice Souk for an insight on what Dubai was like before the days of skyscrapers and increased tourism. 

Each souk – meaning market in Arabic – are just five-minutes apart from each other and are the perfect places to pick up some new jewellery or sample authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. 

Burj Khalifa

 Burj Khalifa

Can you handle the thrill?


Despite being notably quieter than its neighbour, if you thought that Abu Dhabi was all about sightseeing and lounging on the beach, you couldn’t be more wrong. 

The excitement and adrenaline that can be experienced in this city is second to none, home to excellent attractions that are well-known for breaking world records. 

Let’s begin with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Formula 1 fanatics will be in their element at the last race in the Grand Prix calendar, hosted at the world-famous Yas Marina Circuit. 

Do you prefer your thrills with more loops and screams? Then head to Ferrari World, the perfect day out for both the young and the young at heart. This Italian sports car themed venue provides an adrenaline rush like no other due to the world’s fastest rollercoaster, Formula Rossa, being located here. 

Oh, and we can’t forget about the exhilarating Flying Aces ride that’s known for having the world’s tallest non-inverting loop – but don’t worry, there are plenty of other attractions that are slightly tamer but will still put the wind through your hair. 

The Clymb Abu Dhabi is also an excellent way to get your adrenaline fix in. Also located on the incredible Yas Island, The Clymb is home to the world’s biggest indoor skydiving flight chamber and the world’s tallest indoor climbing wall all under one roof – we told you Abu Dhabi doesn’t do anything by halves.

Ferrari World

Ferrari World


If you thought that Abu Dhabi was exciting then Dubai will certainly knock your socks off. The city holds a reputation for limitless boundaries when it comes to everything – from gourmet meals to seven-star hotels – so expect nothing less with the adrenaline-pumping attractions. 

Your heart is guaranteed to skip a beat as you cascade down the slopes of Ski Dubai. We know what you’re thinking – snow in the middle of the desert? 

Located inside the Mall of the Emirates, this spectacular 22,500-square-foot ski resort is perfect for those with a love for snowy mountains, skiing and snowboarding and there are plenty of activities for both adults and kids. 

Whether you want to slide down the snow, take in the views with a ride on the chair lift or even get up close and personal with the resident penguins, an unforgettable experience of the highest order is guaranteed. 

If you’d rather sand over snow, head to Big Red – locally known as Al Hamar – for a thrilling dune-bashing experience that will have you half laughing and half screaming in sheer delight. 

Incorporating both a scenic tour with some thrills, dune bashing is an ideal excursion for all the family but if you want to turn the adrenaline up a notch then quad biking is the one for you. 

Hop aboard your personal four-wheeled vehicle and get ready for your heart to be in your mouth as you bounce up and down the iconic dunes. Are you ready for the ride?

Ski Dubai

Ski Dubai

Are you racing to the UAE? Here are some top FAQs

I’m travelling with my partner and two young kids and I’d love to take them to the UAE. Is Abu Dhabi more suitable? Or Dubai? 

This is one instance we possibly couldn’t choose between the two! Both cities excellently cater for families from the abundance of exciting activities to the child-friendly hotels. 

Our advice? Visit both! At just 90 minutes apart, it couldn’t be easier to fit two holidays in one – that way you don’t have to choose.

There’s nothing I love more than getting a feel of local culture while I’m abroad. Which emirate would you recommend? 

Abu Dhabi takes first place when it comes to culture. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a glorious monument and ideal for getting an insight on the Islamic faith throughout the UAE. 

The Louvre Abu Dhabi certainly deserves a visit too as well as the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and the soon-to-be-opened Zayed National Museum. 

I want to let my hair down! Where’s the best nightlife?

You can’t go wrong with either emirate if you’re looking for a good time. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have an exciting array of bars, clubs and lounges that provide dazzling atmospheres for you to let your hair down. 

Dubai currently has the edge for evening entertainment and nightlife, although the recent developments at Yas Island Abu Dhabi are quickly making it a dreamy destination for this too, with heaps of live entertainment and fine dining in abundance.

Remember, the consumption of alcohol is restricted to licenced bars and restaurants due to the entire UAE operating under Sharia Law. Failure to comply with these rules can result in a fine or even a reprimand from police.

Booking your holiday with Winged Boots truly couldn’t be simpler. Simply click here to submit an enquiry or call one of our personal travel managers on 0203 816 0985. All that’s left to do is pack your suitcase! 

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