Luxurious, modern and sophisticated, the exclusive Nurai Island is a day trip you must try this year. The pristine beaches are a magnet for Abu Dhabi residents, and thankfully the resort offers day passes for you to go check them out. The island’s private boat will collect you from Saadiyat Island and whisk you away on a speedy 12-minute trip back to the resort. You’ll receive a complimentary welcome drink on arrival, before being able to enjoy the stunning infinity pool and white sands of the beach. On Fridays they host a fantastic brunch, so even more reason to swing by.
Dhs300 per person, including boat transfer. Open daily 10.30am-11pm. Advanced booking required (02 506 6274).
Get on a boat – whatever boat you can find – and head to Lulu Island. Lulu is parallel to the Corniche public beach, close to the breakwater. There’s been chat for years about how this Island is going to be developed, with development continuously starting and stopping. Right now, however, it’s pretty bare. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many people visit Lulu Island as the water is normally flat and peaceful for water sports, while friends and family hit the beach for a picturesque barbecue or sunbathing. The island has an area of about 10 square kilometres. In addition to the shores, which are equipped for swimming, the front shore of the beach is about 3 kilometres, and the back shore is about 4 kilometres. There are some cabanas suitably dotted along the beach stretch, but not a tremendous amount. And sadly they’re not in the best condition, but they get the job done. There’s always plenty of people here, but luckily it never feels overcrowded as there’s loads of space for everyone to have a spot of their own.
Al Maya Island
This is a popular hotspot for those looking for some beats on the beach. Al Maya Island is about ten minutes offshore and you’ll need to get to the Al Maya boat dock, close to Khalidiyah Palace Rayhaan, to get there. This fun-filled island is perfect for both partying and relaxing. Fridays are always buzzing, with guests enjoying the huge pool and the beach with the swim-up bar. Music is always pumping thanks to resident DJs and regular events organised by DJ ChadPhunk. There’s even a small beach volleyball section if you fancy a game with friends. Saturdays on the island have more of a chilled vibe, mostly consisting of families enjoying a small getaway from the mainland. The food options here are pretty good and there are even private villas available to rent, too.
Dhs100 shuttle boat service on Saturdays includes entrance and use of facilities. Fri-Sat 10am-8pm. www.almayauae.com.
Sir Bani Yas Island
Sir Bani Yas Island simply has to be seen to be believed. It’s a sprawling, man-made wildlife reserve, founded back in the late 1990s. Once just a sparse, dry plain, it now has foliage planted across the island, sustained by endless water piping, and is home to thousands of wild animals. Located nine kilometres off the coast of Jebel Dhanna, 170km southwest of Abu Dhabi, Sir Bani Yas is 17.5km from north to south, making it the largest natural island in the UAE. Its name comes from the Bani Yas tribe, who first inhabited the capital, and this island formed millions of years ago, when a “salt dome” was created that’s still present today. Fast forward a couple of millennia and, in 1971, the island was established as a nature reserve by the late ruler and founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. On the back of kick-starting his “Greening of the Desert” programme on Sir Bani Yas, Sheikh Zayed banned hunting and created a long-term conservation plan to provide a sanctuary for Arabia’s endangered wildlife. Even if you just stay in the hotel and lay by the beach for the entire duration of your stay, it’s a fantastic experience. But the temptation of all the activities is too much to bear – you can try water sports, hiking, mountain biking and a fascinating cultural walk around some of the 42 archaeological sites that have been uncovered in the area.
There are various options to get to the island. For more info, visit www.sirbaniyasisland.com.
Get back to nature at Dolphin Bay with one of Captain Tony’s boat tours and discover the beauty of the island’s coasts and its inhabitants. Luckier visitors have spotted frolicking dolphins during the boat tours which take you along several points of interest, stopping at Dolphin Bay sandbank where you can swim and snorkel, and spot dolphin friends. If you have seen plenty of idyllic desert island images in holiday brochures that look too good to be true, we’ve found one that really does exist. There’s no need to book a flight to the Seychelles, because there’s one right here off our coast. When scanning the horizon, it’s refreshing not to see any buildings, towers or people spoiling the view – it’s remarkable how remote Dolphin Bay is. It’s a picture-perfect location, without the need to save up money, pack a suitcase and board a plane to get there. Dolphin Bay is an immaculate location, and it’s the true meaning of a desert island.
Dhs400pp; Dhs250 kids six-12-years-old; private charter Dhs2,800. Stand-up paddle boards Dhs150; barbecue Dhs150pp, Dhs50 per child. Departure dependent on tides – duration four hours. Yas Marina, www.captaintonys.ae (02 650 7175).
Dalma, which lies 26 miles off the coast of the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, is one of the oldest inhabited islands in the area, with archaeologists finding evidence of human life dating back a whopping 10,000 years. The island’s abundant supplies of fresh water, as well as the numerous date plantations, sustained the local population throughout the years, but these days there’s a small town with various shops and a mall. If you do go, the Delma Museum is worth a visit, playing host to numerous interesting artefacts found on the isle. Delma has been designated by the government as a potential tourist destination, with hotels and other facilities proposed to be constructed there in the future. To visit the island of Dalma, you can go by road to Jebel Dhanna (Ruwais road from Abu Dhabi). At Jebel Dhanna is the port of the Dobh (the ship that carries passengers and cars to the island of Dalma), where a ferry operates between 7am and 7pm. There are non-scheduled flights, (almost every day except Friday) from Abu Dhabi International Airport to the island. For more info, visit www.dalmaisland.com.
Al Samaliya Island
Just five minutes’ drive from Al Raha Beach Hotel lies this isolated, peaceful island that’s been turned into a nature reservation. Among the exotic wildlife that occupies the island are ostriches, emus, lizards, gazelles and wildfowl. This beautiful island is also used as a resort for young ones to visit to help them reconnect with the past and learn about the flora and fauna of the region. There are even a few old timers living there who used to work in the country’s once flourishing pearl diving industry, and who are on hand to teach the youngsters about the secrets of the sea. The island is overseen by the Emirates Heritage Club, and it’s worth checking with them before heading out there, because it is private property. But if you get the all clear, you’ll find one of the most idyllic and culture-filled islands in the vicinity, perfect for wandering around and gazing at the stunning variety of wildlife. Al Samaliya is easily reached by a five-minute power boat journey from Al Raha Beach Hotel, or 30 minutes if you're leaving from the Corniche.
To arrange a trip to Al Samaliya Island, contact the Emirates Heritage Club, www.torath.ae/en (02 558 1544).
Abu Dhabi island guide
Nurai, Sir Bani Yas, Lulu, Al Maya and more Abu Dhabi islands to explore
More in Attractions, Things To Do
Manarat Al Saadiyat hosts celebrations in honour of Chinese president's visit to Abu Dhabi
Foodie feasts, Chinese celebrations, splash-tastic fun and more.
Mega 11-day festival begins on Eid weekend
This week's vlog sees us try the city's most expensive burger at Dhs380