Where to live in Abu Dhabi is one of the questions I am asked most frequently by people who are moving to the city. Of course it’s a difficult question to answer as it’s such a personal thing and dependent on your own preferences (not to mention budget!), but for an idea of where to start, here’s the lowdown on some of the areas most popular with expats.
First off, a little bit of info to help get you oriented: although Abu Dhabi itself is an emirate that incorporates a huge land mass and includes the city of Al Ain, Abu Dhabi Island is referred to as ‘The Island’ and is currently the home of the ‘downtown’ district of Abu Dhabi. There are many places to choose from to live around the wider city though and those areas are commonly referred to in general as ‘on-island’ or ‘off-island’.
For reference, I’ve marked all of the areas that follow on the map above, along with a number of the most widely known schools in the city.
Khalidiyah is a very popular area with expats as it’s right in the heart of the city. Benefits of the area include being able to walk to parks and the corniche and to local amenities including shops etc. Villas are available in certain areas though the towering apartment buildings are most immediately noticeable. Downsides of the area include high volumes of traffic meaning street parking is notoriously difficult and although apartments will usually be assigned a parking space dependent on the size of the unit taken, often no visitor parking exists if you’re planning on being quite social at home. New residential buildings do exist in this area though the landscape is dominated by the older ones.
Residential buildings in the area are too numerous to list. Khalidiya Village is one popular compound of large villas in the area. Further along the corniche towards the Emirates Palace lies the Nation Towers Galleria mall which also has desirable, though pricey, modern apartments as part of the development. Further still, though strictly speaking not in Khalidiya anymore is Etihad Towers, a standalone hotel and popular residential complex. Etihad Towers is a striking, modern building that offers the benefits of having all the hotel outlets close by and a Waitrose as part of the small, high end luxury mall in the complex. Other benefits of living in the building include quick and responsive maintenance services for residents though some may not like the fact there are no balconies and apartment windows don’t open.
Along the Marina Breakwater and behind the ever-popular Marina Mall lies Marina Village. Due to the location on the water, the large size of villas and location to downtown, prices are high. As such, it seems mainly popular with locals, diplomats and high-level executives. A number of businesses from beauty to healthcare and more also run out of villas in the area.
Al Bateen Marina
While there have been apartment buildings here for years, the area is under development and starting to come into its own with new cafes, salons and restaurants opening all the time. New apartments are under construction and what used to be a shabby fishermen’s marina has transformed into Al Bateen Wharf and is slowly blooming into a very desirable waterfront location, and close to downtown Abu Dhabi.
Mushrif is slightly further out of the city but being located around the centre of The Island still offers the benefits of being close to the city but without so many of the parking problems! This area offers mostly established, old style villas of all shapes and sizes and there are parks, playgrounds and open spaces around including the very popular Umm Al Emarat Park (previously known as Mushrif Park) which is a great places for families with water play, playgrounds, an animal barn, children’s garden, botanic garden and more. The park also hosts outdoor markets and concerts in the cooler months.
Located in between ADNEC and Zayed Sports City, this area has good access to both the city and off-island areas. There are a number of new apartment buildings with underground parking here and a number of small stores – coffee shops, small supermarket (Carrefour Express) operate from the ground floor of the buildings.
Ministries Complex Area
This area is on the Eastern side of Abu Dhabi Island, and runs along the length of the adjacent Al Bateen airport. Al Seef Village Mall is at one end of the area and TwoFour54, the Abu Dhabi Media Free Zone is at the other (though if you work in media and are here for the long-haul it’s worth knowing that TwoFour54 is being relocated to Yas Island by the end of 2020). There are both villas and apartments in the area, with the most notable development being Bloom Gardens. Brighton College is also on a large campus in the middle of the area.
Located across from Zayed Sports City on the other side of airport road, this area is outside of the city and next to the Al Bateen Airport. A new area that has a lot of construction going on, some very good deals on newly built apartments can be found, though I have heard people complaining about the noise from construction here. The Al Bateen airport tends not to be too much of an issue in terms of noise as it’s mainly used by smaller planes, private jets and helicopters.
Zayed Sports City
Situated a stone’s throw from the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Zayed Sports City is home to Rihan Heights, a development of five towering apartment buildings and a small collection of villas. Residents receive access to all the usual facilities including a large three-in-one pool (separated lap, family and kids sections), a gym and a kids playground. The development also has a beauty salon, small supermarket, coffee shop, dry cleaner and pharmacy on site. Zayed Sports City is located around a 20-30 minute drive from the heart of the city and provides easy access to get off-island quickly to Yas Island, Dubai or Al Ain.
It’s also worth noting that on the Abu Dhabi 2030 Vision plans, the urban structure framework notes this area as the physical centre of the city and halfway between the two planned city centres – the new business district that is developing around Al Maryah Island, Reem Island and the traditional current city district and that of the future ‘Capital District’, the current Mohammed Bin Zayed City area.
Zayed Sports City is also home to an array of sporting activities and facilities including the Zayed Sports Stadium, International Tennis Centre, bowling centre, ice-skating, paint-ball field, numerous pitches for a range of ball sports (softball, football, rugby, hurling and more), a running track and two gym facilities, Haddins and The Room.
A natural island that sits just to the side of the downtown area and has very close links with the heart of the city. Reem Island is a favourite with those who work in the area as it has the benefit of being close to, but not in the actual city, and with that, comes benefits such as fewer problems parking! Apartment buildings make up the main part of the landscape though a few villas as part of some of these complexes do exist. The most established parts of the island are around the Marina Square or Boutik Mall areas.
Large parts of the island are still developing so there is a lot of construction going on, and still lots of empty sand lots yet to have building commence. This actually makes Reem Island popular with people who have dogs, as there are plenty of empty and quiet areas to make use of for walks and the inevitable comfort breaks required. Reem Island is considered part of the new business district that is being developed and is also home to Repton School Abu Dhabi.
Al Maryah Island
Designated as the new central business district, Al Maryah island is a small island connected directly to both the downtown areas of The Island and Reem Island. Home of the high end Galleria Mall, there are a number of great restaurant and bars here and currently only really two residential options – apartments at the Rosewood or the Four Seasons Hotels. As you can imagine prices are on the high side as you pay for privileges and perks that come as part of these luxury hotel brands and apartments aren’t the most spacious around, though there is the option of fully serviced and furnished apartments which can be an attractive option for those not keen on shelling out to furnish a new apartment or for those uncertain of how long they intend on staying. They do however come with beautiful views across the water towards the traditional downtown area and are very convenient for those working in the area – the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi hospital is next door.
Widely regarded as the best beach in Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat makes for a very desirable location. Apartments and villas are available in the area though villas tend to be on the expensive side, especially if you’re looking to be close to the beach! Saadiyat Island is undoubtedly beautiful and its proximity to the restaurants and bars of the St. Regis Saadiyat Hotel, Park Hyatt Hotel and Saadiyat Beach Golf Club make for a decent social scene. Saadiyat also has a direct highway linking to the main Abu Dhabi/Dubai road which makes the drive to Dubai (marina end) only 50 minutes or so. Saadiyat Island is also the home of the developing Museums District, featuring the existing Manarat Al Saadiyat exhibition space and the long awaited Louvre Abu Dhabi, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum, Performing Arts Centre and Maritime Museum with The Louvre as the first set to open sometime in 2017. Despite all the beauty of the area, the only nearby supermarket is a smallish Spinneys so for bigger (and cheaper) supermarket trips the closest place would likely be the Co-op at Abu Dhabi Mall. Cranleigh Abu Dhabi also has a state of the art primary and secondary school facility on the island.
The Al Maqta area is also known as Bain Al Jessrain and ‘Between the Bridges’ and is also where the Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, Souk Qaryat Al Beri, Traders Hotel and Fairmont Abu Dhabi are situated. There are lots of individual villas in the area and also villa compounds with shared pool and recreational facilities.
Abu Dhabi Gate City
Abu Dhabi Gate City sits just off Abu Dhabi Island on the Western side, just over the Mussafah Bridge. A large area with gated communities within including Mangrove Village and Seashore Villas. There are also a large number of stand-alone villas outside of these popular gated communities. There is also a medium sized Spinney’s supermarket at the entrance to the Mangrove Village Development. Mangrove Village is a very popular community for villas on the larger side (four and five bedrooms) and also has excellent facilities including kids play areas, a health club, football pitch, tennis courts and an indoor pool.
Sas Al Nakhl
Sas Al Nakhl Village is another popular area made up of villas and townhouses and the people who live here seem to become quite passionate about the area. Close to the Westin Abu Dhabi and the ADNOC schools. Prices tend to be on the high side though currently (July 2017) there seem to be some good value deals around. Sas Al Nahkl is right next to the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway which means getting to the city is straightforward, and access to Yas Island and Dubai is also very easy.
Raha Beach & Khalifa City Areas
The Raha Beach area includes Al Zeina, Al Bandar, Al Muneera, Raha Gardens, Golf Gardens and parts of Khalifa City, these are all very popular locations with expats and there are a number of schools in the area.
A large residential area popular with expats and forming its own community complete with pool and gym facilities and its own residents beach. One of the points to be aware of at Al Zeina is that some of the buildings are in the flight path (one of the runways is located right across the road) and it’s also very close to the Yas Marina Circuit which can be very noisy during events. People I’ve spoken to say you get used to this and it’s not a problem but it’s wise to do your research on which part of the building to settle on. There are some gorgeous apartments, duplexes and villas though the larger ones of course tend towards the higher end of the pricing scale.
Smaller than some of the other developments but arguably a bit more exclusive with a marina type feel. There are a number of restaurants at Al Bandar along with a Spinneys supermarket and a health centre. Jet-skis in the area can be a nuisance though the authorities are becoming stricter on restricting these on the waterways around residential areas of this type.
Al Muneera is a very popular expat residential development made up of apartments in the main though some villas do exist. Al Muneera tends to be reasonably priced and also has all the usual shared facilities, shops and its own private beach. It’s quite an attractive and spacious community from the inside and there’s plenty of parking (residents and visitor parking is separate and visitor parking incurs a small charge). Yas Marina Circuit can also be heard from here during the Formula One season and while this doesn’t bother many residents, others are less impressed – it’s just worth noting depending on your preference.
Raha Gardens is a huge development split into numerous different named communities each made up of different styles of villas and townhouses in all sizes and price ranges.
Next to the Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort and Spa, Golf Gardens is a gated community with some fabulous villas. It’s a highly sought after area and prices reflect this.
Khalifa City A
It may look a bit like a building site but there is plenty of gold if you scratch the surface! It’s very popular with expats and although as with everything prices have risen steadily in recent years, big villas for decent prices can still be found.
Khalifa City is famous for its ‘Pink Shops’ which were once the only shops around. While this is no longer the case they still make for a popular spot for local errands. Al Forsan Village is a new development within Khalifa City with a large Spinneys, a pharmacy, coffee shops, a Holland and Barrett and a number of other stores including ‘Cheeky Monkey’s’ a kids’ soft play centre. Part of the neighbouring Al Forsan International Sports Resort development (offering paintball, shooting, watersports, motorsports and more), Al Forsan Village has been built to represent a Mediterranean town and comprises a large number of new residential luxury villas, townhouses and apartments.
Khalifa City B
Not often even referred to as Khalifa City B anymore, Khalifa City A & B seem to have become simply ‘Khalifa City’, but the B district is actually just an extension to the original Khalifa City and located further from the Abu Dhabi-Dubai Highway, but next to the International Airport Road. Because of these roads, links to the airport, city and Dubai are similar from either side of the development.
Al Reef is further out past the airport and is popular with those on a budget as part of a good community offering good value for money. It is often considered far from the main city by many although it’s only around a 25 minute drive under normal traffic conditions and is just 10 minutes from Yas Mall. Of course if you like to travel through to Dubai frequently it could also be a good option as it’s at the right side of town for that with the journey to Dubai Marina around 50 minutes or so.
Mohammed Bin Zayed City
Mohammed Bin Zayed City provides among some of the best value for money in terms of accomodation but although it is planned as the ‘Capital District’ in the Abu Dhabi 2030 masterplans there’s not a huge amount of evidence of this area becoming a busy hub just yet, and it can be quite a trek from downtown Abu Dhabi at around 30 minutes outside of peak hour traffic. Mohammed Bin Zayed City provides an easy commute to the British International School Abu Dhabi.
Things to consider:
- In terms of being located in a certain district or looking for proximity to a work or school location – nowhere is really very far in Abu Dhabi, it’s a pretty small place really and the roads are good quality and mostly pretty fast.
- Most people seem to want a villa rather than apartment, but I always say to not rule out an apartment. It’s worth bearing in mind that apartments here are built very differently to how they are in many other global cities – apartments here are mostly pretty sound proof (internal walls are built from solid blocks, never just plasterboard) and ceilings are usually high. Apartment buildings have security and maintenance with them to take care of any issues you face without needing to find a third party yourself (as do some of the villa communities, though not if you go for an independent villa) utilities are of course cheaper, there’s often less noise and you can basically just shut the door behind you and not have to worry about a thing if you’re going away as you know there’s always security staff there to assist in the event of any kind of problem – it’s really convenient for the transient expat lifestyle! Apartments are also far more airy and spacious here than in many other big cities around the world.
- Think about whether you really need a garden – the weather is so hot there is really only a short period of time you may benefit from it and it’s an added expense to keep maintained.
- Find a trustworthy real-estate agent and beware unscrupulous landlords. It’s often easier to rent from a company rather than an individual as you’re likely to have more protection in the event of any problems.
- Don’t forget to ask who does the maintenance or of it is included in the rental, and then what exactly is covered. Having to find your own third party maintenance can be a pain, especially if you’ve unwittingly moved into an apartment that unexpectedly reveals structure/air con/electric problems when you least expect it.
- Rent is always quoted annually and though there are occasions where as many as four cheques can be negotiated, it is still common for one cheque to be required up-front for the entire year.
- Last but not least – take your time and shop around. You can always stay in temporary accomodation longer than you planned to get a feel for the right place. Whilst it’s nice to get into a home and get settled there’s nothing worse than finding you’ve made a rash decision and being locked in for a year.