Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates and the largest Emirate in the country is steeped in culture and beauty. With it's stunning beaches, glistening waters and year round sunshine there are a host of new resort venues opening and we predict that Abu Dhabi is all set to rival Dubai for those looking to have a luxury destination wedding.
We've been to check out the best venues for couples planning a luxury wedding in Abu Dhabi and we loved what we saw.
As marriage laws only permit residents to legally marry in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and there isn't a quick way to get residency, it is sensible to complete the legalities at home first, leaving you free to have the ceremony of your choice once you are here. However as residency can be from anywhere in the UAE, a lot of ex-pats living in Dubai choose Abu Dhabi for their wedding, finding prices to be more competitive, the pace of life slower and the venues quieter.
Many Emiratis are strict Muslims and chose to cover in public and avoid alcohol. Although visitors should be sensitive to their culture and customs, the hotels we have featured are all very westernised and there are little or no restrictions in place, other than during Ramadan. It is worth bearing in mind that the legal drinking age is 21 and that same sex relationships are illegal; sadly we would not recommend Abu Dhabi for a LGBT wedding.
The best time of year to get married in Abu Dhabi is from October to March for hot sunny days and mild evenings. From June to September the temperature is well into the mid 40s and isn't much cooler in the evenings. The sun sets between 5 and 6pm throughout the year and most couples opt for a late afternoon wedding so that it isn't too hot for an outdoor ceremony and their guests can enjoy dinner and dancing under the stars.
Here is our pick of luxury wedding venues in Abu Dhabi for a wedding with guaranteed sunshine:
1. The Emirates Palace
The Emirates Palace, opened in 2005, is undeniably the most impressive of all of the Abu Dhabi wedding venues. With gold marble suites, two spas, shopping arcade, restaurants and impressive reception halls, it cost over 3 billion dollars to complete making it the third most expensive hotel in the word behind Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.
The scale and prestige of Emirates Palace makes it particularly popular with Indian couples.
The main ballroom can comfortably handle a wedding reception of 2500 guests for an evening reception, or 1500 for formal dining at round tables, with a stunning reception area for cocktails. If you'd prefer to be outside in the cooler months there are several outdoor options including vast stone terraces that can accommodate the largest of weddings.
For a more casual experience, but with incredible views of the ocean and the Palace, couples can opt for a beach wedding in the wide expanse of sand or head to the hotel's marina where there is a circular grass peninsula at the end of the beautifully landscaped harbour wall.
This resort hotel is in a stunning location boasting views over the Great Mosque to one side and the sandy beach of the Grand Canal to the other. The impressive ballroom and function rooms are of course very popular with many local brides, who appreciate the private lift between the ballroom to the honeymoon suite, however with destination weddings in mind we were particularly impressed with the beautifully designed outdoor spaces to hold a ceremony and reception.
The perfectly flat lawns in front of the hotel overlook the Great Mosque making it a beautiful setting for weddings up to 500 guests. For around £2000 the hotel can arrange full wedding set up with a mobile kitchen, staging, tables and linen - a marquee isn't necessary in the Abu Dhabi climate and would obscure the picturesque views. For larger weddings, the landscaped pool area accommodates up to 1000.
For more intimate weddings, there is a maze of manicured privet and rose hedges in a sheltered Rose Garden between the hotel and the hotel's villa accommodation, or a classic beach set up on the white sands beside the Grand Canal.
The hotel has it's own Venetian Village which incorporates an Espa Spa with a private beach, an assortment of restaurants and a paved village square. This village offers various options for weddings including exclusive use of the entire village for extravagant street party celebrations.
3. Zaya Nurai
This is a private island resort just a 15 minute boat journey from Nurai Island's welcome centre on Saadiyat Beach. A resort enjoyed by celebrities and those seeking privacy, many guests arrive by helicopter to one of the island's three helipads.
There is a range of locations to hold your wedding celebrations but the island is particularly popular for more intimate wedding celebrations in your own private villa. Many couples opting to do this will stay for a couple of days with their guests arriving on a day pass to celebrate the wedding with in-villa catering. The larger villas have large terraces overlooking the sea with a private plunge pool. Many have rooftop terraces too for romantic evenings once your guests have left.
Our top choice for a really casual bohemian beach wedding in Abu Dhabi would be the Smokin' Pineapple restaurant on the far end of Nurai Island. The beach setting has a chilled vibe with swings instead of bar stools, swings in the sea, scatterings of bean bags, hammocks and tipis, and beach activities for your guests. The in house team offer catering which can include fresh pizzas from the huge beachside pizza oven.
A more conventional option is the Ginger Mermaid located close to the arrival dock where you can have a ceremony and reception on the beach, by the pool or in the restaurant.
For the most idyllic and exclusive setting on the island has to be the main Beach Estate. This is a huge villa offering complete privacy with it's sandy cove and grassy lawns. Your guests can arrive in total privacy by boat or helicopter. The ceremony is held on the manicured lawn in front of the villa, after which guests proceed up the steps to a villa that opens up in front of them with views through the villa, across the lawns and to a sheltered sandy cove beyond. The downstairs of the villa has been designed for entertaining with indoor water features and lots of space. After a cocktail reception up to 300 guests can be seated in round tables on the lawn for dinner overlooking the sea. The villa can accommodate 10 overnight guests and has a separate entrance and kitchen for staff.
4. Saadiyat Beach Club
An incredibly popular wedding venue, the Saadiyat Beach club is a members only club where the main focus is relaxing by the pool, sipping cocktails and listening to live music, or stretching out on a lounger on the wide white beach, occasionally having a dip in the turquoise waters. The dunes leading to the beach are protected as it is a turtle hatching area, with a wide wooden boardwalk towards the beach adding a sense of formality to a beach wedding.
There is a small bar at the far end of the boardwalk where guests can grab an ice cold beer before heading along a carpeted stretch of beach to the ceremony. After the "I do's" and as the sun sets over the ocean, the bride and groom lead guests along the boardwalk to an outside reception area for cocktails followed by a wedding feast in their relaxed restaurant to the sound of a live band.
If you don't want sand between your toes for the ceremony, or for dinner under the stars, there is a large lawn area as an alternative space to use. The Saadiyat Beach Club doesn't have any accommodation however it is just a short stroll up the beach to the Jumeirah Saadiyat Beach Hotel.
5. The Rotana
Further along Saadiyat Beach is one of several new resort hotels making the most of the fantastic location. Nestled between the St Regis, Rixos and Park Hyatt is the Saadiyat Rotana Resort. The huge ballroom has it's own grand entrance and you can celebrate your marriage in the ballroom, on the lawns near the pool or on the beach. Despite the fabulous facilities that seem almost as if they were designed with big weddings in mind, the Rotana is perhaps the best option for price sensitive couples as the function areas and accommodation are currently so competitively priced. As more couples learn about the Saadiyat Beach area that may change.
6. The Rosewood
For a city centre wedding we liked The Rosewood overlooking a sheltered harbour and linked to the Four Seasons by an underground designer shopping mall.
Their ballroom has a wall of glass looking out across the harbour and stunning chandeliers and there is a lovely rooftop area for smaller informal weddings.
7. The Four Seasons
Another city centre wedding venue, this one with a choice of two ballrooms. However for us this venue stood out for more intimate weddings where the couple are keen to spend the weekend with their guests. For the night before there is a choice of restaurants; an Italian for the bridal party and a prohibition-style steak restaurant steak for the groomsmen. For the reception, there is a pretty terrace beside the water.
Take a look at our Venues in Abu Dhabi page for more information on these and other venues.