Neighbourhood guide: Al Raha Beach, Abu Dhabi
Not so long ago, living as far out of Abu Dhabi as Al Raha Beach would have been seen as a disadvantage. Nowadays, this self-contained waterfront community might seem like the ideal location. Yas Island, with its theme parks and megamall, is just across the water, and it’s a 10-minute drive to Abu Dhabi International Airport. It’s also right by the main road access to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The current completed development, launched in 2013 by Aldar Properties, is made up of three similar but distinct communities – Al Bandar, which appeals to singles and couples with its sophisticated, laid-back vibe; and Al Muneera and Al Zeina, which have more to offer families.
Al Muneera and Al Zeina are among the few communities in Abu Dhabi with a private beach. What Al Bandar lacks in sand, it makes up for it with its 131-berth marina. Residents also have easy access to watersports in Al Bandar courtesy of Halla Walla, which offers the chance to try out waterskiing barefoot or even in a chair, while there’s kayaking in Al Muneera.
Al Bandar has the most to offer in terms of nightlife. Out on a pier facing Al Bandar’s glass buildings, the licensed restaurant Pacifico Tiki (formerly Ornina) serves up Mediterranean dishes with Eastern flair, which you can enjoy from the comfort of the waterside terrace lounge. Monday is ladies’ night, when females pay Dh55 for a “cheeky starter platter” and drinks. Upstairs, there’s a Lebanese grill, Qasr Al Bandar.
Nolu’s cafe, which provides healthy Afghani-American flavours, gets crowded after 8pm. Next door is the Italian chain Bricco Cafe, where children can eat for free, or you can grab an Austrian coffee from Julius Meinl cafe.
Al Muneera has plenty of family-friendly options to choose from – such as new gluten-free cafe Tawa Bakery, where you can order freshly baked breads and mouth-watering desserts. The interior furnishings include a 1900s French oven, and classic 111 Navy Chairs made from recycled Coca-Cola bottles.
Also new to the neighbourhood is the beachside Leopold’s of London, which has just opened its fourth Abu Dhabi brasserie, next to Costa Coffee.
Vasa Vasa is worth checking out for its authentic Italian ice cream, salads and coffees. The Raw Place provides vegan dishes and organic cold-pressed juices (from Dh24). Other eateries in Al Muneera include the quirky, Alice in Wonderland-inspired cafe Lilies, plus Doner Kebab, Jones the Grocer, Burger House, Hanoi Vietnamese cafe, Kebabs and Kurries for Indian and Zuwadeh Jdoudna for Lebanese.
In Al Zeina, the quality of restaurants is more hit-and-miss. As well as the peri-peri-chicken chain Nando’s, there’s Dolmabahce for Turkish, Andiamo! for Italian or the more child-friendly Cafe Firenze.
Each community boasts its own supermarket – Carrefour (Al Muneera), Waitrose (Al Zeina), and Spinneys (Al Bandar) – but it’s best to head to Al Muneera for proper retail therapy. There, you will find Minbart for designer glamour, and Beyond the Beach for everything from wetsuits to boogie boards.
For a spot of pampering, the ladies have Fantastic Spa, and for gentlemen, the Me & Only Man Spa. Blue Rabbit Laundry provides dry-cleaning with free home delivery; White Orchid boutique sells floral gifts.
In Al Bandar, there’s a pharmacy, optical shop, Toni & Guy hairdressers, HealthPlus family health-care centre, Cobra Fitness martial arts gym and a branch of Juli Music Institute.
Al Zeina is home to a bright yoga studio, The Hot House, which offers a variety of classes, including Bikram, as well as Yas Cycles bicycle shop and Glamour Hair Salon.
Once complete, the development will house 120,000 residents on a 3.6-million-square-metre plot between the city and Yas Island. It was designed to accommodate a tramline and water-taxi stations along its canals. There’s no sign of those yet, although Halla Walla in Al Bandar provides Dh50 public boat rides. Bus Number 180 stops at Al Zeina and Al Muneera every two hours, and goes on to Yas Mall and Downtown Abu Dhabi. Bicycles are available to hire courtesy of ADCB’s bike-share scheme in Al Zeina, Al Muneera and Al Bandar, for Dh15 per day. Visitor parking is free for the first hour (or 20 minutes in Al Muneera) and Dh3 per hour after that, so bring loose change.