Battle of the Destinations: Abu Dhabi vs Dubai

24 May 2016

It's that time again. In our last Battle of the Destinations we saw New York and Las Vegas face off, and now we're turning our eyes to the two heaviest hitters in the Middle East—Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In one corner we have the UAE's capital, in the other its #1 centre for work and play.

Both are well-connected destinations oozing luxury, packed with sleek skyscrapers and sandwiched between endless rolling desert dunes and stunning white sand beaches. Both offer impossible, imagination-fuelled hotels, some world-class hospitality options and a wide range of events venues.

So, the question is simple: is Abu Dhabi or Dubai the better destination for your event or incentive travel? Let's dive in and find out.

Wow Factor

Abu Dhabi would be the jewel in the crown of almost any other country on the planet. It has an incredible sense of scale, some of the best sights in the region, and a huge range of landscapes in a relatively small space, from sprawling, sun-soaked desert to soaring skyscrapers and beautiful beaches. It’s almost the most impressive city in the UAE...

Dubai is a thriving, decadent showcase for the emirate’s vast commercial wealth, and home to the world’s tallest building, outrageous real estate developments like Palm Jumeirah and the World Islands, unreal hotels (including the planet’s only 7* hotel) and bright lights and nightlife to rival Vegas. It’s over the top, extravagant, and like nowhere else on the planet.

Verdict: Dubai.

Travel & Connections

Abu Dhabi used to be best accessed via Dubai, but Etihad now offer daily flights from Heathrow and Manchester, and BA fly direct from Heathrow. Non-stop flights take around seven hours. If you don't mind adding to that time, a host of carriers offer connecting flights via Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Dubai or Dosa. Once you land, getting into Abu Dhabi is simple—taxis and buses leave from terminals 1, 2 and 3, and hotel shuttle buses regularly make the 40 min run into the city centre.

Dubai is very, very accessible. Emirates flies direct from Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, and British Airways from Heathrow. Many other airlines fly connecting flights, which can provide a budget-friendly option. Early booking is advisable for the best fares and times. Getting to Dubai from the airport is easy, with 24hr taxi services, the Dubai Metro direct from the airport, and regular public buses on offer. Many hotels will also send a driver or private shuttle bus.

Verdict: Still Dubai, no contest.

Hotels & Restaurants

Abu Dhabi featured in both our favourite restaurants and favourite hotels lists this year. We picked the Yas Viceroy, a breathtaking hotel spanning the Yas Marina F1 circuit and offering 10+ events venues, but the Emirates Palace always impresses with its sheer size, style and world-class facilities, and options away from the rush include the Qasr Al Sarab desert resort, private islands and more. We are big fans of Marco Pierre White's Steakhouse and Grill at the Fairmont, but other great dining options include Hakkasan at the Emirates Palace and Asia de Cuba.

Dubai is home to the iconic, helipad-heavy, 7* Burj Al Arab, and boasts a host of other opulent, high-end hotels perfect for celebrating or driving big wins. See the Al Maha Resort in Dubai's Desert Conservation Reserve, or the Four Seasons at Jumeirah Beach. Great restaurants are everywhere too—Zuma, located in the heart of the business district won a place in our favourite restaurants list, Al Iwan at the Burj Al Arab tops Condé Nast Traveller's list of Dubai eateries, and Coya at the Four Seasons is making real waves.

Verdict: Close... but we’re saying Abu Dhabi.

Entertainment & Nightlife

One of Abu Dhabi's best options for jaw-dropping hospitality packages is the du Arena, a world-class venue that has hosted Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Jay-Z and many others. Try for tickets to one of their F1 concerts. For high octane hospitality, plan ahead and make sure your trip coincides with F1 at the Yas Marina circuit. Beyond the big name venues the breadth of Abu Dhabi’s entertainment offering is remarkable, from heaving nightclubs to nights on the sand with traditional musicians.

Dubai's entertainment and nightlife scene is world-renowned, and with good cause. Whether you're celebrating with your team, unwinding after long event days or showing partners a good time, Dubai can deliver. Dubai Racing Club and the Dubai Desert Classic offer some exceptional hospitality packages for event days, or take in a live concert at Dubai's Media City Amphitheatre. For nights off, the city has countless nightclubs (often hosting world-renowned DJs) and buzzing bars.

Verdict: We’re going to upset a few people and say Abu Dhabi.

Culture & Sights

Abu Dhabi is a true cultural hub. It offers endless sights and experiences for your ‘on’ days, and some real hidden depths to explore in any downtime. The city’s ‘Empty Quarter’ is a vast  section of desert right on the edge of Abu Dhabi—explore it from a 4x4 or camel, then eat or camp under the stars. Take your people on safari on Sir Bani Yas Island, or shooting, white-water rafting and camel riding at Al Ain. On your off days, head to the breathtaking Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque or dive into the forthcoming Guggenheim and Louvre Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island.

Dubai is a hyper-modern city, but its rich history is celebrated at the Dubai Museum, housed in the historic Al Fahidi Fort, and is still living at the legendary Gold Souk. For experiences more in keeping with modern Dubai, treat your team or partners to skiing at the UAE’s first indoor ski slope, hit the golf course at Dubai Creek, or take in the bright lights from the Burj Khalifa’s 124th floor viewing platform. If you want to take your people outdoors, head out of the city and into the desert on a 4x4 adventure trek, or hit the sand in a more laid back way at Jumeirah Beach.

Verdict: Abu Dhabi.


Our verdict, right now, is that Abu Dhabi is a better fit for most corporate events and incentive travel. It’s a little quieter than Dubai, but the perks more than make up for it—a wider range of hotel and entertainment options, the desert on the doorstep, and—crucially—price tags that allow budgets to stretch a little further. We love Abu Dhabi, and we know you will too.

We'd love to talk about your requirements, and how we can use our insight, imagination and expertise to help you create an immersive, bespoke itinerary delivered with effortless style. Drop us a line in the comments below, visit our contact page.