The best places to live in Abu Dhabi
Each area and suburb of Abu Dhabi has its own unique qualities, and there are plenty of options for expats looking for accommodation in the emirate.
Expats moving to Abu Dhabi will certainly want to learn a little about each part of the city before securing a property. Below we've listed some of the areas that are popular with expats.
Downtown Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi's city centre is a vibrant collection of shops, shisha bars, malls, five-star hotels and restaurants. The neighbourhoods that make up this capital city heartland are home to young singles and families alike, and most accommodation is found in low- and high-rise residential towers.
Expats who crave the frenetic energy of city life will find that downtown is just the ticket; every imaginable amenity is within reach and there are countless opportunities to socialise, entertain and dine out.
There are also good school and healthcare options in this part of the city. However, residents will have to sacrifice space and learn to deal with the congestion caused by crowds and traffic, especially on weekends.
Al Zahiyah and Al Markaziyah
Al Zahiyah and Al Markaziyah are two cosmopolitan areas offering a number of attractions, such as the Abu Dhabi Mall and the Corniche (waterfront). Abu Dhabi Mall is one of the largest shopping centres in the city and packed with high-street brands.
The Corniche has appeal for those expats who enjoy outdoor pursuits such as jogging, cycling or even just leisurely strolls. This area also has a vibrant nightlife scene, as the numerous hotels are filled with bars and clubs.
Housing in Al Zahiyah and Al Markaziyah is limited to high-rise apartments; expats who choose to live here will have to compromise space for access. Parking can also be a problem, and some landlords will charge thousands extra for a space.
Young trendy areas in Abu Dhabi
Lying just outside the city centre, these areas bustle with life but are slightly quieter and more spacious. Traffic is bad during rush hour and weekends, and finding parking can be difficult. It normally takes 10 to 15 minutes from these areas to the city centre on a quiet day, and 30 to 45 minutes during rush hour.
Madinat Zayed is close to the city centre and generally quieter and less congested than those districts found in the city proper. Properties in Madinat Zayed are slightly older than those in the city centre, although prices are much the same.
Al Wahda is slightly further out than Madinat Zayed and traffic is lighter and parking easier to come by. Al Wahda Mall has a great range of shops and a large Lulu supermarket for groceries. Getting a taxi here is particularly easy because of the presence of the local bus station.
Khalidiya is a bustling area with a large Western community. Khalidiya Park is great for kids and a family picnic. There are also lots of shisha cafés that are popular among young expats. The Corniche is within walking distance for those who want to visit the popular waterfront. Abela Supermarket is nearby, while Spinneys is but a short drive; both offer a good range of products.
Family-friendly areas of Abu Dhabi
These areas have large expat communities and are good for families because of their proximity to a number of international schools. Housing in this area mainly consists of villas.
Al Karamah is quiet, with villa compounds that house a large expat community. The compounds come complete with gyms, swimming pools and additional facilities. Standalone villas and low-rise apartments are also available. Traffic is light, and parking spaces are plentiful.
Al Rawdah and Al Mushrif
Al Radwah and Al Mushrif are peaceful suburban areas perfect for family living. While there are a few corner shops, expats will have to travel to Al Wahda or the large Carrefour, which is slightly further out, to do large grocery shopping. Traffic is light and parking spaces plentiful, while getting a taxi is easy for the most part.
Decently priced villas and close proximity to good schools make Al Muroor great for families looking to avoid the frenetic pace and congestion of the city centre. While parking spaces are plentiful, getting a taxi is difficult at times.
The Corniche is within walking distance and offers a great stretch for those who want to go running or cycling. This part of Abu Dhabi is also quite green, making it good for picnics and outdoor activities.
Abu Dhabi’s mainland
Khalifa City is an up-and-coming suburb of Abu Dhabi. The streets are quiet and parking spaces and taxis are plentiful. As it’s still a developing area, houses are well spaced. While rental prices are rising, it’s still possible to get good deals on the villas. The only downsides are that it takes roughly 40 minutes to get to town by car, and the area is known for having pollution problems.
Al Raha mainly consists of villa compounds, but apartments are also available. There's a Spinneys and Waitrose in the area, and Al Raha Mall has a Lulu Express supermarket. New shops, schools and hotels are adding to the attraction of this developing waterfront area.
Areas to avoid in Abu Dhabi
While Abu Dhabi boasts an array of desirable living areas, certain neighbourhoods may not cater to the preferences of every expat. Awareness of these areas can significantly enhance one's experience when choosing a place to live.
The Hamdan Centre, often bustling during the day with commercial activity, transforms at night. The area has gained notoriety for solicitation and nightlife activities, creating an atmosphere that might not be appealing to families or those seeking a quieter residential environment.
Musaffah, primarily an industrial zone, can present certain challenges. Its dense, work-centric environment makes it less ideal for residential purposes, and uncomfortable for women during the night. The area's heavy traffic and limited pedestrian spaces further contribute to its less favourable perception among expats seeking a peaceful living space.
In the suburbs, locations like Khalifa City and Maffraq present a different set of considerations. Despite offering more spacious accommodation options, these areas are known for elevated air pollution levels. This aspect could be particularly concerning for individuals with respiratory issues or families with young children, making it essential to weigh health considerations when selecting a residence.
What areas of Abu Dhabi are best for expats?
"I love living in the city centre – as I don’t drive, it is convenient for me to walk around and get to shops, cafes and other places within a short timeframe, so I always recommend the city centre. However, a lot of expats prefer to live further away from the city in neighbourhoods such as Reem Island, Al Muneera, Saadiyat Island and Khalifa City." Read more of Marina's expat interview.
"Al Reem Island is considered expat island and houses numerous apartment buildings. A lot of expats also live in Khalifa City and Al Reef, both of which contain more villa-style housing." For more, read Eddie's expat interview.
►Getting Around in Abu Dhabi offers an overview of the different options for travelling around the city's areas and suburbs.
Photo credits: Downtown Abu Dhabi by Amit Sharma; Madinat Zayed by Rizwan Ullah Wazir; Khalifa City by Jaseem Hamza
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