Expat - Abu Dhabi · Middle East

Zaya Nurai Island – “the Maldives of the UAE”

I had the privilege of visiting Zaya Nurai Island twice this year. This luxury private island off the main part of Abu Dhabi is something I would class as a “hidden gem” and a “must-do” when visiting or living in Abu Dhabi. I would rank this experience in my Top 3 places worth visiting and seeing when in the UAE.

My First Visit: Zaya Nurai Friday Brunch

Zaya Nurai Island

On our first visit, we went for the infamous Zaya Nurai Island “Friday Brunch”. This brunch had been on my “Brunch Bucket-list” for a long while. My persistent FOMO nagging finally wore Jon down and we went.

The brunch is held at the island’s Frangipani restaurant every Friday, during brunch season, between 12:30PM – 4PM.

I had read that the Zaya Nuria Island brunch was a “smaller brunch”. I had read that the food was good but because it was a “small” brunch people felt a bit disappointed because of the price. And of course, the price tag. At a starting amount of 550AED per person, this is one of the more expensive brunches on the market. These comments did make me feel a bit worried before going but now that I’ve been to the brunch, this is my response to these comments:

Yes – the brunch is smaller compared to other ones available in Abu Dhabi.

  • Firstly, it is set on a private island and includes access to beaches and pools (yep, plural) that are amazing – no other brunch I have been to in Abu Dhabi have facilities like Zaya Nurai.
  • Secondly, the brunch wasn’t massive where my FitBit had to buzz to signal I’d hit my 10k steps for the day just by doing a walk around to see all the displays of food.
  • Thirdly and most importantly, the quality of the food at this brunch exceeded the quality at any other brunch I’d been to in Abu Dhabi. The Zaya Nurai Brunch didn’t have thousands of different dishes like the big brunches and because of this, I felt like they were able to focus on the quality of every dish.

My Food Highlights from the Zaya Nurai Island Brunch:
🥩 there was a BBQ and Tandoori oven area set up outside of the restaurant and the meats there made me do a Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally because they were sensational! There was not a dry piece of meat to be found. From the lamb, beef, Sth African sausages, prawns, chicken – everything was outstanding.
🥗 The salads (which I usually skip at brunches because they’re usually boring & lame) were creatively and beautifully presented (they looked like cakes, so I was drawn in like a moth to a flame) with wonderfully balanced flavours. My fave was the watermelon feta with raspberries and mint!
🍣 The sushi, sashimi, fresh seafood displays might as well been taken to our table because the seafood bandit in me came out (if you ever wondered where the sashimi was at your brunch…). The ‘sushi pizzas’ were delicious fun.
🧀 The cheese cabinet had an extensive range to choose from. I liked how they were pre-sliced for un-co people like me. I enjoyed the entire selection on offer.

Is the Zaya Nurai Island Brunch Worth It?

Are you kidding me? 💃 Heck yes, just go. Hopefully you’ll be able to get a reservation before the season ends! There is no other brunch in Abu Dhabi that provides such a “wow” factor brunch: great quality food + private island + access to 2 beaches & 2 pools.

These are the packages listed on the Zaya Nurai Island website:
AED550 Non-alcoholic, AED650 Alcoholic, AED850 Champagne package

My Second Visit: Zaya Nurai Island Day Pass

The second time I went was because I had friends visiting me from New York and I really wanted to “wow” them. OMG, Zaya Nurai did not disappoint. Swimmers were knocked off (umm.. metaphorically because that kind of stuff is illegal over here).

We already had Friday brunch plans in Dubai that week so I opted  to take them during the week on a “Day Pass”. We arrived around noon and lounged around one of the beaches and pools before heading over to Frangipani for lunch.

Thankfully, the food did not disappoint and it was as amazing as the Friday brunch!

We ordered food off the a la carte menu which included sushi, sashimi, truffle risotto, beef short ribs, sea bass, duck, and several desserts. The mocktails and cocktails were just as excellent. 

We spent most of the time that day in the water – whether it be the beaches or pools. The beaches do not have big waves but these little tiny baby ones. The water does drop to some depth if you swim out a little. The sand is relatively smooth and soft, and the beaches are kept super clean. There are two types of pools on the island – one is huge but fairly shallow, with an infinity edge. The other is almost like a dip pool – it is a smaller pool but also fairly shallow.

We spent the other time out of the water taking photos because the island is highly Instagram-mable. It is almost like they made sure to feature installations which would keep the Millennials and Gen Zs entertained. There are things like giant sunglasses, ocean hammocks and swings, art installations to be discovered scattered around the island – definitely not the time to have a low or dead phone battery!

Some Zaya Nurai Island FAQs if you’re interested in going:

Do I need to make a reservation for Zaya Nurai Island if I am only visiting for a day?

Yes. You should always book ahead or call up – this way you can be advised on the boat time schedule or if there is a buyout of the island and therefore won’t be accepting any customers for that day.

How can I visit Zaya Nurai Island?

There are generally 4 ways:

  1. As an “accommodation guest” – Stay on the island for at least a night in one of their Villas or Houses.
  2. As a “Day Pass” guest (available daily) at 480AED per person but you get 420AED back as credit to spend on food, drinks, spa, recreation like jet ski hire etc (but it cannot be used towards the cost of the Friday brunch). The Day Pass covers the boat transfer to the private island, access to both pools and beaches.
  3. As a “Friday Brunch” guest – (Fridays only) packages start from 550AED per person. This amount includes access to the beaches, pools, boat transfer and the amazing Friday Brunch. Any food and drink outside of the Brunch hours are extra.
  4. As an “after 6:30pm” guest – there is no minimum spend required on consumption, just pay for the boat transport (60AED) – this is available daily.

How do I get to Zaya Nurai Island?

Firstly, you need to get yourself to the “Zaya Nurai Island Welcome Centre” located in Saadiyat . Once you check in there, you pop onto a boat and it will take approx. 10-15 mins to get to the island. Make sure you arrive at least 15 mins before the boat schedule time because if you miss the boat, you have to wait for the next one. They leave every hour!

What is there to do on the Island?

There are several different restaurants and bars, two beaches, two pools, water sports activities, and a spa. My recommended day itineraries are:


10-12:30pmArrive, chill around the pool and beach at Ginger Mermaid
4-6:30pmGo and chill around the pool and beach at Smokin’ Pineapple


10-12pmArrive, chill around the pool and beach at Ginger Mermaid – order a drink and a snack
12-2pmGo to Frangipani restaurant for light lunch
2-5pmGo and chill around the pool and beach at Smokin’ Pineapple – order a drink
5pm-7pmGo to Dusk and have a drink and some Mexican food, or go to Hooked and sit out overlooking the water and have a dinner before going home

How do I get around the Island?

You could either walk and depending on the weather it is do-able. You will definitely get your 10k steps in this way. Otherwise you can jump onto a golf buggy that will zip you to where you want to go.

Are there toilets and showers?

Yep! I didn’t bother showering and changing after hitting the beach and pools – the weather was so hot still that my swimmers dried out in the heat so I just slipped my beach dress over.

So if you’re planning to come to the UAE or know someone that is, send them to Zaya Nurai Island. I doubt you/they will leave disappointed.

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