Arching gracefully over the Yas Marina racetrack, at night the iconic gridshell of the five-star Yas Viceroy hotel in Abu Dhabi dances with thousands of colourful lights against the dark, velvet skies of the desert.

The hotel is an architectural wonder in the capital of the United Arab Emirates. It is the first new hotel in the world to be built over an F1 Grand Prix circuit. While many a visiting tourist is fascinated by the contrasts of the young city springing up in ancient Abu Dhabi – water parks and sand dunes, neon-lit night clubs and traditional Arabian restaurants – the Yas Viceroy is not so. Inside and out, she is a gleaming, futuristic ship anchored in the marina of Yas Island.

The Yas Viceroy is a gleaming, futuristic ship anchored in the marina of the richest city on Earth.

Afropolitan boarded the premier hotel in the richest city on Earth for a luxurious adventure at the invitation of Nokia, for the launch of their 2014 range of Lumia and Asha smartphones.

Building ‘the nest’

The construction of the Yas Viceroy is such a feat of modern engineering that it was the focus of an interesting episode of the Discovery Channel’s Build it Bigger series (which is on the television viewing menu in your room). Building began in 2007, and it was officially opened on 1 November 2009, the day of the first-ever Formula One race in Abu Dhabi. That particular race also marked the first day-night Grand Prix, and the LED light-studded roof of the hotel was a breath-taking backdrop to the excitement of the track.

No feature on the Yas Viceroy will be complete without mention of the gridshell. It is a marvel, with almost 5 400 diamond-shaped LED panes that pivot and change colour. It hovers over the hotel like a protective dome. There is something reminiscent of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek in the space-age curves of the Yas Viceroy.     

The hotel itself is made of two 12-storey structures: one in the centre of the Formula One circuit, and the other in the water. When booking your suite, your rooms will be in either the main wing or the marina wing. They are joined by a bridge made of steel and glass, where guests can take in the views of the turquoise-edged lanes of the racetrack, with the yachts of the rich and famous moored in the yas blue waters (a shade of blue named after the island) of the marina.

Inside the hotel

The interior of the 499-room Yas Viceroy is best described as contemporary cool. Afropolitan loved the library and reading room that is in the foyer, which was refreshingly quirky with its comfortable leather armchairs, in turquoise – just like the pops of colour on the racetrack. Even the plush carpeting in the hallways looks like a long-exposure photograph of a night race, a deep black with streaks of bright colour. That’s where the motorsports theme stops; the interior designers showed restraint.

The suites are bright, airy and spacious to the point of decadence. Foreign visitors used to cooler climates (that’s Afropolitan included) will sigh with delight as you step into the air-conditioned room. We washed off the travelling dust in the one of the deepest bath tubs we’ve ever encountered in a hotel room before exploring the balcony, the mini bar (hidden behind a wooden panel) and the channels on the 42-inch flatscreen. Plenty of features in the suite are automated, such as the curtains which open with a whisper at the touch of a button, and the mood lighting. We stayed in the marina wing of the hotel, and had a beautiful view of the sparkling waters lapping at the boats docked against the jetties.

Day and night

After your arrival, resist the urge to check your email using the high-speed Wi-Fi available throughout the hotel. Instead we recommend you unpack your suitcase, and make your way to a table on the terrace of the Origins restaurant overlooking the Yas Marina Circuit, for a happy hour mojito. (Abu Dhabi does allow non-Muslim visitors to consume alcohol, and it is available in most of the hotels in the city – but it wise to remember that public displays of intoxication are frowned on.)

You might notice that there are sometimes cyclists peddling around the track. Access to the track is free on Tuesday evenings, and throughout the week there are community fitness events taking place. There is also a well-kitted out gym inside the Yas Viceroy. If you’d rather relax than work up a sweat, book one of the signature treatments at the ESPA; all consultations begin with a foot cleanse and rosehip exfoliation, and you have full access to the steam room while you are there.

In the evenings, let your palette do the choosing from one of the 11 restaurants and lounge venues in the hotel serving Japanese, Arabic, Mediterranean, South East Asian, Italian and Indian cuisine. After dinner, head to the swanky Skylite rooftop lounge for DJs, dancing and umbrella drinks.

For rates and packages at the Yas Viceroy, go to their website Accommodation is priced from AED$638 per night (approximately R1850) for a deluxe room.

King of the desert

Abu Dhabi is the richest city in the world, and the Yas Viceroy is its crown jewel. So you can just imagine the luxury of the Presidential Suites at the hotel – all two storeys and 400 square meters of it! It includes a lounge, a private bar, a full chef’s kitchen, a dining room, and it even has its own elevators. That’s not all – the suite has its own generous swimming pool that is lit up by underwater lights that change colour, much like the famed gridshell of the Yas Viceroy itself. Hanging from the double-height ceiling of the presidential suite is a Swarovski crystal chandelier that has been custom-made in the shape of a racetrack. The price per night for this opulence? A cool AED$30,000, which is around R86 600 per night.

Top 5 things to do in Abu Dhabi

Visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the largest in the world, with 82 domes and perfectly still water pools that reflect the pure white of the floors and walls. The beauty of this architectural wonder will make your soul sing. 

Go on a dune safari

The most popular tourist outing is the dune safari. You are transported to the desert on the outskirts of the city for a day of camel rides, dune bashing in a 4x4, sandboarding, quadbiking and falconry.

Splashy fun at Yas Waterworld

Much of the UAE is desert, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that Abu Dhabi is all sand. The city is actually a cluster of islands on the Persian Gulf, and Yas Waterworld on Yas Island has 43 water rides, including a tornado slide and a 550m coaster

 Explore Masdar City

One of the first clean energy cities on the planet, Masdar City is worth a visit if you are environmentally conscientious. When complete, the zero-carbon, car-free city will house 50,000 people.

 Go for a spin at Ferrari World

Located within walking distance from the Yas Viceroy, if you are a motorsports fan then a Ferrari World visit is compulsory. If you’re looking to buy a Ferrari keepsake, don’t put it off for duty-free at the airport – the selection of branded goods is not great there.

For more information on tourist attractions in Abu Dhabi, explore