Living in... Abu Dhabi’s Reem Island

New malls, skyscrapers and a nearby beach make this the first choice for many new arrivals to the capital

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Living in...

This article is part of a guide on where to live in the UAE. Our reporters will profile some of the country’s most desirable districts, provide an estimate of rental prices and introduce you to some of the residents who call each area home. 

The world doesn’t know it yet, but Reem Island’s moment in the sun is coming.

Remember the hullabaloo surrounding the coverage of the opening of Ski Dubai?

Well, Reem, an Abu Dhabi island currently best known for being the site of a building frenzy in recent years, is about to eclipse it.

Sometime in the not too distant future, on an as yet unspecified date, the island will be the home of Snow Abu Dhabi, which will dwarf Ski Dubai at about four times its size.

The Reem Island that exists now is still heavily residential, and is known as a convenient place to live that is a short hop from the city, while remaining removed from the hubbub.

When the first towers opened in 2011, agents said the island represented something of a revolution.

Apartments in Abu Dhabi were, up until that point, on the larger and older side, with few facilities.

But Reem’s shiny towers offered new options, with many more studios and one-bedroom apartments than had previously been available.

“They were smaller units, in smaller buildings, with gyms and pools inside,” said Ben Crompton of Crompton Partners.

“The initial attractiveness was on the young professionals’ side.”

It soon became popular with families, too, as the options multiplied, which  happened quickly.

From a handful of towers in 2006, about 100 or so exist today.

Marina Square was built first, and remains one of the largest communities on the island, with the others being City of Lights and The Gate/Sun and Sky complex.

There are many other single towers, too.

The proliferation piled pressure on rental prices, driving them down heavily – an estimated 40 per cent since 2015.

It has also affected property values.

“Reem has probably seen the most rent pressure out of any community in Abu Dhabi since 2015 because of the building there.

“Not many other places have seen that amount of building,” Mr Crompton said.

And the construction is nowhere near complete.

“There is a huge amount still to build, a huge amount,” said Mr Crompton.

“Most of Najmat has not been built. Najmat is the southern part where Reem Mall is. Most of that hasn’t been built and a lot of them haven’t been sold. Half of Shams hasn’t been built.

“Then the bit opposite Al Maryah Island hasn’t been built at all. So it’s maybe a third built, possibly even less.”

All this means it will probably continue to be cost-effective going forward, with many more towers planned with similar facilities. But there is a downside.

“There is a lot of construction there and a lot of towers are by themselves, with not much around it,” Mr Crompton said.

That is set to change when the long-awaited Reem Mall opens its doors at last.

What makes Reem Island a good community?

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Yasmeen El Mallah outside her residence  with her dog Pablo, who is 4 years old, and was adopted from Egypt.  She enjoys living on Al Reem Island, and has been residing there for the past 6 years. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Yasmeen El Mallah grew up in Abu Dhabi before moving to Egypt. When she returned to the capital six years ago, Reem Island was her choice.

She wanted to be close to her office in the city, but not too close  as the district where she works is not the most desirable to live in.

“I had a dog in Egypt, so I knew I wanted to bring him here, so I wanted a place where I could walk him,” she said.

Marina Square on Reem Island covered all the bases. In the years she has lived on the island, the rent for her one-bedroom apartment climbed from Dh85,000 up to Dh99,000 at one point. It’s now the lowest it has ever been, at Dh65,000, which is fairly average for a one-bedroom flat in the area.

She could have moved over the years as new towers opened, and did change apartment, but remained in the same building. The location was too good to swap.

“Where I am located, it takes exactly two minutes to get off Reem to go anywhere you want, which is the beauty of where I live,” she said.

Sasa Ljumic, from Sweden, bought his place on Reem about seven years ago and has seen its value plummet by almost a third.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October  21, 2020.   Al Reem Island for area guide.   Kayaking fun at Reem  mangrove area.
Victor Besa/The National.
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Gillian Duncan

He does not regret buying, however, and would not even have moved home or left the island had he been renting.

“I would have stayed here and it has improved immensely since I first came to Reem,” he said.

He said Reem is about as pet-friendly as it gets in Abu Dhabi, though it still needs a dog park and more opportunities for animals to roam freely.

In his opinion, it is also lacking a bar, and a sports centre – he is a tennis coach. But he is happy with life on the island.

How well connected is Reem Island?

The island is connected to the Abu Dhabi mainland by the 11th Street Bridge with four major bridges to be built, two already under construction and another two more planned in the future.

Residents say this is needed because traffic is often slow leaving the island.

Location and landmarks on Reem Island

Reem Mall – the biggest building on the island – was due to be completed in late 2020, but appears to have been delayed, according to an August construction update.

The unusually shaped Mangrove Place is another talking point, while the Sun and Sky buildings, which have been there since the earliest days, are the islands’ most distinctive landmarks.

Rent prices on Reem Island

Rents have fallen significantly from several years ago, when Dh100,000 for a one-bed flat was not unusual.

Studios now average Dh35-45k, while one-bedroom apartments cost Dh55-70k to rent, two beds Dh70-90k and three beds Dh90-140k.

Four-bedroom apartments are rare and there is only one villa community called Nalaya, which is “pretty expensive,” said Mr Crompton, costing Dh260,000 to Dh360,000 for beachside living.

Facilities on Reem Island

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October  21, 2020.   Al Reem Island for area guide.  Reem Central Park Mangrove area.  Michael Koller Sahyouni, 2,  cruises down Al Reem Central Park on his scooter.
Victor Besa/The National.
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Gillian Duncan

Each community has its own facilities, typically including a swimming pool and gym.

There is a beach, although swimming is forbidden – plus Reem Central Park, which has sports courts, a skateboard park, children’s playgrounds and pedestrian and cycle paths.

There are also plenty of shops and restaurants, but they are all inside residential buildings and communities.

Schools and hospitals on Reem Island

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October  21, 2020.   Al Reem Island for area guide.
Victor Besa/The National.  Burjeel Day Surgery Center Al Reem.
Section:  NA
Reporter:  Gillian Duncan

Reem Island has only one school so far, Repton School Abu Dhabi, a British private school. American International School will open soon, though, and there is also a handful of nurseries.

The island is home to a clinic, Burjeel Day Surgery Centre, and Al Reem Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre is under construction.

Shopping on Reem Island

A couple of malls are already open including Boutik Mall, inside residential towers.

There is a Lulu supermarket and a large Waitrose.

The island is a reasonably short walk on a nice day to The Galleria Mall, which opened a large extension last year.

Restaurants on Reem Island

Like stores, all restaurants on the island currently are located in residential towers. There is, however, a nice mix of cuisines, including everything from burgers via Johnny Rockets, to a Pizza Express and The Chippy, which claims to offer the freshest fish and chips in Abu Dhabi city.

A version of this article was first published on October 23, 2020.

Living in...

This article is part of a guide on where to live in the UAE. Our reporters will profile some of the country’s most desirable districts, provide an estimate of rental prices and introduce you to some of the residents who call each area home.