One day 3 ways: Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Photo: Brian Johnston

$ PENNY PINCH

Cheap, airconditioned public buses (ojra.ae; 60¢ a ride) get you around, but stretching the budget to a couple of taxi rides (nationaltaxi.ae; $20) would greatly help. Free sights include the incredible Grand Mosque (szgmc.ae), Iranian souk and Dhow Harbour. Then ramble through the date market and nearby Mina Fish Market, where you can have your purchase cooked for lunch ($10). In the afternoon, the Heritage Village (visitabudhabi.ae; free) gives you a flavour of what local culture was like before the oil wells gushed. Then stroll through adjacent Marina Mall and across to the Corniche for fine waterfront views; you can enjoy a guided cycle ride further along the Corniche (arabian-adventures.com; $42). Have a Turkish meal of soup and kebabs at Istanbouli (Al Falah Street; $23) and stay nearby at the quiet, stylish Millennium Hotel (millenniumhotels.com; from $102).

TOTAL: $197

$$ EASY DOES IT

Spend the morning on a fascinating three-hour tour at the Falcon Hospital (falconhospital.com; $64), to learn about falconry and see birds being treated in the examination room. It provides insight into authentic local culture in an often artificial city - and an inclusive, Arab-style buffet lunch. Then ramp up the adrenalin levels in the afternoon at Ferrari World (ferrariworldabudhabi.com; $70) whose rides include the world's fastest rollercoaster. Use taxis to get around (nationaltaxi.ae; about $40 for the day). Stay at the Hilton Abu Dhabi (hilton.com; from $145), which has the city's best beach club and a prime location on the Corniche, a delight to stroll in the evening cool. Dine outdoors under palm trees at the hotel's Portuguese and Indian-inspired Vasco's Restaurant (mains about $36), where you can gaze over the water as the sun sets.

TOTAL: $355

$$$ SPLASH OUT

Hire a car and chauffeur for the day (arabian-adventures.com; $247) and set off to see Abu Dhabi's sights, setting your own agenda. Among other places, check out the new developments on Yas Island and Saadiyat Cultural District (saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae) and browse the jewellery and gold shops of the glittering, diamond-winking Madinat Zayed Gold Centre (madinatzayed-mall.com). You can lunch at the mall's fashionable De Thali (dethali.com; $15) on a variety of Indian dishes with warm flatbread. Later, take a spin by high-speed boat (arabian-adventures.com; $58) to see the steadily rising city from the gulf. Stay at the gorgeous Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri (shangri-la.com; from $252), where views across the water to the must-see Grand Mosque (szgmc.ae; free) are magical. Dine at its Bord Eau French restaurant, whose five-course blind tasting menu ($145) is sure to satisfy.

TOTAL: $717

The writer travelled courtesy of Creative Holidays and Emirates Airlines.

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