This is sponsored content for Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.
From the luxurious hotels and hammam bathhouse spas to spectacular fine dining and modern rooftop bars where fancy beverages are paired with spectacular Arabian Gulf sunsets, Abu Dhabi's opulence is as endless as the desert that surrounds it. Spend a couple of days in this astonishing 'oasis' and you'll realise Abu Dhabi is not merely a stopover on the way to somewhere fabulous; it's a fabulous place to stop and visit.
Abu Dhabi provides surprises everywhere you turn but the best surprise is the cost. Simply put, the city offers inexpensive extravagance. And this even extends to accommodation. Most hotels offer manicured beaches with crystal-clear waters and feature the commitment to service, indulgent day spas and top-end dining for which the UAE's capital is renowned.
Even a stay at the uber-luxe Emirates Palace will set you back a fraction of what you would pay for something similar in Australia, Europe or North America, even if you could find such a thing. This impossibly lavish, multi-award-winning beachside hotel is an architectural marvel, with sweeping manicured entrance gardens leading to a stately lobby covered by a huge dome, 70-metres overhead. In your suite, expect gold finishes, crystal chandeliers, silken sofas, marble bathtubs and attentive butlers. Even if you don't stay here, make sure you stop by and try the famous Palace Cappuccino, sprinkled with 24-karat gold flakes. Try getting that at a pub in Sydney.
Emirates Palace is also home to no fewer than nine restaurants, including Emirati cuisine at Mezlai and BBQ Al Qasr, considered two of the best places for fine Arabic dining. And while you're here, try the signature Camel Burger – also sprinkled with gold flakes - at Le Café.
Emirates Palace is one of the most iconic landmarks of Abu Dhabi. Photo: Supplied.
And there are plenty more luxurious – and affordable – hotels in Abu Dhabi, including the classy waterfront Park Hyatt Saadiyat and the Zaya Nurai Island hotel with villas, beach houses and suites set on a private beach. Or the Jumeirah at Saadiyat, which opens in November with a laudable 'zero plastic straws and plastic bottles' policy to protect the inhabitants of the adjacent turtle breeding ground.
Most of the hotels in Abu Dhabi house excellent restaurants, many specialising in Italian, French Lebanese and Japanese cuisine, as well as the superb local fare. Emirati cuisine favours powerful flavours like saffron, turmeric and cinnamon, which are liberally added to enhance fish or lamb dishes. Wherever and whatever you choose to eat, you'll dine regally and economically.
The 24 carat GOLD facial from the Emirate Palace Spa. Photo: Supplied.
Abu Dhabi is also a rapidly rising retail star. You'll find a raft of luxury shopping malls, many with entertainment zones, restaurants and cinemas. On Yas Island, which is also home to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, Yas WaterWorld and the brand-new Warner Bros World, Yas Mall caters to your retail therapy needs with 370 shops and 60 restaurants. Marina Mall is home to elite brands such as Gucci, Prada and Hugo Boss, while The Galleria on Al Maryah Island hosts fashion and jewellery icons such as Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Jimmy Choo and Balenciaga. And entertaining the kids in Abu Dhabi can be as easy as a trip to the shops. The shopping malls are replete with entertainment options and if your biters are past the ankle stage, you can leave them while you browse. It's a mall world after all.
Bargain hunters - and people watchers - will love the atmospheric Souks (traditional markets), where spices, clothing, silks, perfumes, souvenirs and pretty much everything else is haggled over and carted away. Souks are many and varied and you can ask your hotel concierge for tips. The Gold Souk at the Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre has to be seen to be believed and Souk Al Zafarana is the place to go for traditional Emirati items, including Arabian clothing, embroidery, art and trinkets, spices, incense and henna, jewellery, pearls and antiques and even lamps and coffee pots. Souk and ye shall find.
The Gold Souk in Madinat Zayed Shopping Centre has some of the Gulf's largest jewellers. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
The Al Mina Fruit and Veg Souk and the Fish Souk at Mina Zayed near the main port afford fascinating insights into the way they do business in the Emirates. The Carpet Souk is in this area too and you'll find traditional artisans who will make majlis-style cushions for a reasonable price. You may not buy a dromedary or dromedary-related products at the redolent Al Ain Camel Souk, but it is worth a look and a sniff if you are in the area.
Whether you're sitting in a shisha café sipping strong, hot coffee, wandering around the dhow harbour, admiring the architecture as you stroll the eight kilometre-long seaside Corniche promenade, or just relaxing under a palm tree by the sea or hotel pool, you'll find the extraordinary city of Abu Dhabi easy on the eye and easy on the pocket.
Come and spend some time mid-flight at the oasis.
To start your own Extraordinary Story in Abu Dhabi, head to visitabudhabi.ae