Just 50 years ago, Abu Dhabi was a string of fishing villages dotted across the Persian Gulf. Now, the booming desert state is a lush destination boasting cultural landmarks and luxe experiences to make even the most stressed of us feel relaxed. Here’s your guide to luxurious Abu Dhabi …
1. Eat all of the 24K gold
OK so gold is kind of a thing in Abu Dhabi. The seven-star Emirates Palace Hotel, is like a property in Las Vegas, except legit.
The inside is covered in 22 carat gold leaf and apparently cost $4.2 billion to build. CNN predicts the property spends about $130,000 on gold leaf touch-ups every year.
As extra as gold is to look at, we’re here to consume the precious metal because: Abu Dhabi. Order the golden cappuccino at the hotel’s Le Café, your caffeine hit with edible 24K gold flakes on top.
The property is renowned for its Emirates Palace Camel Burger, a delicious take on the classic American cheeseburger, also covered in real gold.
Perhaps the most luxurious thing to do at Emirates Palace is the 24K gold facial experience that won the best signature spa treatment at the World Spa Awards . Excess at its best.
2. Make friends with a falcon
The national bird of the UAE is so beloved, the law states that when the creature travels, it must be First Class, Business Class or private jet and most certainly never checked in the hull.
So what makes the bird such a big deal in Arab culture?
Historically, Bedouin tribes used falcons to hunt for food like bustards and curlews in harsh desert conditions. The falcon played an important part of survival in the gulf because they could be trained to deliver their prey still alive, crucial in Islam to ensure the meat is halal. Falconry is now a luxurious-yet-popular sport in UAE with one bird costing $380K AUD and flying up to 390 km/h. Luxury hotels like Jumeirah Al Wathba provide nightly falcon shows in the desert and allow you to hold the bird.
3. Hit the spa
There is no limit to luxury at Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island’s Talise Spa. Resembling a sprawling summer house in the Hamptons, the resort is perched on the beach and the spa is massive at 2,700 square meters. On vacay with bae? Shared treatments are encouraged in the Deluxe Suite with private sauna and steam room.
Down the road on Saadiyat Island is Iridium Spa at The St. Regis, voted the Middle East’s Best Resort Spa at the World Spa Awards 2018. And when your massage uses diamond and platinum-infused massage oil, it’s no wonder why they won!
4. Visit Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
A truly take-your-breath-away moment is seeing the glorious mosaics, minarets and 82 Macedonian marble-clad domes at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and it’s free.
Ladies must wear a headscarf or an abaya (provided for free) and shoes must be taken off when entering the main prayer hall where you’ll feel the lush wool of the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet under your toes. It took 1,200 artisans to hand make the carpet over two years.
Chandeliers made from 40kg of 24K galvanised gold hang from above and the glass-panelled walls are studded with Swarovski crystals. Luxurious is an understatement.
5. The Louvre
A sister museum to Paris’ monumental Le Louvre Museum opened in 2017. It cost $1.8 billion to build and it shows, boasting 600 pieces of art across 23 galleries constructed into the edge on an inlet of the Arabian coast.
The megastructure mushroom-shaped roof can be seen from the highway. A dome of interwoven metal and aluminium leaving gaps for light to filter through like the ripped roof of a souk letting in shards of the hot Middle Eastern sun. An artwork in its own right.
Van Gogh, Matisse and Monet are all here and the status of loaned art is high with the famous Napoleon Crossing the Alps, by Jacques-Louis David hanging proudly miles from its usual home at the Palace of Versailles.
A central hub between Europe, the United States and Asia Pacific, the idea is that The Louvre Abu Dhabi shows pieces from around the world, from every era to illustrate our world’s history. The structure lands Abu Dhabi on the culture map and with plans for a neighbouring National Museum and a new Guggenheim, Saadiyat Island will be an essential destination for world culture.
6. Go inside the Royal Palace
The newly opened Qasr Al Watan is a world-first glimpse into Arab royalty. There’s a sense of complete elation walking through the solid maple doors – a grand hall of glistening marble, white granite, gold trimmings, 5,000 geometrical floral patterns, and crystal chandeliers. Translated to ‘Place of the Nation,’ Qasr Al Watan is part museum, part functioning Presidential Palace – it’s the office of the President, Vice President and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.
The palace has hosted many heads of state and there’s a room dedicated to Presidential gifts from around the globe. The House of Knowledge is especially interesting, a landmark collection of artefacts reflecting Arab heritage, identity and contributions to the world.
7. Indulge in brunch
Eggs benny and a flat white is a laughable brunch option compared to the spreads in Abu Dhabi. Brunch is an event. An expat tradition that’s more like a wedding feast than a dining experience.
The bottomless champagne and espresso martinis kick off from midday on a Friday, the national day of rest. A live band sets the mood and the all-you-can-eat buffet at Jumeirah Etihad Towers has to be seen to be believed.
There are literally walls of French patisserie items, tons of handmade chocolates and puddings for days. Expect a Foie gras station, tables of gourmet appetizers and a whole tuna fish providing guests with freshly cut sashimi.
There is every cut of steak you can imagine and a roast dinner cart. My favourite? The peking duck pancake shop – there is nothing more luxurious than having all of your favourite foods at once! Heaven is real and it can be found at a bottomless Abu Dhabi buffet brunch.
Want a free stopover holiday in Abu Dhabi? Etihad Airways is offering two free nights of hotel accommodation in Abu Dhabi for all guests booking flights to and from all Etihad destinations via Abu Dhabi. You must fly from 21 April and 15 July 2019.
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