Luxury for less in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates capital, means a decadent all-you-can-eat Friday brunch feast with free flowing drinks for as little as US$35 to a spacious room with floor-to-ceiling sea views at a five-star hotel starting from US$85 next month.
Our Luxury for Less in Abu Dhabi guide is the second in a new series of posts on where and how to experience luxury for less – in other words, how to have a Champagne holiday on a Prosecco budget. When I recently launched the series with a guide to luxury for less in Siem Reap I envisaged I’d be confining it to destinations where you could find luxury for less in Southeast Asia.
But then, while writing a recent post on how to spend one day in Abu Dhabi, which was our home for five years and a city we wrote about for well over a decade, I realised that there were still bargains to be found in a city that’s frequently written off as expensive and over-priced.
My inspiration was a recent New York Times Travel piece on How to Have a Luxury Trip for Much Less Than You Think (see the link above) which suggested US$400 a night hotels and US$32 museum tickets and recommended making savings by walking everywhere, skipping dinner and eating lunch instead, cooking in, and even eating at food courts.
Fortunately, you can experience luxury for far less in Abu Dhabi, a destination renowned for its over-the-top opulence and outstanding service and hospitality, without having to sacrifice dinner. Here’s how to do luxury for less in Abu Dhabi.
Luxury for Less in Abu Dhabi from 5-Star Hotels with Sea Views to Decadent Friday Brunches
The prices below are based on booking.com search results for a month from the date of publication of this post, so on Friday 30 November 2018. It’s still low season in Abu Dhabi now when it’s scorching hot, so it’s still an affordable time to visit. You’ll pay more during high season, which is the cooler winter season, from December to February.
Best Time to Visit for Luxury for Less in Abu Dhabi
The best time of year to experience luxury for less in Abu Dhabi at rock-bottom prices is during the scorching summer months, which is the low tourist season from June to August. Spring and Autumn are still sizzling, which means you’ll still find luxurious hotel rooms from March-May and September-November for far less than you’d pay during the cooler winter high season, from December to February.
While it’s still hot in Abu Dhabi in November, when the prices below apply, there are ways to reduce the pain. Do outdoor activities in the early mornings and evenings. During the day, aim to be either by the swimming pool or on the beach or in air-conditioned spaces, such as museums, restaurants and shopping malls. When you do go out, wear loose linen and cotton clothes, a big hat, even consider taking an umbrella for shade, and always carry water and electrolytes.
Where to Stay for Luxury for Less in Abu Dhabi
Most Abu Dhabi hotels include breakfast (check the fine print) and breakfasts in Abu Dhabi are lavish, with generous buffets that will set you up for the rest of the day. Rooms have tea and coffee making facilities and increasingly include free WiFi.
Extras typical in the best Abu Dhabi luxury hotels are fruit bowls in rooms, pool-side frozen fruit and popsicles, and proper turndown services with Arabian snacks such as baklava or chocolate covered dates. It’s worth paying a little extra to upgrade to Club Floors for lounge access, with complimentary afternoon teas and evening cocktails and canapés.
The most luxurious five-star hotels in Abu Dhabi in late November start at US$252 for a double room at the St Regis Abu Dhabi, US$225 for a double at the Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, US$214 for the Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri, US$204 for the Four Seasons Abu Dhabi Al Maryah Island, US$196 for the Anantara Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa, and US$183 for the Rosewood Abu Dhabi.
While those luxury Abu Dhabi hotels are far from being ‘bargains’, they’re half the price of the New York Times Travel’s US$400 hotel that motivated this series, and you’ll get far more bang for your back. Rooms in Abu Dhabi hotels are super spacious and typically come with views. All hotels have stunning swimming pools, spas and fitness centres, and myriad restaurants and bars.
But here’s where you’ll find true luxury for less in Abu Dhabi next month: the Grand Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel and Residences Emirates Pearl has plush King rooms with balconies offering brilliant views starting from US$172; the Beach Rotana Abu Dhabi, which has a slender beach, swimming pools, adjoins one of Abu Dhabi’s best malls, and more good views, has classic twin rooms with coffee makers, from US$163; the breathtaking building that is home to the Hyatt Capital Gate Abu Dhabi has King rooms for US$123; the InterContinental Abu Dhabi, which has a lovely beach, marina and sea vistas, fantastic restaurants, and room starting from US$125; and Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche, which has twin rooms with floor to ceiling windows and sweeping vistas for US$115.
Proper bargains can be found at hotels such as the Grand Millennium Al Wahda Hotel, which adjoins the mall of the same name, and has comfortable twin rooms starting from US$93; the Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi near the Eastern Mangroves, which has a rooftop pool and superb Thai and Indian restaurants for US$86 a night; the centrally located Le Royal Meridien Abu Dhabi for US$82 a night; and the functional but smart 4-star Novotel Abu Dhabi Al Bustan which has a stunning rooftop swimming pool for US$46 a night.
Book a Luxury for Less in Abu Dhabi Package
There’s a fantastic deal on Luxury Escapes at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Hotel, which has generously sized rooms with floor to ceiling windows and jaw-dropping city and sea vistas, a private beach, and swimming pools, and is also home to the heavenly Talise Spa, and an abundance of restaurants and bars. The package includes 3 nights from AUD$649 / US$460 (valued at AUD$2,386/US$ 1691) for two adults with daily breakfasts, nightly dinners, unlimited access to the Observation Deck, including drinks (beer/wine), late 3pm check-out, plus one child can stay for free, with breakfasts and dinners.
If you don’t stay here, make sure you visit for the chic Observation Deck on the 74th floor, which boasts 360-degree views of the spectacular Abu Dhabi city skyline and offers an elegant afternoon tea, pictured above. You can buy your Observation Deck at 300 tickets here.
Take Private Abu Dhabi Airport Transfers
For the most comfortable airport transfer, begin by asking your hotel if they offer a private transfer or have a luxury airport shuttle bus. Otherwise, save money by booking a private airport transfer online in advance. Private airport transfers from Abu Dhabi International Airport start at US$22 for person or US$38 per group for a vehicle, which is fantastic value when split between friends and a much better deal for a family.
Experience Abu Dhabi in Style
There are countless opportunities to experience luxury for less in Abu Dhabi that are probably not as expensive as you envisaged them being.
Start with the impressive Jean Nouvel designed Louvre Abu Dhabi art museum, which currently has an exhibition of 150 works of art from the Louvre Paris and Château de Versailles, including paintings, ceramics, sculpture, furniture, and objects. Tickets are very reasonably priced – especially compared to the US$32 museum tickets that the New York Times considered a bargain in the story that inspired this series. You can buy AED63 / US$17 tickets at the museum, although be prepared to queue on busy days, or buy Louvre Abu Dhabi skip-the-line tickets here in advance for US$21 per person.
You can do private Abu Dhabi guided tours taking in the highlights of the city including the Heritage Village, Corniche, Sheikh Zayed Mosque starting from US$40 per person. If you really want a full-day private Abu Dhabi city tour with style, this 7-8 hour excursion, taking in the Heritage Village, Corniche and Sheikh Zayed Mosque, includes a lavish lunch at the luxurious Emirates Palace. Not cheap at US$199 per person but considerably more affordable than an overnight stay at the sumptuous hotel.
After dark, a private Abu Dhabi Night Tour starting at US$75 per person, takes in the city when it’s spectacularly illuminated at night, beginning with a drive along the dramatic Corniche – Abu Dhabi’s waterfront boulevard, lined with lofty towers – the monumental Emirates Palace, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, and the opulent Sheikh Zayed Mosque, before proceeding to the Abu Dhabi Grand Canal and the Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi Hotel built into the Formula 1 Yas Marina Circuit.
It would be hard to do all these things for less on your own steam unless you hire a car and drive yourself. While driving is easy in Abu Dhabi – the roads are excellent, signage in English and Arabic, and petrol well-priced (as you’d expect from an oil-rich country), there’s zero tolerance for alcohol, so don’t expect to be able to drive yourself to a Friday brunch or fine dining restaurant and sip wine with dinner.
You probably will want to get behind the wheel of a Ferrari, seeing the UAE capital is home to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, the world’s first Ferrari branded indoor theme park. A full-day Ferrari World general admission ticket is US$80 per person, but while that includes lots of Ferrari themed rides and experiences, it doesn’t include an actual drive in a real-life Ferrari, which costs AED695/US$189 to take a Ferrari for a spin around Yas Island or AED395/US$108 to ride in the passenger seat.
It costs nothing to browse a shopping mall – which also offers respite from the heat as well as a chance to do a spot of people watching. Abu Dhabi is home to myriad malls but The World Trade Centre Souk is one of the most stylish and most tasteful. Designed by acclaimed architects, Foster and Partners, it’s modelled on an old Arabian bazaar and carefully melds Islamic architecture with contemporary style. You’ll find everything from luxury designers and high street fashion to Middle Eastern souvenirs and Oriental carpets.
Experience Abu Dhabi for Free
‘Free’ does not necessarily mean ‘budget’ in the United Arab Emirates capital, so travellers seeking luxury for less in Abu Dhabi will be pleased to learn that many of the city’s most breathtaking arts and cultural attractions, such as the stunning Louvre Abu Dhabi museum and the sumptuous Sheikh Zayed Mosque are free to enter. Although if you don’t take a tour you’ll have to pay for transport to the sights.
It’s free to enter the delightful Emirates Heritage Village near the Breakwater. A charming recreation of a traditional village, it’s a chance to watch traditional weaving, metalwork and pottery, purchase crafts and souvenirs, and browse a compact museum of Bedouin jewellery, costumes, coins, and other treasures.
The splendid palace-fort Qasr al Hosn, built in the 1760s and home to the ruling Al Nahayan tribe, may currently be closed for restoration (due to open in December), but you can visit the cutting-edge permanent exhibition at the adjoining Qasr al Hosn Centre at no cost, where you can learn about Abu Dhabi’s mind-boggling transformation from a petite fishing and pearling village to the lively Arabian capital it is today. (People struggle to find it, so check the location map.)
Unfortunately, there isn’t free entry at the impressive Louvre Abu Dhabi, but it’s very reasonably priced – especially compared to the US$32 museum tickets that the New York Times considered a bargain in the story that inspired this series. You can buy AED63 / US$17 tickets at the museum, although be prepared to queue on busy days, or buy Louvre Abu Dhabi skip-the-line tickets here in advance for US$21 per person.
The stupendous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which has 82 domes and a 5,700 square-metre carpet woven by some 1,200 artisans, is one of the largest mosques in the world. The monument is free to enter, but you have to get there, so you may find it’s better value to see the mosque, Louvre, and a few other sites on a private tour, not only to save on transport costs, but also for the convenience and benefit of a knowledgeable guide.
Feast on Friday Brunch in Abu Dhabi
When it comes to eating out, it’s not hard to experience luxury for less in Abu Dhabi, especially if you do as the city’s residents do. Try to time your stay so you’re in Abu Dhabi for a Friday brunch at one of the five-star hotels, which has long been a thing in the UAE. This is your chance to feast on a decadent all-day buffet – yes, all day; nobody seems to care that brunch is that long languorous meal between breakfast and lunch here – of everything from Arabic to Italian, Moroccan to Mexican.
Expect anything from seafood extravaganzas to all-you-can-eat barbecues, which typically includes free flow of drinks. And important to note that ‘grape’ is code word for ‘wine’ in Abu Dhabi. Typically held on weekends, brunches can be hours-long events, stretching from mid-morning until late afternoon – although they even have evening brunches.
Prices typically start from AED129 (US$35/AUD$49) per person, for example, for a Middle Eastern poolside barbecue with soft drinks at the Novotel, up to AED583 (US$158/AUD$222) per person for the luxurious award-winning brunch at Zuma, one of Abu Dhabi’s best restaurants, which includes sushi, sashimi, fresh seafood, mains, and desserts – and Champagne grape juice. Time Out Abu Dhabi is the best source of information on Abu Dhabi brunches, from Friday brunches to, um… evening brunches. (We think they’re confusing ‘brunches’ with buffets).
Take Advantage of Abu Dhabi Restaurant Deals
Experiencing luxury for less in Abu Dhabi when it comes to dining out isn’t as difficult as you’d think either. The golden rules once again are to do as local residents do and do a bit of research. Like any city in the world, when it comes to fine dining restaurants, lunch is always going to be more affordable than dinner. That’s not to say that you should sacrifice dinner.
Fine dining restaurant chefs are often working during the day, doing the painstaking prep for dinner, which is why many open for lunch and offer set menus at lower prices. Instead of spending big on dinner, linger over a long lunch at a more expensive restaurant – which means you’ll also be out of the sun longer during the hottest part of the day – and dine at a more casual bistro or local eatery in the evening.
Once again, local publications such as Time Out Abu Dhabi are the best source of information on restaurant offers and dining deals, offering real insider knowledge that is more accurate and current than Trip Advisor, as it’s written by resident writers whose job is to eat all over the city. Every week, the publication features ‘Abu Dhabi’s biggest dining and nightlife bargains this week’.
Take the October 21-27 list, for example: there’s a dinner deal at Italian restaurant Carluccio’s (two courses for AED95/US$25, three courses for AED106/US$29); tapas and house drinks (AED120/US$32) at Barfly overlooking the Grand Canal at the The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi; an array of local dishes at Flavours of Arabia at Oléa restaurant at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, with the option of free-flowing wine and bar for AED415/US$112 or non-alcoholic drinks AED230/US$62.
Image courtesy of Luxury Escapes.
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Have you been to Abu Dhabi or do you live there? What luxury for less in Abu Dhabi experiences do you recommend? We’d love to read your tips in the comments below.