Emirates Palace is a vast and opulent seven-star hotel in the United Arab Emirates' capital city, Abu Dhabi. A city landmark, it's as well known for its lavish interior, styled in gold and encrusted with jewels, as it is for its stunning location on a private beach, with its own marina visited by £40m super yachts. Although it's definitely at the pricier end of the hotel spectrum for an overnight stay, it's possible to look around the Emirates Palace without a reservation or even paying an entrance fee. And if you stay to dine or grab a coffee, you're sure of the kind of service reserved for VIPs.
The last word in luxuryOften dubbed a hotel “for presidents and kings”, Emirates Palace sits in an elevated position, accessed by a stunning set of stone steps. Its sizeable landscaped grounds cover 1,000 hectares, with more than 8,000 trees and 12 fountains. It's a great place to admire the exterior of this magnificent building, which boasts no fewer than 114 domes. The largest is on the roof of the Grand Atrium, bigger than St Peter's in Rome. A 1.3km curve of sun-kissed private beach falls away from the terrace, but this is one part of the hotel that's reversed for residents only. The palace itself has a floor space of 850,000 square metres. To put that in perspective, Buckingham Palace has just 77,000. Once inside Emirates Palace, you'll see the decadence for which this part of the world is famous, very evident across the hotel's decor. Real 22-carat gold leaf decorates the walls and domes, while Swarovski crystals of 13 different colours stud the lamps and picture frames dotted around the lobby. Head to Le Café, where great sofas threaten to swallow you whole, while an attentive waiter serves you a cappuccino containing edible gold flakes. It's an experience to be savoured and remembered.
Eat, drink, shopWith a dozen eateries ranging from seafood and pasta to Lebanese and authentic Emirati (served in a Bedouin tent, no less), a world of food is yours to explore once inside the Emirates Palace. Grab a quick camel burger, or linger over a Cantonese buffet: the choice is yours. Maybe you'll take afternoon tea at the Emirates Palace for the most elegant high-tea experience. Or if you're around on the first Saturday in the month, sign up for Picnic at the Palace, a popular organised event that sees the lawns of the West Wing Garden transformed with blankets, parasols and oversized cushions. A picnic basket brimming with goodies will be packed for you, with drinks coming via waiter service. While at the Emirates Palace, designer shopping is a must. Take time to browse the collections of jewellery, watches, clothing and perfume from major brands, including Cartier and Rolex. Pick up a locally-made rug, or get some inspiration for those all-important souvenirs. And if you're stuck for a gift, the Goldmat ATM is a major draw, dispensing gold nuggets, coins and medallions of different weights and sizes. Take one home or just pose for a selfie at this most unusual of sights.