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In his travel photo essays, TPG Contributor (and pro photographer) Patrick T. Fallon includes tips on exploring destinations, redeeming miles, gaining elite status and improving your own photography while traveling. Between TPG posts, follow his photo work and travels on Instagram. (All photos by the author.)

In my first 10 Photos post, I explored Dubai while visiting friends in the city. As this was all very much unplanned for my first AAdvantage Platinum challenge run — it so happened my friend got called to work in Abu Dhabi, which gave me an opportunity for a quick day trip to the emirate, located about 92 miles south of Dubai.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center is incredibly photogenic — I could have spent the entire day here taking pictures.

After the hour-and-a-half car ride I was dropped off at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center, which stunned me with its beautiful use of marble, gold and mother of pearl with floral designs.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The main prayer hall of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center as framed by an arch. The hall features the world’s largest handmade Iranian carpet.

This trip was very much unplanned, and I was excited to discover that there was a free walk-in guided tour available in English. Our engaging guide provided a much more informative experience than merely walking around the grounds on my own.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 in Abu Dhabi
As with any religious location, appropriate attire is required — including head scarves for women.

I then caught a taxi to the Yas Island Marina for a poolside lunch on the rooftop of the Viceroy hotel at the Latitude & Longitude Lounge, which offers a beautiful view of the marina and racetrack below. As with other expenses for this trip, I used my American Express Platinum card to avoid any foreign transaction fees.

Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi Hotel on the Yas Marina Circuit on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 in Yas Island, outside of Abu Dhabi,
The Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi Hotel on the Yas Marina Circuit. If you’re willing to spend the cash, you can drive on the F1 track, too.

While I was having lunch, I noticed there were a couple cars driving the track — quite possibly from the Yas Marina Circuit driving experiences. These experiences offer the chance to drive an Aston Martin GT4, Mercedes AMG or Formula 3000 race car on the track for about 1,600 AED ($435) — way out of my budget!

Looking out to the water through a window at the Emirates Palace Hotel
Looking out to the water through a window at the Emirates Palace Hotel.

I’d hoped to visit the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital during my short trip as well, but unfortunately I learned too late that the tours require advanced booking. Instead, I caught a taxi to the Emirates Palace Hotel (starting at 990 AED ($270) per night) to indulge in a purely touristy desire — a gold-flaked Palace Cappuccino.

Gold leaf on top of a coffee at the Emirates Palace Hotel.
The famous Palace Cappuccino, sprinkled with real 24 carat gold flakes at the Emirates Palace Hotel.

I arrived with no reservations and found myself in the Caviar Bar. Once I learned that the Palace Cappuccino cost a whopping 60 AED ($16) all by itself, I opted for the full afternoon tea for 160 AED ($44) per person, which included the cappuccino; any other coffees and teas I might desire; and a lavish, tasty spread of food including cakes, scones, sandwiches and desserts. I think they presented me with enough food for two people even though I only had to pay for myself, so the full-tea option proved a far better value for me — and I certainly didn’t have a hard time finishing it all!

The interior of the dome at the Emirates Palace Hotel.
The interior of the dome at the Emirates Palace Hotel.

Nearby, you can find the Gold To Go gold bar vending machine, just in case you’re looking for expensive souvenirs … or plan on investing in gold bullion. I tried to explore a bit more, but many parts of the property are accessible only to hotel guests. Since my friend was finished with work for the day, I settled for heading outside with him to catch a few more photos’ worth of the sunset before we headed back to Dubai.

A billboard in honor of the founder of the UAE, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, "Our Father Zayed" stands near the Emirates Palace.
A billboard in honor of the founder of the UAE, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (“Our Father Zayed”), stands near the Emirates Palace.

After this day trip we later got to explore more of the United Arab Emirates, going hiking, SCUBA diving in Fujairah, and watching people dune-bash in 4x4s. While the cities can be a fun stop with a lot of tourist attractions, if you can build time in to get out of town I think you’ll enjoy the country much more — I know my next trip will focus less on the main attractions.

Fountains outside the Emirates Palace Hotel
Fountains outside the Emirates Palace Hotel during the golden hour before sunset — my favorite time to take pictures.

If you’re looking to visit Abu Dhabi, there are lots of flight deals to be found, from fare sales and mistake fares to award bookings. TPG’s Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig just wrote his complete tour of Etihad’s A380, an impressive way to travel to the city.

A worker tends to the flowers outside the Emirates Palace Hotel
A worker tends to the flowers outside the Emirates Palace Hotel.

When I go back to Abu Dhabi someday, I hope to use some AAdvantage miles to score an apartment flight on Etihad. For more on this, check out TPG’s great breakdown of how to book these premium Etihad seats with miles.

Any plans to visit Abu Dhabi in the near future? Have some favorite activities or attractions in the city? Please share your plans and tips in the comments below!

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