“Don’t listen to what they say. Go see.” Chinese Proverb
The United Arab Emirates is a place rich in history and culture and full of such natural beauty from the undulating stunning desert dunes, the clear crystal blue waters of the Arabian Gulf, the lush green Mangroves and all topped off with amazing evening sunsets. Emirati’s are so proud of their history and heritage and they have showcased their past for expats, our families, friends and visitors to explore, experience and enjoy.
Having lived in Abu Dhabi for five and half years now, I have hit the tourist trail many times (on my self-named ‘Brett Tours’) learning lots about what is really worth seeing and perfected my experiences along the way. Even in the short time I have lived here the region has changed and evolved in so many different ways and this in turn offers many more opportunities as a resident and for places to take visitors old and new, my to-do-list is always crammed with events and activities. I am very excited to have been asked to guest post here on Abu Dhabi Paddy sharing my top five cultural things to do (purely my opinion and from my personal experience of course) whether you are a new resident, have visitors, with friends or even just revisit somewhere you haven’t been for a while.
1. SHEIKH ZAYED GRAND MOSQUE
An obvious choice for the top spot I know, but really it’s just so remarkable in so many ways from a historical, cultural, religious and architectural perspective that it’s a ‘must-do’ for all residents and visitors. Alongside dressing up in traditional and respectful clothing (social media and holiday snaps gold) you also get to wonder at the magnificent architecture, design and attention to detail that has earned them many world records. It’s without doubt one of the important architectural triumphs of the UAE, built in honour of the late founder and President of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and it’s courtyard is his final resting place.
Top Tip – Join in with an organised mosque tour as they are really interesting and informative and you can then relay the information, facts and figures to your future visitors.
Daily visiting times: (Sat – Thu) 9.00am – 10.00pm (Fri) 4.30 – 11.00pm
For more information and the organised tours visit the website: www.szgmc.ae
2. DESERT SAFARI
An amazing adventure into the desert and literally over the sand dunes, a real taste of culture is on the cards with a 4 x 4 desert safari. I have only used Arabian Tours and Safaris (other reputable companies are available) and found them to be very good. You start with dune-bashing, some camel interaction followed by a traditional barbecue at an Arabian camp, some belly dancing and so an array of traditional handicrafts, camel riding and sand boarding to name a few activities.
Top tip – The Entertainer voucher book/app has 2-4-1 vouchers for the desert safari I used which makes it super affordable
For more information about the half-day Desert safari and other tours visit the Emirates Tours or telephone 02 491 2929 /050 532 6837.
Read more about my Desert Safari experience here
3. EMIRATES PALACE
You may be wondering why I have listed the Emirates Palace hotel on this list but this cavernous luxurious abode is awash with opulent Arabian culture. Seeing really is believing, from its vast entrance and fountains to the beautiful interior and dining options located on its own private beach surrounded by lush gardens. I can thoroughly recommend the very affordable Mojitos a Thursday evening at Havana Bar, a delicious Asian meal and drinks at Hakkasan restaurant and bar, dine on the beach at BBQ Al Qasr and don’t forget the over indulgent afternoon tea (coffee comes with gold leaf). If you are in the market for a classy souvenir you can purchase gold from the special ATM machine.
Top tips – Only order one plate of scones as one portion is six different scones (unless you love scones of course) and valet park your car if you drive as the car park is huge and its so easy to get lost! Sit outside if you can at Hakkasan as it’s a beautiful setting.
The Emirates Palace, West Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi
Telephone: 02 690 9000
4. MANARAT AL SAADIYAT
Manarat Al Saadiyat (which translates from Arabic as ‘a place that provides enlightenment’) is a modern art gallery and culture centre located within the Saadiyat Cultural District on Saadiyat Island. This multi-purpose space is home to the annual Abu Dhabi Art fair and the permanent Saadiyat Story exhibition which details the plan for the future redevelopment of the area. One of the gallery’s is currently home to the ‘Seeing Through Light’ preview exhibition from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. Manarat Al Saadiyat will be joined later this year by the Louvre Abu Dhabi which will put the area firmly on the world’s cultural map and then the Zayed National Museum and the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.
Top tip – Pop into the Al Fanr cafe/restaurant for some refreshments on their terrace (at this time of year anyway) after exploring the museum, where you can even try a camel burger if you so desire.
Open daily from 9am – 8pm
For more information and group bookings (please allow 24 hours) please contact email@example.com or telephone 02 657 5800
5. HERITAGE VILLAGE
I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the Heritage Village but that’s the problem with having high expectations. All that aside, it’s the perfect place to get a quick glimpse into the history of the Emirates and on the plus side it’s easily accessible from the Corniche. A traditional oasis village has been reconstructed showcasing the history and traditions of desert life, culture and skills of this region are on display in the various areas, there’s even a camel.
Top tip – Don’t get downwind of the camel, enough said!!
Opening Times ~ Saturday to Thursday from 9am to 5pm, and Friday from 3.30pm to 9pm
Location ~ near Marina Mall, Breakwater, Abu Dhabi city
Telephone: +971 2 681 4455
Of course there are so many other places besides these five and they all offer varied experiences. I cannot finish this post without mentioning trying the food, the beach and getting out on the water. We are completely and uttered spoilt for choice here with so many hotels, cafes and restaurants and while I would always suggest taking visitors for a Friday Brunch (because seeing is believing) I would also say that it doesn’t matter which high-end establishments we have taken people to over the years they always love the traditional Arabic style food served at the more low-key Lebanese Flower. The other thing to try of course is Shisha, a tradition in this region which smells amazing but plays havoc with my lungs!
The beach of course is a must do depending on the time of year! We are surrounded by beautiful beaches and most of them are free and accessible. From around November to the beginning of April the weather is perfect and nothing beats a day relaxing on the sand. Click on the following links for local beaches to find out more about their amenities Yas Beach, Corniche and Saadiyat
Lastly, before I ramble on far too much, I suggest if you can, get out on the water and experience the city from a boat. We are lucky enough to have our own boat and have had so many great days out on the Abu Dhabi waterways, beach picnics and bbq’s, water-sports and dolphin spotting. There are lots of ways to get afloat from sunset cruises, boat tours, kayaks and paddle boards and even the dreaded jet skis so there’s really no excuse. Click on the following links for more information Belevari Marine, Captain Tony’s and Noukhada
One last thing, I know I can’t stop rambling on, if you planning to visit/take guests on a road trip to our shiny neighbour, Dubai (which is always great fun and another must do) don’t forget to visit Madinat Jumeriah (for the souk, fantastic views of the Burj Al Arab, great restaurants and an Arba ride), the world’s tallest building Burj Khalifa (book online before you go if planning to go to the top as its way cheaper), the traditional spice and gold souks are always an eye opener, the Dubai museum is a good history stop, JBR is a perfect refreshment stop, the Dubai Mall with its gigantic aquarium and more shops than you ever need and lastly stop off at Souk Al Bahar to The Rivington Grill for dinner (book in advance) on their terrace for some great food and an awesome view of the Burj Khalifa and the fountains. I could go on and on and on…………..whoops I already have 😉
This post was first published as a guest post on Abu Dhabi Paddy on 27th March 2015