“History is a continuous chain of events. The present is only an extension of the past.” Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan
As the capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi attracts an abundance of visitors every year eager to discover what this former fishing village has to offer. Transformed from its humble beginnings since the discovery of oil, the emirate, under the guidance and vision of the late Sheikh Zayed and his family, is now a centre of global business and tourism. Here’s five things that you should include in your Abu Dhabi schedule.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
A vast place of worship, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is the UAE’s largest and most famous mosque, an iconic landmark that attracts millions of worshippers and tourists every year. A breathtaking sight from every angle, its elevated position near Abu Dhabi’s three bridges serves as a memorable welcome to the city.
Commissioned by its namesake, the late founder and president of the UAE Sheikh Zayed Al Nayhan, the mosque sits on a colossal 22,000 square metre site. The building has eighty-two domes, over a thousand columns of embellished marble, four minarets that sit over 100 metres high and 24-carat gold gilded chandeliers. Surrounded by immaculate landscaped gardens and water features, the remarkable white and gold edifice glistens in the daily sun and at sunset its radiance is reflected in the pools that surround it. The mosque can accommodate over 40,000 worshippers at full capacity. Read more about the Sheikh Zayed Mosque HERE
Top Tip – Go at sunset for the most incredible views (remember to leave plenty of time to get your abaya/kandura before the sun sets). The mosque does not open until 4.30pm on Fridays.
If you have time visit Wahat Al Karama (opposite the mosque), a cultural landmark in itself, to see the permanent memorial to the UAE’s fallen heroes. It’s an interesting insight into the UAE’s history and a bonus location to snap a photo of the mosque from afar (see first photo).
Louvre Abu Dhabi
Located in the cultural district on Saadiyat Island, Louvre Abu Dhabi is an architectural masterpiece designed by French architect Jean Nouvel. The contemporary structure features an iconic geometric patterned dome that seemingly floats above the museum creating a ‘rain of light’ beneath.
Twelve galleries, each bathed in light from the skylights above, house everything from period pieces to modern installations as well as regular temporary exhibitions. Surrounded by water and inspired by the medina, the main areas of the beautiful light filled white space are both inviting and tranquil. Some areas have dancing sunrays casting ever changing patterns through Nouvel’s interlaced palm leaf design, others are cooler, shaded and still.
Wander from gallery to gallery through the exhibits to admire archaeological discoveries, ancient pieces, sculptures and works. Enjoy paintings by contemporary artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Jackson Pollock to name but a few. Enjoy a different perspective of the Louvre from the water with a kayak tour by Sea Hawk – click HERE for more information. Stop off for a coffee at Aptitude Cafe and enjoy another vista of the museum. Read more about the Louvre Abu Dhabi HERE
Top Tip – Remember the Louvre is closed on Mondays
Qasr Al Watan
Abu Dhabi’s newest cultural landmark Qasr Al Watan is located inside the majestic Presidential Palace. A place to marvel at exquisite Arabian architecture and design while glimpsing into the history and culture of the UAE.
The interior is a labyrinth of ornate corridors and large spaces. The building is awash with opulent gold features, glistening marble and sparkling chandeliers. The domes, arches and geometric patterns are quite a sight to behold. Qasr Al Watan (Palace of the Nation) offers visitors ten different areas to catch a glimpse into Arabian heritage. Four futurist mirrored cubes in the Great Hall offer insight into the architectural features of the space.
The House of Knowledge in the East wing is exhibits a collection of artefacts, rare books and manuscripts. The West wing showcases the formation of the UAE governance. Peek inside the Spirit of Collaboration chamber where official government summits take place. Housed in a separate building, The library has a collection of over 50,000 books and resources collected over the last thirty-five years covering a range of subjects. This is the first time that part of the Presidential Palace, which also houses the formal offices of the President and other dignitaries, has been opened to visitors. Read more about Qasr Al Watan HERE
Top Tip – Allow plenty of time for your visit to include transportation by bus to and from the palace from the ticket office. The cafe inside is expensive but there is a small takeaway place that’s reasonable in the shop at the ticket office before you exit.
Qasr Al Hosn
A historical landmark in the city, the recently restored Qasr Al Hosn is a living memorial to Abu Dhabi’s past. The oldest and most significant building in Abu Dhabi is home to the watchtower, the capital’s first permanent structure. Built around the 1790’s, the palace was home to the ruling family and served as a seat of government.
After more than eleven years of rigorous conservation and restoration work, Qasr Al Hosn museum reopened again last year. The national monument is a showcase to Abu Dhabi’s development from an 18th century fishing and pearling community to the modern metropolis that it is today. Displays of artefacts and archival materials date back to as far as 6000 BC along with a photographic archive.
The House of Artisans celebrates the craftsmen and women of the region with displays of age-old crafts utilising natural resources from the desert, land and sea. Age old functional skills have been shared across the generations to preserve traditions, culture and the history of Emirati people. Read more about Qasr Al Hosn HERE
Top Tip – Don’t forget your camera to capture some photos at this historic site.
Have you even been to this region if you haven’t ridden a camel? No trip to Abu Dhabi is complete without a desert experience of some description. Visit the world’s largest sand dunes of the Empty Quarter in Liwa or experience the thrill of dune bashing as part of a desert safari to Al Khatim near Al Ain.
Stay at the world’s most instagrammable hotel, Qasr Al Sarab in Liwa to experience regional traditions combined with the very best of modern luxury. The magnificent Rub Al Khali dunes, that feature in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, are a sight to behold. Participate in traditional activities and capture some photographs at sunrise or sunset.
Dune-bashing, sand boarding, camel riding and an alfresco BBQ feast with entertainment provided by belly dancers are all part of an organised desert safari. Some trips also include a trip to a camel farm and others offer an overnight camping experience. We have used Emirates Tours & Safaris on several occasions – click HERE for more information (It’s 2-for-1 on your Abu Dhabi Entertainer too). Read more about visiting the desert HERE
Top Tip – Dune Bashing is not recommended for the faint hearted, those with back issues, fear of heights or motion sickness 🙂
All views are my own. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2013-2019. All rights reserved.