Culture may not be the first thing you think of when considering a winter sun break to Abu Dhabi – but we’ve discovered there’s a plethora of attractions in the UAE’s capital, including the only Louvre outside of Paris!
Having visited an incredible immersive experience at London’s 4D Outernet last month, H&N was impressed to learn that culture is very much top of the list when it comes to an Abu Dhabi break. The event, a collaboration with Trip Advisor, revealed the most-booked and highest ranking experiences for western tourists, and now we’re excited to experience them for ourselves!
Here’s the 5 top cultural attractions that caught our eye:
Abu Dhabi Louvre
The only Louvre outside of Paris – Louvre Abu Dhabi is the product of an agreement between the UAE and France that allows the museum to use the Louvre’s name until 2037, and has been described by its Parisian mother as “France’s largest cultural project abroad.” Boasting some 8,000 square metres of galleries, Louvre Abu Dhabi is the largest art museum in the Arabian peninsula. Artworks from around the world are showcased at the museum, with stated intent to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western art. An architectural triumph, the floating dome that houses the museum has drawn global praise since its inception.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center
Tripadvisor’s 15th Top Attraction in the World and second best attraction in the Middle East, the Grand Mosque is one of the world’s largest and was the vision of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – the Founding Father of the UAE, who envisaged the creation of a welcoming and cultural haven that inspires people from all backgrounds. Even the construction was a cultural collaboration – the grand structure was designed and built by skilled teams from all over the world, including 1,300 Iranian artisans who hand-knotted the main prayer hall’s carpet – the world’s largest.
On a journey through the marbled halls, there are one-of-a-kind treasures including gold-plated Swarovski chandeliers, vast marble mosaic artwork in the courtyard, and reflective pools that mirror some of the many amethyst-and-jasper-embedded columns.
Qasr Al Watan
Qasr Al Watan is a new and unique landmark in Abu Dhabi, a palace offering the world a first-of-its-kind insight into the Arab heritage and the governing principles that shaped the history of the United Arab Emirates and its vision to the future. Qasr Al Watan is billed as an enriching journey in a contemporary setting that reveals and reflects on governance, knowledge and craftsmanship. The Palace offers an opportunity to explore exhibitions that celebrate the region’s rich Arabic heritage and learn more about the rulers and governing institutions that shaped the UAE.
Al Wathba Fossil Dunes
The Al Wathba Fossil Dunes were recently discovered, despite having taken more than four million years to form. The protected area in which they are found comprises more than 1,700 fossil dunes, spread over seven square kilometres, making it one of the largest numbers of fossil dunes concentrated in one location in the Emirates. Our guides at the exhibition recommended visiting the dunes as part of an experience that also takes you to nearby natural salt lakes, Tripadvisor’s top ranked ‘hidden gem’ experience for visitors to the city.
Indulge in authentic Emirati cuisine rather than hitting the downtown commercial restaurants. For generations, dining has been seen as a communal celebration, with food being shared with a great deal of warmth over a dinner table or, in the early days, beneath the cover of Bedouin tents under a blanket of stars. Families, friends, groups and solo travellers can still experience old-world generosity, connection and authentic food at Abu Dhabi’s many restaurants, streetside cafes, heritage desert camps, and traditional dhows (wooden boats). Traditional food tours take place daily and organisers offer pickups from all city hotels. Just some of the incredible Emirati dishes that are tempting us include Deyay Nashef (chicken cooked in a rich, aromatic tomato sauce served with rice or fluffy flatbread), ma Khoboz Wagafi (traditional Emirati bread), Robyan Mashwi (spiced, grilled jumbo shrimp served with rice or flatbread), Saloona Deya ma Khudar (spiced vegetable and meat stew), and Luqaimat (deep-fried dough balls lathered in date syrup). Just make sure you leave enough room for an authentic Baklava, or Arabian gahwa coffee, at the end!