For the perfect cultural day out in Abu Dhabi, I’ve selected three stunning locations for you. As the capital, Abu Dhabi has done itself proud with some remarkable places to visit on your trip to the Emirates. So let’s get started on our tour!
- Qasr al Watan (Presidential Palace)
- Sheikh Zayed Mosque
- Louvre Abu Dhabi
- Other Fun Things to do in Abu Dhabi
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Cultural day out in Abu Dhabi
Qasr al Watan
When you first arrive at Qasr al Watan, or the Presidential Palace, you may be forgiven for thinking, ‘well, this is wasn’t what I was expecting.’ Although the building itself is very elegant from the outside, its simple style incorporating Emirati traditional design and its single colour may not be what you thought you were going to see.
However, once you have walked across the Islamic gardens with their wonderfully calming water features, under the rows of perfectly symmetrical arches and through the large fortified wooden door, you will find yourself in an altogether different world.
Although stunning may sound like an overused word nowadays, it was the one which came to me again and again as I wandered around the great halls, the side passages and into the surrounding rooms – ‘stunning! simply stunning!
You will notice a theme throughout with the main colours being blue, white and yellow representing the natural environment of the area – the colours of the desert, sea and sky. Pay attention to the minute and intricate design elements, mosaics, geometric and floral patterns.
Off the grand hall are passages and smaller halls including the Presidential Banquet Suite, the Meeting Room and the House of Knowledge.
There is also normally what is by all accounts a great sound and light show in the evening but as my visit was during the mourning period for the ruler, the late Sheikh Khalifa al Nahyan, there was no performance.
The building of Qasr al Watan was completed in 2017 and it was originally the venue for visits of foreign dignitaries, etc., however, in 2019 it was opened to the public to allow everyone to enjoy the beauty of the palace, the truly wonderful craftsmanship and the heritage of the UAE.
What you need to know
Qasr al Watan opening times are 11am to 8pm with last entry at 6:30pm but you are requested to book a slot and pay online. Entrance is 65 dirhams for adults and 30 for those 4-17 years. 30% discount is available for resident Fazaa card holders.
At the time of writing (June ’22), either Al Hosn green pass or proof of vaccination plus a negative PCR in the last 30 days or a negative PCR in the last 48 hours is required. Masks are required inside the palace but not outdoors. Please check their website for any changes in the above information before your visit.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque
Let us continue on our cultural day out in Abu Dhabi with our next stop at the iconic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque where the doors were opened to visitors in 2007.
The sight of this awe-inspiring structure offers you a warm welcome as you arrive into the Emirati capital. The architecture contains elements of Fatimid, Ottoman and Mamluk styles as well as Islamic geometric and floral designs, mosaics, coloured glass, mother of pearl, carved wood and calligraphy.
The four towering minarets incorporate the Moroccan, Anadalusian, Mamluk, Ottoman and Fatimid styles. One of the minarets houses the mosque library in its base.
Sheikh Zayed Mosque has no less than 82 domes and 1096 columns, the design of which was inspired by the locally important date palm. The handcrafted columns are clad in pure white marble from Macedonia and decorated with semi-precious stones, nacre, lapis lazuli and more.
The wonderfully handcrafted carpet took two years of design and creation with the final stages taking place in the mosque itself. It is also the largest hand knotted carpet in world.
Crystal chandeliers studded with Swarowski crystals were crafted in Germany and are just one example of the craftmanship from around the world that came together to create this splendorous structure.
The lighting of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque really sets it apart as it changes day by day following the lunar cycle. The lighting also makes evening a great time to visit to photograph the famous reflection of the mosque in the pools all around it. You’ll notice the pools have different shades from the different coloured tiles in each.
What you need to know
Sheikh Zayed Mosque opening times are Saturday to Thursday 9am to 10pm with last entry at 9:30, Friday 9am-12pm, last entry at 11:30am and 3pm to 10pm. You are required to book a slot online and show a QR code at various points during your visit. Times differ during Ramadan and Eid days.
Entrance is free and guided tours run throughout the day in English and Arabic. This does not require advance booking and it is not essential to join a tour.
At the time of writing (June ’22), either Al Hosn green pass or proof of vaccination plus negative PCR in the last 30 days or a negative PCR in the last 48 hours is required. Masks are required at indoor areas. Please check their website for any changes in the above information before your visit.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi
The Louvre Abu Dhabi has been described as France’s largest cultural project abroad and is currently the largest art museum in the region.
The museum opened in November 2017 after an official inauguration by the French President Emmanuel Macron and to quote the main Louvre website – “There are three cornerstones to its success: its spectacular architecture, the richness of its permanent collection (thanks to loans from the Louvre and other French museums) and the quality of its temporary exhibitions.”
The museum itself is, of course, a piece of art and was designed by award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel. Its ‘floating dome’ can be seen from the Corniche across the water and is made up of eight layers of 7,850 aluminium stars allowing light to shine through just as it does through the fronds of palm trees. This is known as the rain of light.
Exhibits are from around the world and across ages from the ancient to the contemporary.
What you need to know
Louvre Abu Dhabi opening times are 10am to 6-30pm with last entry at 5:30pm but you are requested to book a slot and pay online. Entrance is 60 dirhams for adults and free for up to 17 years, residents and citizens aged 60 and over and people of determination plus one companion.
There are discounts for local residents with 50% discount for UAE teachers and Fazaa card (EID has to presented at entrance) and offers on Smiles by Etisalat.
At the time of writing (June ’22), either Al Hosn green pass or proof of vaccination plus negative PCR in the last 30days or a negative PCR in the last 48 hours is required. Masks are required inside the museum. Please check their website for any changes in the above information before your visit.
Other fun things to do in Abu Dhabi
Emirates Palace is the height of luxury and a excellent option to treat yourself to a room in one of the top luxury hotels in the world or perhaps an afternoon tea like no other or a bit of pampering at the award-winning spa. Book Emirates Palace and take a look at the spa or afternoon tea
If you’d like to do a bit of shopping, you might like to visit Galleria Mall, Marina Mall or Abu Dhabi Mall. Like most malls in the UAE, you can find a choice of restaurants, a cinema and several entertainment options as well as boutiques and both designer and famous high street stores.
The Corniche has a lovely vibe both day and night with parks, a beach, splash park, play areas, running and cycling tracks, cafes and restaurants and more along its eight kilometre stretch. Sheikha Fatima Park is minutes away and often has events on.
The Mangrove National Park and Jubail Mangrove Park offer lovely views of nature and opportunities to hear a wide variety of bird song and see local wildlife. You can also go kayaking between the mangroves.
There are lots of fun things to do in Abu Dhabi with several theme and adventure parks to keep you active for hours! Check out Ferrari World, Warner Bros. World, Yas Motor Circuit, Yas Waterworld and Circuit X Hudayriyat Mar Vista. Book these and see more adventure options
Masdar City Central Park in a sustainable urban community with a large water tower which is actually part of an irrigation system for its agricultural area. There are play areas, a learning centre and you can try out a driverless car!
Emirates Park Zoo is a private zoo out of the city which is great for young kids. Apart from feeding the animals, watching live performances, you can also book a chalet looking out to the giraffes and zebras! Book a room or chalet at Emirates Park Zoo now. (I always choose the giraffe arena chalets.)
Books on Abu Dhabi
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- Lonely Planet Pocket Abu Dhabi
- Buy the book (UK) or buy the Kindle edition (UK)
- Buy the book (US) or buy the Kindle version (US)
Where to go next? – After a busy time in Abu Dhabi, why not plan for something more relaxing next? See my post on a trip north to the Beautiful Fjords of Musandam, OmanFollow In Scotterati Footsteps on WordPress.com