Pillars at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
Abu Dhabi

Six essential Abu Dhabi experiences

Abu Dhabi is an emirate that offers equal doses of cosmopolitan appeal and traditional charm. Here are six quintessential experiences for every type of traveller

Pool courtyard of Louvre Abu Dhabi

Get some culture at the Louvre

Since officially opening its doors in November 2017 after a decade of planning, Louvre Abu Dhabi has fast become the centrepiece of the capital’s developing cultural landscape. The only museum bearing the Louvre name outside of France, the unique dome-shaped structure takes pride of place within the Saadiyat Island Cultural Precinct that is expected to welcome a Guggenheim Museum soon, too. Designed by renowned French ‘starchitect’ Jean Nouvel, the 24,000-square-metre space features a ‘Rain of Light’, thanks to its filigree ceiling and 7,850 geometric stars. The museum tells the story of humanity in 12 distinct chapters and includes works such as Leonard’s portrait of an unknown woman – La Belle Ferronnière, David’s equestrian portrait of Napoleon, a crystal chandelier installation by Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei, and a gold bracelet embellished with lions’ heads made in Iranian Azerbaijan in the 8th and 7th centuries BC. There’s also a children’s museum, rooftop bar, as well as a French brasserie to refuel and relax between galleries.

Vaulted ceiling of Qasr Al Watan Palace, Abu Dhabi

Visit a working palace

Explore Qasr Al Watan, the grandiose 380,000-square-metre site within the UAE’s Presidential Palace compound where visiting dignitaries are often welcomed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Situated on the western end of the Abu Dhabi Corniche, visitors are welcome to immerse themselves in Arabic heritage and learn about the governing principles that have shaped the nation since its establishment back in 1971. Wander the halls that are so often reserved for official summits and be sure to seek out the Qasr Al Watan library, which is packed with resources that help explain the country’s incredible progress throughout the past four decades.

Sand dunes in the desert

Enjoy a traditional desert experience

With the world’s largest continuous sand mass in its backyard, no visit to the UAE capital is complete without a sojourn into the desert. There are plenty of options available that include a drive over the dunes followed by a Bedouin-style desert meal with traditional entertainment such as belly-dancing displays and camel rides. Experience the breathtaking dunes of Al Khaznah between the UAE capital and the oasis city of Al Ain, or explore the desert expanse outside the Liwa oasis in Al Dhafra.

Courtyard of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Tour one of the world’s largest mosques

Considered one of the world’s largest mosques, the magnificent structure of Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque blends a number of Islamic architectural influences and has 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24-carat-gold gilded chandeliers, and the biggest hand-knotted carpets in the world. Visit at night at the right time of the lunar cycle and you’ll be afforded incredible views of a blue-tinged architectural masterpiece. Take a free guided tour or wander the confines at your leisure, but be sure to dress respectfully – clothing can always be hired on-site if needed. While in the area, consider visiting the Wahat Al Karama (Oasis of Dignity) war memorial and monument, which commemorates Emiratis who have given their lives in the line of duty.

Falcon in the desert

See the UAE’s national bird in flight

The falcon is the national bird of the UAE and is considered a symbol of force and courage. At the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital visitors are most welcome to learn about the hunting bird that has been a part of the Bedouin culture for hundreds of years. The hospital is the world’s largest hospital dedicated to the falcon and treats around 6,000 of the valued avian creatures every year. For a small fee, interested travellers are provided an insight into the facility, allowed access to the treatment rooms, witness the birds whizz across the free-fly aviary, and hold one. Considering the status the birds are given within society (they can apply for their own passports), this is an eye-opening, cultural experience.

Windsurfer on the water in front of Emirates Palace

Take to the water

It would be remiss not to enjoy the serene waters of the Gulf when visiting Abu Dhabi, and guests of the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi are perfectly placed to capitalise on watersports, sailing, and beach activities. The resort’s Beach Club is a great place to start with a dedicated centre offering snorkelling, sea kayaking, paddle boarding, wind surfing, wakeboarding, waterskiing and sailing, as well as a private beach for more laid-back pursuits. Alternatively, take to the water aboard with a private yacht charter from Emirates Palace Marina, and sail around the pristine coast to neighbouring Dubai.

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