11 September 2019
A combination of international influences and a strong commitment to local heritage has created an intriguing blend of old and new in Abu Dhabi, making it one of the Middle East’s most desirable holiday destinations. Add to that fantastic year-round weather, and it becomes clear why Abu Dhabi is a holiday hotspot. If you’re thinking of making the Emirati capital your next destination, here’s a selection of our favourite cultural experiences that you’ll be able to enjoy.
“Abu Dhabi is home to one of the best airlines in the world, Etihad, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates”
Catherine, Travel Counsellor
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. With long sand valleys and high dunes, you’ll love carving it up in your 4x4. Most desert safaris include several exciting activities such as dune bashing and sand skiing, in addition to a visit to a camel farm, camel riding and a traditional Emirati meal under the stars. An overnight stay will also let you enjoy smoky sunsets and luminous sunrises.
The Al Badeyah desert camp, nestled in the desert dunes of Al Khaznah, gives visitors a unique insight into UAE traditions and customs, allowing them to enjoy an authentic Arabian experience under the stars. The camp boasts five permanent tents with beds, an original majlis tent for evening activities, permanent bathroom facilities and a children’s playground, trampoline and petting zoo.
TC tip: If you’re heading out into the desert, combine your trip with a visit to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, a veterinary facility where you can see birds being treated, tour a museum and watch free-flight displays – a treat for children and adults alike.
“A must is the Sundowner Tour, starting with an exciting safari in the sand dunes followed by a meal and drinks in a traditional camp. Here you’ll get to watch a belly dancing performance, ride camels, try on traditional clothes and have the opportunity to go sand surfing.
“It’s also great to go on a tour of the city as you get to see different parts of Abu Dhabi such as the date market, fish market, royal residences and Yas Island – home to Formula One, Warner Bros World, Yas Mall and the marina.”
Sonia, Travel Counsellor
The area on which Abu Dhabi now stands has been inhabited for thousands of years, giving you a treasure trove of archaeological sites to explore. The Heritage Village offers a reconstruction of a traditional oasis village which provides interesting insight into the emirate’s past as it accurately depicts the desert way of life. There are also workshops where craftsmen demonstrate traditional skills such as metalwork and pottery which you have the chance to try.
You could also opt for a culture-laden experience on the Abu Dhabi Pearl journey, where you will experience sailing on a traditional Jalboot, a demonstration of pearl diving and oyster opening and traditional snacks onboard, all in addition to warm Arabian hospitality.
One of the oldest and most celebrated heritage sites in the UAE, Qasr Al Hosn, the city’s original urban block, will give visitors access to the historic Qasr Al Hosn Fort, the Cultural Foundation, the National Consultative Council Building and the House of Artisans.
Showcasing a rich collection of oral testimonies, historical photographs and other artefacts that highlight the historical significance of the region, Qasr Al Hosn reinforces the Emirati commitment to its cultural legacy.
Abu Dhabi’s stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which came third in TripAdvisor’s 2018 list of the world’s top 25 landmarks, beating the likes of Machu Picchu in Peru and the Taj Mahal in India, is a magnificent place of worship that can accommodate more than 40,000 worshippers. It boasts 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24-carat-gold chandeliers and the world’s largest handmade carpet, which weighs 35 tonnes, measures 5,627 square metres, and took 1,200 women two years to make.
The Saadiyat Cultural District is an ever-growing cultural hub, housing a large concentration of Abu Dhabi’s cultural assets and, ultimately, some of the world’s finest museums. Here you’ll find the 23 galleries and striking architecture of Louvre Abu Dhabi, with exhibitions featuring both ancient and contemporary works including a holy Qur’an from the Mamluk period and one of Bellini’s iconic ‘Virgin and Child’ paintings.
Take advantage of the opportunity to sample Emirati food – often infused with spices and ingredients from throughout Asia and the Middle East – and get a taste of the UAE’s trading heritage.
Cinnamon, saffron and turmeric, along with nuts, limes and dried fruit, heighten the flavour of Emirati food, and you can try some traditional dishes such as Al Harees, a dish of meat and wheat slow-cooked in a clay oven and served with ghee, and Al Majboos, boiled meat with spices and dried limes.
TC tip: Go to Al Maqam, where you can dine in true Emirati style at this Barasti-themed dining hall or even out on its palm-thatched covered terrace.
If you would like to book a trip to culture-rich Abu Dhabi, contact your Travel Counsellor.