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5 Amazing Cultural Highs In Abu Dhabi

The United Arab Emirates is a country which exudes the ultimate in glitz, glamour and opulence. May surprise you to know it’s one of the main reasons I’ve swerved a visit since my last 13 years ago to Dubai. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no secret I love a bit of luxe on my travels but this girl needs a culture hit on holiday too. Although still lavish, this is where Abu Dhabi is edging ahead, slowly positioning itself as the Middle East’s arts and cultural hub. On a recent stopover to the Maldives we discovered an insight into local Abu Dhabi culture and its blossoming art scene.

Things to do in Abu Dhabi

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The most iconic destination in the city – Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque will leave you speechless. This modern architectural Islamic masterpiece is reminiscent of the Taj Mahal and built on a hill ensuring visibility across the city.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi
5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

It boasts the largest mosque domes in the world and the superlatives don’t end there. Look down as you tread the threads of the world’s largest hand loomed carpet and look up in awe at the enormous golden chandeliers. The grand central chandelier is an impressive 15 metres in height, embedded with a million Swarovski crystals weighing in at a whopping 12 tons.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

Over 100,000 tons of pure white Greek and Macedonian marble was used in its construction. The delicate and intricate floral designs inlaid with semi-precious stones adorn marble pillars and walls alongside the more traditional geometric ceramic designs.

Unusually, the 40,000 worshipper capacity mosque is open to tourists. As non muslims we weren’t fully au fait with mosque etiquette. Everyone is made to feel welcome, as long as you’re respectful. Entry is also free with complimentary audio guides and tours are available throughout the day. It’s well worth timing your visits for the invaluable and insightful tours.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

A strict conservative dress code is observed and women need to ensure their head, ankles and  arms are covered. If required, on entry you’re able to borrow an ‘abaya’ from the mosque.

Free Entry – Open 9am to 10pm Saturday to Thursday, 4.30pm to 10pm Friday. Find more details on the website szgmc.gov.ae

Louvre Abu Dhabi

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi has been on my radar since its opening in November 2017. After a successful trip to the original Louvre in Paris with the girls – it was time to show them the new kid on the block.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

In the heart of the Saadiyat Cultural District, the £1 billion 24,000 square metre structure has placed Abu Dhabi well and truly on the top of the culture map.  The permanent collection at the Louvre Abu Dhabi houses over 600 artworks, with pieces specially chosen to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western art.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

We wandered through halls filled with Impressionist and Surrealist paintings by famous European and American painters to historical carvings from ancient China and Iran. Exploring the galleries by time period and theme helps build a cohesive narrative as you wander through.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

Designed by Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel, the latticed dome weighing in at 7, 500 tons appears at first to float above the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Its geometric openings represent interlaced palm leaves used in traditional roofing.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

It produces the rain of light effect on the 23 dazzling white galleries below as the sun’s rays filter through. Any art aficionado worth their salt should not miss a visit to this incredible museum.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is closed on Mondays. On Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, it is open from 10AM to 8PM while on Thursdays and Fridays it is open from 10AM to 10PM. Tickets cost cost 60 AED. Children between the ages of 13 and 22 are at half price. Children under the age of 13 are free. More information at louvreabudhabi.ae

Heritage Village

For a glimpse into UAE life pre-oil era head to this reconstructed village for a great introduction to real Arabian culture. In many areas outside of the big cities, life still continues in this way.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

Wandering around it was a relief to show the girls the UAE is not all about fast cars, fancy restaurants and the next record-breaking architectural structure.

We immersed ourselves into Bedouin life, learning about the barasti traditional homes whilst watching craft men at work at a tannery, pottery and glass-blowing workshops.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

The swordsmiths even trusted us all to hold the impressive blades. The smaller blades are an important part of the ceremonial costume across the region. For the record, health and safety was observed at all times. No humans were harmed in the production of this blog post.

Most of the village is outdoor based, so for kids it’s a great runaround space. There is plenty of opportunities to go souvenir shopping at the market stalls too or in the gift shop, where you can buy a range of dried herbs, spices, and handmade soaps.

Free entry – Open daily 9AM to 4PM and  Friday 3.30PM to 9PM. More information at visitabudhabi.ae

Abu Dhabi City Tour

A city tour is one of the best ways to help gain your bearings when you arrive in an unknown destination. Arabian Adventures offer the perfect half day tour of the capital city. You can either opt for a group or private tour, both offer a hassle-free pick up and drop off from your hotel.

Our private tour guide began with the spectacular Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Entry and moving around the mosque felt effortless with a local guide. The tour continued with a drive along an impressive eight kilometres of manicured waterfront through the city, known as the Corniche. Driving by the city’s famous architectural wonders too, like Emirates Palace Hotel and Capital Gate the world’s furthest leaning hotel.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

A big hit with the girls was the stop at the Heritage Village. They loved watching local craftsmen at work and learning about the traditional way of life in the city.

Meeting the local market traders in the traditional vegetable, date and fish markets in Port Zayed, was one of our highlights. We tried so many delicious dates.  Mr S, in his element made the perfect customer. He would have bought the whole shop if he could.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

The girls were fascinated by the fish market and the array of sea goods on offer. Watch the whole process from the moment the catch arrives, right through to the preparation of the fish and the final sale.

The beauty of a private tour is, if time permits the guide will include extra stops. Whilst at the Mina Zayeb port I expressed an interest in the moored dhow boats. Our knowledgeable guide took us on a walk through the dhow boats, and told us the story of the Gujarati fishermen who have formed a community and way of life on these boats over the years. The girls were agog imagining how their great-grandfather would’ve lived and worked when he made his way from India to South Africa almost a century ago on a very similar dhow boat.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

The tour was the best way to get know Abu Dhabi without transport worries, such a bonus when travelling with little ones in the heat.

Available all year round, a private city tour of Abu Dhabi costs around 1,200 AED, the group tour can be booked for 160 AED. You can find more information and booking details at Arabian Adventures.

The Desert

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

Well when in the desert, do as the Bedouins do I say – Well almost! You can’t fly nearly eight hours to the Arabian desert and not see the dunes. We chose an evening dinner desert safari, so we could witness the breathtaking sunset.

Our six-hour adventure began in a 4WD off-road vehicle. Once we approached the dunes, the tyre pressure came down and the seat belts were securely buckled. It was time for dune bashing! With adrenaline pumping, there were squeals of excitement as the convoy of vehicles attacked the dunes. Driving up and down the undulating dunes, this is not a trip for the faint-hearted.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

Before making our way to camp for the evening meal we stopped off at the local camel farm too. After a game of dodge the camel poop, it was onwards to the Bedouin-style camp.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

Prior to the start of our Arabic style BBQ buffet and evening entertainment there is plenty to keep you occupied. From sandboarding to falconry, try smoking a shisha or paint your hands with henna. Even playing dress up in traditional attire is an option, if you so desire.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

The belly dancing performance kept everyone entertained. The girls were mesmerised by all the hip-shaking, although not quite enough to join in the last dance.

5 Amazing Cultural Highs & things to do In Abu Dhabi

To end the evening all the floodlights are switched off, which in itself is quite dramatic in the middle of a desert. Time to lie back on the cushions and enjoy a spot of star-gazing. The experience is a great way to introduce the desert to kids and left us with some magical family moments.

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5 Amazing Cultural Highs in Abu Dhabi & things to do in abu Dhabi

Full Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links whereby I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. Thanks as always for your support! See my disclosure policy here.

23 Comments

  • Bejal 8th October 2018 at 7:35 am

    I must admit I’ve never really been drawn to Abu Dhabi , after visiting Dubai and deciding its not quite my thing however I’m persuaded by your activities. The Mosque and the Louvre sound right up my street. Beautiful photos.

    • Sima Sthanakiya 9th October 2018 at 2:54 pm

      It’s definitely worth stopping a couple days, if only for the Mosque and Louvre.

  • Emma @ Adventures of a London Kiwi 8th October 2018 at 11:52 pm

    The 24 hours we had in Abu Dhabi were clearly not enough!

    • Sima Sthanakiya 9th October 2018 at 2:53 pm

      You need another trip Emma!

  • binita 13th October 2018 at 7:59 am

    I much prefer Abu Dhabi to Dubai. Would love to visit again!

  • Madhu 13th October 2018 at 10:13 am

    Wow Abu Dhabi looks incredible..I loved the mosque..it’s so Serene and ornate.hope to visit soon

    • Sima Sthanakiya 13th October 2018 at 10:28 am

      Abu Dhabi totally surprised me. The mosque is breathtaking.

  • Sarah 13th October 2018 at 10:34 am

    Your guide brings back so many memories! My family and I visited Abu Dhabi a few years back. We were in awe at the Grand Mosque, it’s such a special place to visit. We also went to the Heritage Festival with a private guide to get a glimpse of the Emirati culture. We tried some crafts, listened to stories that are passed on from generation to generation and even saw a sword dance. What a unique experience it was. The Louvre might count as a good reason to return. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Sima Sthanakiya 13th October 2018 at 9:55 pm

      So pleased you enjoyed the read Sarah. Yes, the Grand Mosque is quite simply stunning. The Louvre is definitely a reason to return.

  • Natasha 13th October 2018 at 2:52 pm

    Very, very interesting read. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque looks incredible. The picture you took of the white imported marble columns is gorgeous. Also, your desert experience reminded me of a similar one I enjoyed in Jordan several years ago. How wonderful that you could share that with your kids.

    • Sima Sthanakiya 13th October 2018 at 9:57 pm

      Thank you Natasha, it was a fantastic family break. The Grand Mosque is breathtaking, pictures don’t even do it justice really.

  • dorothyadele 13th October 2018 at 2:57 pm

    I have never seen anything like the mosque with the largest domes and hand-loomed carpet; and a 12-ton chandelier.

    • Sima Sthanakiya 13th October 2018 at 9:58 pm

      It was incredible Dorothy. It’s a superlative overload when you describe the place.

  • Steph Fox 13th October 2018 at 5:05 pm

    Beautiful photos, and somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. This makes me want to even more

    • Sima Sthanakiya 13th October 2018 at 9:59 pm

      Thank you Steph. It’s definitely got to be on your wanderlust list. Hopefully you make it there soon x

  • Lesia 13th October 2018 at 8:41 pm

    The picture with the columns of the mosque took my breath away. I would really like to see that in person. It is the stuff of fairytales.

    • Sima Sthanakiya 13th October 2018 at 10:01 pm

      An amazing place Lesia. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

  • Anjali W 14th October 2018 at 6:23 am

    Wow the photos look amazing! I must say the Sheikh Zayed Mosque looks so beautiful and grand. I visited Abu Dhabhi 2 years back and the mosque during the evening was so beautifully illuminated. I would love to try out the City Tour and Desert Safari on my next trip.

    • Sima Sthanakiya 15th October 2018 at 8:59 am

      Thanks Anjali. The city tour is great to get your bearings and the desert safari, particularly the dune bashing was a lot of fun.

  • Laura 15th October 2018 at 12:23 pm

    You’ve got me! Now I’ve ticked Dubai off the list I would love to visit Abu Dhabi, especially to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

    • Sima Sthanakiya 16th October 2018 at 8:08 am

      Yes, Abu Dhabi has to be next Laura 🙂

  • Omo and Eulanda 12th November 2018 at 9:25 pm

    OMG! Your itinerary in Abu Dhabi is perfect for a family trip. Taking notes here…

    • Sima Sthanakiya 14th November 2018 at 2:08 pm

      It surprised the pants off me. Great family break.

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    I'm Sima, join me as I explore, experience and eat my way around the globe. Inspiring you to escape the everyday through my adventures... Read More

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