Abu Dhabi is the capital and second-largest city in the United Arab Emirates. Known primarily as an opulent business hub in the Middle East, this barren desert-turned-metropolis is not all about over-the-top hotels, gold suks, and designer shopping malls. With some of the world’s best museums, heritage sites, and year-round festivals, Abu Dhabi is emerging as a top destination for culture trippers. Here are just a few cultural experiences you shouldn’t miss out on when in Abu Dhabi.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi
France’s largest art museum and icon now has an extended location in Abu Dhabi (at least for the next 30 years), making it the largest art museum in the Arabian Peninsula! Focusing on universal human values, each of the 7 galleries of the Louvre showcases world civilizations, diversity of religion, travel, technology, and modern living — enough to keep you absorbed for a whole day.
Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island’s Cultural District (expected to be completed by 2020) plans to have 8 museums, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Zayed National Museum, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi contemporary arts museum, a performing arts center, and a maritime museum.
Poetry is a big part of Arabic culture. Abu Dhabi-based reality TV show “Million’s Poet” attracted over 100 million viewers from across the world during its 8 seasons to see who is the most talented Arabic poet to take home 5 million dirhams (roughly $1.3 million) in prize money!
In its 5th season, Rooftop Rhythms is the Middle East’s longest-running poetry open mic art event. At the New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Arts Center, you can watch the UAE’s most talented and noteworthy artists and poets compete. NYUAD also hosts classical music concerts, international vocalists, folk dances, and film festivals throughout the year.How to See Dubai on a Budget
With marble domes, semi-precious stone inlay pillars, Swarovski crystal chandeliers, and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is no less in architectural splendor than the Taj Mahal. Built by the UAE’s first president Sheikh Zayed, the mosque has become an iconic symbol of the city, extending a warm welcome to visitors from all over the world. Watch the Grand Mosque lit up at night and make sure to stop at the Etihad Modern Art Gallery on premise.
As if there wasn’t enough events and venues around town, Abu Dhabi has an entire island dedicated to entertainment! Home to the Grand Prix racetrack (which hosted the 2017 Formula 1 race), 4DX theaters, Ferrari World, and concert arenas, Yas Island is a one-stop entertainment destination for the entire family. The largest open-air venue in the Middle East, du Arena hosts street food markets, winter carnival, Oktoberfest, Broadway musicals, and performances by artists from Cairo to Harlem.
Abu Dhabi Food Festival
For 17 days in December, residents and visitors engage in a nonstop eating frenzy at restaurants, food fairs, farmer’s markets, and streets around the city. The Abu Dhabi Food Festival is the best opportunity to taste the diverse cuisine found in the city, be it a chef-tasting menu prepared by Italian chefs at Enrico & Friends, dinner at a secret location with 1000 other diners, or a traditional Emirati brunch at Al Fanar.
Al Fresco Movies
Emiratis love to watch movies outdoors and there are several movie theaters, parks, beaches and hotel rooftops offering al fresco screenings. Grab a cocktail by the pool, enjoy the star-studded sky and watch your favorite flick on the big screen. Veteran film experts introduce independent movies and conduct Q&A sessions at changing locations.
Fancy an upscale dinner with your friends with conversational pieces around? 40Mule is a new pop-up dining concept that brings international chefs to Abu Dhabi for curated experiences in unusual settings, such as shipyards, museums, and warehouses. Watch Michelin-star chefs cook 7-course meals on gas burners and network with fellow foodies from all walks of life.
While Abu Dhabi is home to some of the flashiest golf clubs, race car tracks and polo clubs, it is also a good place to watch traditional Middle Eastern sports such as camel racing, falconry, hunting with saluki dogs, and dhow (sailboat) racing. Take a tour of the world’s largest falcon hospital to learn about how pet falcons are trained and cared for at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, or watch young sailors race traditional pearl diving boats at the Marwah and Abu Al Abyad Traditional Dow Sailing Races.
Inspired to plan your visit? Check out our cheap fares to visit Abu Dhabi this spring!