Sitting in the shadow of its more flashy brother Dubai, Abu Dhabi is often forgotten about by visitors to the United Arab Emirates. However, with a population of 1.5 million people and its status as the capital of one of the more progressive countries in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi deserves more recognition and respect than its currently receives from the world.
As with Dubai, Abu Dhabi began rapidly modernizing within the past generation, transforming from a boring seat of government to a rival worthy of its glitzier cousin in little more than a decade. Like Dubai, Abu Dhabi is a little light on culturally significant landmarks, but it more than makes up for it with the kind of largess that oil-earned mega-billions can buy.
Thus, if you are a fan of admiring the finer (or the more expensive) things in life, then a trip to the capital city of the United Arab Emirates will be well worth it.
Abu Dhabi Travel Guide
Cultural Experiences in Abu Dhabi
Seeing how the predominant faith of this rich emirate is Islam, stopping by its most elaborate house of worship, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, should top the list of any culturally-attuned visitor to Abu Dhabi. Open during the morning on every day except for Friday (the Islamic Sabbath), this mosque will dazzle even the most jaded visitor with its pure white marble, gold trim, and a wide assortment of precious stones spread throughout the fixtures in this flagship mosque.
The marble mosaic, with its floral design, is said to be one of the largest in the world, and the carpet inside the main prayer hall is the largest carpet in existence. Be sure to be respectful when visiting this sacred place, as even Rihanna couldn’t get away with what was considered to be provocative behaviour when she was visiting the mosque a couple of years ago.
Next on our list of cultural attractions in Abu Dhabi is Qasr al-Hosn, a structure that started out as a fort that protected the only freshwater well in the area hundreds of years ago. Expanded to become a palace that housed the sheikh of Abu Dhabi, it is the oldest stone building still standing within city limits.
Known these days as the white fort due to a renovation that painted the greyish concrete surface of the structure to the lighter tone that adorns it today, Qasr al-Hosn is periodically open to the public each year for about one week during the annual festival bearing its name.
While there is a dearth of cultural attractions in Abu Dhabi at present, plans are afoot to change this in a dramatic way in the next five years. Saadiyat Island, an artificial isle that is under development as this article is being written, is slated to become Abu Dhabi’s cultural center, with a number of art galleries and museums such as a national museum and reproductions of the Guggenheim and the Louvre planned to be the centerpiece attractions of this new cultural hub of the United Arab Emirates.
Until then, the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation operates as the humble heart of this cities’ art community. Being conveniently located just steps from Qasr al-Hosn, this small space hosts art exhibitions, concerts, film screenings and much more!
Other Attractions in Abu Dhabi
If modernity and monuments to financial wealth are appealing to you, there will be plenty for you to see and do in Abu Dhabi. Hitting Yas Island would be an advisable first stop on your itinerary, as it holds a high density of things to see and do. Motorheads will love Ferrari World, an indoor theme park that is the largest in the world. While we’re sad to report that you don’t actually get to race Ferraris here, all the rides here are themed around the car and the F1 racing team that Ferrari sponsors. A variety of attractions spans from go-karts shaped like Ferrari F1 cars, to V12, a flume ride that simulates a ride through one of the companies’ engines.
Additionally, Yas Waterworld has won accolades since its recent opening as one of the best parks in the world (noticing a theme here?), Yas Marina Circuit hosts a race in the prestigious Formula 1 racing league annually, and there are abundant shopping venues present here for those looking to give their credit card a workout.
Those seeking to stroll Abu Dhabi’s waterfront should head to Corniche, an urban walkway that spans the downtown area’s frontage on the Arabian Gulf. There are some stretches of sandy beach along the way for those looking to lounge in the sun, and there are countless playgrounds, stages for shows, and even a go-kart track to keep you and any children you might have with you thoroughly entertained.
Costing a cool fifty million to construct, Khalifa Park is widely regarded as one of Abu Dhabi’s cornerstone parks. Not just a green space in a busy urban jungle of glass, steel and concrete, this space also boasts beautiful fountains, an aquarium, a miniature railway, and a splash park for days when the heat becomes too much for your young ones to bear.