Hidden in plain sight: Abu Dhabi's lesser-known historic cultural sights
Go on a site seeing tour of Abu Dhabi’s lesser-known historic cultural sites…
When you think of Abu Dhabi’s culture scene, it’s hard not to immediately picture the popular Louvre Abu Dhabi and the gorgeous Qasr Al Watan – the working Presidential palace. But there is so much more to the city’s cultural portfolio than that. What follows is a whistle stop, though still not exhaustive tour over, under, through and across some of the capital’s most exciting heritage hot-spots, artful enclaves, creative crannies and historic houses.
9am: Fuel up with breakfast at Café Arabia
Start your day with an Arabian themed breakfast at Cafe Arabia. There’s an Arabic breakfast platter for Dhs54 with foul medame, labneh, a selection of cheese, butter, jam and tea, or you could try the Emirati Shakshouka for Dhs42, or the traditional fatteh for Dhs35.
Airport Road, opp. Al Mushrif Children’s Park, open weekdays from 8am and weekends 10am to 8.30pm. Tel: (0)2 643 9699. @cafearabia
10.30am to 12.30pm: Learn about the Father of the Nation at Zayed Centre
Once you’re fueled for the morning, head to the Sheikh Zayed Heritage Centre to learn about the life of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – the Founder of the UAE, affectionately known as the Father of the Nation. The museum is housed in an Emirati heritage-style village and feature fascintaing relics of bygone eras including clothes, rifles, vehicles and more.
Baynounah Street, open Mon to Thurs 8am to 2.30pm, Fri 8am to 12pm, closed on weekends. Tel: (0)2 665 9555. visitabudhabi.ae
1pm to 2.30pm: Enjoy lunch at Al Khayma Heritage Restaurant
Continue your heritage experience by dining at this popular cultureconscious venue. The vast menu includes flavourful meals from soups to salads, appetisers, main courses such as biryani, grills, machboos, seafood, desserts and beverages.
Al Masjid Street, open daily 8am to 11pm. Tel: (0)50 606 1239. alkhayma.com
3pm to 3.30pm: Drop by the Al Maqta Conservation Area
The Maqta Tower is located next to the Al Maqta’a Bridge, and is one of Abu Dhabi’s oldest buildings with great historic significance. It was built in the late 18th Century and is one of the coastal defensive towers built of coral stone and beach rock. In the past, the tower signaled arrival to Abu Dhabi Island for seafarers, and was a welcome rest stop on their journey to town. When Maqta Bridge was constructed, the tower turned obsolete but remains a photogenic reminder of the city’s past.
3.30pm to 5.30pm: Visit the oldest and most significant building in Abu Dhabi
Qasr Al Hosn is a must-visit for culture and heritage fans. Translated to ‘Palace Fort’, it is one of Abu Dhabi’s most iconic landmarks. Do a 180 and walk a few steps to the north-eastern corner of the culture park to the Al Musallah prayer hall. The hall’s small, interconnected buildings show off a polygonal geometric design and form a cave-like structure providing seclusion for worshippers. Do note, only Muslims can enter the prayer hall.
Soak in more heritage at House of Artisans
Learn about the UAE’s rich heritage and crafts here. You’ll be able to purchase mementoes and witness centuries-old skills in action, such as Sadu – a traditional form of weaving practised by Bedouin women, Khoos – handwoven palm leaves traditionally used for house roofs, and Talli – textile handicraft used for decorations.
Qasr Al Hosn, Al Hisn, open Sat to Thurs 10am to 8pm, free entry, can be booked online or on location. qasralhosn.ae
5.45pm to 6.30pm: Grab coffee at Al Qahwa Al Arabiah Cafe
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For a, now well-earned, cup of Arabic coffee, head to Al Qahwa Al Arabiah Cafe. The speciality cafe not only serves up a great cup of joe, but also sources, supplies and roasts premium coffee. If you prefer something a little less strong, they also pour lattes, cappuccinos, and more.
Mohammed bin Khalifa Sreet, open daily 6am to 1am, Tel: (800) 2579. @alqahwa_alarbiah
7pm to 10pm: End your day with a dhow cruise
After a long day of walking, enjoy dinner aboard a traditional wooden dhow. The cruise sets off at sundown and allows you to rest your legs, while you have plenty of photo opportunities of the Abu Dhabi city skyline. Historically, the dhows were used for pearl diving, fishing and trade. And you can get a taste of times past by hopping on board one of the wooden dhows for an Arabian night where you will be treated to traditional entertainment and an Arabian meal.
Meeting point opposite Marina Mall in front of Havana cafe, Thurs and Fri, Dhs250 adults, Dhs200 children. abudhabidhowcruise.com
Images: Getty Images and Socials