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July 2, 2024

Abu Dhabi Museums and Cultural Highlights: 6 Unmissable Destinations

For true culture buffs, museums are more than just buildings filled with artefacts; they are temples of inspiration, telling tales of human history and creativity across centuries. 

They offer a chance to connect with past civilisations intimately and see the world through different perspectives.

Such is the experience that Abu Dhabi museums and cultural attractions present to visitors. 

As the nation’s capital, Abu Dhabi is the custodian of the country’s historical and evolutionary narrative. Through its world-class museums and international platforms of expression, the emirate provides a glimpse into its rich heritage and a window into the diversity of cultures from around the world.

 

6 of the Best Abu Dhabi Museums and Cultural Assets

Museums in the UAE’s capital host some of the world’s most anthropologically significant and visually stunning collections. 

From archaeological treasures and Emirati artefacts to eclectic collectables and futuristic experiences, here are the top six museums and cultural assets in Abu Dhabi:

1. Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi, the first universal museum in the Arab world, was born out of an agreement between France and the UAE on 6 March 2007. Located in the heart of the Saadiyat Cultural District, this Abu Dhabi museum boasts 9,200 square metres of space to explore. 

It includes a permanent and a temporary gallery, both enriched with masterpieces from Agence France-Muséums, an agency that coordinates the loan of artworks from 17 of France’s most renowned cultural institutions and provides invaluable management expertise to the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Museum Content

Louvre Abu Dhabi’s values are rooted in discovery, exchange and education, allowing visitors to witness how civilisations have evolved throughout history.

This is evident in its museo-graphic approach, where objects and artworks are displayed chronologically rather than by geography or nationality. This creates a narrative of interconnectedness and highlights how cultures have influenced and inspired one another.

As you enter the museum, you’ll notice the display features four major eras

  • Mediaeval days and the birth of Islam
  • Classical period from Humanism to Enlightenment
  • Archaeology and the birth of civilisation
  • Modern and contemporary, beginning from the end of the 18th century

 

You can explore the collections at your own pace, and with various textual and multimedia resources available in multiple languages that put the artworks in context and explain their histories, you’ll be able to truly immerse yourself in their unique qualities and meanings.

While wandering in the halls, you’ll also come across timeless works like The Saint-Lazare Station by Claude Monet, Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière and Vincent Van Gogh’s 1887 self-portrait. 

Those who love contemporary art will especially appreciate the Louvre Abu Dhabi’s modern galleries, where artworks by upcoming Arab talents and even heavyweight modernists like Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly and Jackson Pollock are on display. 

Architectural Design

Louvre Abu Dhabi is a structural masterpiece in itself designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel.

Nouvel created a water system that runs through the Abu Dhabi museum inspired by Falaj, a water passage dug into the Earth by tribesmen to irrigate their lands.

The geometric lace dome of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is also influenced by the interlaced palm leaves that were traditionally used as roofing material in the region. He repeated this design in a pattern of various sizes and angles in ten different layers on the museum’s dome, creating a captivating “rain of light” when the sun shines through it.

2. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, set to debut in 2025, will be another culturally and architecturally significant addition to museums in the UAE

Also found in the Saadiyat Cultural District, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is a joint venture between the emirate’s Department of Culture and Tourism and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

Museum Content

The museum program at Guggenheim Abu Dhabi aims to showcase renowned displays, commissioned works, special exhibitions, publications and research that offer comprehensive perspectives on the global histories of contemporary and modern art.

With a specific focus on West Asia, North Africa, and South Asia (WANASA), its collection will:

  • Highlight points of intersection and transcultural exchange
  • Recognise distinctive achievements 
  • Examine specific contexts to foster visitors’ understanding of the diversity of artistic expression worldwide

 

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s collection from the 1960s onwards will comprise over 600 works covering artistic media and featuring several generations of artists from an ever-expanding number of countries, with WANASA as the primary focal point.

Architectural Design

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is also designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Frank Gehry, the same mastermind behind Guggenheim Bilbao. At 320,000 square feet, this Abu Dhabi museum will be the largest of all four Guggenheim outposts built to date. 

The museum’s architecture, influenced by massive industrial studios, reflects the large scale at which many contemporary artists work. It also introduces unique gallery layouts, as opposed to traditional museum rooms. 

Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will include permanent collections, galleries, a children’s art education facility, a technology centre, archives, a library, a research centre and a conservation laboratory.

3. The Abrahamic Family House

The Abrahamic Family House was built as a tribute to the nation’s values of peaceful coexistence, diversity and dialogue. 

Having a long history of bringing people of different cultures and religions together, the UAE aims to promote tolerance, understanding and acceptance through this iconic landmark.

The Abrahamic Family House, set on Saadiyat Island, features three separate houses of worship. These include the:

  • Eminence Ahmed El Tayeb Mosque
  • Moses Ben Maimon Synagogue 
  • St. Francis Church Abu Dhabi 

 

Each of these structures invites worshippers to learn about religious services, participate in sacred rituals, and listen to holy scripture, regardless of their faith.

When visiting, make sure to stop by the Forum, a place where you can attend classes, discussions and other educational events to connect and share ideas with others.

4. TeamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi

The “home of infinite curiosity,” TeamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi is an experiential art space that blends technology and art to take visitors on an immersive journey. 

Set to open in 2024, this 17,000-square-metre building will be filled with installations unique to Abu Dhabi, crafted through extensive research and development. 

Unlike other museums in the UAE, TeamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi challenges traditional notions of artwork. 

While most exhibitions feature man-made creations that often exist independently of their surroundings, TeamLab Phenomena Abu Dhabi’s installations will be entirely dependent on their environment, offering a new take on the world around us. 

Elements like air, water and light, which you encounter daily, will be transformed into distinctive works of art by their environment before your eyes. Moreover, each experience will be unique to its observer and change with every visit, so you can keep finding something new to explore and expand the limits of your imagination.

5. Natural History Museum

Another Saadiyat Cultural District gem yet to grace the Abu Dhabi museum scene is the Natural History Museum. Slated to open in late 2025, this 35,000-square-metre museum will display some of the world’s rarest natural history specimens all in one place. 

These include renowned exhibits like “Stan”, a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, the Murchison Meteorite and numerous breathtaking marvels, all as part of its curatorial experience. 

The Natural History Museum galleries will also offer exceptional specimens that narrate the universe’s evolution, the formation of Earth and the beginnings of life on this planet.

In addition to being a scientific research and teaching institution, the Natural History Museum will also work as an educational hub, sparking curiosity and inspiring a lifelong passion for our planet’s natural history in people of all ages.

Upon its opening, the Abu Dhabi museum will join forces with a global community of natural history museums to further public education and the sharing of scientific research. A few examples of areas that the museum will delve into include zoology, geology, palaeontology, molecular research, marine biology, entomology and earth sciences.

6. Sheikh Zayed Museum

If you’re looking for museums in the UAE where you can learn more about this country’s rich heritage, history and values, Sheikh Zayed Museum should be at the top of your list. 

The Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi, primed to open its doors in 2025, will tell the story of the founder and first president of the UAE, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, his unifying of the nation’s emirates, and the deep ties he forged with other middle eastern countries and the wider world.

The museum will be established by UK architects Foster and Partners. Its construction will incorporate a cluster of towers and feature design elements that resemble the wings of a falcon, paying homage to Sheikh Zayed’s love for falconry.

In 2009, the Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi entered into a ten-year partnership with the British Museum, in which they would help with curation and lend the Zayed National Museum roughly 500 of its artefacts.

Enriching Abu Dhabi Museum Tours for Everyone

Each Abu Dhabi museum promises an exciting experience filled with discovery, wonder, and learning. Whether you’re a history buff, a science enthusiast or an art lover, you’ll surely find something that speaks to your interests and sparks your imagination. 

With all the diverse cultural spaces above in one location, Saadiyat Island is the ultimate destination for a museum tour in Abu Dhabi. 

Plan your visit today and immerse yourself in centuries of history, art, and innovation.

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