As culture vultures gear up to mark International Museum Day on 18th May, we take a look at some of the unique opportunities available in Abu Dhabi for those with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and, in particular, a desire to delve even deeper into the heritage of the UAE
It’s no secret Abu Dhabi is focusing on its cultural offerings, with global institutions set to open their doors in the coming years. But whether you’re into art, like to collect classic cars or want to learn more about Emirati history, these museums just might scratch your cultural itch.
Explore the world of Islam through unique art pieces sourced from Muslim countries around the world. The collection is a combination of classic and contemporary pieces from jewellery and silver to bejewelled carpets and marble. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street, behind Hilton Capital Grand. Contact: 02 449 1041, mirajabudhabi.com
Emirates National Auto Museum
You’d never stumble upon this museum but you also couldn’t miss it. You’re most likely to spot the roadside plane before you see this pyramid-shaped museum, which houses Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan’s colourful collection of classic cars, some of which feature his signature rainbow embroidered into the seats, as well as off-road vehicles, customised rides and even some record-breaking motors, including a giant truck that’s actually an apartment. After touring the inside, don’t forget to explore the exterior where you’ll find a mammoth Jeep. AED 50 entry, AED 10 for children under 10. E65, near Al Dhafra. Currently closed for refurbishment but is expected to reopen soon. Contact: 055 749 2155, enam.ae
Classic Cars Museum
Explore the evolution of transport in the UAE at this museum that claims to be the “guardian of UAE automotive history”. Since 2009, the museum has been collecting, restoring and exhibiting classic cars. Its fleet changes regularly so there’s something new to see each time you visit. The museum plans to expand and refine its workshop too, so stay tuned for bigger things from this unique attraction. AED 10 for adults, AED 5 for children, free for children under five. Ain Al Faida Complex, 138th Street, near Green Mubazzarah. Sat-Thu 9am-1pm and 3pm-8pm, Fri 4pm-8pm. Contact: 050 623 1323, www.alainclassiccarmuseum.net
Etihad Antiques Gallery
Okay so this place is technically a gallery, not a museum, but given its fascinating collection of unusual and intriguing antiques and artwork, it feels more like the latter. The villa is packed to the rafters with everything from pottery and urns to coins and pianos. You can buy and sell antiques, or browse the relics. Free entry. Next to Etihad Modern Art Gallery, Al Falah Street, behind Al Bateen Mall. Contact: 02 667 1229, firstname.lastname@example.org
Zayed Heritage Center
While we await the opening of Zayed National Museum (more on that on the right), this Emirati heritage village is a homage to the late ruler Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It features a photo gallery, memorabilia and gifts he received from around the world including stuffed wild cats. Free. Al Bateen Wharf, opposite Al Marasy. Sun-Thu 8am-2pm. For guided tours book at least one week in advance. Contact: 02 222 3000, torath.ae
Qasr Al Muwaiji
Following a beautiful restoration, the birthplace of UAE president HH Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan reopened last November to the public as a museum and exhibition.
Built in the early 20th century, this Al Ain fort later became a home for the ruling family. After the UAE was forged and Sheikh Zayed moved to Abu Dhabi, the abandoned fort was partly demolished. Now, it provides a unique space to learn more about local history, culture and the fort itself. Free. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Street, near Nova Medical Center, Al Ain. Sat-Thu 9am-7pm, Fri 3pm-7pm. Contact: 03 767 4444, qasralmuwaiji.ae
Al Ain Palace Museum
The former home of the late Sheikh Zayed, founder of the nation, now houses a collection of relics from furniture to kitchen utensils. Visitors can tour the rooms and gardens to learn more about the ruling family and former way of life. Free entry. Hessa Bint Mohammed Street, near Al Ain Oasis. Tue-Thu and Sat-Sun 8.30am-7.30pm, Fri 3pm-7.30pm. Contact: 03 751 7755
Louvre Abu Dhabi
It’s potentially the most talked about venture in town and the opening of this already iconic museum – slated for this year – is well anticipated. With its curved ‘rain of light’ dome roof and floating effect, Louvre Abu Dhabi’s design is truly unique. Exhibits will cover various civilizations and time periods from archaeology to the birth of Islam. Aside from a central installation, a complementary programme will include temporary exhibitions with loaned pieces from institutions around the world as well as a dedicated children’s museum. Visit: louvreabudhabi.com
Guggenheim Abu Dhabi
Another internationally acclaimed museum, Guggenheim is set to open a branch on Saadiyat Island to add to its select list of museums in New York, Venice and Bilbao. Acting as a platform for contemporary art and culture, the museum will feature all mediums of art from around the world, dating from the 1960s to the present day. Visit: guggenheim.org
Zayed National Museum
Not much has been said about this museum as focus has been drawn to its more famous Saadiyat counterparts. But we think this is one of the most exciting yet to come.
Billed as the national museum of the UAE, the building itself is a tribute to the late Sheikh Zayed. Designed by architects Foster + Partners, the structure is inspired by the flight and feathers of a falcon to reflect the leader’s love of falconry.
It will feature photographs, national treasures and personal relics from the late ruler to tell the story of the founder of the nation, his unification of the country, the region’s history and cultural connections around the world. Different galleries will also explore Sheikh Zayed’s passion for the environment, traditional values in the local community, the use of natural resources and the history and practice of Islam. Visit: zayednationalmuseum.ae
It’s no secret the ocean played a strong role in Bedouin life, providing a means for food, income, trade and transport. The Maritime Museum will celebrate the emirate’s nautical heritage and its people’s long relationship with the sea. Befittingly, the design incorporates space, light and water inside and out, allowing the ocean to play a key part in the building through an underwater aquarium. The exhibits will explore everything from dhow making and pearl diving to vital trade routes. Visit: saadiyatculturaldistrict.ae
WORDS Rachael Perrett