Abu Dhabi Itinerary: One Emirati Cultural Path To Follow

“A 1-day Abu Dhabi itinerary and a list of must-see cultural attractions, from traditional Arabesque architecture landmarks to Emirati craftsmanship hubs.”

If you’re visiting Abu Dhabi right now, you’re so damn lucky!! Because I miss that beautiful city even when I’m already there. Once per year for the last 19 years. With this in mind, I decided a 1-day Abu Dhabi itinerary to the most Emirati culture-filled attractions (which has always been that special must-do on each of my arrivals) should be a one-of-a-kind post on my travel blog. The everlasting smell of the oud perfumes carried over the windy beaches of the Corniche and all heritage sites begging to be explored!

Abu Dhabi Itinerary

Ready to dive right into the history and heritage of Arabia? I’ve gathered here some of my favorite places and a map with directions for you to follow. It is a very short Abu Dhabi itinerary on the western side of the island, one that follows the line of the famous Corniche. In brief, hidden cultural spots, historical sites, natural wonders and quite beautiful, unexpected museums. All inside the city.

For cultural attractions outside the city center, you can read this: Cultural attractions on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. In what concerns cultural events, you should check Time out Abu Dhabi magazine. They are always on time with everything!! And, of course, for repetitive events, you can have a look at: Abu Dhabi Festivals.

Abu Dhabi 1-day Itinerary Map & Summary

 

 

 


 

Abu Dhabi Itinerary First Stop: The Heritage Village

 

Opening hours (are subject to change) Time spent
Daily, from 11AM to 11PM 1 hour

The Heritage Village is one of the oldest cultural places open for tourists in Abu Dhabi. More precisely, it is a reconstruction of an authentic, traditional Arabic oasis village with permanent craft workshops and stores (metalwork, leather, glass, pottery, spices), a mosque and a camp. More than that, the location hosts various temporary cultural fairs promoting contemporary artisans. I personally consider it to be an amazing Emirati time capsule offering a glimpse on what once used to be the desert lifestyle and the old fishermen’s establishments who were diving for beautiful pearls to make a living. 

Abu Dhabi Itinerary Heritage Village Bedouin

Image Copyright © Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi

Actually, this place was my first interaction with the culture and lifestyle of the Bedouins, in 2002. At that time, Abu Dhabi Heritage Village used to be a very modest place where you could ride a camel, eat some traditional food and a handful of people showed you traditional ways of crafting. Not to mention, the vegetation was scarce. Nowadays, the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village was modernized and has become a small, beautiful oasis surrounded by exotic trees and a very vivid attraction for culture hunters. 

Heritage Village Palm Trees Abu Dhabi

Bonus: Entrance is free and you can take great Instagram pictures: the place has a FANTASTIC waterfront view to the new skyscrapers and modern buildings of Abu Dhabi.

 

 


 

Abu Dhabi Itinerary Second Stop: Emirates Palace

 

Opening hours (are subject to change) Time spent
No clearly specified visiting hours. 1 – 1.5 hours

The second stop of the Abu Dhabi 1-day itinerary is Emirates Palace, one of the oldest modern buildings of Abu Dhabi, where I usually go for occasional strolls. I also visit exhibitions or have a drink on the beach. One can visit at any hour of the day for pictures, dining or simply enjoying the sights. The palace is located on the shores of the Arabian Gulf, overlooking its own private natural bay, with an almost 1.3 km dream-long beach!

Abu Dhabi Itinerary Emirates-Palace-Hotel

Contrary to a first impression, it is not a real palace, but one free to visit, luxurious hotel that offers some exquisite experiences. For instance, you can try the (in)famous Emirates Palace Cappuccino with real gold flakes. And if you’re feeling ready for unusual culinary adventures, a sumptuous camel burger sprinkled with 24-karat gold might be your thing.

Camel Burger Gold Emirates Palace

Image Copyright © Emirates Palace

Inherently, as breathtaking as Emirates Palace might be, I find it each time extremely contrasting to the Heritage Village. Built in the new Arabesque style, with all that luxury means, Emirates Palace is a must stop for architectural and cultural enchantment. During your visit, you can admire fine mosaics, marble stairs, large shiny corridors and no less than 114 amazing domes. What’s more, the central dome, located above the main lobby, is absolutely magnificent: 72.6 meters above the ground and “meticulously crafted with gold, mother of pearl and crystals“.

Abu Dhabi Itinerary Emirates Palace dome

The exterior color contrasts with the lush surrounding greenery, mesmerizing gardens stretching across 100 hectares. 

Pros: Great for a short king-like staycation, great amenities: water park for kids, free camel ride.

Complimentary Cocktails Martabaan Restaurant

Great Deals: Happy hour at the Inian Martabaan Restaurant by Hemant Oberoi: Half priced cocktails!! From Monday – Saturday, 3 to 8pm, buy one and get one complimentary drink.

 

 


 

Third Stop: Qasr Al Hosn

 

Opening hours (are subject to change) Time spent
Saturday to Thursday: 10AM – 4PM | 7PM – 11PM; Friday: 4PM – 12AM 1 – 1.5 hours

Eventually, our 1-day itinerary following the Emirati cultural roots in Abu Dhabi takes us next to the modernized 18th-century palace and fort, Qasr al-Hosn

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Qasr Al Hosn (@qasralhosn)

After all, the Qasr al-Hosn is the most remarkable historical landmark as it represents the oldest stone building in the city of Abu Dhabi. In short, this fort was built by the Bani Yas tribe in 1761 in order to protect the only water source on the island and slowly became the home of the ruling Sheikh. There is a very nice story on the UAE National News website about the Qayeds, the ones who participated in one of the fort’s restauration, almost 80 years ago.

 

Qasr-al-hosn-3D-model-Abu-Dhabi-fort

For many years, the fort has been covered in fabric from one end to another by huge ads, waiting silently for a new modernization and grand opening.

 

For this reason, after a partial renovation, Abu Dhabi opened it to the public in 2016 with a first edition an annual festival, held in the exterior courtyard only. Since fully restoring it, the fort houses a museum displaying artifacts and pictures that tell the story of this amazing country: from pearls to weapons, from desert to skyscrapers.

 

Arabic Coffee Pot Qasr Al Hosn

Must try: Definitely, the traditional coffee. The coffee making on the premises offers the opportunity to experience and learn about traditional preparation of Arabic coffee (Bait Al Gahwa).

 

 


 

Fourth Stop: House of Artisans

 

Opening hours (are subject to change) Time spent
Saturday to Thursday: 10AM – 4PM | 7PM – 11PM; Friday: 4PM – 12AM 1 hour

By comparison to Qasr Al Hosn which is all about the birth of the Emirates, the House of Artisans is that place where you can immerse yourself into the heart of the Emirati. In short, the very core of their identity. That is the reason why you can always witness some amazing traditional craftwork being carried out as its aim is to support UAE artisans and preserve the traditional crafts.

 

https://www.youtube.com/embed/bTRPIQxyn48

In here, the legacy of old crafts of the Bedouins transcends through weaving sheep or camel wool or braiding together date palm leaves into fine decorative or functional objects. However, an incredible addition to the House of Artisans is represented by the ingenious sea crafts, unique fishing nets or traps, born of the strong bond of the Emirati men with the surrounding waters.

Balaleet Recipe Traditional Emirati Dish

Must try: Obviously, the food, the traditional Emirati recipes made available online by the House of Artisans, at the end of this page. My favorite is Balaleet recipe.

 

 


 

Fifth Stop: Cultural Foundation

 

Opening hours (are subject to change) Time spent
Saturday to Thursday: 10AM – 8PM | 7PM – 11PM; Friday: 12PM – 10PM 30 min. – 1 hour

The Cultural Foundation is located in the heart of Abu Dhabi, just opposite Qasr Al Hosn. In the same way as the fort triggers the past, the foundation triggers the contemporary being a fusion of Arabic architecture and local arts hub.  In other words, it encourages and promotes Emirati fine arts and literature since 1981.

Image courtesy of the Cultural Foundation

Even if it has been closed since 2008, the Foundation reopened in 2018 after extended restorations by offering a large spectrum of visual and performing arts activities. Besides panel discussion led by novelists, filmmakers or artists, it is also a space for various performances (music, dance, theatre) or art workshops (painting, sculpture, calligraphy, pottery and more). 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Cultural Foundation-Abu Dhabi (@abudhabicf)

Abu Dhabi Art Cultural Foundation

Lastly, there is no entrance fee for a short visit to the gallery and the main building. Guided tours in the exhibition area are usually complimentary also.

 

 


 

Almost There…Stop: Abu Dhabi Art Hub

 

Opening hours (are subject to change) Time spent
Daily, from 10AM – 10PM 30 min. – 1 hour

To being with, The Art Hub is a bit different from the Cultural Foundation, as it focuses on painting, sculpture, jewelry while promoting not only national, but also international contemporary art. For this purpose, ADAH incorporates some fine art galleries, hosts art workshops. And offers some very nice, short-term, outdoor experiences in Liwa Oasis (in the western deserts of Abu Dhabi) and in Hatta (at the foothills of the Hajar Mountains).

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Abu Dhabi Art Hub (@abudhabiarthub)


When it firstly opened, Abu Dhabi Art Hub used to have its headquarters in Musaffah, an industrial area located in the Southwest of Abu Dhabi. At that time, the Hub was offering a free residence program and organizing exhibitions with the outcome of those residencies. Generally, contemporary international artists were encouraged to temporarily live and create in the UAE.

Since then, the Art Hub has become so much more. Besides the fact the headquarters moved to the fancy mall of World Trade Center Abu Dhabi, their desert Liwa Oasis and Hata mountains experiences are A MUST for any inspiration seeker.

Abu Dhabi Art Hub Exhibitions

What not to miss: fine art galleries, traditional food picnic on the dunes, star gazing, Bedouin-style tents, outdoor museums, arts, crafts and wellness workshops and a multicultural source for creativity.

 

 


 

The Last Stop: Warehouse 421

 

Opening hours (are subject to change) Time spent
Opening times: 8 am to 10 pm; closed on Mondays. 1 – 1.5 hours

Last, but not least, Warehouse 421 is what I consider to be my favorite, tiny, hidden, secret place in Mina Zayed Port of Abu Dhabi. Although hosted by an industrial, but reimagined building, it is where I often find myself far from the noisy city fully immersed in peace and art. Undoubtedly, a design center that engages all senses, by promoting emerging artists in the UAE, and encourages the visitors to learn about the past by experimentation. I wish with my whole heart to see it surviving for many, many years to come.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by WAREHOUSE421 (@warehouse421)


I discovered this cute spot just after its opening. And I came each time I was in Abu Dhabi. Their exhibitions are varied and always surprising. I could see and experiment so many different thigs exhibited along the years:

  • fascinating modern architectural models of various other repurposed warehouses;
  • old jewelry and other private objects and thoughts, family inheritance of various Emirati people, with small notes telling the story of each piece;
  • modern art installations that harness the Emirati landscape and old customs;
  • types of Arabic coffee and spices;
  • movies about the lives of Bedouin people.

The whole holistic arts and cultural experience in a disruptive space like Warehouse 421, where you can smell, admire and read most intricate thoughts, is not complete without their always-new and unexpected workshops. Along the years, I’ve witnessed mapping exploration, film-making with clay, modern embroidery, jewelry design, theater courses, paper marbling, perfume making and more.

 

 

 

The end

And that’s about it. For cultural attractions outside the city center, you can read this: Cultural attractions on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. In what concerns cultural events, you should check Time out Abu Dhabi magazine. They are always on time with everything!! And, of course, for repetitive events, you can have a look at: Abu Dhabi Festivals.

 


 

 

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