By Lauren Jarvis | June 2019 | 5 minute read
Abu Dhabi has been more than keeping up with its dazzling neighbour Dubai, focusing on all that is bigger, faster and, they would no doubt say, better – from the thrills of Ferrari World on Yas Island to shopping meccas like the Marina Mall. But the opening of the Louvre marks a consistent focus on arts and culture.
“Abu Dhabi offers the best of both worlds. Culture and art await at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and Louvre Abu Dhabi, while fun and excitement are guaranteed at Warner Bros. World and Ferrari World”
JESSICA HARRIS, PRODUCT MANAGER, ELEGANT RESORTS
Before me stands a stone stelle, carved with hieroglyphs, dating back to the time of Tutankhamun. To my right looms an imposing sculpture of a seated King Ramesses II from 1279–1213 BCE.
And in a dark antechamber beyond, lies the ornate, gilded mummy case of Egyptian Princess Henuttawy. But I’m not in the Valley of the Kings, or even London’s historic British Museum, I’m in the heart of ultra-modern Abu Dhabi, wandering one of the world’s newest and most spectacular art spaces: the Louvre.
Known for its soaring skyline and luxurious resorts, the capital of the United Arab Emirates sprung up from the desert, watered by money from the oil discovered in the 1950s.
In the beautifully restored Qasr Al Hosn – Abu Dhabi Island’s oldest building – I see black-and-white photographs of the fortress from the early 1900s and the difference is eye-popping.
The skyscrapers are absent and sand, palms and camels surround its bleached coral and stone walls.
Built around the 1790s by settlers from the Bani Yas tribe, with a watchtower to protect their fishing and pearling pursuits in the Arabian Gulf, Al Hosn is now home to a museum which follows Abu Dhabi’s rise from a small, coastal settlement to the thriving, global city it is today.
High-brow meets high-rise
Attracting a different kind of visitor to the Emirate’s Gulf shores, the Louvre will be joined by the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum – world-class additions to the city’s Saadiyat Island Cultural District.
Throughout the capital, old meets new. The stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque displays traditional Islamic architecture and design, created using modern techniques and explained in a smart e-guide in 11 languages.
At Qasr Al Hosn’s freshly refurbished House of Artisans, we watch women dressed in hijabs and burqa demonstrate ancient skills of weaving, palm braiding and embroidery. Nearby, a skilled barista prepares freshly roasted Arabica infused with saffron and rose in the contemporary Bait al Gahwa or House of Coffee – it’s a tradition that was added to UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2015.
Perhaps most surprisingly for oil-rich Abu Dhabi, it’s building the world’s first carbon-neutral eco-city, Masdar (masdar.ae), powered by renewable energy, just 10 miles from downtown.
There’s much here for families to love too. Abu Dhabi Island’s glistening towers rise above the Corniche, a five-mile-long esplanade with restaurants, cycle paths, playgrounds and parks, fringing the white sands and turquoise waters of the Gulf.
Yas Island offers thrills of the amusement-park kind at Warner Bros. World and Yas Waterworld. And 90 minutes from the city, the Arabian Nights Village offers a touristy but fun glimpse into life in the desert, complete with camels, bellydancers, sandboarding and heart-racing 4WD tours of the dunes.
Alongside its cultural pursuits, Saadiyat Island is home to the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, nesting hawksbill turtles, passing dolphins, and some of Abu Dhabi’s most luxurious yet family-friendly resorts. Here, guests will find palatial properties including the St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort and the Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort, offering plenty to keep parents and kids entertained on the island’s beautiful beach.
Opened in October 2018, Rixos Saadiyat Island is Abu Dhabi’s first and only all-inclusive resort. Set on a sweep of pristine sand, the Rixos has 366 rooms and suites, 12 luxury villas – the Superior Villas offer a private pool – seven restaurants serving international and local cuisine, watersports and a kids’ club.
“Until now, Abu Dhabi’s hotels have only offered half- or full-board options, so we’ve successfully filled the gap for an all-inclusive experience,” says Burcak Orak, General Manager at Rixos Saadiyat Island. “The concept has been incredibly well received here. With all drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), dining at all our restaurants and cafés, an array of fitness and water sport classes, as well as our evening entertainment programme included in the price.”
Hotels: Jumeirah Al Wathba Desert Resort & Spa opened in February, set in Abu Dhabi’s desert, 40-minutes from the city.
Two new Radisson Blu properties have opened on the Abu Dhabi Corniche and in the city of Al Ain, home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The new Beach Rotana Residences offers 314 serviced studios and apartments, with fully-equipped kitchens and sea views.
Yas Island will become home to the Hilton Abu Dhabi Yas Island Resort, due to open in 2019.
Attractions: Yas Island will see CLYMB open later this year, bringing the world’s widest flight chamber and tallest indoor climbing wall to Abu Dhabi.
Al Maryah Central mall will open in late 2019 on Al Maryah Island, housing more than 400 international brands, a multi-screen cinema, restaurants and amphitheatre.
The Presidential Palace, Qasr Al Watan, opened to the public for the first time in March this year, with a multimedia show and historic artefacts from the Arab world.
Airlines: Etihad Airways is offering passengers booking flights to and from all their destinations via Abu Dhabi a complimentary two-night stay at a choice of hotels. Visitors flying with Etihad can also save money on attractions, restaurants, shopping and more with the Abu Dhabi Extraordinary Pass.