DESTINATION FOCUS • December 2017
With the opening of the first-ever Louvre outpost, Abu Dhabi is fast becoming known as the cultural capital of the Middle East. Travel writer Christine Hinz has lived in the emirate for nearly four years. Here, she shares her recommendations for experiencing Abu Dhabi’s most exciting cultural offerings
Designed by Pritzker-winning French architect Jean Nouvel, Louvre Abu Dhabi represents a shiny new beacon not only on the city’s skyline, but in its cultural heart too. The structure’s dome offers a ‘Rain of Light’ as you stroll through an Arabian medina-like ‘museum city’ comprised of 55 buildings and more than 20 galleries. Highlights include a 3,000-year-old Middle Eastern lion’s head bracelet alongside works by Paul Gauguin, René Magritte and Cy Twombly.
Beyond the Louvre, Abu Dhabi has galleries celebrating contemporary Arab and Middle Eastern artists. Etihad Modern Art Gallery features regional photographers, calligraphers and painters, while Warehouse421 explores Arab culture with recent exhibits of rare photos, regional scents and perfumes, as well as eye-popping posters. Each November, Abu Dhabi Art offers exhibitions, curatorial talks and performing arts, with galleries from around the world selling to Middle East collectors.
For a taste of Abu Dhabi’s seafaring trade past, head to Mina Zayed, the city’s fish port, to see wooden dhows bringing in the catch. Haggle with fishmongers, then take your purchase to a kiosk that will grill it. Afterwards, head to the date souq to indulge in the region’s most revered fruit.
From Lawrence of Arabia to The Arabian Nights, the lure of life in the desert is a strong element of Middle East culture. Qasr Al Sarab is the place to dip your toes in the sand while indulging in a luxurious desert experience. Check into a hotel villa for a private pool-side view into the Empty Quarter, or enjoy desert walks, falconry demonstrations, dune bashing and camel trekking.
Drive around Abu Dhabi and you’ll spot many a Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini and Bentley. To experience car culture first-hand, head to Yas Marina Circuit, where high-speed driving packages put you on the F1 track behind the wheel of an Aston Martin, Mercedes or Jaguar. If afterwards you still have the need for speed, zip over to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi to ride Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster.
If you dream of a desert oasis, head to the ‘garden city’ of Al Ain and meander under the cooling palm fronds of this Unesco World Heritage Site, then explore the historic forts, palaces and museums. Make an overnight of it to attend one of the Abu Dhabi Classics – concerts under the stars at Al Jahili Fort showcasing talents in the Arabic and Western classical music worlds.