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A thriving Middle Eastern hub and neighbour to Dubai, Abu Dhabi is often associated with all those mega futuristic skyscrapers and fresh-from-the-wrapper hotels. Sure, this is definitely a modern Emirate, but it’s also got some fascinating heritage and cultural attractions which span art, history, and religion. So, if you’ve booked flights to Abu Dhabi, make sure you check out these top sites while you’re there.

Qasr Al Hosn

Sometimes known as the White Fort, Qasr Al Hosn is the oldest stone building in the city of Abu Dhabi.  It’s been home to the ruling family, the seat of government, a consultative council and a national archive. In 2018, it became a museum showcasing a whole variety of artefacts, photos, and archival materials dating back as far as 6000 BC.

A highlight is the House of Artisans, where you can learn about the traditional skills and crafts that the Emirati people have developed to meet functional and economic needs across the years. Watch as artists make detailed embroidery called talli, create intricate patterns through al-sadu – a form of Bedouin weaving – and braid date palm fronds together in a practice called khoos.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Probably the most famous landmark in Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is an absolute must-see. Only completed in 2007, it’s one of the most impressive places of worship in the world, and can comfortably fit more than 40,000 worshippers. Roomy.

With a jaw-dropping 82 domes, 24 carat-gold gilded chandeliers, and over 1,000 columns adorned with amethyst and jasper, it’s design was inspired by a whole bunch of different religious sites around the world, from the Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque in Alexandria to the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan. You don’t need to be a Muslim to enter – it’s open to everyone from 9am until 10pm, Saturday to Thursday. It’s free to enter and guided tours are available too.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

If you’re even vaguely into art, you’ve gotta visit Louvre Abu Dhabi during your trip. Home to over 700 permanent artworks from prehistoric times to the present day, there’s another 300 on loan from partner museums (the Louvre lends 100 different masterpieces every year). There’s a self portrait by Van Gogh here, a da Vinci, work by Monet, and even a page from the Blue Quran – one of the oldest Qurans in the world.

Then there’s the mega cool building itself. Considered one of the modern urban wonders of the world, its centrepiece is that huge silvery dome. Made of 7,850 stars, it weighs around a whopping 7,500 tonnes. And surrounded by water, this might just be the only museum that you can visit by foot or by boat.

Qasr Al Watan

Having opened in 2017, Qasr Al Watan is one of Abu Dhabi’s newest cultural landmarks. The Presidential Palace of the UAE, it houses the formal offices of both the President and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. There’s the Great Hall with its mirrored cubes, curved glass panels, Arabesque patterns and symmetric marble panels, and the House of Knowledge, whose treasures include the first modern and accurate map of the Arabian Peninsula from 1561, the centuries-old Atlas astronomy manuscript, and Pliny’s Natural History encyclopedia.

You can go on a 90-minute tour of this grand building or simply visit the gardens. Plus, in the evenings, you can watch the ‘Palace in Motion’, when a light and sound show is projected on to the building.

Al Ain

A 1 hour 30 minute drive east of Abu Dhabi, close to the Oman border, Al Ain is worth the detour. All palm trees and natural springs, it’s a true desert oasis – no surprise that it’s often referred to as the Green City, then. One of the world’s oldest permanently inhabited settlements and a UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot, it’s also home to Al Jahili – one of the largest forts in the UAE, as well as the 5,000-year-old Jebel Hafit Tombs.

Jebel Hafit is also the location of Abu Dhabi’s highest point, so if you’ve got your walking boots with you head up here for incredible views. Or just hop in the car instead, it’s been described as one of the world’s greatest driving roads, after all.

Tempted? Find cheap flights to Abu Dhabi with Netflights. 

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