Many people often overlook the fact that Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE is made up of Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, and Dubai. For some, it comes as a shocker when they find out that Dubai is not its own autonomous country and is part of a larger union known as the UAE with other notable areas such as Abu Dhabi or Sharjah.
My trip took me to Abu Dhabi, a place that I had only heard of due to Ferrari World and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Most recently, I discovered their cultural and art museum called Louvre Abu Dhabi, which was approved by the French government back in 2007 and completed in 2017. This became another added reason to visit this place, so here is my rundown of my two-and-a-half-days spent in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi’s Mood
The mood of Abu Dhabi from the moment I walked into the airport was totally different from Dubai, Kuwait or Qatar. Two things that stood out were the calmness that seemed odd, especially when juxtaposing it against Dubai, and the second was the lingering feeling that I was walking into a place that wasn’t afraid to show it’s age and resistance to some certain of modernity. For me, Abu Dhabi didn’t have the bling that Dubai did, and with that, I saw a country carefully balancing the old with the new. Some of the things I delighted in was the fact that it was less crowded, fewer traffic jams, wider roads, open spaces, friendlier people, and a general feeling of unpretentiousness. While I may seem to be painting a picture of Abu Dhabi that describes it as the mild-mannered introverted sister to Dubai, this does not mean that it lacked vibrancy. There are still many things to do in many areas of leisure, whether you are into partying or having family fun. For me, the mood of Abu Dhabi was one that balanced western influence with middle eastern traditions that didn’t intentionally go out of its way to overstimulate your senses all at once.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
The first place I wanted to visit was Louvre Abu Dhabi. Since I’d never been to the Louvre in Paris, I leaped at the chance to visit this museum. Let me start by saying that the edifice that is Louvre Abu Dhabi is a visual wonder to behold in person. This building, just like the National Museum of Qatar, displayed amazing architectural feats, both executed by the same person (Jean Novuel). The museum has very high walls and light-airy spaces surrounded by water. At one part of the building, there is a ceiling that seemed to be shaped into a beehive pattern allowing sunlight to leak into the various spots. I later learned that the designer wanted to mimic the way sunlight peaks through date leaves.
Just like at the Qatar museum with its theme desert rose, I came to understand that Novuel was continually drawing on elements from the region. At a loss for words, all I can say is that the Louvre Abu Dhabi is a must-see and a structure that stands to inspire all who visit.
When it comes to the artifacts inside, I truly enjoyed their temporary exhibit of fine art, jewelry, furniture, fashion, accessories, and other exquisite items on display from yester-year illustrating the way luxury has shaped and evolved in our world.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the top attractions in Abu Dhabi. I came to learn about this mosque by way of Rihanna after she posted stunning pictures of her dressed in all black standing in various locations at the mosque. While Rihanna was the focus in the photos, the background stood out to me in so many ways. After seeing her pictures, I wanted to visit this place. Since I was always traveling to Dubai, and Abu Dhabi wasn’t too far away, it was always in the back of my mind, I just had to make time.
Work started on the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in 1996 and ended in 2007, and with that said, they spent a laborious 10 years creating a masterpiece. I have been to many religious locations before, I visited the Vatican in 2013, various Basilicas in Europe, consecrated sites, Buddhist spiritual sites, and a few other holy places. The feeling I got after exploring the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was unlike no other, it reflected clean weightlessness and dear I say a glimpse of something heavenly.
While I grew up Christian and had never stepped foot inside a mosque before, I noticed a difference in the design and feel of the building. From a distance, it looked like the Taj Mahal, and a grand palace meshed into one, which only made it harder to capture its beauty on an iPhone. The inside while painstakingly laid out with its 1,000 columns, 20,000 marvel panels, and semi-precious stones, screamed minimalism to me. We can argue about the opulence of its miles of hand-knotted carpet and large chandeliers all day, but its beauty is overwhelmingly clean and simple.
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque will encapsulate anyone who sees it with its large wide-open spaces inducing a meditative state.
Even though there were lots of tourists visiting this place while I was there, I still felt the intention in the design and purpose of the structure. Once I made it into the mosque, I was in a different world, as all the heavy oppression of the outside world was lifted at the door.
TIP: It is essential to know that women must be covered when they enter the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. While they provide cover up robes in a blue and burnt pink color, if you want the best pictures, I suggest wearing your own headcover and covering. Please, ladies, don’t disrespect this site; don’t remove your cover off or show your hair just for vanity’s sake while taking pictures, I saw many western women doing this to the dismay of security.
Although I spent a very short time in Abu Dhabi, I walked away content with my time spent there. Visiting Abu Dhabi was like a breath of fresh air! While it may not be known to be super glitzy, fast-pace, or the party capital of the UAE, it is so much more and worth seeing for yourself.