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Abu Dhabi: A New Cultural Powerhouse

The emirate's forward-thinking attitude is sculpting it into one of the prominent cultural capitals of the world. 

By Fabienne Lang
April 6, 2022

From desert strip to leading cultural hotspot, Abu Dhabi’s story of growth has been phenomenal—and it’s not stopping anytime soon. Oil played a large part in the emirate’s initial, fast development. Lately, it’s the city’s rise in tourism and cultural attractions that have been taking a leading role.  

The emirate has been steadfastly carving out an aspiring cultural vision and laying down the foundations for an exciting and developing future. All you have to do is take a look at its flourishing Saadiyat Cultural District, which is fast establishing itself as one of the world’s leading cultural centres. 

Back in 2007, when Abu Dhabi announced the start of construction of the district, it also announced the partnership of a cultural exchange between the UAE and France. A decade later, this translated itself into the Arab world’s first universal museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi. The cutting-edge, dynamic architecture of the museum is representative of the emirate’s ambitious image for the district’s future cultural structures.  

Louvre Abu Dhabi | Photo: Thomas Drouault / Unsplash 

Saadiyat Cultural District will simultaneously be a calm and complex place, where a series of museums will cultivate their differences and their authenticities. It is a cultural project that is only gathering speed and its latest upcoming museum was announced on March 23, the Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi. Just like the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Natural History Museum will also be an architectural and cultural marvel, aiming “to inspire younger generations to protect our planet’s future with curiosity and discovery,” per Abu Dhabi’s Department of Cultural and Tourism. Guests will be taken through the history of life on Earth through an Arabian lens, offering insights on how fauna, flora and the geological history of the region intertwined, and will offer some rare specimens such as ‘Stan’, one of the best preserved and most studied fossils of an 11.7 metre Tyrannosaurus rex. 

Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi | Photo: The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi


This focus on shaping a vibrant cultural, creative, and educational landscape will continue to manifest itself in a collection of upcoming museum openings. This includes Guggenheim Abu Dhabi—focusing on global modern and contemporary art—and Zayed National Museum, the national museum of the UAE.  

The Zayed National Museum, set to be completed by the end of 2022, aims to celebrate the life and achievements of the founding father of the nation, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It also hopes to encourage greater understanding of the history, culture, and geography of the UAE; and to examine its place in, and connections with, the Middle East and the wider world. “The galleries are inspired by Sheikh Zayed’s strongly held values, such as his passionate belief in education, conservation, environment, sustainability, heritage, and culture, all underpinned by his humanitarianism and strong faith,” explains the museum’s website.

Just a few steps away, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be a collaboration between the Department of Culture and Tourism—Abu Dhabi and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. The museum programme, including collection displays, special exhibitions, commissions, research, and publications will promote wide-ranging views on the global histories of modern and contemporary art. The museum, due to open in 2025, will shine a light on a global collection with a specific focus on West Asia, North Africa, and South Asia.  

Guggenheim Museum | Photo: Joe Dudeck / Unsplash

The final puzzle piece of the cultural district’s dynamic and forward-looking future will be the Abrahamic Family House. This multifaceted space will promote inclusion and diversity by combining three religious spaces in one—a mosque, a synagogue, and a church—to inspire and nurture acceptance and respect of people of all faiths. The House’s fourth space will be a non-religious educational centre, where believers and non-believers will be able to congregate to learn about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. 

This architectural landmark, set to open in 2022, will be a place for learning, dialogue, and worship—open to all and a reflection of the UAE’s belief in tolerance and hospitality. Within each of the houses of worship, visitors will have the opportunity to learn about religious services, listen to holy scripture, and experience sacred rituals.  

Abu Dhabi is quickly establishing itself as a sophisticated, international cultural hub with its creative plans for upcoming museums and religious sites. Saadiyat Cultural District will house a treasure trove of historical, cultural, and artistic artefacts inside its various museums and it will promote futuristic, ambitious architectural designs on the outside. Encouraging international cooperation and dialogue, as well as offering a meeting space for all people, this cultural hub reflects the emirate’s powerful vision as a cultural leader in the region and further afield, as well as offering a place of artistic exchange.