Visitors take in the sights of the traditional souk at Al Dhafrah Festival at Madinat Zayed in Abu Dhabi on the third day of the event on Saturday. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: It's only been days since the opening of Al Dhafrah Festival but interest levels are already high with visitors exploring various sections as they seek to learn more about the UAE's culture and heritage besides those of other countries from around the Gulf.

One such section is the traditional souk with over 180 stalls made of mud, wood and palm fronds spread out over 12,000 square metres. A big trove of traditional artifacts is on display. Emirati weavers provide a glimpse of how they go about their craft while, for the first time, several Safari companies are providing tours of the festival and surrounding areas.

"I have participated in the souk ever since the festival began… what's wonderful about the festival is that I'm able to catch up with friends I had made here… also, because this year the festival is taking place during school holidays, we are able to bring our families and enjoy the experience together," said Ghabeish Al Mansouri, an Emirati from Madinat Zayed who has put up a stall.

The souk's children's corner, open from 4pm to 9pm, provides a creative outlet for young ones through competitions and workshops. Also, to ensure that adults are not left out of the fun, the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) has organised theatre performances, magic shows and other performances.

"My family and I just moved from Japan to Abu Dhabi a month ago… one of my friends recommended that we come to this festival because we still don't know much about Emirati culture …we've been amazed by the number of camels there are here and hoping to see a round of the [Mazayin] Camel Beauty Competition…it's been a very interesting experience so far," said Yasuhiro Tamaka, a marketing manager.

The annual festival is organised by ADACH under the patronage of General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

Bicycle trip: Pulling out all stops

A New Zealand couple, Thomas Carl Akash and his wife Julie, arrived at Al Dhafrah Festival after cycling for a year and a half. Their journey began last April in the US and took them across Canada, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Turkey, Syria and Iran.