Want to get a first-hand look at the legendary Birmingham Quran, the first modern map of Arabia, priceless pre-Hispanic codices from Mexico, 149,000 stunning pieces of silver and crystal or simply gawk at the hallowed halls from which the UAE is governed?
A quick trip to Qasr Al Watan (or Palace of the Nation) in Abu Dhabi this Eid will reveal these and a whole world of other treasures of nationcraft along with spectacular cultural mementos – iconic sentinels of history which capture the rich tapestry of Arab heritage as well as the journey of the UAE as a young nation.
As you enter the complex, the grandeur of the palace’s soaring domes, the gleaming white granite and limestone façade and the immaculately manicured gardens will dazzle you. You will step back in time as you explore the décor as well as its scientific, cultural and intellectual content. There are a range of masterpieces on display at the palace to deepen your understanding of the Arab World’s legacy of knowledge and the traditional craftsmanship.
What more? If you time your visit after the sunset, you can catch a spectacular light and sound show celebrating the UAE’s journey, while you can cap off your tour with a gourmet meal at one of the palace restaurants. And trust us, this iconic monument is definitely a great place for your Insta-feed for Eid.
Read on to see why it truly makes sense to make a trip to Abu Dhabi for this unique cultural landmark.
1. Admire the architecture
Qasr Al Watan — defined by a high level of artistry and craftsmanship in its features and intricate detailing — has given the UAE’s cultural landscape a definitive sense of aesthetics. Built over 150 million man-hours, this is a contemporary palace showcasing traditional Arabian style of architecture. Over 5,000 unique patterns, inspired by the iconography of the Middle East, adorn the palace, while its majestic solid maple doors feature hand-carved detailing in 23-carat French gold.
The soaring dome of the Great Hall, measuring 100 metres long and 100 metres wide, is the architectural highlight of Qasr Al Watan. The central dome – the largest in the world – has a diameter of 37 metres and stands at a height of about seven stories. Here you’ll find four art installations made of mirrored cubes that reflect the room’s intricate designs.
A walk through the hallway leads you to the impressive Spirit of Collaboration room, designed to host the meetings of the Federal Supreme Council. Look up to admire the stunning 12 tonnes and three-layered chandelier, comprising 350,000 glittering crystals. The design of the sprawling Al Barza majlis, the largest room in the Palace after The Great Hall, is equally breathtaking, evocative of traditional Emirati styles. And don’t miss the five-minute multimedia show on the history of majlis and the UAE.
2. Revisit the past
Did you know that the Birmingham Quran, a replica of one of the earliest surviving records of the Holy Quran, is currently on display at Qasr Al Watan’s House of Knowledge? Prince Charles presented this replica to His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, in 2016.
At the House of Knowledge, located in the East Wing of Qasr Al Watan, you’ll find many more rare artefacts and manuscripts spanning several centuries, making it a dream destination for history buffs.
Some of the its other unparalleled exhibits include the Atlas Manuscript on Astronomy, a transcript of Lamiat Al-Zukak on law and judiciary rules, the first modern map of Arabia from 1561, and an encyclopedia titled Historia Naturalis, comprising up to 20,000 facts.
As a symbol of peace and tolerance in the UAE, the House of Knowledge now displays three holy books, the Holy Qur’an, the Holy Bible and the book of David’s Psalms, together.
3. Step inside the royal banquets
Experience what it might be like to attend a glittering presidential banquet with illustrious guests at Qasr Al Watan’s immaculately set hall.
From the ornate table settings to the placement of platters, cutlery and the centerpieces, the display at the banquet hall is simply mind-boggling, giving visitors an introduction to the customs and protocols of hosting world leaders and dignitaries.
The presidential banquet features 149,000 unique pieces of silver, crystal and china, made exclusively for the palace.
4. A rare glimpse at presidential gifts
A must-see at the palace is the display of diplomatic gifts that the UAE has accepted from visiting heads of state and foreign dignitaries over the years.
From the samurai armour, carpets and hooded falcon masks to decorative vases, sculptures and numerous medals, coins and emblems, the cornucopia of exhibits – displayed to the public for the first time – gives valuable information about the art of diplomatic gift exchange as well as the culture and tradition of the gifting nations.
5. Explore the region’s love of words
With a lofty atrium and richly adorned interiors, the Library at Qasr Al Watan is an unmissable attraction. Spend some time exploring this magnificent space with towering floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with an impressive collection of more than 50,000 books, documenting the UAE and the Arab World’s history, archaeology, culture, literature and the arts.
A digital collection of over 16 million items are also available, which can be accessed online from anywhere within Abu Dhabi. Visitors can also access the Library free of charge through a separate entrance upon registration at the Visitor Centre. Stop at the café Maqha Al Maktaba, located inside the library, for a quick bite as well as to soak up the ambience.
6. An Eid treat
We know that a day out during holidays is never complete without a delicious treat. And eating a meal against the stunning backdrop of the Presidential Palace is truly an experience you won’t soon forget. Dhiyafat Qasr Al Watan and Al Fowala are good options for a sit-down gourmet Eid feast with family and friends, while Legma is the grab-and-go outlet, located in the visitor centre, Zayed Gate and the main palace.
Tickets are available on arrival, or online: standard general admission to the palace and gardens: Dh60 for adults, Dh30 for children under 17. Guided tours are an extra Dh30. For more info and buying your tickets online, visit: https://www.qasralwatan.ae/en/booking