24 Artistic & Cultural Activities to Try in the UAE
Updated: May 4
There is more culture to explore and activities to try than you might be aware of.
A common misconception we have encountered while living in the UAE is that there aren’t as many activities available for people who appreciate the arts and humanities. We want to show that, on the contrary, there are plenty of cultural and artistic activities across the Emirates worth visiting and trying out. There is also a lot to look out for in the near future that we are excited about. Therefore, this week, we provide ideas about 24 culturally enriching ways to spend your time in the UAE.
Let's start with our TOP 3 cultural events you do not want to miss out on this spring:
1. This year's edition of Art Dubai was supposed to take place on March 25-28 at Madinat Jumeirah. While Art Dubai has now been postponed due to the global health implications caused by COVID-19, there will still be some events, exhibitions, and talks related to the existing Art Dubai program worth checking out.
2. An exhibit on Charlie Chaplin will run at Louvre Abu Dhabi from 15 April to 11 July, and, in addition to showcasing the work of Charlie Chaplin, it will explore the connection between art and cinema.
3. The exhibition entitled, ‘From Fashion to Art, the Vogue Lesson’ runs on Blue Waters Island until March 4 and showcases the work of the prominent Italian artist Flavio Lucchini.
Our favourite cultural activities and experiences in Dubai:
4. Dubai is the ideal place to enjoy large-scale cultural events and performances at venues like the Opera House or the Design District. There are also plenty of museums and architectural landmarks worth a visit.
5. While there used to be no large theatre in Dubai , this changed in 2016 when Dubai's Opera house was inaugurated. Designed to resemble a boat, the building hosts a variety of shows ranging from musicals to classical operas performed in Italian.
6. More recently, the Rotunda at Caesars Palace Bluewaters was opened in late 2018 - at the same time with the man-made island itself. You will find a selection of performances at Rotunda from comedies to fashion shows, singers, and classical theatre.
7. To immerse yourself into the contemporary art scene, check out the latest exhibits and events at AlSerkal Avenue. Our favorite gallery is El Seed's studio, welcoming its visitors with its striking calligraphic compositions.
8. To enjoy a live theatre performance, get tickets to La Perle which is one of the best-known shows in town, a Cirque du Soleil-style 'extravaganza' with acrobats, divers, motorbikes and more. You won't be disappointed by the sheer volume of action and stunts on stage.
9. If you read our latest post on the essential things to do in Dubai, you will be familiar that Dubai International Financial Center is not just a place for bankers to hang out at. A unique concept where culture meets finance, Dubai International Financial Centre has installed several art galleries next to the city's financial hub.
10. The Design District (D3) is known for global fashion and design festivals, plus chic galleries showing work by designers and artists. However, don't expect to find a typical artistic neighbourhood - like everything else in Dubai, the area is extremely well-maintained and has the most high-end facilities.
11. Not many countries have a museum dedicated to women but Dubai does have one! Dubai Women's Museum "offers an introduction to the lives of UAE women" throughout time.
12. If you're looking to learn about the history of Old Dubai, visit Al Bastakiya. You will find traditional Fareej-type buildings, a museum dedicated to Dubai's history (Dubai Museum) and even a museum for Arabic Coffee.
Cultural activities to try in Abu Dhabi:
13. We want to highlight that culture in each of the Emirates has its own unique twist. You will find that despite a number of large-scale projects that have been recently opened, Abu Dhabi places a lot of focus on local heritage and sustainability.
14. Start with visiting the Louvre Museum on Saadiyat Island. Inaugurated in November 2017, the museum promises its visitors always something new to discover through its permanent collections and temporary exhibitions. Our personal favourite exhibition so far has been "10,000 Years of Luxury", which celebrated how luxury has been interpreted by various cultures over time. Once we feel we have seen enough artworks, we like to grab a bite at the Museum Cafe and admire the stunning sunset while we watch the traditional UAE dances performed by locals.
15. Not far from the Louvre, also on Saadiyat Island, you can find Manarat Al Saadiyat, a vibrant center that adds to the art scene in the UAE through exhibitions, workshops, performances, and art studio spaces. The next big event will be from 25 to 28 February 2020, when 99 internationally acclaimed writers will come together for the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi.
16. We may be biased, but we could not potentially omit NYU Abu Dhabi from the list. Visit the NYUAD Art Gallery on campus to see art, the Arts Center for musical and theatrical performances, and the Institute to hear talks about a variety of topics ranging from politics, to biology, gender, and many others.
17. To learn more about the history of the UAE, visit Qasr Al Hosn: the oldest fort in Abu Dhabi, opened in the year 1761. This stone building remained the seat of government until 1966 and is now a renovated structure where visitors can learn more about the heritage of the UAE. Book a spot for 'Bait Al Gahwa', a cultural experience where you will be shown the traditional preparation of Arabic coffee ('gahwa').
18. You may not be aware, but Abu Dhabi in fact has its own theatre! Visit the Abu Dhabi Theatre just to admire its architecture or alternatively try to catch an upcoming show.
Culture in other Emirates:
19. There is a lot more to explore outside Dubai and Abu Dhabi than people might be aware of. For example, Sharjah is perfect for anything related to Islamic history and art while Ras Al Khaimah is the place for people interested in film.
20. The Islamic Art Museum at Sharjah covers Islamic culture, with more than 5,000 artefacts from the Islamic world.
21. Rain Room (Sharjah Art Foundation): the perfect exhibition for rain-lovers, the Rain Room immerses visitors in continuous rainfall. It's so relaxing, and trust us, you won't even get soaking wet. Try it to believe it!
22. Ras Al Khaimah hosts a Fine Arts Festival annually with a new theme chosen for each year. The festival features visual arts including film screenings and workshops. If you are looking to explore artsy movies, this is the place to go to.
What do we look forward to?
23. Let's now turn our focus into the future. We also want to mention two upcoming artsy projects we are especially excited about. The first one is the Museum of Future in Dubai, currently set to open in 2020. Located in Downtown Dubai, the futuristic building will become a museum for innovation and design.
24. In Abu Dhabi's contemporary scene, we are excited about the Guggenheim project. Once opened, the museum will provide a platform for presenting local, regional and international contemporary art.
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