Explore Saadiyat Cultural District, Abu Dhabi

collage of Saadiyat Cultural District

Guest post by Karen Warren from Worldwide Writer

I first visited the Saadiyat Cultural District when Manarat Al Saadiyat opened in 2010. But Abu Dhabi’s art and museum quarter has come a long way since then.

Saadiyat Island is now home to world class galleries and an annual art fair. It is regarded as the cultural hub of the Middle East, and in the long term the stated aim is to become the “largest concentration of mega museums in the world”.

Opening exhibition at Manarat Al Saadiyat
Copyright: Karen Warren, Worldwide Writer

The island is now also home to several hotels, including the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi Hotel & Villas, to Mamsha Al Saadiyat residential area with shopping and dining options, a golf course, beaches and two US universities.

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Manarat Al Saadiyat

Manarat Al Saadiyat – “the place of enlightenment” – was the first gallery on Saadiyat Island. This is a contemporary space, with a mixture of pictures, sculptures, performance and installations.

It is the venue for the annual Abu Dhabi Art Fair and also includes a number of galleries used for exhibitions and special events, as well as a theatre and a restaurant.

Manarat Al Saadiyat
Copyright: Karen Warren, Worldwide Writer

The Art Fair has been held at Saadiyat since November 2011. It brings together artists, collectors (some of whom are prepared to spend surprisingly large amounts of money) and casual visitors, who are given free entry to wander around and admire the dazzling and eclectic displays.

The UAE Pavilion

An eye-catching part of Manarat Al Saadiyat is the UAE Pavilion. With its award winning design featuring two dune shaped peaks, this was originally displayed at Expo10 in Shanghai. It later became an exhibition and events venue, playing host to the annual Abu Dhabi Art Fair, bringing together artists, collectors and casual visitors.

dune-shaped building with trees in foreground

In 2020, it took on a new role as the Abu Dhabi campus of Berklee College of Music, where students learn more about contemporary music, dance, and theatre.

dune-shaped building housing berklee univerisity abu dhabi

Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened in 2017 as part of a long term collaboration between Abu Dhabi and the French government. The museum showcases work from a number of French museums, but it also has its own collections, including a large number of photographs. The aim of the Louvre Abu Dhabi is to bring together the best of eastern and western art, both historic and modern.

louvre abu dhabi buidling

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A feature of the museum is the innovative architecture. The centrepiece of the building is the huge web-patterned dome that has been designed to reflect the light, a reference to the sunlight that filters through the leaves of the palm trees that characterise this part of the world.

Book a sightseeing tour including Louvre Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Recent changes in The Saadiyat Cultural District

The most recent addition to the district is The Abrahamic Family House, a where a mosque, a church, a synagogue and a shared area in The Forum bring people of different faiths together. See more on The Abrahamic Family House.

Abrahamic Family House Garden with the church and synagogue in the background

Future plans For The Saadiyat Cultural District

Further projects are currently in development. These include the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, which will be the largest Guggenheim museum in the world. It will showcase the best of contemporary art, including Middle Eastern art of the 20th and 21st centuries. And the Zayed National Museum will tell the story of Abu Dhabi and the UAE from the earliest times to the present day. Over time this small desert island will be transformed into the largest cultural centre in the world.

Environmentally friendly features have been incorporated into the project’s design, and land has been set aside for the preservation of the mangrove forests, and of the grassy dunes in which Hawksbill turtles have their breeding grounds.

How To Visit Saadiyat Island

The island can be reached by taxi or private car, and there is plenty of free parking available. The Cultural Express runs from selected points in the capital and also from Dubai.

Alternatively, the Abu Dhabi Hop On Hop Off Bus stops at the Louvre (Island Tour – Green Route). The journey is around 5 minutes from Abu Dhabi island, and one hour from Dubai.

Karen Warren is a freelance writer, book reviewer and novelist. She writes about travel on her website WorldWideWriter.