Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Archaeology Travel Guide Abu Dhabi

Although clearly modern and cosmopolitan, Abu Dhabi – one of seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates – has a fascinating past that stretches back some 8,000 years. At a series of recently developed archaeological and historical sites, some of which are listed UNESCO World Heritage Sites, visitors get to see the evidence for one of humanity’s greatest transitions – that from hunting and gathering to a farming way of life. Much later, an eighteenth century fort, a striking contrast to the surrounding glass-clad high-rise buildings, tells the story of Abu Dhabi’s more recent past. While the groundbreaking Louvre Abu Dhabi makes connections between this region and other great civilisations and cultures of the world.

Reasons to Visit Abu Dhabi

Desert Castles & Forts,

Mosques Old & New,

Futuristic Architecture & Museums,

… Desert Landscapes & Resorts.

Interesting Things to Know About Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi currently has only one UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cultural Sites of Al Ain, but this encompasses multiple important locales that testify to human activity from the Neolithic period onward. Among these sites are the Bronze and Iron Age settlements preserved at the Hili Archaeological Park and the 5000-year old Hafeet tombs.
In the Arabic language, “Dhabi” means “gazelle” and thus “Abu Dhabi” means “father of gazelle.” This may have derived from the presence of gazelles in the area, and a historic Bedouin name for the area was Umm Dhabi, meaning “mother of gazelle.” Today, the name “Abu Dhabi” refers not only to the city but also the broader emirate around it.
The city of Abu Dhabi has its own castle, called Qasr al-Hosn. Built in 1761 as a watchtower to defend the only freshwater well on Abu Dhabi island, the structure was later expanded into a fort during the 1790s. It then became the palatial home of the emir until the 1960s. Each year an 11-day cultural festival is held at the fort.
In 1971, Abu Dhabi was one of six emirates that collectively agreed to the formation of a political federation, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This united the emirate with Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, and Fujairah, while a seventh sheikdom, Ras al Khaimah, joined them the following year. The city of Abu Dhabi is now the capital of the UAE as a whole.
The discovery of fossil fuel reserves beneath Abu Dhabi has allowed the emirate to become extraordinarily rich in a very short period of time. This has facilitated rapid urbanisation and the construction of many prominent buildings, like the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque built between 1996 and 2007 and the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the largest art gallery in the Arabian peninsula, opened in 2017.

Find Places to Visit in Abu Dhabi

Al Jahili Fort

Established in the early 1890s at the Al-Jahili Oasis, Al Jahili Fort is one of the largest historical forts in the United Arab Emirates. The fort was built for Zayed the Great, grandfather of the founder of the UAE, as a residence for the ruling Al Nahyan family. After extensive restorations the fort was opened to the public in 2008, and is today a popular tourist attraction in Al Ain.

Cultural Sites of Al Ain

In 2011 historical sites in and around the oasis city of Al Ain were added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. Together they provide evidence that today’s thriving city has been continuously occupied since the Neolithic. The archaeology includes 2,500 year-old tombs, well preserved remains of some of the oldest irrigation systems, and mud-brick architecture built for defensive, residential and administrative purposes. These remarkable remains show hunting and gathering communities settled in desert environments.

Louvre Abu Dhabi

Opened in November 2017, the museum is the first of its kind in the Arab world. Twelve galleries showcase objects from some of the best French museums, including the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre. Prehistoric artefacts to contemporary artworks are juxtaposed to focus on common themes throughout humanity. From religion and trade, to the royal art of courts, challenging modernity and the global stage.

Qasr Al Hosn

Built sometime in the 1790s, the conical tower is the oldest stone building in the city of Abu Dhabi. It was constructed to protect the emerging settlement here, which lay on the coastal trade routes. Over the years since its construction it was a palace for the ruling family and the seat of government. Now with oral testimonies and historical photographs it houses a permanent exhibition on Emirati culture and tradition.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

One of the few mosques to allow tourists, and covering over 12 hectares it is one of the largest mosques in the world. Architectural features were borrowed from many Islamic countries, including Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey and Morocco. It has many striking features, from the world’s largest carpet – handmade in Iran – lies in the main prayer room, to the third largest crystal chandelier in the world.

UAE Heritage Village

The Emirates Heritage village is a living museum with re-constructions of an oasis desert camp and a fishing village to show what life was like in different parts of premodern Abu Dhabi. How people made a living in harsh desert conditions is contrasted with village life that centred around the souk and mosque. Visitors also get to see craftsmen and women using traditional methods of spinning, weaving, metal working and pottery.

Popular Tours & Activities in Abu Dhabi