The perfect blend of ancient culture and modern-day glamour, Abu Dhabi has built a reputation as one of the world's most dazzling destinations. With a rich history, the tradition of old Arabia can easily be found within the city's atmospheric souks, awe-inspiring mosques, impressive archaeological sites and historic forts, and a visit to the capital of the United Arab Emirates is not complete without experiencing some of the city's impressive heritage sites.
The destination is home to many archaeological sites and UNESCO-protected cultural sites, which lie just outside the city of Al Ain, the emirate's thriving heritage 'garden city'not far from Abu Dhabi. Each with its own unique story, these remarkable ancient sites echo the tales of the last 12,000 years of human occupation and invite you to explore and become a part of it.
For those planning a luxury holiday to Abu Dhabi who want to learn more about the history around the so-called 'Garden City of the Gulf', we share the must-see sites and attractions.
Around 25 kilometres north of Al Ain, Bidaa Bint Saud is a UNESCO heritage site you do not want to miss. A must-visit for any archaeological enthusiast, Bidaa Bint Saud features a rare Iron Age building, remains of once-thriving irrigation systems, and extraordinary Bronze Age tombs dating back 5,000 years.
Declared a UNESCO heritage site in 2011, Bidaa Bint Saud provided archaeologists with proof of an ancient caravan route through the area as well as dwellings belonging to a community of farmers. Artefacts such as stone pots, jewellery, and tools, including double-edged swords, have been discovered there, which now all reside in the Al Ain National Museum. The impressive falaj (ancient irrigation system) dating back 3,000 years highlights local ingenuity and engineering, which to this day allows inhabitants to gain access to water deep below the ground's surface.
Just 10 kilometres outside of Al Ain, you'll find the Hili Archaeological Park, a remarkable mix of a public park and ancient archaeological site, which is very popular amongst tourists and residents alike. Created to exhibit the ancient monuments of Al Ain and make them easily accessible to visitors, the Hili Archaeological Park showcases some of the earliest evidence of agricultural village in the UAE, along with other Bronze Age and Iron Age villages, vast burial grounds, forts and agricultural infrastructure.
Visit the park's centrepiece, the Hili Grand Tomb, which dates back to roughly 2000 BCE, where villagers and people from surrounding villages buried their dead. Boasting two intricately decorated entrances with beautiful engravings portraying humans and animals, the Hili Grand Tomb is by far the most impressive, however similar tombs can be found throughout the site.
One of the largest forts in the UAE, Al Jahili Fort dates back to the late 19th century, when it was built by Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa the First as a summer residence and symbol of his power. While the fort is located in the centre of Al Ain, you could be easily forgiven for thinking you'd stepped back in time. The different elements of the building, such as the round watchtower and the defensive towers, provide a strong link to important local and regional historical events of both the 19th and 20th centuries and highlights the strength of this military cornerstone.
Visitors to Al Jahili Fort will be in awe of the traditional Arabian architecture, built from mud and brick, along with the fort's impressive battlements and watchtowers which have survived over the years despite the assaults the stronghold must have faced. History buffs can also enjoy the exhibition in honour of Sir Wilfred Thesiger, the renowned British explorer who travelled extensively throughout the region.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
A trip to Abu Dhabi is not complete without visiting Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE, which welcomes upwards of 55,000 worshippers and visitors each day. Visit this impressive mosque and you'll be in awe of its sheer size and beauty. With over 90,000 tonnes of white marble used in its construction, the largest carpet in the world in residence, and other impressive features throughout, the mosque is a fascinating work of architecture that reflects the vibrant culture of Abu Dhabi.
Visitors to this stunning building are welcomed with open arms and are invited to learn about the emirates' cultural beliefs as the mosque captures the unique interactions between Islam and many other world cultures and offers visitors an experience like no other.
LEARN MORE: Abu Dhabi: The Best Ways to Spend Your Time
Wherever you choose to visit, a luxury holiday to the Arabian Gulf will be filled with sand, sun and history. Al Ain might not be a well-known destination, however, for those staying in neighbouring Abu Dhabi, it offers an unparalleled look at the history of the UAE and the Gulf, with ancient sites and cultural gems.
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