12 must-see architectural masterpieces in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi Architecture
Louvre Abu Dhabi
The modern Louvre Abu Dhabi is a structure to behold. Designed by Pritzker-prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, this universal museum - a first for the Arab world - boasts 9,200 square metres of galleries displaying a variety of historic and cultural items from around the globe. Incredible art aside, the showpiece of this famous museum is the iconic 180-metre eight-layer star-latticed dome, which allows sunlight to filter through and cast intriguing patterns on the walls and floors. In a 2018 interview with Conde Nast Traveller, Nouvel said of the creation: "You'll never see the museum in the same light twice." With the building's design inspired by the Arab medina (ancient quarter of many Arab cities), Nouvel said, "To me, geometry and light are the cornerstones of grand Arab architecture - I wanted a reinterpretation of it all."
A silver slant of curved steel and glittering glass slicing Abu Dhabi's horizon, this magnificent skyscraper is perfect photograph fodder - and high on the list of luxury destinations. An architectural and engineering feat, Capital Gate (also known as the Leaning Tower of Abu Dhabi) leans 18 degrees west and stands 160 metres (524.9 feet) tall. In 2010 it was certified as the World's Furthest Manmade Leaning Building by the Guinness World Records. Stay in the building's five-star Andaz Capital Gate hotel where you can soak up the sunshine and incredible views of the city from the 19th floor's outdoor pool deck.
Sheikh Zayed Bridge
Stretching across the Maqta Channel to connect Abu Dhabi city to the mainland, this 843-metre long Sheikh Zayed Bridge is a masterpiece in steel and concrete. This Abu Dhabi landmark, known as the most intricate bridge ever constructed, was designed by the late British Iraqi architect, Zaha Hadid - the first female architect to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2014, and described by London's The Guardian as "the queen of the curve". The structural silhouette of the sinusoidal steel arches, rising from mass concrete piers and inclining at angles, insinuates an ocean wave or undulating sand dune.
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque
The impressive and inspiring Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the world's largest mosques and the largest in Abu Dhabi. UAE Founder, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, had a specific vision for this welcoming mosque: to celebrate cultural diversity. Designed by architects from all over the world and boasting 82 Moroccan-designed white marble domes, 1,096 amethyst-and-jasper-embedded columns, gold-plated Swarovski chandeliers, glittering reflective pools and a courtyard featuring one of the world's largest marble mosaic artworks, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a breathtaking architectural marvel.
Modern and sophisticated, Etihad Towers is dramatic architecture at its finest. Situated on the popular Abu Dhabi Corniche, the five-tower complex is a one-stop live, work, stay, shop and dine destination boasting stunning panoramic city and Arabian Gulf views. Fans of the Fast & Furious franchise won't easily forget the adrenaline-induced scene in Furious 7 where the Lykan Hypersport supercar takes a risky leap between two of the high-rise towers. For some of the city's best views, head to the Observation Deck at 300 (on Tower 2's 74th floor). To fully experience this architectural masterpiece, book your stay at the 280-metre tall, five-star Jumeirah at Etihad Towers hotel.
One of Abu Dhabi's most famous landmarks, the luxurious Emirates Palace hotel ensures an unforgettable five-star stay. The captivating Arabesque-style architecture features 114 domes and a remarkable 72.6 metre grand dome adorned in a glittering geometric pattern of gold, mother of pearl and crystals. The main palace building stretches over a kilometre from wing to wing, with its manicured gardens spanning an impressive 100 hectares. The palace also boasts 1,002 chandeliers, the largest weighing 2.5 tons.
Qasr Al Hosn
Culture vultures will relish stepping back in time when visiting the oldest standing structure in Abu Dhabi. Qasr Al Hosn is an historical landmark that was originally built as a watchtower in 1761 and, years later, expanded into an impressive fort that housed the royal family. This incredible structure overlooked the coastal trade routes and protected the only freshwater well in Abu Dhabi. Now a national monument, the recently restored Qasr Al Hosn, with its two iconic buildings - the Inner Fort (first constructed in 1795) and the Outer Palace (1939-1945) – tells the story of this fascinating city’s history and development.
Qasr Al Watan
Discover the rich legacy of the UAE at the exquisite Qasr Al Watan, a working Presidential palace and cultural landmark built from white granite and limestone. Honouring traditional Arabian heritage and artistry, the 'Palace of the Nation' houses impressive exhibits and iconic rooms with over 5,000 geometric mosaic wall and floor patterns. In The Great Hall you'll find one of the largest domes in the world and an Insta-worthy reflective installation by Emirati artist Mattar bin Lahej. The Spirit of Collaboration room features a circular layout, symbolising the UAE's commitment to equality, and a dramatic chandelier made up of 350,000 crystals.
Al Bahr Towers
Adults and kids alike will marvel at the intriguing design of the Al Bahr Towers. When designing these innovative, eco-friendly towers, architects Abdulmajid Karanouh and Aedas Arquitectos leaned heavily on nature and culture for their inspiration. The result is the unique 29-storey circular twin towers, each boasting mashrabiya-style facades made up of 1,000 individual solar screens designed to diminish solar gain by at least 50 per cent. The honeycomb-like panels contract and expand in response to the trajectory of the sun and are controlled by an advanced programming system.
Pushing the limits
Arabia's first circular building is both awe-inspiring and completely unique. When MZ Architects founder Marwan Zgheib received the brief to create an iconic structure for Aldar Properties headquarters, he opted for a simple, classic design with a powerful punch. Regularity was the guiding concept for Zgheib, who used the clam shell as his overarching inspiration, due to Abu Dhabi's seafaring heritage, with the circle's round shape symbolising unity, stability and rationality. The result? Two giant circular convex-shaped glass walls, 110-metres high, joined by a narrow strip of glazing. It's no wonder this building was named One of the World's Most Dazzling Corporate Offices by international building organisation, Emporis. It also featured in the 2019 American action-thriller, 6 Underground.
Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
Just 200km outside the city is the Empty Quarter (or Rub's al Khali), the world's largest uninterrupted sand mass framed by towering sand dunes. As you can imagine, building anything in this sandy landscape is a feat, which is why the luxurious Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara is worth a visit. Its name means 'palace of mirage' because its structure rises like a mirage from the slopes that surround it. A truly spectacular property emerging from the shimmering flame-coloured dunes of the majestic Empty Quarter like an illustration from the fairytale One Thousand and One Nights, it took three years to build this hotel, with 5,000 workers bringing it to life.
Berklee College of Music
Music lovers will appreciate Abu Dhabi's collaboration with the US-based Berklee College of Music. The former Norman Foster-designed UAE pavilion, with its instantly recognisable sand dunes shape, has been recently renovated to house the new Berklee Abu Dhabi campus. This gorgeous landmark offers 3,900 square metres of performance space, recording studios, rehearsal studios, practice rooms, ensemble rooms and more.