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Heritage Village in Abu Dhabi


Page update - Oct 15, 2022

It is more correct (but longer) to call this place a "Historical and Ethnographic Open-Air Museum". You can see reconstruction of houses, boats, and other objects from the ancient times of the United Arab Emirates. Also you can see ancient crafts and even take part in the process.

The Heritage Village is now (October 2022) open as usual. Hours of operation have recently changed. Read all the details below on this page.

Starting February 28 and September 28, 2022, the requirement to wear masks outdoors (as of February) and inside cafes and restaurants (as of September) has been removed. As a result, you can now walk around Heritage Village without a mask everywhere (including catering). But remember that masks are still mandatory in public transport, so carry a mask with you always.

This is a traditional form of reconstruction of the past in Arab countries. Probably, every Arab country has its own Heritage Villages. And even every emirate of the UAE has one, but in Abu Dhabi it is special. Firstly, it is the largest in the country, with an area of 180,000 square feet (16,800 square meters).

Secondly, this Heritage Village shows the ancient life not only of the Abu Dhabi emirate but of all climatic zones of the country. In separate zones, you can see the way of life of the inhabitants of oases, coasts, mountains. The creators of this Heritage Village set out to show the ancient life of the entire country rather than any one region.

Where is it and how to get there

The Heritage Village is located on Al Marina Island, northwest of the city of Abu Dhabi. A long strip of land called "Corniche Breakwater" comes from the main part of the island to the east. At the very end of this strip is the Heritage Village.

If you vacation in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the cheapest way to get to Al Marina Island is by bus. The routes are 005, 007, 009, 011, 022, 026, 034, 063, 065, 067, 069, 071. In 2020, the Abu Dhabi Transport Authority has drastically redesigned the schedule and route grid. This list has changed a lot - there are more buses and it is much more convenient for tourists.

The bus fare is 2 UAE dirhams. See our review "Currency of the UAE" for the current exchange rates of the UAE dirham.

There are several other places of interest in the area, which is handy. See the map with sights and location of bus stops.

As you can see, there are a lot of buses, there is a good chance that some of them stop near your hotel. The bus will take you to Marina Mall. From there, go through the parking lot, past Havana Cafe and straight on. If you have a Ferris wheel to the left, then you are going the right way. Be guided by the Heritage Village signs.

The second and more expensive option to get there is a cab. The cost depends on the distance from the hotel to the island of Al Marina. Read about the cab fares in our review "Taxis in the UAE - fares and rules". Tell the cab driver the phrase "Heritage Village", and he/she will definitely understand the destination.



Find your flight



From Dubai. You can take the E100 or E101 bus from Dubai to Abu Dhabi which will take you to Abu Dhabi Bus Station where you can catch one of the mentioned above buses. Read our detailed review "How to get between Dubai and Abu Dhabi".

If you are vacationing in the Emirate of Sharjah, you can get to Abu Dhabi by bus, but is it even worth going? Sharjah has its own Heritage Village and Heritage Museum which are just as interesting for tourists as the Heritage Village in Abu Dhabi.

From the emirates of Ajman, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, and Ras Al Khaimah, it is a long, expensive, and tiring travel. You need to take the bus to Dubai, then change to a second bus E100 to Abu Dhabi, then take the third bus to the island of Al Marina. It's not worth the effort.

Ticket price

Admission is free.

All additional services in the Heritage Village are free. For money you can only eat in the restaurant and buy souvenirs in the stores and stalls.

Excursions

Almost all sightseeing tours of the city of Abu Dhabi stop at the Heritage Village. Many guides arrange lunch for the tour group. The price of a one-day Abu Dhabi sightseeing tour ranges from USD 60 to 90 per person.

Operation hours

From 9 am to 4 pm (9-00 to 16-00) on all days except Friday.

On Friday (the holy day of the week for Muslims) - from 7-30 am to 10 am and from 3-30 pm to 9 pm (7-30 to 10-00 and 15-30 to 21-00).

In the month of Ramadan - from 9 am to 2 pm (9-00 to 14-00), on Friday is closed.

What to see together with the Heritage Village

There are several other places of interest on Al Marina Island. So it is convenient to come to Heritage Village plus these places for a full day visit.

At the very end of the Corniche Breakwater is the main flagpole of the UAE with the largest flag of the country. The flagpole height is 403 feet (123 meters). The flagpole was installed in 2001, then it was a Guinness Book record. The size of the UAE flag overhead is 131 x 65.5 feet (40 x 20 meters). It looks grandiose, and no money is charged to see.

Next to the flagpole is the Emirates Heritage Club building. This is the organization that built the Heritage Village. They hold their events in this building. They don't let you inside, but you can see the building from outside, it's very beautiful.

Next to Marina Mall there is a Ferris wheel "Marina Eye" (on the photo above, click on the photo to enlarge). Its height is 200 feet (60 meters), you can see the whole city of Abu Dhabi and far beyond. There is even a VIP booth with a glass floor, leather trim, fridge, and DVD player. The price is 50 dirhams for an adult, 30 dirhams for a child (under 12 yours old). Warning! The Marina Eye Ferris Wheel is now (October 2022) still closed.

The Marina Mall is located in the heart of Al Marina Island. There are 1,314,000 sqf (122,000 sqm) of retail space, around 400 stores, Mercedes-Benz car show, Carrefour Hypermarket, children's play area and a life-size mammoth skeleton. You won't get bored there, even though it is smaller than the famous Yas Mall.



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History of the Heritage Village

The Emirates Heritage Club was founded in 1993. In 1997 the club received the status of an independent state organization and Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan - Emir of Abu Dhabi and President of the UAE became its chairman.

In 2001, the Emirates Heritage Club opened its main brainchild - the Abu Dhabi Heritage Village. Naturally, they had no problems with financing or allocation of space for the project.

On November 2, 2004, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan died and the eldest of his 19 sons, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ascended to the throne (pictured near, click on photo to enlarge). The seat of president of the UAE and chairman of the Emirates Heritage Club automatically passed to him.

On May 13, 2022, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayd died and his half-brother Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan ascended the throne. He also automatically became chairman of the Emirates Heritage Club. But so far we haven't seen any activity from him in the club.

Read about all the sheikhs in our detailed review "Rulers of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and other Emirates".

The Heritage Village is now fully funded by the Abu Dhabi government, hence the free admission.

A little historical and cultural remark

Guidebooks say, "You will see a reconstruction of life in the UAE before the oil era. See how the country has changed in 50 years" or similar phrases.

This is right and wrong at the same time. Don't think that all Arabs in the UAE lived this way, in huts made of palm leaves. If we talk about the inhabitants of the oases and mountains, they did live as shown in the Heritage Village. In some parts of the Arabian Peninsula, this is still the case.

The life of the coastal inhabitants in Heritage Village is shown in a very "squalid" way. One should not think that the coastal towns were so poor. The fact is that before the "oil era" in the history of the United Arab Emirates was another quite rich time - the "age of pearls". The period of active pearl diving and selling lasted from the 17th to the 20th century.

According to the historical notes of English sailors, a year selling pearls brought the emir of Sharjah up to 100,000 "Maria Theresa dollars", that is, up to 2.8 tons of silver. That's just in the Emirate of Sharjah, but imagine the income of the whole coast.

Here is another interesting fact. Let us remember some traditional dishes of the Arab Emirates cuisine: maqluba, quzi, kabsa (in the photo near, click to enlarge). All these dishes are made of rice! Rice grows in water, rice is not grown in the UAE. So, for generations, the UAE Arabs have had enough wealth to eat expensive imported rice. They were not on a fish diet, they were not poor.

Many coastal inhabitants lived not in squalid huts, but in coral stone houses. They had a varied diet: fish, camel milk and meat, imported rice and other cereals, dates, fruits, and vegetables. Naturally, there was a variety in society - some lived richly, some quite poorly.

We tell about this in order to protect our readers from the popular idea that the UAE residents lived like "starving people" before the era of oil. These are the thoughts expressed by many tourists after visiting the Heritage Village.



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What to see and do

The Heritage Village is divided into several zones.

The area of the oasis inhabitants is the most interesting for tourists.

It shows the "bait al-wahat", a traditional palm leaf house designed to "catch" the cool breeze. The inhabitants spent the hottest part of the day in such structures.

A well and a "falaj" irrigation system - stone troughs to distribute water evenly over the fields. Camels or oxen were used to lift water from the wells. This system of irrigation is still used in some of the plantations of Al Ain or Oasis Liwa.

The next area shows the life of the desert nomads.

You can see the life of the Bedouins of the Arabian Desert there. Of greatest interest to tourists is the "al-hadheerah", a traditional Bedouin tent made of hides. The Bedouins used to make temporary pens for their livestock from the branches of desert bushes.

Actors make coffee at the fire near the tent. They give it to tourists to try, you only need to ask. This is where they keep camels. You can take pictures with them. There is no camel riding service.

Another type of house is the "bait al-avani", it is not even a house, but a tent made of cloth. The people lived in such tents in the winter months.

The next area shows the life of the inhabitants of mountainous areas.

The traditional house "al-khassa" was built of stone and clay, and the roof was made of palm leaves. Such a house was warm in winter and cool in summer. The mountainous areas of the country were mostly populated by members of the Al-Shukhuh tribe.

The next area shows the life of the inhabitants of the coast.

You will see a house made of branches - the dwelling of the poorer part of the coastal population. This house protects only from the wind and a little bit of the cold. Tourists are also shown small boats "dhow", which were used by fishermen and pearl divers.

You can also see a reconstruction of an ancient mosque and fort. There is a museum with a small but interesting collection in the building of the fort. You can see ancient sheets of Koran, jewelry (on the photo near, click to enlarge), accessories for pearl catching, weapons, and household items.

In the local bazaar, you can buy spices, bakhoor, jewelry, ceramics, embossing, handmade soap and many other interesting things to bring from the Arab Emirates as gifts for family and friends.

There is a separate "zone of artisans". Tourists can see traditional Arabic crafts: embossing, ceramics, leather tanning, glass-blowing, yarn work, and textile weaving. Tourists are given to try these crafts, free of charge, you just have to ask.

The most interesting and important craft is the forging of the traditional dagger Khanjar. Such a weapon is still actively used in ceremonies and is part of the festive men's costume of the Arabs in the UAE.

The process of forging is rarely shown, and to see it is a great fortune for the tourist. They always let you hold a handmade dagger in your hands.

It is highly recommended to go to the beach. The water there is turquoise in color, the sight is mesmerizing. On the other side of the canal is the Abu Dhabi Downtown, the financial and administrative center of the city. Take in the contrast between the skyscrapers on one side of the canal and the reconstruction of ancient life on the other.

The Heritage Village has a restaurant with a wide variety of traditional Arab Emirates cuisine. If you decide to try Arabian cuisine, you won't find a better place.

Tips for tourists

- Get there in the morning, while the sun is not so active and not so hot. In addition, tourist groups come there near lunchtime, it can be very crowded;

- The entire Heritage Village is a big open-air museum. There is nowhere to hide from the sunlight. Think carefully about clothing and shoes for the trip. We talked about clothing in detail in the review "What to take with you in the UAE";

- Buying souvenirs is not recommended, because the prices are very high. The exception is handmade items by local craftsmen, as their prices are difficult to understand, because they are exclusive;

- It is allowed to take photos and film with a video camera in the Heritage Village without restrictions;

- Feel free to ask if you want to take a picture with a camel or try your hand at some craft. The local actors are very helpful people.

Have a nice walk around Heritage Village, and read our interesting pages about Abu Dhabi and the Arab Emirates (see the list of the pages below).

TIPS

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IMPORTANT FOR TOURISTS

What to Take for the UAE

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