Museums in the United Arab Emirates offer an insightful peek into various aspects of the country’s identity — whether it’s the fishing and pearl-trading heritage, an understanding of contemporary history after independence from colonial powers or the contributions of Islamic scholars to humanity’s collective knowledge bank.
These museums provide vital context to the UAE’s present-day accomplishments and future ambitions, and meaningfully expand both conversations. From immersive visualizations of space exploration to mud- and coral-walled palaces to contemporary art, these Dubai and Abu Dhabi museums offer something for everyone.
Museum of the Future Dubai
The calligraphy-adorned steel and glass structure of the Museum of the Future makes for one of the most striking examples of contemporary architecture in Dubai. Focused on scientific and technological advancements — fitting for a city as future-driven as Dubai — the museum’s many experiences feel like you have stepped into the year 2071 through a time portal. Interactive exhibits spark your imagination to visualize what space exploration looks like and the possibilities of harnessing renewable energy from the moon.
Elsewhere, galleries showcase solution-driven technologies and raise important questions that tackle various issues, from climate science and biodiversity to holistic well-being and the impact of technology on work. Thanks to the immersive nature of the exhibits, the museum has something interesting for all ages.
Louvre Abu Dhabi
One of the most prestigious museums in the region, Louvre Abu Dhabi is a must-visit for any first-time visitor to the UAE. Designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, the exterior of the building stuns with its “rain of light” effect — when sunlight streams through the geometric dome, it creates a playful pattern.
In the Louvre’s various galleries, you’ll find art, sculptures, paintings, artifacts, manuscripts and exhibits that weave together stories of civilizations and cultures from around the world throughout human history. Aside from permanent exhibits, the museum’s temporary gallery displays exhibits loaned from other renowned museums, such as Paris’ Musée du Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. Young visitors will enjoy the Children’s Museum’s fun, interactive exhibitions.
Where to stay: Spend the night down the coast from the museum at Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort, where the resort’s sustainability practices and nature-inspired minimalist design promise a tranquil beach vacation in Abu Dhabi.
Al Ain Palace Museum
Head to Al Ain, Abu Dhabi’s lush palm oasis second city, to visit Al Ain Palace Museum. Once the family residence of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the palace museum that opened to the public in 2001 was originally built with materials naturally found in the area, such as clay, stones and palm fronds. A good example of traditional forts in the UAE, the museum helps you imagine what life was like in the country in the early 20th century.
A tour of the museum reveals separate sections for official business matters and receiving dignitaries, courtyards and porches, as well as private rooms used by the family featuring furniture and design typical of the period. Other exhibits include gifted artifacts and a Land Rover, the kind used by the late Al Nahyan. The Al Nahyan family tree in the museum details the lineage of the ruling family.
Where to stay: For those who want to be in the heart of all the action in Abu Dhabi, the glamorous The Abu Dhabi EDITION offers upscale bars and restaurants and an unbeatable location on Al Bateen Marina.
For those interested in learning more about the unification of the country’s seven emirates in 1971 — an important event in the UAE’s modern history — the Etihad Museum in Dubai offers plenty of context. The museum’s undulating white roof nods to the UAE’s constitution, and seven columns signify the seven pens that were used by the seven founding fathers to sign it.
Inside, interactive exhibits, old photographs and films document the growth of the country between 1968 and 1974, with the end of British dominance over the UAE. You can also visit the Union House, the site where the constitution was formally signed.
Where to stay: Not far away, the beachfront Mandarin Oriental Jumeira, Dubai provides luxurious modern rooms and world-class restaurants with fantastic views of the Arabian Sea.
Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization
Standing on Al Majarrah Waterfront, close to museums and galleries in restored traditional houses and charming souks in the Heart of Sharjah district, resides the souk-turned-museum the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization. The impressive gold-domed building houses more than 5,000 artifacts sourced from around the world that tell the story of Islamic civilizations, their contributions to the world and their evolution over time.
Highlights include a gallery that showcases inventions, discoveries and contributions by Muslim scholars to the fields of science, technology, mathematics, astronomy, engineering and medicine, and another that educates you about the principles of Islam as a religion. Take your time to admire ancient pottery and manuscripts, as well as textiles and crafts that illustrate European influences on traditional Islamic design.
Where to stay: Park Hyatt Dubai sits on a picturesque parcel along Dubai Creek. All 223 rooms overlook the creek and skyline or the 328-foot infinity lagoon. Reserve time at the verdant pool area underneath the palms.