The Louvre Abu Dhabi brought joy to museum enthusiasts around the world when it opened its doors on Saadiyat Island, also known as the ‘island of happiness’.
Completed in November 2017, this 260,000 square feet modern gem has twelve galleries and an impressive outdoor area. As you pull up to this massive complex, the first thing you will notice is the steel dome over the entire museum which has an awe factor about it.
It is the largest art museum in the Arabian Peninsula and the UAE has even bigger plans to build a multi-billion-dollar cultural district complex by adding a Guggenheim Museum and Zayed National Museum on Saadiyat Island in the near future – basically a museum lovers dream island hence the very fitting ‘island of happiness’ moniker. The UAE paid the French government a whopping $464 million dollars for use of the name for the next 30 years.
Museums are not always at the top of everyone’s to-do-list while traveling, but there are a few key museums around the world that should be — the Louvre Abu Dhabi being one of them.
Before heading out to a museum of this size I like to Google the must see key pieces. It gives me a better idea of how to tackle the museum without feeling overwhelmed, because with twelve galleries and over 600 diverse pieces of artwork, you can’t possibly see it all. And while I am no art buff, I do love the rich history and beautiful aesthetics that come with visiting a museum such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi. It’s also the perfect rainy day activity or in the case of the UAE, unbearably hot and humid to do anything else activity.
It holds an impressive collection of ancient artifacts and paintings both historical and contemporary. For the contemporary lovers, you will have a chance to see contemporary art pieces by Giacometti, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, Pollock and Cezanne to name a few.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi is organized chronologically by theme instead of by country, leading you thru the evolution of humanity and world history. The museum aims to focus on bridging the gap between Eastern and Western art. It’s a museum that can be enjoyed by any age group and with 86,000 square feet of gallery space — you definitely won’t get bored.
A key piece not to be missed in the first gallery is the Monumental Statue with Two Heads. Dating back to 6500 BC, it’s one of the oldest monumental statues in the history of humanity of the human form. Made from lime plaster, the statue is regarded as one of the most remarkable pieces ever discovered in Jordan.
One of my favorite galleries at The Louvre Abu Dhabi was the second exhibition ‘Globes: Visions of the World’ which displays the history of globes and maps. This gallery focuses on the invention of the spherical concept of the world in antiquity. You can also see rare maps of the world on display here from the 15th century and how people perceived the way the world looked back then. As a traveler and lover of maps and globes I stood there for a while daydreaming of how wonderful it would be to have one of these ancient globes in my future home one day.
Another notable piece that shouldn’t be missed is the page from the Blue Qur’an, one of the oldest ever-found Qurans. This beautiful artifact with its gold lettering on the royal blue page dates back to the 900’s and was found in Northern Africa probably created for the Great Mosque of Kairouan.
As you enter the last gallery you’ll be blinded by the Fountain of Light by Ai Weiwei — this twenty-three foot majestic tower of glass crystal lights will wow you. Ai, famous for his unique architectural design pieces, drew media frenzy over this artwork at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. This piece is a crowd favorite as everyone wants to snap a photo or selfie with it so expect a queue for this room.
While there are many notable pieces inside the museum, the literal crown jewel of the museum is the eight layer, 180-meter, beautiful interlocking steel dome built by the renowned French architect Jean Nouvel.
It’s a true architectural marvel and the goal was to build something to offer shade from the brutal desert sun yet still allow you to feel connected to nature. The design “rain of light” allows sun to filter through like the “rays of sunlight passing through date palm fronds in an oasis.” A truly amazing piece of artwork in and of itself that is just as beautiful at night.
The outdoor complex was my favorite part of the museum so be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to explore and enjoy this area. You can rest and refuel at one of the three restaurants or grab something quick to eat and sit outside. You’ll be surrounded by water and beautiful outdoor sculptures that provide the perfect respite from the desert heat while still enjoying the outdoors. As you walk around outside, don’t forget to look up at the walls and see the beautiful inscriptions on them.
Unlike its counterpart in Paris (which can feel more like Disneyland than a museum) the best part of the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum is that it actually feels like a museum. What does that even mean? It’s serene and most importantly doesn’t have insane crowds yet. It allows you to do what you are supposed to do at a museum – think and feel! I find that hard to do at the Louvre in Paris where you feel more like herded cattle, dodging elbows and cameras just to have a few seconds to glimpse at a key piece — let alone see how you feel about it.
The UAE is an ideal stopover for anyone traveling to Africa or Asia. With so many major airlines flying direct routes from the US it allows you to break up the long journey and recharge before traveling onward. I would highly recommend Abu Dhabi for a few days and for the Louvre Abu Dhabi to be at the top of your list.
My advice: go now before it does become like the Louvre in Paris and impossible to get into. I will definitely be back especially when the Guggenheim museum and Zayed museums are completed.
It’s only a five-minute cab ride to Saadiyat Island and local taxis are safe and cheap. It costs roughly 40 AED but they only take cash so be sure to have some Dirham’s on you. There is also a constant queue of taxis waiting to take you back to your hotel when you are done.
Looking to arrive in style? VIP’s can cruise up to the museum via boat!
As with most museums, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is closed on Monday’s. The museum is open all other days from 10 am to 8 pm with extended hours till 10 pm on Thursdays and Fridays.
TICKETS AND TOURS:
Entrance to the museum costs 60 AED and gives you access to the galleries, exhibitions and public spaces under the dome. They offer a few different guided tours for an additional 50 AED that last anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.
I usually like to go at my own pace in a museum so I download the Louvre Abu Dhabi guide for free from the iTunes store which had an interactive map to help guide me around the massive complex. There is also free Wi-fi throughout the museum for your convenience.
The Louvre Abu Dhabi has three options for you to choose from should you need to recharge while you are there:
- The Aptitude Cafe in the outdoor park area for coffee and small snacks.
- The Museum Cafe with a full menu of food items and also a grab and go counter.
- The Art Lounge rooftop bar for those who want to enjoy small bites, an aperitif, and an epic sunset view.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT:
I was shocked there was no line to get in when I went this past November but as this museum becomes more popular booking tickets in advance online would be highly recommended so you are guaranteed entry.
Avoid bringing a backpack or large bag with you, as you will be required to check it or use the lockers to store your items.
Photo by Young Lee @nakslee