Enter a majestic Arabian adventure at Abu Dhabi’s latest cultural and architectural attraction to open its doors, Qasr Al Watan.
Understanding Qasr Al Watan
Beyond the glistening white granite and limestone facade, what should visitors expect from the UAE’s Presidential Palace, Qasr Al Watan?
The Presidential Palace primarily has a working function, hosting the Federal Supreme Council (the highest legislative and administrative body in the UAE) meetings and UAE Cabinet Meetings.
The Palace complex itself does not contain residential homes, but rather the offices of the President of the UAE (His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan), His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. These buildings are not open to the public.
Although it is a working palace hosting state visitors and summits, “Qasr al Watan” opened to the public in March 2019 in order to give visitors a deeper understanding of the UAE’s heritage, governing traditions and values. Visitors are welcomed to the gardens, the main palace building and the Qasr Al Watan Library.
Where is Qasr Al Watan?
Sitting at the very western tip of Abu Dhabi Island in an area known as Ras Al Akhdar, the Presidential compound covers an impressive 380,000 square metres. You will find the Presidential Palace immediately adjacent to Emirates Palace. Many have confused Emirates Palace as being the Royal family’s home, but it is in fact, a stunning luxurious hotel – you can learn more about it (and how much a night of opulent luxury will cost you) here.
Visitors are welcome 7 days a week to visit Qasr al Watan (unless closed for a diplomatic event). At the end of the Corniche Road, take a right at the roundabout (the opulent white gatehouse is reserved only for foreign dignitaries!). Follow the signs to visitor car parking and a cart will transport you to the visitor centre entrance.
What to expect inside Qasr al Watan
With either your pre-booked tickets in hand or purchasing them at the visitor centre (same price), you pass through airport-style security screening before boarding a luxury coach for transportation to the Palace entrance (you could walk but it’s a LONG way!).
If you have a short wait for a coach, you will be cordially welcomed with traditional Arabic coffee and dates.
Tickets and Organised tours
A standard entry ticket costs 60AED for adults and 30AED for children (4-17 years old) and
You can upgrade your entry ticket to include a standard organised tour for an extra 30AED per person, or a private tour can be arranged for 1 to max 20 people for 600AED per group.
The standard tours are hosted in English and Arabic every 30 minutes and congregate immediately inside the palace entrance. The tour lasts around 60 minutes then you are free to self-explore.
Groups are capped at 20 people so you are best booking tour tickets in advance, especially at popular time slots (sunset and weekends).
The Great Hall
Your journey begins in the spellbinding Great Hall. It is impossible to describe with words or pictures the extreme opulence and grandeur of this space.
Traditional Arabian styling with 21st-century touches, shades of blue, white and gold adorn the walls and the floors. The geometric patterns used are all unique to the Palace.
The Great Hall is then divided off into several wings and exhibits.
Al Barza – the Majilis – is the next largest space in the palace. Designed as a formal greeting space (as you would find in most Arabic homes – only on a much larger scale!), you’re introduced to the Majilis down a darkened corridor then enjoy a 5 minute multi-media show explaining the purpose of the Majilis before a dramatic reveal (spoiler alert sorry, here’s a snippet of what you’ll see when the lights come on!).
It may look cordoned off but just ask security when the next show starts, I believe it’s run on a time ticketed system.
Spirit of Collaboration
Designed for hosting meetings of the Federal Supreme Council, the centrepiece of the room is a 12-tonne 350,000 crystal chandelier suspended from a domes roof, equally as impressive as the Great Hall.
House of Knowledge (2 wings)
Here you can explore a collection of artefacts and manuscripts highlighting Arab contributions to various intellectual fields including science, arts, humanities and literature.
The collections are not extensive, but impressive and include many rare manuscripts as well as the first known map of Arabia where modern-day Abu Dhabi can be identified. All displays are in Arabic and English.
Sitting between the two House of Knowledge halls is a stunning gold sculpture ‘The Power of Words”. It sort of looks like a giant gold cage but is an artists inscription of a Sheikh Zayed quote.
Photographers are on hand to take souvenir photos for you, but be prepared to queue at busy times.
The Presidential Banquet
One of the most opulent of rooms in the Palace. Admire the 149,000 unique pieces of silverware, crystal and china made exclusively for use in the palace.
Exhibiting diplomatic gifts that have been received over the past 50 years from visiting heads of state. I personally found this the most interesting display, not extensive but the displays are exquisite.
Palace in Motion – Sound and Light Show
One part of the Qasr al Watan we are yet to experience is the evening sound and light show – Palace in Motion. Held nightly at 7.30pm for 15 minutes, a story is told through a projection on to the building’s facade.
We will update with more pictures and visitor tips once we have completed this experience.
The grounds and gardens
Tickets can be purchased to see the gardens only. The gardens are, of course, beautiful but I am not sure there’s anything that unique at this point that I would pay to see them alone, other than to see the evening light show. If you’ve come this far you really should pay the extra to see inside and join a guided tour.
Visiting Qasr al Watan with the kids
Kids will no doubt be in sheer awe and admiration at the grandness of the building as grown-ups, but young children may find this is the limit of their interest. A lot of the experience is about taking things in and absorbing the moment, so normal rules and common sense need to be applied if bringing children.
The building is very quiet, so loud shouting would echo and yes, there are things that little fingers really shouldn’t touch. It’s not to say that families are not welcome, but pick and choose whether taking your children to a place like this is appropriate, or find ways to keep them engaged.
As far as we are aware, there are no family group tours, but hiring a private tour guide might be one way you can look to manage the pace without disturbing others.
Don’t forget to take a closer inspection of the metallic cubes in each corner of the Great Hall. Although to my mind they looked a little out of place in the setting, inside they each have different art installations that children especially will enjoy.
Taking strollers to Qasr Al Watan
Strollers are available to hire at the visitor centre for 40AED or you can take your own. Remember you will need to board a coach to get between the visitor centre entrance and the Palace, so make sure your stroller is easily collapsible. You can take them throughout most parts of the
Qasr al Watan Library
The Library is adjacent to the Palace, although the entrance is separate. You are welcome to tour the ground floor as part of your standard entry ticket.
Those only wanting to visit the library can do so for free after registering at the Visitor Centre.
The Library contains over 50,000 books covering a wide range of fields from archaeology and history through to culture, arts and humanities.
Other facilities in Qasr al Watan
There are gift shops at the conclusion of your Palace tour and at the visitor centre where you first entered (here’s where you collect those souvenir photos). There is a cafeteria at the end of the tour too but it looked to not be operational yet at the time we visited (late March 2019). We will update shortly with more information on dining options.
Practical things to know visiting Qasr al Watan
- Open daily
10amto 6pm (Weekends open to 7.30pm)
- Tickets can be purchased online in advance through the venue itself only; Standard General Admission 60AED adults, 30AED children (3-17), under 3 free.
- Garden-only tickets 25AED adults, 12AED children
- Standard guided tour tickets add 30AED per person
- Self-guided multimedia tour headset 20AED per person (adult and children’s versions available)
- Many tour companies now include Qasr Al Watan as one of their stops. However, you cannot as yet buy tickets through apps such as Get Your Guide of Klook – we will update here when you can.
- There is a Big Bus stop here as well as a taxi rank.
- There is no stated dress code, but covered knees and shoulders should be a minimum expectation in any public building – you can see a guide to Abu Dhabi dress code here.
- To see everything in detail including a tour, you would want to allow two hours + for your trip.
It is certainly one of the grandest and most beautiful buildings I have ever had the privilege to experience. What it lacks in age and history, it makes up for in its grandeur and impressive scale. It will be a lasting legacy for the people of the UAE.
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