A sightseeing tour of Qasr Al Watan should definitely be on your list of things to do in Abu Dhabi.
Qasr Al Watan is an architectural marvel that has to be seen to be believed. Gleaming under the hot sun, its white granite and limestone façade and its equally pristine domes inscribed with delicate golden swirls entice the casual onlooker to come in and discover the wonders it hides inside.
Things to Check Out at Qasr Al Watan
Qasr Al Watan is Arabic for “Palace of the Nation,” and it is, in fact, the United Arab Emirates’ presidential working palace. The palace was completed in 2017, but it opened to the public only in 2019. It is not the president’s residential palace but is used mainly for official presidential functions such as state visits.
Like most buildings in the Gulf region, the palace is clad in white, which helps keep the building cool even in the extreme heat of the Arabian Peninsula. The pure white color palette is broken only by the golden swirls etched on the domes and the Arabian mosaic underneath the exterior arches.
The lavish interior is contrary to the stark exterior. When people first come in through the heavy palace doors, jaws drop, and gasps of awe are often heard.
Everywhere you look – the flawless marble floors, walls, and ceilings are dominated by ornate artistic patterns in a mix of:
- White for purity and peace
- Brown for the sands of the desert
- Light blue for the sky
- Darker blue for the gulf
Also vying for attention are the muqarnas, gold leaf decorations, crystal chandeliers, and traditional Islamic lattice-work windows (i.e., mashrabiya).
All in all, the palace showcases one million square meters of intricate stonework. There’s just so much to see at Qasr Al Watan, and here are some of the things worth checking out when you visit.
1. The Great Hall Dome and Mirrored Cubes
Once you go through the palace doors, you will arrive at the palace’s main hall, or the Great Hall. This cavernous chamber will definitely take your breath away with its extravagant decorations. Make sure to walk to the exact center and look up.
You would be staring at the Great Hall’s central dome. Set 60 meters above the ground, the grand dome’s stained glass windows filter and soften the light from outside and illuminate the hall underneath.
Adding to the play of light are mirrored cubes placed at the corners of the Great Hall. These mirrored cubes also provide visitors with a way to examine the intricate patterns on the Great Hall’s floors, walls, and ceiling.
2. Arabic Calligraphy Art Installation
You can’t miss the mesmerizing golden sphere sculpture that will meet you on your way to the east wing from the Great Hall. The spherical art installation looks ethereal with its dainty-looking swirls amidst the backdrop of embellished marble walls and floors.
In truth, the alluring golden swirls are Arabic calligraphy. The golden sphere inside the palace is one of three sculptures made by artist Mattar bin Lahej to memorialize the words spoken by the founding father of UAE, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Specifically, the calligraphy on the golden sphere says:
“Wealth is not money or oil; wealth lies in people, and it is worthless if not dedicated to serve the people.”
On your visit, make sure to not only gaze at the sculpture from afar. You may go near and inside the installation. A picture from inside the golden sphere is undoubtedly something you must include in your Qasr Al Watan to-do list.
3. Spirit of Collaboration’s Chandelier
On the palace’s west wing, on a higher floor accessible through escalators, you will find the “Spirit of Collaboration.” This circular chamber can accommodate up to 900 people, and it hosts regional and international leadership summits. The Federal Supreme Council, the Arab League, and the Gulf Cooperation Council hold their meetings here.
The Spirit of Collaboration room also has a dome that dazzles with its 23-carat gold, decorative leaf-work and stained glass panels. The star, however, is the transcendent chandelier. Suspended from the dome, the massive fixture is made up of 350,00 crystals, which not only illuminate the room but also help absorb sound in the enormous chamber.
4. Qasr Al Watan Library’s Imposing Entrance Hall
Everything in the palace is magnificently massive in both scale and aesthetic. The Qasr Al Watan Library on the east wing is no exception. The floor-to-ceiling shelves on the foyer will floor and dwarf you.
The library has 12 wings, a multitude of study rooms, and various book collections. There are 50,000 printed books in the library, and there are more available in digital format.
The library is fully functional. If you have a Department of Culture and Tourism library card, you might actually check out books from the library.
5. Palace Grounds’ Palace in Motion
Be sure to watch Palace in Motion, a spectacular light and sound show that takes place every day at sundown and every 30 minutes thereafter. This is the best way to end your tour of the palace.
Spectators sit down on benches or stand around on the palace grounds. The anticipation builds up as all the palace lights are extinguished, one by one, and the entire structure turns dark.
Suddenly, the palace is bathed in soft pink, blue, and white hues. What follows next is a 15-minute visual and aural extravaganza that transforms the stark white walks into the backdrop of a magical, animated story about the past, present, and future of the UAE.
Immersive History and Cultural Tour of the UAE
If you want a grand sightseeing tour, look no further than Qasr Al Watan. The presidential working palace is one of the most magnificent architectural and cultural showpieces in Abu Dhabi and the UAE.
A visit will not only give you a slew of Instagram-worthy pictures to take home with you. More importantly, it will help you immerse yourself in the history and rich cultural heritage of the Emirati people, its leaders, and the entire country.
Buy tickets online for Qasr Al Watan today. Tickets may be booked beforehand, even before you fly to Abu Dhabi. It’s an experience you really should not miss.