Stock up on your cultural quotient

The UAE is one of the most important historical and cultural countries in the Middle East. As it rapidly evolves into the fast-paced and futuristic country that you see around you today, we’re taking you back in time with this ultimate guide to museums and our picks of the must-see artefacts within each one.

Yousra Zaki, Deputy Editor Guides


Dubai Pearl Museum - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

The Emirates NBD Pearl Museum was established in the year 2003 by the late Sultan Al Owais. The pearl museum is located inside the Emirates NBD bank headquarters in Deira and is home to the world’s largest and finest collection of saltwater pearls from the Arabian Gulf. Preservation of the UAE culture and heritage has always been a core value to Emirates NBD and was an important cause to Al Owais.


He started his pearl collection in the early 1970s and generously donated it to the people of the UAE under the custodianship of what was then the National Bank of Dubai. His aim was to ensure that they always remembered life in the UAE before the discovery of oil changed everything. To better preserve this heritage, Emirates NBD built a museum where his pearl collection is currently displayed. In addition to being a home to more than 50 kilograms of precious pearls, the museum also celebrates the colourful lives of pearl divers and sailors by displaying their instruments and tools as well as maps and diving equipment that they used to harvest and ship the pearls.


Pearl trading has a very deep rooted and rich heritage in the UAE. The world’s best natural pearls were found in oysters located in the warm and shallow Gulf waters. Since the 1500s, merchants travelled to the UAE to purchase pearls, in order to sell them all around India and Africa. The pearling industry was an important historical foundation and was the main source on which merchants of the UAE constructed their wealth. Pearl trading was not just their source of income, it was a way of life. Trading pearls was commonly done in old coffee shops, where merchants would meet to examine the pearls and negotiate sales. By the 1900s the pearl industry in the Gulf was at its peak and made up for 95 per cent of the UAE’s national income.


Visits to the pearl museum are by appointment only and are preferred to be done by a group of 8 to 10 people at a time.


Location: Emirates NBD Head Quarters, Deira

Cost: Free

Timings: By appointment only


Opened in Dubai in 1971, the Dubai Museum aims to showcase the traditional Bedouin way of life. Located within Al Fahidi Fort, which was built in 1787, the Dubai museum houses life-size dioramas of the pre-oil era, several galleries with old maps and historical finds as old as 3000 BC. It also has a video room that shows the development of Dubai from the discovery of oil, up to the present day. The visitors to the museum, managed by Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, have an opportunity to get rich, full and integral knowledge of the old history of Dubai that interacted with different people and civilisations across history. Visitors will get acquainted with the different environments of urban and rural lives in Dubai, whether they are marine, coastal, desert, mountain or agricultural life.


Location: Opposite Grand Mosque on Al Fahidi Street

Cost: Dh3 per adult; Dh1 for children under 12

Timings: Saturday to Thursday from 8.30am to 8.30pm, Friday from 2.30pm to 8.30pm

Contact: 8004003

Must see: The video room that features a hyper lapse of Dubai’s development from the discovery of oil to the present day.

3. Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilisation

Sharjah Museum of Islamic Civilization3 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Sharjah Islamic Museum first opened its doors in 1987 as was known to locals as the Souk Al Majarrah. The museum displays a range of artefacts representing the different periods of Islamic history from its beginnings in Arabia and the Umayyad era until the Ottoman and Mamluk eras. The ground floor of the museum holds the Islamic Faith Gallery that displays ancient mathematical and astronomical works that were important in locating the direction of prayer towards the Ka'ba in Makkah. The entire first floor is devoted to Islamic Art that depicts historical relics, such as a Mongolian silk tunic dating back to 14th Century. The Islamic Art gallery also displays ceramics, metalwork, glass and minor arts made in the Muslim world between seventh and 13th century.


Location: Opposite the Sharjah Creek

Cost: Dh10 per adult, Dh3 for children under 12, free for children under 2

Timings: Sunday to Thursday from 8am to 8pm, Fridays from 4pm to 8pm

Contact: 06 5655455

Must see: The gilt central dome that is decorated on the inside with mosaic depicting the night sky and the 12 signs of the zodiac.

4. Sharjah Natural History Museum and Desert Park

Sharjah Natural History Museum 2 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

The Natural History Museum and Desert Park was founded in 1997 as a children’s petting zoo. The museum gives visitors a chance to learn about the growth of flora and fauna of the Arabian Desert. People can additionally observe and enjoy the various species of animals that are found in the Arabian Peninsula.


Location: After the Sharjah International Airport at Interchange No. 9

Cost: Dh10 per Adult, Dh5 per child

Timings: Saturday to Wednesday from 9am to 5.30pm, Thursday from 11am to 5.30pm, Friday from 2pm to 5.30pm, museum is closed on Mondays

Contact: 06 5311411

Must see: The herd of giraffes.

5. Shaikh Saeed Al Maktoum House

Built in 1896, the Shaikh Saeed Al Maktoum House is a must-see for anyone. This gorgeous Arabic-styled residence was home to the late Dubai ruler Shaikh Saeed Al Maktoum until 1958. Twenty-eight years later, in 1986 the house was restored and turned into a museum. The structure is built around a grand courtyard with rooms and wind towers surrounding it and houses several paintings, rare photographs and other objects reflecting the early development of Dubai. A must see at the Shaikh Saeed Al Maktoum House is the excellent photography exhibition.


Location: Al Shindagha Road near Al Ghubaiba metro station, Bur Dubai

Cost: Dh3 for adults, Dh1 for children

Timings: Saturday to Thursday from 8.30am to 9pm, Friday from 3pm to 8.30pm

Contact: 8004003

Must see: The photography exhibition

6. Al Ahmadiya School and Heritage House

Al Ahmadiya School was established in 1912 and remained active until 1962. Located in Al Ras area of Dubai, this museum can be explored in a few hours. This heritage site belongs to wealthy pearl merchant, Shaikh Ahmad Bin Dalmouk, and exhibits life-size creations of the country in the 1970s. It’s worth taking a look round to get an idea of what education used to be like before the introduction of a foreign curriculum. It was the first regular school in Dubai, which was attended by famous pupils including the father of Dubai – Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Built around a large courtyard, the school is a beauty complete with scalloped archways with intricate details.


Location: Al Ahmadiya Street in Deira, near Al Ras metro station, behind Dubai Public Libraries

Cost: Free

Timings: Sunday to Thursday from 8am to 7.30pm, Friday from 2.30pm to 7.30pm

Contact: 04 2260286

Must see: The school wind tower.

7. Etihad Museum

The Etihad Museum is spread over 26,000 square meters and is located adjacent to the Union House in Dubai. The entrance of the museum is designed in the shape of a manuscript with seven columns that simulate the pen used to sign the UAE Declaration. The museum includes permanent and temporary halls, a theatre, an educational area, a recreational area, administrative offices and car parking. It’s made up of eight permanent galleries in addition to a temporary gallery to exhibit items from international museums. The exhibitions are mostly experience-driven while the programmes are interactive. The museum’s collection includes documents related to the formation of the UAE.


Location: Jumeirah 1, across 2nd of December Street, Dubai

Cost: Free

Contact: 04 5155771

Must see: The Planting the Union exhibition, a holographic film that highlights the meeting between the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the late Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. The movie is narrated by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktium, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.


8. Qasr Al Hosn

Qasr Al Hosn is the oldest building in Abu Dhabi and symbolises the historical development as well as the political history of its rulers from 1795 to 1966. The building was developed from a free-standing conical tower built in 1761 to protect the newly discovered water source on the island, into a large and fortified fort for the ruler of Abu Dhabi used for defending the area. Under the patronage of Shaikh Shakhbut Bin Dhiab, who ruled Abu Dhabi from 1793 to 1816, the old tower that protected the vital water source was integrated into a larger rectangular fort arrangement. Since that date, the fort became the official seat of rule of the Al Nahyan family until 1966. Qasr Al Hosn is the main landmark in the city and it is visited by 10 to 15 bus-loads of tourists daily.


Location: In the heart of Abu Dhabi, between Zayed the First Street, and Khaled Bin Al Waleed Street

Cost: Free

Timings: Daily from 7.30am to 6.30pm

Contact: 800 724

Must see: The falconry.


9. Al Ain National Museum

One of the oldest museums in the UAE, Al Ain Museum was established in 1969 under the guidance of the late UAE founder, Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Al Ain Museum charts the history of Al Ain from the Stone Age through to the foundation of the UAE, housing artefacts discovered in the many archaeological sites scattered throughout the region such as flint machines from planers and arrowheads dating to the sixth and fifth millennia BC. On the edge of Al Ain Oasis, this museum showcases the city's unique heritage and history. It is housed in the same compound as the Sultan Bin Zayed Fort (also known as the Eastern Fort). Divided into three main sections - archaeology, ethnography and gifts - its presentations illustrate various aspects of Emirati life and include an interesting collection of Bedouin jewellery, musical instruments, weapons, and a reconstruction of a traditional majlis. Al Ain Museum charts the history of Al Ain from the Stone Age through to the foundation of the UAE, housing artefacts discovered in the many archaeological sites scattered throughout the region such as flint machines from planers and arrowheads dating to the sixth and fifth millennia BC.


Location: Near Al Ain Oasis

Cost: Dh3 per person, Dh1 for children under 10

Timings: Daily from 8am to 7.30pm, except Monday (closed), Friday from 3pm to 7.30pm

Contact: 03 7118331

Must see: The pottery section, which dates between 3,200 and 2,700 BC.


10. Sharjah Science Museum

The Sharjah Science Museum first opened its doors on April 17, 1996. It is one of the most interactive and fun museums in Sharjah. This museum is great for children as it is very educational. The museum includes more than 50 interactive exhibitions and provides visitors with programs and interesting events catered just for the kids. The Sharjah Science Museum offers tonnes of scientific exploration including hands-on experiments, laws of nature, thermal physics, physiology and aerodynamics.


Location: Near Sharjah Media Corporation in Al Abar area

Cost: Dh10 per adult, Dh5 for children under 12, free for children under 2

Timings: Saturday to Thursday from 8am to 8pm, Friday from 4pm to 8pm

Contact: 06 5668777

Must see: The electricity show.


11. Al MahatTa Museum

Back in 1932, Al Mahatta was the first airport in the Gulf. It was built in Sharjah, when the only other airport in the Middle East was in Egypt. At the time, Al Mahatta created an air bridge between the Gulf countries and India to facilitate trade. After Dubai International Airport was built, Al Mahatta remained unused and abandoned for many years until His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, decided to turn it into a museum. The museum was officially opened in 2000.


Location: Al Estiqlal St, Al Qasimia Area across from the Sharjah Mega Mall

Cost: Free

Timings: Daily from 8am to 8pm, Fridays from 4pm to 8pm

Contact: 06 5733079

Must see: Four fully restored, original propeller planes.


12. National Museum of Ras al Khaimah

The fort was originally built in 1749 and was the residence of the ruling Al Qasimi family until early 1960, when it was converted into a museum. Located behind the Ras Al Khaimah Police Headquarters in the old town, the museum is home to a fascinating collection of archaeological artefacts sourced from different sites all over the emirate. The museum is made up of coral stone, a fossil building material originating from the sea. The artefacts and collections in the museum were mostly donated by members of the Quwasim family, as well as many residents of Ras Al Khaimah.


Location: Ras Al Khaimah

Cost: Dh5 per person

Timings: Wednesday to Monday from 10am to 5pm

Contact: 07 2333411

Must see: The Al Qawasim Room on the first floor, which houses the manuscripts and treaties between the rulers of Ras Al Khaimah and Great Britain.


Story and research by:

Yousra Zaki, Deputy Editor Guides


360 photography:

Jaye Lentin, Video Editor

Logan Fish, Videographer



Gulf News staff photographers


Web design and graphics:

Jacob Hernandez, Senior Digital Designer


Copy Editing: Malavika Kamaraju, Features Editor


Project inputs:

Meher Murshed, Senior Hub Editor

Chiranjib Sengupta, Hub Editor


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